Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun access and murder rates

Comparative murder stats:

The murder rate in Israel is one of the world's lowest, according to a new study conducted by the University of Haifa…the research shows that the number of murders per 100,000 people was 2.35 in 1980 and 2.29 in 2006. These numbers are low compared to other countries..for instance, the number of murders per 100,000 people in 2004 was 7.5 in the United States...

Access to guns:

Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israel Naval Force (IN), Israel Air Force (IAF) (2010)

Military service age and obligation:

18 years of age for compulsory (Jews, Druzes) and voluntary (Christians, Muslims, Circassians) military service; both sexes are obligated to military service; conscript service obligation - 36 months for enlisted men, 21 months for enlisted women, 48 months for officers; pilots commit to 9 years service; reserve obligation to age 41-51 (men), 24 (women) (2012)

Christian atheism

Friday, December 14, 2012
Randal Rauser Nails It: Church-State Separation Not to Blame for Today's Massacre
Posted by Jeffery Jay Lowder . . at 12/14/2012 10:18:00 PM

Labels: church-state, Randal_Rauser, religion_and_politics

Matt DeStefano • 11 hours ago

Kudos. Rauser's fast becoming one of my favorite Christian bloggers - I'll have to migrate over there more often.

It, of course, comes as no surprise that atheists like Rauser’s brand of Christianity. They know their own kind when they see it.

This is a wonderful summary illustration of the kind of alternate universe that religious conservatives like Mike Huckabee live in.

I happen to think Huckabee’s reported statement was premature. At this stage we don’t know enough about the shooter’s motives to say why he did it, much less extrapolate from that case to a larger pattern.

It is a universe in which Bible thumping pastor-politicians like Huckabee court the NRA by calling themselves “a gun-clinger and a God-clinger” as if Jesus came to set us free to pack heat without government restriction.

So what is Rauser’s point? That this wouldn’t happen if we had stiffer gun-control laws, or had outright gun bans (as well as confiscating guns)?

Even if we had draconian gun-control laws, how would that make guns any less accessible than controlled substances? Illegal drugs are readily available, despite the “war on drugs.” Why think banning guns would be any more successful?

 It is a universe in which the Bible is read to justify the stoning of misbehaving children and the slaughter and sacrifice of misbehaving societies.

Notice that Rauser adopts exactly the same posture towards the Bible as militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

In addition, there’s nothing unique to “religious conservatism” that reads the Bible that way. Atheists and theological liberals generally interpret the Bible the same way.

That’s just what the Bible says. The OT does, in fact, authorize capital punishment for juvenile delinquency. (Keep in mind that not all death penalties were mandatory penalties. That establishes the maximum punishment, but in some or many cases that could be commuted.)

The OT does command mass execution of the Canaanites inside the promised land–if they refuse to leave.

And since these are divine commands, what they command is, by definition, morally justifiable.

Of course, Rauser is a subdermal atheist. He has an epidermal layer of Christianity, but just under the surface he’s an atheist down to the bone. That’s why he constantly attacks Christian faith in Scripture. Like his pal, Thom Stark, Rauser is a throwback to Thomas Altizer and Paul van Buren.

I live in a country that is much more secular than the United States. (Heck, in terms of secular ethos Canada might as well be bordering Scandanavia [sic].) Thirty years ago I heard the Bible read every morning in my public elementary school. The Bible was removed long ago, and interestingly we didn’t see a spike in gun violence as a result.

Well, if he can appeal to personal experience, so can I. I attended public school K-12 during the 60s and 70s.

I’ve been reading some recent accounts about school safety. For instance:

Schools nationwide have increased security measures since the shooting at Columbine. Many have installed metal detectors, developed detailed crisis plans, implemented policies to keep doors locked and accessible only by buzzer, and put teachers and staff through training on how to recognize and deal with threats.

A letter sent to Sandy Hook parents earlier this year described a new security protocol at the school. Most visitors are required to show identification and ring a doorbell to gain entry to the school’s front entrance, which is locked after 9:30 a.m.

Well, Randal, we didn’t have that when I was a kid. We didn’t need that when I was a kid. So something has changed.

Now, it’s worth exploring why society seems to be more dangerous than it used to be.

What I do see when I visit my daughter’s elementary school is an institution that is much more aware — and intolerant — of bullying and racism than my Bible reading school was thirty years ago.

What does Randal even mean by “bullying and racism” at an elementary school? Does he mean the rough and tumble of young boys at play?

And what was the ethnic composition of the Bible reading school he attended as a boy? 


The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3 and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. 4 Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. 5 And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.

18 The word of the Lord came to me again: 19 “As for you, son of man, mark two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come. Both of them shall come from the same land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to a city. 20 Mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites and to Judah, into Jerusalem the fortified. 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver. 22 Into his right hand comes the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth with murder, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers. 23 But to them it will seem like a false divination. They have sworn solemn oaths, but he brings their guilt to remembrance, that they may be taken.

28 “And you, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God concerning the Ammonites and concerning their reproach; say, A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter. It is polished to consume and to flash like lightning— 29 while they see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the profane wicked, whose day has come, the time of their final punishment (Ezk 21:1-5,18-23,28-29).

Divination has always been popular. It’s just as popular in the scientific age as it was in the prescientific age–much to the consternation of Carl Sagan et al.

As a rule, the Bible condemns divination. An exception is the mysterious Urim and Thummim.

Another possible exception is casting lots. That is not inherently divinatory. It can simply be used as a randomizing device, like flipping a coin. However, it was undoubtedly used for divinatory purposes by some people sometimes.

On the face of it, most divination appears to be pure bunk. Take astrology. How could the apparent position of the stars in relation to earth have any predictive value? That simply reflects the parochial viewpoint of an earthbound observer. It’s not a privileged frame of reference. How the stars appear to us on earth is a relative frame of reference. If we could see them from the moon or Mars or Venus, they would have a different apparent position. For that matter, the apparent position of the stars is different in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere–as ancient explorers noted.

And yet there’s prima facie evidence that astrology is sometimes accurate. Cf. S. Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady, chap. 8; D. Berlinski, The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky, chap. 10.

There is a theological explanation. What we might call judicial providence. God sometimes curses divination with success to wreak judgment on the godless. Poetic justice. 

Ezekiel 22 is a case in point. As commentators explain:

The Babylonians are merely a tool to do his will (Ezk 21). God’s control over the entire situation is such that he can even determine the outcome of the Babylonian king’s efforts to consult his gods through examining the liver of an animal (Ezk 21:21).

Ezekiel pictures the king utilizing all the pagans means of decision-making…The irony is that this use of pagan means of discerning the will of the gods is here an accurate discernment of the will of the true God. The “lying divinations” that found such favor with God’s people (Ezk 13:7) now become the very means through which judgment comes on them (21:23).

I. Duguid, Ezekiel (Zondervan 1999), 36, 276-277.

Of course, Jerusalem’s citizens, like Ezekiel’s hearers, would not be disposed to take seriously Nebuchadnezzar’s divinatory games. Yet ironically this non-Yahwist was taking a path marked out for him by Yahweh.

L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 27.

This sign-act has been precipitated by a critical juncture in Nebuchadrezzar’s campaigns. Poised to advance southward into the Levant, he must decide whether to direct his attack against the Judeans or the Ammonites…According to Ezekiel’s interpretation, Nebuchadrezzar hesitated at Damascus, uncertain whether to attack Rabbah or Jerusalem first. In customary ancient Near Eastern style, he resolves the issue by divination, a series of procedures designed to determine the mind of the gods.

The manner in which this oracle is presented is filled with irony. A pagan king employs strictly forbidden techniques of divination and discovers the will of Yahweh, a fact confirmed by the precise correspondence of the results to earlier oracles. The “people of Yahweh” adopt an orthodox stance in rejecting the omens as false, but in so doing seal their own fate. In the pagan oracle Ezekiel hears the judgment of God.

D. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 (Eerdmans 1997), 685,688.

Dabbling in the occult is sometimes effective, but it comes at a terrible cost.

She wants to be a real boy

Like the mecha boy in A.I., she wants to be a real boy:

How does this social experimentation improve our military effectiveness?

Resources On Luke's Census

This is the time of year when critics of the census account in Luke 2 are most vocal. We've discussed the issue many times at this blog. See, for example, here. In that post and elsewhere, I've recommended some resources from scholars, like Darrell Bock and Stanley Porter. There's a lot of good material at other web sites as well. For example, run a search under the term "census" at the CADRE Comments blog. Also try it with the Hypotyposeis blog.

For example, Stephen Carlson (at the Hypotyposeis blog) argues for translating Luke 2:2 as "this became a very important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria". I don't know enough about Greek to render much of a judgment of Carlson's suggested translation. But if it's correct, it would overturn some of the objections that have been raised against Luke's account.

One of the good points made by Chris Price (under the screen name Layman) at the CADRE Comments blog is that Luke doesn't say that the census required people to go to the city of their ancestry. Rather, Luke 2:4 is commenting on Joseph in particular, not all census participants in general. A more general comment is made in verse 3, and that verse only says that each participant went to "his own city", without any mention of ancestry. Most likely, Joseph had a reason for going to an ancestral city (he owned property in Bethlehem, he wanted to be associated with that city more than Nazareth, etc.), even though the census didn't require going to the city of your ancestry. Some critics not only fault Luke for allegedly claiming that the census required you to return to the place of your ancestry, but even suggest that Luke was saying that you had to go to the place of your ancestry from something like a thousand years earlier. Thus, Joseph had to go to where David lived. But the passage doesn't seem to be referring to any ancestry requirement at all, much less one that was tied to a generation a thousand years removed. The problem is with an unreasonable interpretation that's being read into Luke rather than what Luke actually said.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"They had their entire lives ahead of them"

THE PRESIDENT:  This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller.  I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation, and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.

We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.  And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would -- as a parent.  And that was especially true today.  I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.  They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.

Notice what Obama is lamenting. He’s not lamenting the loss of actual lives lived to the fullest. No. He’s lamenting the loss of potential lives lived to the fullest. The shooter robbed the children of their future. Lost opportunities.

The shooter didn’t take the life they actually had, looking back–but the life they would have had, or could have had, or might have had, looking forward.

What about aborted babies? Beautiful little babies between the between conception and birth.  They, too, had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.

Yet this is the Abortionist-in-Chief. Why is Adam Lanza the most hated man in America, but Obama is the president elect?

"If death is, I am not"

All day long we’ve been exposed to hourly-updated reports about the massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school, which left 20 grade school-age kids dead (at last count).

In times like this, there are certain things that Christians typically say. Christians call for prayer for the survivors.

For that matter, I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for the dead children, in the sense of praying to God that he saved them before they died. We don’t need to pray for them before they died for God to save them before they died. God isn’t bound by our temporal perspective.

Of course, some Christians already believe in the salvation of everyone under the age of discretion.

Christians also take moral satisfaction in knowing that justice will be done. One of the things that angers us in a situation like this, beyond the tragedy itself, is the fact that the killer cheated justice by taking the coward’s way out. Of course, even if he hadn’t shot himself to death, there’s no adequate punishment which a human justice system can mete out for such a horrendous crime.

So those are things which Christians think and say in times like these. And what about atheists?

Well, they always call for more gun control law to “prevent something like this from ever happening against”–as the tired phrase goes.

However, even a total ban on the private ownership of guns wouldn’t prevent something like this from happening again. I suspect it would be no more effective than the proverbial “war on drugs.” It would just create a lucrative black market for weapons.

And what about the massacre itself? Some atheists express outrage.

On the other hand, it’s become fashionable for atheists to spout Epicurean platitudes about death. For instance, they’re fond of quoting Mark Twain’s quip:

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

Here’s another example:

Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?
–Epicurus, quoted by Robert Green Ingersoll in "Why I Am an Agnostic"

I wonder if they’d say that at funerals for the dead children. Somehow I doubt it would go over as well at an open-casket service for a murdered kindergartener. 

Neuroscience and the soul

Top Problems with Evolution

On Manilow and Myths

Test of faith

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deut 13:1-5).

When Christians confront intellectual challenges to their faith, one stock response is to say that God is testing their faith. Indeed, that’s a Christian cliché in some circles.

People who are struggling with intellectual doubts can resent that appeal. It seems like you can explain away anything by invoking that principle. Isn’t that a dodge? After all, one can imagine a cult using that line to squelch rising doubts about their prophet. Yes, he seems to be a hypocrite; yes, he seems to be contradicting himself; yes, he seems to mispredicting the future–but that’s a test of faith. God is testing your faith.

So I agree that this appeal can be overused. To say, in the face of every intellectual challenge, that God is testing our faith, take it too far. The appeal needs to be more qualified.

That said, this appeal does have its basis in a Scriptural principle. Deut 13:1-5 is a classic case in point. God is, indeed, testing their faith. And the test takes the form of an intellectual challenge. There is some corroborative evidence for the prophet’s claims. His claim seems to receive supernatural confirmation.

And when you think about it, this is more impressive, more formidable, than objections from modern science. For instance, modern theories of cosmic or biological origins involve very long, tenuous chains of inference, with interpolations and extrapolations connecting all the missing links, with many sheer postulates and freely-adjustable variables. There are many steps along the way where the inference could go awry. 

By contrast, the supporting evidence envisioned in Deut 13:1-5 is very direct and rationally compelling. This confronts the believer with a stronger dilemma than stock objections to Scripture. For, to some extent, this piggybacks on Scriptural assumptions and Scriptural criteria.

Now, a “skeptic” might say that Deut 13:1-5 is, itself, an exercise in special pleading. A preemptive escape clause. He might say this was written to head off a prophetic counter-challenge to the prophets of Yahweh, or something like that.

To that I’d say to things:

i) Deut 13:1-5 honestly acknowledges the limitations of formal criteria to verify or falsify prophecy. Formal criteria can be very useful. That can eliminate some candidates. But formal criteria can only take you so far. There will always be some things we just know to be the case, even if we can’t prove it. Some things we have to know without recourse to a formal demonstration.

ii) Deut 13:1-5 isn’t a technicality that immunizes the faith by definition. For this hypothetical situation grants the possibility that a false prophet might really be able to predict the future or work a genuine miracle. He isn’t just apparently able to pull this off. Deut 13:1-5 doesn’t say, “Who are you going to believe–Moses or your lying eyes?” The passage doesn’t deny the evidence.

Rather, it concedes the phenomenon, but places that in a larger interpretive framework. And there’s nothing ad hoc about that framework. Since this type of false prophecy is admittedly supernatural, there’s nothing ad hoc about explaining it by noting that in back of the false prophet is God, who is manipulating the false prophet for his own ends.

Why? The Nagging Question

HT: Patrick Chan

Divine temptation

The high Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose, and determining power blatantly contradicts Scripture passages that reveal “God is love” (1 Jn 4:9), takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezk 18:32), wants everyone to be saved (Ezk 18:32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), and never tempts anyone (Jas 1:13). To be sure, Calvinists have clever but unconvincing explanations of these and numerous other passages of Scripture. R. Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan 2011), 99.

I myself have discussed all of his perfunctory prooftexts, so let’s do something different. Take the following passage:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deut 13:1-5).

i) Isn’t this a clearcut example of divine solicitation to sin? God, through the instrumentality of the false prophet, is “testing” the covenant community. Because, in this case, the false prophet is able to perform miracles or truly foretell the future, that tempts people to follow him. For his message is attested by the classic authenticating signs of a true prophet.

ii) And this isn’t just any old sin. This is the sin of apostasy. One of the gravest sins. There is no sin worse than apostasy.

iii) The function of this test is to sift the covenant community. Some members will succumb to the temptation while others will remain faithful.

iv) What’s the relationship between vv1-2 and v3? Well, one possible explanation is divine empowerment. The fact that a false prophet can work miracles or truly foretell the future goes beyond normal human ability. So this naturally raises the question, how did he acquire this superhuman ability? V3 may be attributing his ability to divine empowerment.

Of course, this attribution doesn’t exclude the possibility that he is possessed. God could dispatch an “evil spirit” to possess him (e.g. 1 Kgs 22:19-23).

v) In any event, the text tells us that God lies behind the false prophet. The false prophet is a tool. God is using the false prophet to test the allegiance of his people. Some will pass the test while others will fail the test.

Through the false prophet, God is tempting his people to commit apostasy. To abandon the true God for false gods. Due to its miraculous attestation, this is very seductive. A powerful and, for some, persuasive inducement to deny the faith.

To be sure, God isn’t tempting them to sin for the sake of sin. Rather, this is a refining process. It will purify Israel by burning off the dross.

Still, in the passage before us, it’s unmistakably the case that  false prophets are able to perform prodigies so that God may test the covenant community. That’s the divine purpose which underlies this ordeal. Through the medium of the false prophet, God is inciting people to defect from the true faith. That’s tempting them to commit evil. There’s no way around it. That’s right there in the text.

vi) Now at this point an Arminian like Olson might scream Jas 1:13 in my ear. Haven’t you read Jas 1:13? That’s what’s wrong with Calvinism. You blatantly contradict Scripture!

However, this is not in the first place a debate over the Calvinism. Rather, this is just a matter of what Scripture says. Deut 13:1-5 means whatever it means. You don’t have to be a Calvinist to interpret that passage the way I did. You only have to accept it on its own terms. Calvinism is not a necessary presupposition of my interpretation. Although I think this passage (and others like it) is broadly supportive of Calvinism, it doesn’t require a Calvinistic grid to understand the passage the way I do. Indeed, the passage doesn’t really require much exegesis. It pretty much speaks for itself. I’m just making a bit more explicit what is logically implicit in the passage.

vii) Moreover, there’s no reason we should have to filter this passage through Jas 1:13. We might just as well filter Jas 1:13 through Deut 13:1-5. It’s not as if Scripture tells us that Jas 1:13 supplies the interpretive grid through which other passages like Deut 13:1-5 must pass. Deut 13:1-5 is no less inspired than Jas 1:13.

viii) And it’s not as if Deut 13:1-5 is a merely incidental passage of Scripture. To the contrary, along with Deut 18:15-22, this is the paradigmatic passage concerning false prophecy. This is foundational for subsequent discussions of false prophecy in both the OT (e.g. Jer 14:14; 23:9ff.; 29:8; Ezk 13:6-9) and the NT (e.g. 2 Thes 2:9-11; 1 Jn 4:1-4; Rev 13:13-14; 16:14; 19:20).

The Olivet Discourse contains a perfect illustration of the principle given in Deut 13:1-5:

22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Mt 24:22-31).

Indeed, the very wording is probably modeled on Deut 13:

These false messiahs and false prophets will offer “signs and wonders,” a phrase that echoes OT tradition, especially Deut 13:1(2), which expressly warns of the false prophet who hopes to gain acceptance through signs. C. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nelson 2001), 323.

Here we have false prophets and messianic pretenders who, through miraculous portents and prodigies, will lead astray a portion of the covenant community. In this case, the new covenant community. Yet God will preserve the elect.

Once again, God is winnowing the wheat from the chaff. An elect remnant will survive the ordeal.

One year ago today, Beth had her stem cell transplant

On December 14, 2011, my wife, half-dead from a fight with leukemia, “intensive chemotherapy” and full-body radiation, received a new infusion of adult stem cells from a young female donor in Europe. She became radically sick – somehow she got hold of a MRSA infection in her blood; later she had other viral infections that nearly cost her life. She spent the better part of three months in the hospital. You can read more about this struggle here.

She is still weak, and doesn’t have the energy to do much at all. Her immune system perceives her body as “foreign”, and so she is still taking some anti-rejection medications, which keep the immune system suppressed. So she’s still susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. She is looking forward with great anticipation to celebrating Christmas with her family. In another few months, they’ll start to give her the full cycle of baby vaccinations.

In a series of “Chimerism” tests which measure the level of the donor’s DNA vs her own DNA in her blood cells, she has consistently been “100% donor in all three cell lines”. That indicates no sign that the leukemia is coming back. The longer she shows such results, the closer she comes to being declared “cured” (a happy event which happens after two years).

The best news of all is that, over the last year, she has come to a new understanding of how the Lord Jesus Christ saves us in spite of anything else we might do to help or hurt that process, and is becoming deeply engaged in the life of our church.

Again, I’d like to thank all of you who helped us through this very demanding time with your prayers and your support.

A.G. Dickens, commenting on Luther’s Grasp of Critical Scholarship

By focusing too narrowly upon his emotional experiences many observers have failed to grasp that he became an expert in the critical methods of textual study introduced by Valla, Erasmus, and Reuchlin. Luther saw in the flight of Byzantine scholars to western Europe a divine plan to expand Greek scholarship, the essential key to Christ’s and St. Paul’s teaching. He demanded an expert application of linguistic humanism as the foundation of a scriptural Christianity, distinct from both scholasticism and the popular cults. This renewed religion should be related not solely to salvation but also to Christian service on the lower plane of the commonwealth. Without these rational and humanist approaches, Luther could not have attracted so many scholars and statesmen to his cause. (Dickens, “The English Reformation,” pg 82).

It’s interesting to see that Luther’s approach here was not only doctrinal at the core, but that he did not hesitate to enlist the help of scholars and statesmen.

The Church of England, and the rest of us

Paul Levy “shows some love for Anglicans” by providing a brief review of Persistently Preaching Christ, a work discussing the ministry of St Andrew’s the Great Church [STAG] in Cambridge.

I do want to commend the book because it's haunted me since I read it. The story of the last 50 years in the life of the church is recounted. Interspersed with this are testimonies of people who have passed through STAG and been profoundly influenced by it. I found myself thanking God for this church in Cambridge that I've never set foot in. There are enormous amounts of practical wisdom in it and STAG, with many of the people it's produced, could so very easily be proud and full of itself and yet the book is laced through with an humility which is inspiring.

The Word has been preached and been applied to the congregation and it has done a remarkable work. I would want to commend this book to every minister. There will be points you will be frustrated and disagree with it and yet you will finish the book I hope with profound thankfulness for what God can do in a local congregation through the power of his Word.

In part, the Church of England, the Anglican church, believes itself not to be a part of the Reformation, but a continuing portion of the ancient church. They threw off the papacy but not much else. They retained an “episcopacy”, not entirely based on Scriptural principles, and they were rivals of the Puritans and the Scottish Presbyterians. It’s all another messy – but enlightening – portion of Reformation history, and it’s all a part of our heritage as Reformation Christians.

Nevertheless, their 39 Articles are thoroughly Reformed in their doctrine. And the conservative Anglicans among them struggle mightily to retain this identity.

We who are outside of the CofE need to be very careful in our criticisms. In the last 40 years we have seen strong Bible teaching, Reformed Anglican Churches thriving in many places. On the non conformist side of the bench it's probably not seen as much growth. We need to be humble enough to see that and recognise God has and is doing great things in many of our Anglican churches. My conscience couldn't allow me to be in the CofE. Part of me can't understand they're in it, but they are. I would love them all to come out and be Presbyterian but in all likelihood if they did we'd all split within 5 years over minutiae. What the future holds for them I have no idea and they are going to have to fight and contend for the truth, that is the imperative of the gospel. It could well be that they are turfed out before too long. So my new policy to my conservative evangelical brothers is, if they're fighting I must be praying and be grateful for them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Unions are in the news these days. A few quick observations:

i) It’s important to distinguish between private sector unions and public sector unions.

ii) It’s important to distinguish between open shop unions and closed shop unions.

iii) In the past, unions have been beneficial to some degree. The problem, though, is that if you keep demanding more and more benefits, you don’t get more. You don’t even get less. You get nothing.

When unions bankrupt companies, the laid-off employees wind up empty-handed.

Likewise, when unions demand so much from state government that it results in unfunded pension plans, the pensions plans which retirees were counting on go belly up.

This is a predictable outcome which Republican politicians need to drill into the thick skulls of some voters and voting blocks. Sometimes more isn’t more. Or even less. If you demand too much, you end up with nothing at all. Zilch.

Look at Detroit. Look at California.

Good Grief...

Liberals and Why They Hate Charities

Liberals hate charities. Because liberals are cheap. They especially hate religious charities. Because liberals are not religious.

But the core reason why they hate charities is because in their world-view government should be the only All-Benevolent giver. Liberals love to control us, and charities are out of their control—especially tax-deductible charities such as the 501(c)(3).

Now that Obama is exercising his unabated statist power, it is only a matter of time that he kills off tax-deductible charities.

The communist take over continues before our eyes...

Does Scripture condone child sacrifice?

Thom Stark wrote a longwinded attack (“Is God a Moral Compromiser?” available online) on Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?

Stark is a “Christian” of the John Spong variety. He’s a theological soul mate of Randal Rauser, who’s often written sympathetically about Stark’s material. I’m going to concentrate on one of Stark’s prooftexts:

After quoting Ezk 20:23-26, Stark says:

Some Israelites were appealing to the law of Moses to justify the institution of child sacrifice. Exod 22:29b says: “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.” With good reason, Israelites interpreted this as a command to sacrifice their firstborn children to Yahweh.

Ezekiel admits that Yahweh did in fact command the Israelites in the wilderness to sacrifice “all their firstborn” to him. But Ezekiel reinterprets this as a “bad command”… (89).

Stark’s analysis suffers from multiple confusions:

i) He assumes that Ezekiel is alluding to Exod 22:29. However, that’s not the only passage which uses this type of language. As one commentator points out:

Part of the vocabulary of v26 (“every opening of the womb,” “make over”) echoes the law of the redemption of the firstborn particularly represented in Exod 13:12-13. It ruled that, whereas firstborn male sacrificial animals were to be sacrificed, firstborn sons were to be redeemed with money paid to the sanctuary. L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 12.

If that’s what Ezekiel is actually alluding to, then that’s hardly a command to perform child sacrifice. Just the opposite: it’s a command to redeem firstborn sons.

ii) But even if Ezekiel is alluding to Exod 22:29, Stark misconstrues that passage. As one commentator explains:

The giving of the firstborn of animal and child to the Lord has already surfaced in Exodus (13:1-2,11-13), and will appear later in 34:19-20. There is one major difference between the data in chap. 22 and that in chaps. 13 and 34. Both chaps. 13 and 34 urge the parent to “redeem” (with a sheep maybe?) every firstborn son (Exod 13:13b; 34:20b). Exod 22:29 omits any reference to the “redemption” of the firstborn son.

In response, I say that the primary emphasis on these two verses is on giving to the Lord the first and best of one’s agricultural and animal products. The statement about the giving of the firstborn son is terse and almost parenthetical. Hence, the data is truncated and is to be “filled in” with the fuller data from chaps. 13 and 34.

Second, there are other passages in the Bible of individuals “given” to the Lord with no mention of their being “redeemed.” For example, when Hannah prayerfully vows, “If you will…give [me] a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life” (1 Sam 1:11), does she mean “sacrifice” the child, or dedicate/hand over the child? Similarly, Num 8:16 refers to the Levites as those “who are to be given wholly to me.” “Wholly given” surely does not mean “sacrificed,” but “dedicated.” V. Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker 2011), 418-19.

In other words, Exod 22:29 is just a shorthand statement, qualified by other statements of the same kind in the same book.

iii) Stark has Ezekiel deliberately opposing the Mosaic law. Yet Ezekiel revered the authority of the Mosaic law (Ezk 22:26). His indictment of Israel in Ezk 5-6 invokes the curse sanctions in Lev 26. His indictment of Israel in 8:5-18 has its background in the Mosaic prohibitions contained in Exod 20:3-6, Num 33:52, Deut 4:1-20, 5:1-12, and 17:2-5.

iv) Ezekiel is addressing the exilic community. But why were the Jews exiled in the first place? Because they were covenant-breakers. Because they disobeyed the Mosaic law.

And they were exiled, not merely because they disobeyed God’s law. Rather, their disobedience took a specific form. They disobeyed God’s law by defiantly doing the very things which God solemnly forbad. By emulating the abominable practices of their pagan neighbors. That’s the very thing which the Mosaic law forewarned them to studiously avoid (e.g. Lev 18:21, 20:1-6; Deut 12:31, 18:9-13).

Now, on Stark’s interpretation, he has Ezekiel telling the Jews that God banished them, not for disobeying his commands, but for obeying his commands. According to Stark, God originally commanded the Jews to practice child sacrificed, the Jews complied, then God punished them for obeying his command. Of course, that interpretation is utterly nonsensical.

v) Finally, Stark has a tin ear for Ezekiel’s morbid sarcasm, which he employs for shock value. As one commentator observes:

Ezekiel is being horrendously controversial in this whole chapter, creating a rhetorical parody of Israel’s history in order to highlight its worst side. In a context of such sustained sarcasm and irony, we cannot suddenly take a verse like this as a face-value doctrinal or historical affirmation. C. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel (IVP 2001), 160.

Lutheran theology in one verse

1 Corinthians 1:17 - For Christ did not send me to preach the gospel, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The sacred bond between mother and child

The Daily Kos blogging corps is proving to be fertile ground for finding material that helps illustrate what abolitionists are dealing with and up against when it comes to pushing for and bringing about a society that respects human lives for what they are - created in the image of God - and reflects that view of humanity in its laws and its behavior.
The latest offering from the blogger known as Bad Kitties comes to us in the form of An Open Letter to Supporters of Personhood. The tone is strident, fierce, frustrated, and emotional. The letter itself is a combination of so many of the issues that we have already dealt with in our Abolitionist FAQ and sadly Bad Kitties does not advance the argument on those points, so we merely invite the reader to examine our standing rebuttals to her complaints and to consider why it is that abortion proponents so rarely engage abolitionist counterarguments and why, when they do, they fail to make a dent in those rebuttals.
The single most important question in the debate surrounding the justifiability of abortion is this: What is the product of human conception?
If the product of human conception is a human being, then all the same reasons that any of us give for outlawing, preventing, and protecting murder of adults and born children also apply to protecting the fetus (aka preborn child) from anyone who might wish to harm him or her.
If the product of human conception is not a human being, then ending its development requires no more soul-searching or justification than taking an antibiotic, throwing a rock into a river, snacking on a carrot, or removing a wisdom tooth.  It is not a difficult choice. It does not entail sorrow or "deep reflection". It is not "an issue to be taken seriously". 
I live among neighbors along my street. They are all human beings. What if I could define one or all of them as "non-human" based on nothing more than my arbitrary whim? What if personhood were conferred when I say to myself, "This is my human neighbor"?  Or what if my neighbors are not people until they bring me a plate full of cookies? As a cookie-eater, I know that neighbors have the potential to be people, but until they dish out the cookies, they are not.
Absurd and ridiculous, isn't it? The humanity or personhood of my neighbors is not dependent on whether they perform a particular action, like cookie-baking or cookie-gifting. Their humanity or personhood is also not dependent on whether I think they have humanity or personhood. No, they possess humanity and personhood for one reason and one reason only - they were created in the image of God.
Society may tell me, even strongly insist, that my adult neighbors have humanity and personhood, but what authority does society have to tell me what to do and believe? The power of the state, the authorities, the police, the military, right? If I violate the laws of the society badly enough, if I put one of my neighbors to death because he didn't bring me cookies and I thought it might be fun to practice shooting in his general direction, the society will bring force to bear against me to obligate compliance with the laws against unprovoked killing of society's citizens, even to the point of death.  Might makes right.
What if I am powerful enough to resist or even overthrow those societal authorities? What if my might is better than their might? Then my might makes right. 
What if I am powerful enough to enact a law to the effect that Jews should be put into concentration camps and asphyxiated, then cremated en masse? If society is the measure by which personhood and humanity are granted, that is perfectly legitimate.
And of course, if I myself am the decider, and I decide some arbitrary standard (ie, cookie-bringing) is the measure of personhood and humanity, then my entire street is inhabited by non-humans. They have the potential to be humans, but they are not because they have not performed the necessary task.
Further, though other people may want them to live, they don't matter. Only I matter, and as far as I am concerned, they are not wanted.
Other people may love them, but they don't matter either. Only I matter, and as far as I am concerned, they are not loved.
Why should the existence or non-existence of my love and want for these neighbors of mine have any bearing on whether they are humans or persons? Because I am the measure. If I have enough power, what you think doesn't matter. 
This is precisely the attitude with which Bad Kitties has written her diatribe. She believes that she is the measure of humanity/personhood. Stop and think for a moment how hopelessly poor that worldview is. Power is the measure. Might. Nose-counting. There is no way to know for sure what is good or bad. Who is there to tell you "No no no, you should not write that law that way"? How would such a dissenter know that s/he is in the right, especially since Bad Kitties' position is that power and numbers determine morality? Wouldn't the dissenter always be in the wrong, by definition?
If a powerful, violence-crazed person rose to power, we in the "enlightened" modern West would sneer our condemnations at them. But if they were to accrue enough force, modern occidentals would have no recourse. No moral high ground. No way to say "You ought not to put all educated occidentals to death!" But try an exercise with me - look at the situation from the alternative standpoint of the worldview derived from the Bible:
God Almighty has created the world including all humans, all humans have intentionally and hatefully rebelled against Him. He knows everything about everything and everyone. He knows the creation inside and out. He knows what works and what doesn't work. He Himself is the measure of good and evil, a standard of morality that is higher and far above any single creature or group of creatures or thought of creatures. 
Despite the rebellion, God has nevertheless decided to extend mercy in many ways to those rebellious and hateful creations of His. He has not utterly destroyed them with the immediacy that their rebellion has merited for them. (Remember, God decides what is just; not you.) He has instead extended an offer of full and total pardon of all these creatures' dreadful lawbreaking. The pardon is found in the person of God Himself, who entered into His own creation as a human being Himself, taking on a human body and nature. He lived a life into adulthood during which He always obeyed the law of God and never violated it in any way. He offered Himself as a substitution and sacrifice, to suffer and die in the place of His rebellious creatures. He offers that pardon on the basis of repentance of one's sins and trust in Himself to acquire that mercy, and the gifts of eternal life and friendship with Him. As it happens, this worldview actually is true, and yes, we can demonstrate its truth via rational argumentation. That means that Bad Kitties and others like her are among the aforementioned rebel creatures. They live in God's universe and yet refuse to live by His rules. He is their Creator no matter how much they deny it, and the things they say and believe cannot exist without God and remain consistent with the rest of their worldview. Here are some examples of inconsistencies in Bad Kitties' diatribe:
I am a person.
She gets to say that because she has grown up to the point that she is able to express herself. If a disease robbed her tomorrow of the use of her fingers and vocal cords, would she cease to be a person? Yet here she is attempting to convince us that we shouldn't stand up for the personhood of others who are just as much created in the image of God as she. But if enough people decide that liberal Daily Kos bloggers are not in fact persons, doesn't that mean that this statement is false? By her own expressed standard? Then, on the one hand:
When you attempt to declare a blastocyst a person, you are stripping me of MY "personhood."
And on the other:
My living children were wanted, and they are deeply loved.
Is Bad Kitties not required to show us all that the following equation is actually true? Human product of conception + another person wants them to live = Bestowal of personhood  How does Bad Kitties know this? Who says so? When and how was this fact discovered? How consistent is she willing to be with this formula? Is it permissible to walk around killing destitute homeless people? Clearly they are not wanted. What's that, you say? You're telling me that I don't know whether a given destitute homeless person is wanted? Should I have looked for an ID card before pulling the trigger? And just how did you determine that the fetus you aborted wasn't wanted, say, by abolitionists and our co-laboring adoptive parents? Of course, Bad Kitties did not use any of her valuable time attempting to discover whether her baby was wanted. She pulled the trigger, presuming she knew it all. In point of fact, she knew nothing.
Unwanted pregnancies do not have "personhood" conferred upon them. They are an intrusion, a parasite, a thing.
Notice that Bad Kitties is assuming that God does not exist, and that He has nothing to say about whether these babies have personhood conferred on them by God Himself. She is too busy emoting and ranting to rationally examine the arguments. And where is any sign that she has thought through the ramifications of calling a preborn child a "parasite"? Is she willing to be consistent and blog in favor of the idea that children should be abortable up until their tenth birthday? Why not? All the arguments in favor of preborn child=parasite are consistently applicable to born children.
They are not loved.
As a matter of fact, abolitionists love them, and so does Jesus. Bad Kitties is unwilling to consider those outside her narrow frame of reference, any claims to being open-minded and tolerant notwithstanding.
Where will YOU be when that child is born, unwanted and unloved, perhaps to be disposed of in a toilet or restroom garbage can?
We'll be where we've been for a long time, reaching out to the woman, offering her help and training to take responsibility for her life and refuse to commit murder to attempt to erase the consequences of her actions. Interestingly, I'd like to know just how Bad Kitties would suggest we be around when a woman gives birth to a child and heartlessly throws the child into a toilet or garbage can. The reason women do that is to hide their birth and leave the child behind. Does Bad Kitties want some sort of abolitionist hover-squad to follow women around from their 8th month to the time of birth? Of course not. She is, again, merely ranting.
Perhaps to be abused, as the object of anger over his or her very existence?
If Bad Kitties were kidnapped and forgotten about (God forbid, seriously), then tortured and abused for years afterward, would she say the same thing? Would she prefer to die rather than to be loved and cared for, to have a chance to redeem the difficult years? That is what she is telling these babies, if they could hear her: Your life won't be worth living if someone abuses you. It's no use trying to make something of yourself if your parents aren't perfect. How do I know? I just know. I'm Bad Kitties!
Do you understand that you cannot, ever, force a woman to love an unwanted child?
Does Bad Kitties understand that people change? That, upon the moment of birth, many women experience overwhelming love for their child and change their minds about giving the child up for adoption? Does Bad Kitties understand that, while we know we can't force anyone to love anyone else, love is not the question here? These preborn children are not facing the question: Love or be unloved. Rather, she is arguing for it to be legal that they be murdered. Why can't she face up to the real issues at hand?
Women will always seek to get rid of unwanted children, and have for centuries. Their reasons why are none of your business.
As a matter of fact, we realise that the evidence shows and God's Word unmistakably lets us know that women routinely suffer greatly after abortion, and we want to warn them and protect them from such a choice. We also recognise that replacing a few words nets a shockingly horrible outcome: Governments will always seek to get rid of unwanted Jews, and have for centuries. Their reasons why are none of your business. 
How attractive is that statement, now? As a matter of fact, "that's how it's always been" is not a good argument. Where does Bad Kitties derive her authority to tell us that women's reasons are none of our business? Just how does she know that?
How do you possibly justify stripping women of their humanity, reducing them to nothing more than a vessel?
This coming from someone who probably believes that women are the product of a mindless process of natural selection acting upon mutations over the course of billions of years, that women descended from puddles of sludge in a warm sea. On what basis should any of us take such things seriously? No, rather, abolitionists recognise that God has imbued every single human being with great value because we are all created in the image of God. We all have distinct roles to play, and we don't always like those roles because we are sinful and rebel against His plan, but that hardly bears any relevance to whether those roles are right or wrong. Our likes and dislikes are not particularly material to the way we were created. Women have been given a great gift - they are the only ones who can bear children. Men can't do that. Men depend on women to bear the couple's offspring. Children are specially attached to their mothers with a love that men can only look at and admire. Why does Bad Kitties want to take this blessing of the Lord and curse it? Right, it's because she is a rebellious sinner, like the rest of us. More specifically, where is Bad Kitties' argument that insisting that women not murder their preborn children "strips them of their humanity"? Does she believe that laws insisting that I not walk around shooting destitute homeless people strip me of my humanity? Why precisely does the freedom to murder make one more human or preserve one's humanity? Isn't it the other way around, in fact, that the willingness to murder the smallest and most helpless is that which lessens one's humanity?
An end to legal abortion has always meant the deaths of thousands upon thousands of women, depriving their families and friends of the joy they found in them.
A reckless exaggeration. Where is the evidence? And where is the recognition that abortions result in quite a few deaths per year as well?
Life is for the living.
Just what does Bad Kitties think preborn children are? Dead? A rock?
You will have merrily skipped along, living your life, feeling self-righteous, leaving devastation in your wake.
Usually abolitionists are accused of being too grave, too serious, too strident. Now we're skipping merrily along? I'm not sure Bad Kitties is carefully considering her words here, are you? Why does she feel the freedom to accuse us of feeling self-righteous? A follower of Jesus is by definition the exact opposite of self-righteous. We are those who freely and fully recognise that we were filthy, wretched sinners, rebels against our Creator, and deserving of eternal torment and abandonment, and that we fully deserved such a fate. Yet God had unilateral mercy on us and delivered us despite our horrible records of actions. I fear Bad Kitties has been exposed to ignorant adherents of churchianity, and few real Christians. And does Bad Kitties think that 54 million dead children is something other than devastation?
Fetuses are not people until they are born.
Because physical location, and a passage down the Magic Birth Canal bestows human rights. Does Bad Kitties really think that it would be fine and dandy to take a woman in labor whose baby has not yet emerged, reach inside her with a pair of scissors, and dismember the child who would otherwise have been born two minutes later, just because the baby had not yet fully emerged from the birth canal? How can she possibly justify that? Could she impassively sit around and watch such a procedure?
This is the sacred bond between mother and child. You should not interfere with that.
Insisting that the woman honor that bond and not murder her child is "interfering"? How so?
Fetuses have the potential to be people, but until they are out of the womb, they are not. My daughter was born sort of grayish-blue, with the cord wrapped around her neck. My husband said, "Oh my God, she's d---" and my doula kicked him in the ankle. My beloved OB quickly unwrapped the cord, my husband cut it, and my beautiful daughter turned rosy pink. She was a person.
Thank God Bad Kitties' daughter was strong enough to be born and turn pink. We recognise, however, it is not emotional bloggers who bestow humanity on humans. It is God, the Creator. We do indeed live in two different worlds.

Bart Ehrman's Misleading Article About Christmas

Bart Ehrman recently wrote a Christmas article for Newsweek. He repeats common objections to the infancy narratives without interacting with the counterarguments. From reading Ehrman, you wouldn't know that even many non-conservative scholars argue for conservative conclusions about the narratives, such as Jesus' Davidic ancestry and the Bethlehem birthplace. Ehrman's article doesn't break any new ground, and its coverage of the old ground doesn't go much beyond repeating the old objections in an introductory manner. For those who are interested in responses to such objections, as well as replies to more advanced ones, see our archive of Christmas material here.

I'll respond further to a couple of Ehrman's comments, starting with the following:

Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology

Yesterday I read John Walton’s Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Eisenbrauns 2011). This is the scholarly version of his The Lost World of Genesis One.

Walton has written on these themes fairly often, so there’s a certain sense of déjà vu in reading his new monograph. I don’t like to repeat myself, but to the extent that he repeats himself, some of my criticisms will be repetitious.

i) However, before we get to that, the new book does have some useful material. For instance (146-52), he defends the traditional rendering “Spirit of God” rather than “mighty wind,” which is popular among some modern, liberal translations of Gen 1:2.

ii) Unexpectedly (155-61), he denies the common claim that raqia denotes a solid dome. He argues that raqia denotes empty space. A spatial buffer or airy cushion between earth and sky.

He still believes that Hebrews carried over the ANE conception of the sky as a solid dome, but he associates that with the Hebrew word for “sky” rather than raqia.

iii) A basic problem I have with his general analysis, and this is true of other works which take the same approach, is a methodological flaw. OT scholars and other scholars in cognate disciplines (e.g. Egyptology, Assyriology, Sumerology) emphasize artistic and textual representations of the world. The meaning of words. Coins, pottery, reliefs.

That’s fine up to a point, but that needs to be counterbalanced by another consideration. For we need to project ourselves into the physical world in which ancient people actually had to live and survive. What was the world like which they experienced on a regular basis?

Ancient people didn’t live in paintings or texts. They had to live in the real world, just like us.

It’s important not to reconstruct an ancient cosmography purely from texts and artifacts that’s clearly at odds with the external world which the ancients actually perceived.

iv) Walton says:

Similar views of the structure of the cosmos were common throughout the ancient world and persisted in popular perception until the Copernican revolution and the Enlightenment. These ancient perceptions were not derived from scientific study (modern scientific techniques, of course, were not available to the ancients) but expressed their perception of the physical word (89).

The problem with this claim is that Walton fails to consistently apply that criterion. Rather, he attributes certain views to them in spite of what they could or did perceive. For instance:

What kept the sea from overwhelming the land (88)?

This assumes ancient people thought there was some natural barrier, like a seawall, that kept the ocean in place. But is that realistic?

Ancient peoples of the Levant lived on the Mediterranean coastline. Suppose you walk down to the beach, where earth and sea meet. There you stand, right on the shoreline. What do you see? Is there something that keeps the sea from overwhelming the land?

Well, there’s nothing like a retaining wall. The beach is almost level with the water. Indeed, that’s the definition of sea level.

The only thing that keeps the sea from flooding the land is the fact that the dry land is generally higher than the ocean. The difference in elevation may be gradual, or there may be cliffs. But it doesn’t require an artificial cosmography to account for that phenomenon.

Hasn’t Walton ever gone for a walk along the beach? The seaboard isn’t fundamentally different in modern times. It doesn’t require modern science to see how the ocean and a coastal plain (for instance) match up. That’s something you can see for yourself, using your own eyes.

In general, people believed that there was a single, disc-shaped continent (88).

Did they? Weren’t ancient mariners in a position to know that wasn’t the case?

Take the Levant. Take the Mediterranean. Instead of the sea surrounding the land, you have the land surrounding the sea.  Ancient Mediterranean sailors were certainly acquainted with the general shape of the Mediterranean Sea in relation to the general shape of the surrounding landmasses. The sea didn’t encircle the land; the land encircled the sea.

Scholars like Walton bury their heads in ancient texts and facsimile drawings. They don’t pull their heads out of books to see what the ancients inevitably saw.

Precipitation originated from the waters held back by the sky and fell to the earth through openings in the sky (88-89).

Really? But surely that’s not what ancient people actually observed. For instance, take the common phenomenon of rain clouds on the horizon. The rest of the sky is clear. You can see the clouds releasing sheets of rain, against the background lighting. 

Also, it’s not uncommon to observe the cloudbank approaching the observer. As it passes over the observer, it deposits rain.

So rain isn’t seen coming directly from the sky, through sluice gates in a solid dome. Rather, the rain clouds are distinct from the sky. You can see clear sky above the clouds and around the clouds. So the rain is clearly localized in the clouds.

Not only is this something ancient people were in a position to see from time to time, but we have a literary description of this very phenomenon in Scripture:

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel (1 Kgs 18:41-45).

v) Walton says:

The stars of the Egyptian sky were portrayed as emblazoned across the arched body of the sky goddess, who was held up by the god of the air. In another Egyptian depiction, the Cow of Heaven was supported by four gods who each held one of her legs. She gave birth to the sun every day, and the sun traveled across her belly and was swallowed up by her at night (89).

And did they portray the world that way because that’s how the world appeared to them when they looked up at the sky? Have you ever seen that?

Mesopotamian imagery refers to “breasts of heaven” through which rain comes (92).

And is that because ancient Mesopotamians could see heavenly breasts emitting rain? That might be a great adolescent fantasy, but it’s hardly empirical.

vi) Walton says:

Finally, the earth was believed to be undergirded by pillars… (97).
Metaphors such as locks, bolts, bars, nets, and so on were used to express the means by which the sea was kept in its place (97).

Why does Walton admit that these are metaphors, but act as though the ancients thought there were literal sluice gates in the vault of heaven or literal pillars supporting the land?

And, of course, it’s not as if people living on the coast saw locks, bolts, bars, or nets keeping the sea from overflowing the land.

vii) Walton says:

Another perception in the ancient world is that a great tree stands in the center of the world, sometimes referred to as a “World Tree” or a “Tree of Life.” The idea that a cosmic tree is at the center of the world is a common motif in the ancient Near East…The tree is often flanked by animals or by human or divine figures (96).

Biblical texts that share some of these ideas are Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 31 (96n271).

And was that depiction based on observation? Did the ancients actually witness a cosmic tree at the center of the world? Keep in mind that Walton also says:

As previously mentioned, from a sociopolitical perspective, it was commonplace for peoples of any area to see themselves and their land or their capital city as being located at the center of the earth (95).

So if they took the cosmic tree literally, then that would be readily observable. They would live within eyeshot of the cosmic tree.

But, of course, no one had that experience. So this must be an intentionally symbolic depiction of the world. And if the cosmic tree was symbolic, why take other types of imagery literally? Walton isn’t consistent.

viii) Walton says:

Often, the transition from the precosmic condition to the activities involved in creation is the separation of heaven and earth (35).

Keep in mind, though, that in Gen 1, separation has an addition function, for it prefigures different types of cultic separation in the Mosaic law.  So that’s not a carryover from ANE cosmology.

ix) Walton says:

The raqia and the sehaqim are pieces of ancient cosmic geography that have been rendered obsolete by modern cosmic geography because we have learned, through science, of the evaporation/condensation cycle (160).

Isn’t 2 Kgs 18:41-45 an example of the evaporation/condensation cycle?