Saturday, August 14, 2010

Now Thank We All Our God

I’m going to discuss two related issues which were cropping up in my impromptu debate with JD Walters.

1. One traditional argument in Christian apologetics is the argument from miracles. In this argument, miracles are viewed as having special evidentiary value.

As a preliminary step, it is often thought necessary to provide a precise definition of a miracle, a definition which includes all and only miraculous events.

It is necessary to clearly demarcate miracles from ordinary providence because, so the argument goes, ordinary providence lacks the same evidentiary value as miracles. Ordinary providence is more susceptible to a naturalistic interpretation.

2. Now, I have no problem with the argument from miracles, per se. However, I don’t distinguish miracles from providence on evidentiary terms. God reveals himself in ordinary providence no less than he does in signs and wonders.

3. Answered prayer can also be cited for its evidentiary value. But when prayer is viewed apologetically, the same traditional distinction comes into play. It’s important, from an apologetic standpoint, to be fairly certain that an apparent answered prayer is an actual answered prayer. For if you mistake a mere coincidence for an answered prayer, then there’s nothing “special” about what happened. The outcome no longer implicates a supernatural agent.

4. Once again, I don’t have any problem with the role of answered prayer in Christian apologetics. However, the apologetic dimension is not the only or primary way to view prayer.

For if a Christian already knows that God is real, then he can never go wrong by attributing an event to God. For one way or another, God lies behind every event.

Maybe he’s mistaken in thinking that the outcome represents an answer to prayer. But be that as it may, God is still responsible for the outcome.

Is a Christian wrong to thank God for answering his prayer if, in fact, God did not answer his prayer? Well, he’s wrong in the sense that he misinterpreted the outcome. But it’s never wrong to thank God for the outcome, even if you misinterpret the outcome in some respect.

5. Of course, one can also have false expectations about prayer, as well as overconfidence in discerning God’s providence. But we should never be hesitant to express our gratitude to God. We can go wrong in other respects, but not in that respect.

Keeping God on a leash


“There is nothing whatsoever sinister about God designing us that way.”

I didn’t say there was anything “sinister” about it. I’m simply addressing the argument from “deception,” so popular among opponents of YEC. God has designed us in such at way that, barring lucid dreams, we are fooled by dreams (to take one example). I don’t think that’s sinister either.

“There IS something sinister about leaving traces through the world and the universe of natural events that never happened.”

There’s nothing more sinister about that than certain nature miracles.

“If you don't see something wrong with Dick Whitman (from Mad Men) passing himself off to everyone else as Don Draper, complete with a purple heart from service in the Korean war (in which he never fought), a forged employment history, personal belongings carefully chosen to fit the new persona and insincere relationships, then I can't help you. You must have some different definition of deception than I do.”

All you’re doing is to stipulate an analogy. Since I don’t acknowledge the accuracy of your comparison, it’s beside the point.

“My objection was to the idea that there are different rules for evaluating physical evidence than there are for evaluating worldviews.”

Which is not the same thing as how to correctly interpret a story about the world.

“So how and for what reasons would you reject those views?”

I don’t see why I should head down that rabbit trail right now. I’ve blogged on both issues in the past.

“That's why I said, all three things, the Bible, Christian theological reflection, and science point to creation ex nihilo starting at the absolute beginning of the cycle. There is no indication from any of those sources that the world sprang into existence mature and fully formed. God started with some formless raw material, which he then progressively differentiated and developed into what we see today.”

i) On the traditional reading of Genesis, God doesn’t take the molecules-to-man approach. Instead, he creates cyclical, self-replicated processes. So he does, indeed, instantiate the cycle at a later phase in the cycle.

Of course, you can take issue with the traditional reading, but it’s not as if you can treat the Bible as prima facie evidence for your macroevolutionary position.

ii) ”Christian reflection” is not a source of information regarding what happened.

iii) For reasons I’ve already given, science can only deal with appearances, including the appearance of origins. But depending on where in the cycle the universe was instantiated (by fiat creation ex nihilo), that would incorporate the appearance of earlier stages in the cycle.

“I don't see what the big deal is. Who ever thought that because my watch shows 2010 as the current year means the watch has actually been ticking for that long?”

Because you’re operating from a principle of reverse linear extrapolation, taking the current readout (the present) as your frame of reference, then running everything backwards.

But you can’t tell from the current readout when I set my watch. Maybe it says 2PM. Maybe I set my watch at 12 PM. You can hypothetically extrapolate way past the time I set my watch. You could go back to 6AM, or whatever. But that abstract extrapolation doesn’t correspond to the real time-setting.

Same problem when you mentally run natural periodic processes in reverse. They don’t tell you when they were set. They just give you the “time” (figuratively speaking) from the moment they were set. But at what phase of the cycle was the cycle phased in? The cycle can’t tell you that. Your inference is naïve.

“…anymore than all the clocks in a city suddenly stopping for an hour and then starting again simultaneously means that an hour hadn't elapsed.”

But since all the clocks are synchronized, and all the clocks are off by an hour, you can’t tell what time it really is.

“I don't think the watch reading is a very good analogy to a universe created in medias res, precisely because we never use the watch reading to find out when it was set.”

Which is your problem. Natural “chronometers” are all you’ve got. So you’re using one natural process to time another natural process. Using one “clock” to calibrate another “clock.” But, of course, that’s circular.

Now that may be adequate for constructing a relative chronology, but it won’t get you an absolute chronology.

“Not on my definition. Before there is a regular course of nature with which we can contrast miracles, there is just an act of God.”

The act of God initiates the “regular course of nature.”

“In the example you gave, the parents were infertile. That would be reflected in their medical histories, and the fact that the mother had a baby anyway would be evidence that a miracle had occurred, just like in the case of Sarah in the OT.”

No, in the example I gave, the wife is prone to miscarriage. But let’s spend more time on this general issue:

i) Take a miracle of timing. Maybe I’m in a bind, and I can’t see anyway out. Maybe I don’t even pray about it. But “out of the blue,” something highly unlikely and totally unexpected happens that solves my problem.

Now, to an outsider, judging by appearances, there may be nothing special about the timing of the event. And that’s because the timing of the event is only meaningful to me, in my situation. The relevance of the timing is person-variable. What is opportune for one individual isn’t opportune for another.

ii) Or take answered prayer. If I offered the prayer, I may be in a position to recognize the significance of the outcome as an answer to prayer. That doesn’t mean a second party can also recognize this outcome as an answer to prayer.

If I told him in advance what I prayed about, he’d be privy to the same information. But he couldn’t know the contents of a silent prayer otherwise.

Now that answered prayer will impact events further down the line. But this doesn’t mean someone five generations later can reverse engineer the cause. That someone may be a long-range beneficiary of the prayer. But he doesn’t know that. There’s nothing miraculous in the immediate circumstances of his life. And he can’t retrace the process unless he has enough trace evidence to work with. Even if the answered prayer triggered a chain-reaction, he can’t go back through all the train of events if there are missing links. Without continuous evidence for the intervening events, the trail runs dry.

Yet if we believe that answered prayer is a factor in historical causation, then there are countless instances in which answered prayers impact the outcome even though it won’t be possible at this stage of the game to detect their contribution. Yet that isn’t reducible to a closed continuum of physical cause-and-effect.

“There's no problem with the admission that many outcomes involve supernatural influences, but in particular cases we should start with the presumption of natural causes because human beings are remarkably prone to false positives when it comes to the supernatural.”

Our assumptions shouldn’t exceed what we know. Since there are supernatural factors in history, like angelic/demonic activity, answered prayers, miracles of timing, &c., it would be a false assumption to presume that everything happens by physical cause and effect unless proven otherwise. Your artificial presumption is a recipe for false negatives rather than false positives. That’s no improvement. That’s no truer to the facts than the opposing extreme.

“Take a case for example when loved ones pray for someone's recovery from cancer, but it is not God's will to heal that person. A completely natural remission may then be interpreted as God's answering their prayers, only for the loved ones' joy to come crashing down when the remission is followed by a relapse and then death.”

i) I don’t know that spontaneous remission from cancer is “completely natural.” I tend to think “spontaneous remission” is just a euphemism for medical ignorance. And lots of doctors believe in the power of prayer.

ii) On the one hand, we need to be cautious when we attempt to discern God’s providence, for it’s always possible to misinterpret God’s providence. An apparent answer to prayer may not be an answer to prayer.

iii) On the other hand, we shouldn’t be so cautious, on that account, that we never thank God for apparent answers to prayer or other blessings which befall us. Gratitude is the hallmark of the Christian pilgrimage.

“Finding the truth involves the twin tasks of being open to possible truth, but also avoiding error. The presumption of natural causes is a method that contributes to the latter task.”

Since, according to Christian theism, both natural and supernatural factors shape history, and do so on a regular basis, your naturalistic bias is a recipe for misinterpreting the world.

“I'm not at all threatened by that idea. A presumption of natural causes does not mean that I will always conclude that an event had natural causes (that would be naturalism). The presumption is the starting point, not the ending point.”

Actually, I think you’re overreacting to your religious upbringing. To overcompensate for your cultic charismatic background, you’ve gone to the opposite extreme. That’s how you play it safe.

“Is there the danger that that presumption, which is designed to protect against false positives, will also result in some false negatives? Sure. But that's the balancing act we all have to perform in our efforts to find the truth and avoid error.”

You’re not “balancing” the two. By definition, your one-sided presumption artificially tips the scales.

“Which implies that you do think there is a meaningful distinction between the two.”

i) My belief about the Virgin Birth isn’t based on a general presumption one way or the other. Rather, that is based on specific information.

ii) And I didn’t say there was no meaningful distinction between natural and supernatural factors, although that’s often a difference of degree rather than kind, since every event is ultimately an act of God.

But to draw a distinction is not to create a presumption. It certainly doesn’t mean we should treat physical factors as the default assumption, which can only be overridden by evidence to the contrary.

“The problem is with God creating a world with lots of evidence of events that never happened. Let's keep our eyes on the target here.”

I don’t see that as a problem. God didn’t run through the usual process of conception, gestation, and maturation to make Adam and Eve. He created them as full-grown adults. Same thing with the miracle at Cana, and the feeding of the multitude. These are paradigm-cases of God doing what you find so unbearable.

Of course, you interpret Gen 2 parabolically. I don’t.

“This is not about some physical effects being due to natural and some to supernatural causes. This is about part of the road we can see going off into the horizon being real, and the rest being merely an illusion on a convincing matte painting.”

You don’t base your position on divine precedent. Rather, you begin with your preconceived idea of what God should or shouldn’t do.

Yes, you’ve tried to justify your position exegetically (God’s “commitment to creation”), but since you treat your prooftexts parabolically, that doesn’t tell us what God really did.

“And I find it hard to deny that it does help weed out false positives.”

It weeds out some false positives to clear the ground for planting some false negatives.

“There is already enough of that in the form of belief in astrology, homeopathy, astral projection, fake mediums, etc. which I'm sure you reject at least prima facie as well.”

The occult is rife with charlatans. But the occult also has a basis in reality.

Conversely, I don’t see that methodological atheism is any improvement over superstition.

“I will accept as many miracles as there is good evidence for. No more, no less”

The question at issue is not what you believe in any particular case. As I’ve been arguing, we frequently need to suspend judgment because we know, in the abstract, that both natural and supernatural factors shape history, but we generally don’t know how that pans out in any particular case.

You, however, don’t want to withhold judgment. You want to begin with an artificially and frankly unchristian presumption which is hostile to supernatural factors. By contrast, I reserve judgment unless I have evidence that points in one direction or another.

“Like I've said, there are two dangers in our search for truth: false positives and false negatives. We should try to avoid both errors equally.”

But your naturalistic presumption is inherently inequitable. You have your thumb on the scales to tilt it against the supernatural dynamic. You put a 100 lb. weight on one side of the scales, then defy the Christian to counterbalance that starting-point.

“And all these actions presuppose the stable operation of natural processes. Do you hoist yourself from a rope when you go down the stairs on the way to the hospital because you don't know whether God plans to keep the stairs in existence or make them disappear into nothing?”

The longer you talk, the more you sound like a closet atheist. You act as if divine intervention is equivalent to parlor tricks. Weird, capricious anomalies.

That’s how unbelievers attack Biblical miracles. They come up with absurd counterexamples to ridicule Biblical miracles, as if Biblical miracles are analogous to silly, whimsical events–depicting God as a two-year-old with omnipotent powers.

“There are cases where it is reasonable to focus on wondering just how God intends to work, usually salient events like a sickness, or perhaps a missionary in jail for distributing Bibles.”

Which misses the point. I didn’t suggest that we should focus on how God “intends” to work. I said we shouldn’t prejudge his methods.

“But by and large we all take for granted the stable operation of natural processes.”

How do you pray, exactly? Or do you still pray? Do you pray like this:

“Lord, I take for granted that prayer is normally futile, given the closed causal continuum, so with that disclaimer in mind, I pray that…”

Moving along:

“And speaking of quantification, I think most people can attest to the fact that in most cases of illness God does not supernaturally heal. Such miracles are comparatively rare. That is certainly not grounds for excluding the possibility that in any given case God will work a miracle, but it does properly provide a clue of God's normal mode of operation.”

i) Which is irrelevant to what I said. Since you don’t know in advance what mode of operation God will use, you both pray for your friend and take him to the doctor. But maybe I’m assuming too much about you. Maybe you’re at the point where you don’t bother to pray.

ii) On a related note, I don’t know how you quantify the results. How would you know what percentage of patients are healed as a result of prayer? After all, if a patient is the recipient of prayer and medical invention alike, and if he’s cured, how can you tell which factor was the differential factor? (Or maybe both in conjunction).

You seem to be assuming that a miraculous healing would be spectacular. Why?

“No, because presumably there have been enough cases of terminal cancer that have been allowed to run their course for doctors to have a good understanding of its evolution. If God's supernatural healing is comparatively rare, and if by implication God intends most healing to be natural with the aid of doctors, then it would be churlish of God not to provide medical researchers with a sufficient number of cases in which the diseases are allowed to take their course in order for researchers to develop effective medicines and treatments.”

So do you think Christians should have a prayer quota? If my father and my brother both come down with cancer, should I pray for one but not the other? “Sorry, I won’t pray for both of you because if God answered my prayer, that might mess up cancer research. And, after all, cancer patients exist for the sake of cancer research, not vice versa. So I’ll flip a coin.”

“What matters are not the events leading up to the experiment, but whether, under the same initial conditions, we get the same outcomes.”

Just because you want to arbitrarily limit your illustration to the actual lab conditions rather than historical factors leading up to that situation doesn’t mean I should feel constrained by your example. I don’t isolate the present from the past.

“The worry is whether the same initial conditions will lead to different outcomes in a substantial majority of cases due to supernatural influence.”

Yes, that worrisome divine-foot-in-the-door. If God comes knocking, we better make sure we have the door locked and the security system armed. Maybe have a guard dog on the premises just in case the double bolt gives way and God breaks in. Come to think of it, we should also keep some sawed-off shotguns at the ready.

“In which case, there are no regularities of nature to speak of, and there is no science to be learned.”

Science is not an end in itself. And, of course, you’re setting up a false antithesis.

“Of course, we should distinguish between operational science, which aims to discover natural regularities, and origin or reconstructive science, which aims to reconstruct past events from present evidence. The legitimacy of both is threatened if natural regularities are interrupted too frequently and too arbitrarily, but the danger is somewhat different in each case.”

At the very least, God should submit a schedule. We can’t have him show up unannounced just any time he pleases. All visitations must be prearranged with the social secretary. If she approves, then we will give him an hour of our time. But God needs to learn how to act like a proper houseguest. He can’t just barge in day or night.

“My citing of Genesis 1:14 was not disingenuous. Remember, even though I don't read these chapters as history, I still aim to derive theological truth from it. I think it's clear that one of the truths the author meant to convey with that verse is that God was concerned that certain natural processes would allow people to keep time.”

While solar and lunar calendars may be adequate for religious festivals, they are hardly exacting. That’s why various gimmicks (e.g. intercalation) must be used to keep them from falling in arrears.

“While the world endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and warm, day and night do not cease.”

While church history endures, answers to prayer do not cease.

Can we trust published scientific data?

Prof. John Byl comments.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Biblical typology and historical causality

There's a striking parallel between typological fulfillment and chain effects. Concerning the latter:

The beginning of a poem that makes the point that a seemingly minor event can lead to significant consequences.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail

An important caveat is that these chains of causality are only ever seen in hindsight. Nobody ever lamented, upon seeing his unshod horse, that the kingdom would eventually fall because of it. Equally important, yet tending to be overlooked, is that, when we trace these events backward, starting from the fall of Rome and finally ascribing it to a blacksmith oversleeping one morning -- or do we go one step further and blame the visting friend who kept him up all night drinking mead -- we are following branches of a tree structure...

By the same token, even though types foreshadow their antitypes, their prospective significance can only be discerned in retrospect. Looking back you can appreciate the emerging pattern. The convergence of apparently disparate events on a common, climactic event.

There's nothing inherently fanciful in typology–no more so than chain events. Keep in mind, too, that some chain events are orchestrated. It doesn't just happen to turn out that way. It's the result of coordinated planning.

But in the case of Biblical typology, this isn't humanly possible. It takes long-range prevision and superhuman power to make that happen.

VanDrunen on pictures of Christ

David VanDrunen has written a couple of articles on pictures of Christ. He opposes pictures of Christ. However, as a preliminary exercise in setting forth his own case, he evaluates the pros and cons of the issue. In sifting the arguments, he undercuts some of the traditional objections to pictures of Christ:


[Quote] To set the stage for my argument, I first consider briefly the sorts of rationales that have traditionally animated Reformed expositions of the second commandment in regard to images of the Deity. In general, a rather straightforward deontological claim has served as foundation for the Reformed position: scripture prohibits making and using images of God, and thus Christians ought to avoid them, including representations of Jesus Christ, since he is himself true and eternal God. However, Reformed theologians were not always agreed on the conclusive value of a simple appeal to the Decalogue,6and thus have searched for rationales to explain why God would impose such a duty and why such a duty still remains. There are five distinct – though certainly related – lines of argument that I identify. I find these rationales of various degrees of persuasiveness, and I cannot address each one specifically. Here I focus on the fifth, however, which has proven especially important and yet, at the same time, rather vulnerable to objection from the perspective of Catholic Christianity.

6 Some scholars have noted that Luther’s early colleague and later opponent, Andreas Karlstadt, based his opposition to images on appeals to the Old Law to a much greater degree than did Swiss Reformers Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. For example, see Sergiusz Michalski, The Reformation and the Visual Arts: The Protestant Image Question in Western and Eastern Europe(New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 54; and Steinmetz, ‘The Reformation’, pp. 258–60. On Calvin’s analysis of the second commandment, see Michalski, The Reformation, pp. 65–6.

"As an ontological argument-namely, that visual representations of a person have to convey attributes that are inherently invisible, or else be false-it seems quite weak...Defenders of pictures of Christ object to traditional arguments that their position is inherently Nestorian (insofar as pictures are unable to communicate Jesus' deity and hence they separate his human and divine natures). I suggested above that if the traditional argument is understood in an ontological sense it is not very effective. Scripture indicates that there was nothing distinctive about Jesus' outward appearance. No one could have picked him out of a police lineup as the eternal Son of God. He could have been photographed or drawn and the product would have naturally and necessarily portrayed ordinary human features."

David VanDrunen, "Pictures of Jesus," The Confessional Presbyterian 5 (2009), 218,225.

For want of a nail


“I've already argued for the disanalogy between things like dreams and perceptual illusions and the wholesale falsification of an entire history of the world. You haven't done anything to convince me those are anything alike.”

i) It’s not my responsibility to convince you.

ii) You attempted to draw an analogy by claiming that if a misperception comes naturally to us, then it isn’t deceptive.

But to say we naturally misperceive reality in various situations is a paradigm-case of deceptive appearances. For the deceptive appearance is built right into the experience. And since God is ultimately responsible for our sensory equipment as well as our natural environment, I don’t see that you can absolve God of the charge.

Mind you, I don’t think “deception” (with its prejudicial connotations) is the best term to use. But since that’s the term which critics of YEC are wont to use, I use it in my counterexamples.

“As I explained in my last comment, this takes a very narrow view of what the physical effects of this miracle would be. I would add, though, that, given the way we experience the uniformity of nature, the physical effects would and should be considered prima facie evidence for a natural origin. In our everyday experience, as well as in science, there is a presumption in favor of natural processes being at work, which presumption you demonstrate whenever you absent-mindedly walk over a bridge, confident it won't vanish in thin air, to take just one example. And how many times has that presumption misled you?”

But as I pointed out, there can be miracles of providential timing or answered prayer which which merge into the appearance of uniformity, even though the precipitating factor is supernatural rather than natural.

“I couldn't disagree more. If they don't obey the same rules, if physical evidence does not in some way constrain the plausibility of the stories we tell about the world, then each man, or at least each philosophical school, is indeed an island, shouting out to the inhabitants of other islands but with no way to convince the other that theirs is better.”

i) Now you’re confusing the interpretation of a story with the plausibility of a story. But those are hardly equivalent. The correct interpretation of Dante or Alice in Wonderland doesn’t turn on the plausibility of their fantasy worlds.

ii) Moreover, I didn’t refer to stories “we” tell about the world, but a story which the Creator of the world told us.

“I've noted that some times you appear perilously close to a sort of postmodernism, Steve, when you've exonerated various kinds of idealism, for example, by assuring commentators that they have indeed taken all the physical evidence into account. Well if that's where epistemic duties stop with respect to worldviews, simply to tell a story that takes all the physical evidence into account, then absent internal contradictions there is no way to adjudicate between them.”

I didn’t say that’s where epistemic duties stop. Rather, I made the obvious statement that Berkeleyan idealism, like brain-in-vat scenarios, is highly resistant to direct refutation. If you have an argument to the contrary, be my guest.

“I hope you're including general revelation in there, but in this case we DO know, from the Bible, the Christian theological tradition, and from science at what point in the cycle it started: at the absolute beginning, with the primordial raw material. God didn't start any cycle in the middle, with past histories, developed structures, and organisms who had already lived and died already in place. He started from scratch.”

General revelation can’t tell us at what point in the cycle God instantiated the world, for general revelation presupposes the existence of the world as its reference point. Appearances can’t tell you at what point in the cycle the cycle was instantiated, for if the cycle was instantiated at a later point in the cycle, the early phase would be folded into the appearance of the later phase.

If my battery dies, and I reset my watch, I set my watch for the current time. Does that mean you can look at my watch and then extrapolate back in time from the current time on the readout to minutes and hours before I reset my watch? No. Once I set my watch you can’t tell when I set it. You could try to extrapolate backwards for however many minutes or hours or days or years. But that would be inaccurate. It didn’t have to be ticking off the minutes and hours for all those years to reach the current readout.

“Again, keep in mind the totality of the physical evidence.”

The totality of the physical evidence is irrelevant. An angel or demon is not a physical agent. An angelic/demonic cause is not a physical cause. It can have physical effects, but you can’t trace the effect back to the cause by physical evidence alone.

It’s not like reconstructing an accident from a hanger with shrapnel from an airplane, plus the flight recorder. Based on physical evidence, you may be able to piece together the cause because the cause is physical (e.g. mechanical error, pilot error, a bomb). But in the case of supernatural causes, the ultimate cause falls outside the scope of empirical investigation.

“Angels and demons make contributions to this world. They do not go around rewriting history and seamlessly transforming vast sections of the natural world.”

No one said they rewrite history, but you also need to explain how you can quantify their contribution to events.

“The principle of these miracles is 'change to a course of nature already established.'”

Actually, the course of nature begins with a miracle (e.g. Fiat lux!).

“Again, you're not looking at the totality of empirical evidence. Looking at a teenager would not be gathering all the empirical evidence relevant to determining whether that birth was going to happen anyway or whether he is an answer to prayer. One would have to ask the parents, consult their medical histories, etc.”

How would their medical histories tell you that he owed his birth to answered prayer? Is that on the medical chart?

You could ask his parents of their still alive. But what about a 100 years later?

“And absent the rest of that evidence, it is a perfectly proper conclusion that the teenager is naturally born.”

Why? Why should we presume that answered prayer, or miraculous timing, is not a factor in many outcomes? Why should we presume one way or the other? Answered prayer has a chain-effect. He may have been “naturally born” because his mother owns her own birth to answered prayer.

“I can't live my life attempting to constantly hold in my mind the awareness that anyone around me could have been born as an answer to prayer.”

Why not? If you know that may be true in some instances, but not others, why affix a presumption in either direction? Why do you feel so threatened by the idea that any particular event may own its occurrence to at least one supernatural factor further upstream? It would be ignorant to either rule that out or rule that in. It’s just something that every Christian should make allowance for. And thankfully so.

“There proper presumption is that natural processes are at work.”

One of your problems is a false dichotomy. In my example, we’re not talking about a Virgin Birth. And even the Virgin Birth included some natural processes. Gestation in the womb. Natural birth.

Jesus didn’t pop into existence as an adult male. So you can also have a confluence of natural and supernatural factors.

“And I'm puzzled by your fanatical need to give an ad hoc, 'hey, anything goes when God's involved, right?' desperate defense of a view (mature creationism) that only developed in response to accumulating scientific evidence against YEC, and which is rejected by most Christian scientists and theologians.”

Actually, I haven’t been defending mature creation. Rather, I’ve been responding to a stock objection to mature creation. Indeed, your objections cut far deeper than mature creation. And that’s a problem in its own right.

My bigger problem is your insistent need to draw a bright line between natural and supernatural causes, create a general presumption against miracles, and make as little allowance for miracles as you can get away with while maintaining a pious veneer of orthodoxy. Why should we be so hell-bent (pun intended) on demarcating just where supernatural causes leave off and natural causes take over?

“But that distinction IS important to science, and to everyday life. Like I said, we go about our daily lives with a very proper presumption that things will unfold according to natural processes.”

We do? Speak for yourself. To recur to an earlier illustration of mine, if I have a sick friend, I pray for him and I take him to the doctor. I don’t presume that medicine will do the trick, and I don’t presume that prayer will do the trick. I do both because I don’t know how God plans to handle the situation, but I know that God may either employ natural means or bypass natural means. I don’t second-guess God’s methods in any given case.

Do you think I should take my friend to the doctor rather than pray for him? Are those mutually exclusive responses?

“Similarly, I can't perform an experiment to verify a theory unless I assume that God won't intervene at just that moment to throw my results off.”

If God miraculously healed a friend who was suffering from terminal cancer, would that “throw your results off?” And which would you rather have: a dead friend, but save your results, or save your friend even it interfered with your controlled experiment?

“How many miracles do you know of that took place in the laboratory and resulted in a different statement of a general regularity of nature as a result?”

It doesn’t have to be a miracle that took place in the lab to be a miracle that impacted the experimental results. There could be a miracle a 100 years before, like an answer to prayer, which through a convoluted chain of events is a necessary precondition for the success of the experiment.

Take forensics. Maybe the criminologist needs an adequate sample. And maybe, due to a complex chain of events, that sample would not be available if something else hadn’t happened, or happened a little differently–years before.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

“Augustine, Calvin and many others understood this.”

I don’t turn to them for exegesis.

“God said, 'let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years.'" (Genesis 1:14)”

Cute, but disingenuous:

i) You reject the literal interpretation of Gen 1:14. So was this merely a tu quoque?

ii) From your scientific perspective, moreover, you don’t think our sun exists merely to make ancient Jewish calendars possible. Presumably, you think it exists to make life possible on earth, viz. heat, photosynthesis.

iii) Furthermore, ancient Jews were certainly aware of other solar properties. A source of warmth. Agricultural cycles. And so on.

iv) Finally, Gen 1:14 is not a measurement of absolute chronology, but relative chronology (i.e. setting dates for Jewish festivals).

“The real issue is how revelation and reason intersect.”

Revelation is the revelation of divine reason.

“And to say baldly that I 'side with Troeltsch' without including the very important qualification that I gave in the last post is disingenuous. My principle of analogy and Troeltsch's are quite different, because mine includes the possibility of miracles in the present, and by extension also the past.”

Your acceptance of miracles is so token, grudging, and minimalistic that I don’t see much difference.

“We're not talking about physics here. We're talking about history.”

And historical causation includes supernatural agents, miraculous factors, &c.

“Well by your own admission God works in different ways at different times. Some miracles are miracles of timing and coincidence, in which case a scientist could follow the chain of events from some previous configuration to the point where it constitutes the answer to your prayer.”

He doesn’t have access to my silent prayer. And he lacks direct access to the mind of God.

“The scientist will still be able to say that nature went one way for a while, and then due to an external influence went another way.”

Miraculous effects can be imperceptible in relation to natural effects. The nail looks the same on either explanation. You have to know how the outcome was initiated.

“Nice. Tell that to the Egyptian priests, who when God performed a sign they were unable to perform, they told Pharaoh, ‘It is the finger of God!’ Precisely because it was something they couldn't do on their own.”

It would facilitate discussion of you could refrain from demagoguery. In context, I used the example of a miracle from the past in relation to a present event, 100 years later. That’s hardly comparable to living witnesses, or a written, interpretive record of the event.

“Again, I think by 'physically untraceable' you have in mind a very small subset of the relevant evidence.”

I have in mind the key factors which elude physical evidence. But you’re also skewing the issue:

i) The question at issue is not whether the affected parties can rightly infer a miracle. The question at issue is also not whether a later investigator may sometimes have sufficient evidence to rightly infer a miracle.

ii) Rather, the question is your general presumption that in the absence of fortuitously preserved evidence, we should default to a naturalistic explanation.

iii) In addition, there’s a difference between evidence to rule out a miracle and evidence to rule in a miracle. There can often be evidence to infer a miracle. But I don’t see how you can ever exclude miraculous factors when these factors could be located anywhere up the chain of events.



The claim is that the processes upon which we rely to reconstruct the real past in any other context (such as erosion, sedimentation, meteor craters) arbitrarily break down at a certain point in the past (however many thousand years old YECers claim the Earth and the universe is)...And the stopping point at which the ordinary processes of development break down really is arbitrary... But unlike the past 100 years of history, we are supposed to believe that past a certain arbitrary number of years, history breaks down...

I think Troeltsch was right that the principle of analogy is an indispensable precondition of historical investigation...

Well, that's highly ironic, for nothing could be more arbitrary than Troeltsch's stipulative principle of analogy. Something can be arbitrary on either extreme: arbitrary continuity or arbitrary discontinuity.

Interpretive frameworks


Except your 'trivially easy counterexamples' are nowhere near in the same league as what the mature creationist proposes that God has done with the whole world. All your other examples of the mismatch between appearance and reality are an artifact of our perceptual (objects far away appear smaller, etc.) or imaginative (the brain throws up confused images synthesized on the basis of previous sensory experience during sleep) faculties. We are well aware of these limitations. They give us no reason for global skepticism, as they are both taken account of in a broader context in which they make sense as models or reflections of reality, not reality itself. Again, nobody thinks that faraway objects really are that small. From the waking standpoint, it is obvious that dreams are a product of a particular psycho-physiological state.

And, of course, a YEC would say Gen 1-2 supplies the "broader context" for understanding the natural record.

Latex gloves


Except your 'trivially easy counterexamples' are nowhere near in the same league as what the mature creationist proposes that God has done with the whole world. All your other examples of the mismatch between appearance and reality are an artifact of our perceptual (objects far away appear smaller, etc.) or imaginative (the brain throws up confused images synthesized on the basis of previous sensory experience during sleep) faculties. We are well aware of these limitations. They give us no reason for global skepticism, as they are both taken account of in a broader context in which they make sense as models or reflections of reality, not reality itself. Again, nobody thinks that faraway objects really are that small. From the waking standpoint, it is obvious that dreams are a product of a particular psycho-physiological state.

i) They don’t need to be in the “same league” (whatever that means), since the question at issue is a matter of principle rather than degree. Critics of YEC raise a moralistic objection: mature creation makes God a “deceiver.”

All I have to do is come up with “deceptive” appearances for which God is direct or indirectly responsible, viz., dreams, nature miracles, &c.

ii) Yes, it’s obvious from the waking standpoint that dreams are illusory. But, of course, that’s not obvious from the standpoint of the dreamer.

The mature creation view cannot be absolved as a reasonable extrapolation of these instances. The claim is that the processes upon which we rely to reconstruct the real past in any other context (such as erosion, sedimentation, meteor craters) arbitrarily break down at a certain point in the past (however many thousand years old YECers claim the Earth and the universe is) when all the evidence suggests that the same processes were also at work for much longer than that.

This statement is dishonest. You keep appealing to the “evidence,” but as I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion now, that begs the question. Since you refuse to engage the argument, I’ll have to repeat myself. When Jesus multiplied the fish (to take one example), what’s the evidence distinguishing a miraculous fish from an ordinary fish? None. But if, in fact, the two cases are indistinguishable, then in what sense are the physical features of an ordinary fish evidence for ordinary processes? The physical features are not evidentiary in that respect, for they are equally consistent with a natural or supernatural point of origin. What’s the evidentiary value of X if the same physical effects are consistent with disparate causes (natural or supernatural)?

In that case, the physical effects aren’t evidence for anything regarding the past history of that present outcome. You might say that dominical miracle is totally unique, but even one miracle like that is sufficient to nullify the principle. For even if the miracle were unique, you’re not getting that from the “evidence.” Rather, you’d have to get that from metaphysical principle like the uniformity of nature. And, of course, that tends to be viciously circular since the ostensible evidence for the uniformity of nature takes the uniformity of nature for granted. What would count as evidence for a closed causal continuum? Evidence that things “normally” happen in a certain way? But this tacitly assumes that events are, in fact, unfolding in a chain of physical cause and effect. If, however, the cause were supernatural, then that might well be indetectible.

What makes one thing evidence for something else? What make X an indicator of Y, even if Y is presently unavailable?

That’s an issue you need to buckle down and deal with head-on, not simply reiterate the same tendentious claim ad nauseum. It’s not something you can avoid or evade. Thus far all I see you doing is to posit that the opposing position has unacceptable consequences, then you reason back from the consequences to what you regard as a superior alternative. But that’s just make-believe.

And the stopping point at which the ordinary processes of development break down really is arbitrary. The mature creationist has no argument against the idea that 'real' history started five minutes ago, complete with technological society, the decay of past civilizations, and even an implanted history of God's revelation through the Bible. Does the Bible say that God created the world six thousand years ago? It's all just a part of the background to the real story God wants to 'tell', which actually started five minutes ago.

i) To begin with, that commits a level-confusion. You’re conflating the metaphorical depiction of the world as a story with an actual story about the world. But how we interpret a story about the world, and how we interpret physical evidence, do not involve the same set of rules.

ii) And the hypothetical of implanted false memories cuts against your own position just as sharply as it cuts against YEC. It’s not as if your own position can disprove that hypothetical. It’s not as if any evidence you adduce could count against that hypothetical.

This is the real face of mature creation. Just as archeological and other remains from the past 100 years tell a certain story, which historians have largely been able to reconstruct, so the remains from the past 13.4 billion years of cosmic history tell a story, including a past state when the solar system was nothing but a disc of heavy elements whirling rapidly around the sun, before planets formed, and a past state when the Earth had no life on it whatsoever, a completely lifeless rock (and no water on it yet either), etc. But unlike the past 100 years of history, we are supposed to believe that past a certain arbitrary number of years, history breaks down and everything that we assumed happened before that point on the basis of the evidence actually took place very differently.

If it is mere assumption that the past resembled the present, then it is a darn good assumption and makes the most sense both of our own experience of history and of the record of the more distant past. Apart from local situations such as the Gospel miracles and perhaps paranormal events, the only place/time at which we have good reason to think that the natural processes we observe today were not operative in exactly the same form is at the Big Bang singularity.

I think Troeltsch was right that the principle of analogy is an indispensable precondition of historical investigation, although of course when I say that the past resembled the present, I include the possibility of miraculous events in that present, and therefore by extension to the past.

That brings us to the bigger, deeper issue.

i) To begin with, we’re dealing with an issue of principle, not degree. As Lewontin put it: “Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”

I agree with Lewontin’s analysis. Where we differ is on the significance of the consequences. I’m open to miracles “rupturing” the regularities of nature in unpredictable ways. I don’t have any problem with that.

ii) I do think the chain of physical causation can and does break down in unpredictable and often undetectable ways. To take some examples:

a) I believe in creation ex nihilo. In the nature of the case, creation ex nihilo is abrupt, discontinuous, unprecedented, nonlinear. From nothing to something. Even if the result of creation ex nihilo were a closed causal continuum, there’s no telling (short of revelation) at what point in the continuum creation ex nihilo takes effect. Creation ex nihilo could initiate the cycle at an early phase in the cycle or a later phase in the cycle. And there’s no antecedent reason, that I can see, to think one is more likely than another.

b) I believe that angels and demons are agents who effect certain outcomes in time and space. I have no way of quantifying their contribution. It may be quite limited or it may be widespread. But even if the effect is physical, that’s not something you can trace back to a physical cause.

c) I believe that answered prayers frequently have physical outcomes. I have no idea what percentage of prayers are answered. But I don’t think it’s a trivial sum.

And even one answered prayer can have far-reaching effects. Take a Christian couple who prays to God to spare the mother from another miscarriage. If, in answer to prayer, the mother gives birth to a viable child, the life of that child will have multitudinous effects which would not occur had the child died in the womb. So God’s answer to that single prayer has a branching effect. And that effect is multiplied by countless answered prayers throughout the course of OT history, NT history, and church history.

From a Christian standpoint, I think it’s safe to say that history is honeycombed with the tangible effects of answered prayer. That’s a powerful dynamic in the course of world history.

Yet that’s not something you can’t trace back to a physical cause. If I offer a silent (mental) prayer to God, and God answers my prayer, that transaction falls outside the framework of physical causation. Even if I intone my prayer, God’s answer to my prayer is not just another link in the physical chain of cause and effect.

Thus, in a vast number of cases, our world has been shaped by the indiscernible factor of petitionary prayer. The present generation is the beneficiary of prayers offered by past generations, while the future generation is the beneficiary of prayers offered from the present generation. Yet, from an empirical standpoint, it usually looks like these things just “naturally” happen. They blend in seamlessly with the physical background. How could you tell, by looking at a teenager, that he is only here because his parents offered that prayer?

d) Likewise, some miracles are miracles of timing. Providentially opportune timing. Sometimes in answer to prayer, but not always. Miracles of timing employ natural mechanisms. So, in that sense, they’re perfectly “camouflaged.” They go unnoticed by the world at large. Only the beneficiary is in a position to perceive how timely, and unlikely, this was.

So, no, I don’t think we can simply start with a physical effect, then actually (or hypothetically) run back by through the physical links until we arrive at a physical cause. For in many instances, the trail of physical causes and effects runs out before it reaches the ultimate, supernatural cause. If something happens as a result of my prayer, then a scientist a 100 years later can’t trace the outcome all the back to God’s answer. The true explanation is physically untraceable. God left no fingerprints. Disposable latex gloves.

I follow Augustine in holding that miracles are not contrary to nature as such, but only nature as we know it and/or can influence.

You seem to be suggesting that miracles are the result of some hitherto undiscovered law of nature. However, miracles aren’t very law-like. Rather, they reflect the personal discretion of rational agent. It’s not like a machine that does whatever it was programmed to do, churching out a uniform product.

And I’m puzzled by your fanatical need to catalogue various events, then shelve them in the “right” place in your tidy little library. I expect many things which seem perfectly natural and normal this far down the pike go back centuries to something a long-forgotten mother mumbled on her knees in the corner of a hovel in some obscure, erstwhile hamlet.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cornelius Van Til Violates the Second Commandment

Lying for Mammy Nature

Misconduct found in Harvard animal morality prof's lab (HT: JD Walters)

"Improving" the Second Commandment

Exod 20:4-5

4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me...

On the one hand:


As far as fall back arguments go, I don't have anything to go on other than what the Bible plainly says about imaging God - Thou shalt not...

That doesn't seem overly nuanced or difficult to understand from my perspective, although it may come across as pious sounding.

On the other hand:


Any effort to image Christ's "divinity" fails miserably since the ineffable deity of the One True and Living God cannot be imaged.

Any effort to image Christ's humanity fails miserably since He was a unique human being with unique features, and no one knows what He looked like during His humiliation. Furthermore any effort to image Christ's humanity apart from His divinity is to slip into functional Nestorianism since such would be to bifurcate the God-man.

Observe how CD has to make improvements on the 2nd Commandment. Having said, in his first comment, that he has nothing else to go on but the plain statement of the text, notice how, in his second comment, he interpolates various qualifications which have no trace in the actual wording of the text. So the unadorned text plainly fails to plainly teach what he needs it to teach. He has to retrofit the text with suitable modifications. Customizing his prooftext.

"Ungodly perversions"


“The objection at hand is the violation of God's prohibition against human beings' efforts to image Him contra the 2nd Commandment. This crystal-clear position is also echoed by the voice of the Westminster divines, the Three Forms of Unity, the overwhelming consensus of the Reformers and Puritans, and most of the orthodox, confessional, creedal Reformed churches today.”

i) Of course, that’s the last-ditch resort of somebody who doesn’t have a real argument. And it’s interchangeable with the modus operandi of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists. Strange bedfellows.

ii) Triablogue takes sola Scriptura seriously. We don’t use Scripture to rubberstamp our favorite traditions.

iii) To my knowledge, the OPC and PCA don’t enforce the Puritan theory of worship. Not to mention the Reformed Anglican tradition, which is not aniconic.

“God has condescended to express Himself in His Word in many wonderful and glorious ways. His Word is His highest and fullest self-expression to mankind.”

Actually, God expresses himself in many different ways. In his Word. Theophanies. The tabernacle. The Incarnation.

“Thus human efforts to image the 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead is prohibited by the 2nd Commandment.”

So you’re accusing the Apostle John of violating the 2nd Commandment by using picture language to depict Jesus (Rev 1:13-16).

“Any effort to image Christ's ‘divinity’ fails miserably since the ineffable deity of the One True and Living God cannot be imaged.”

So the Incarnation “failed miserably” inasmuch as human observers couldn’t detect the ineffable deity of Christ from his physical appearance.

“Any effort to image Christ's humanity fails miserably since He was a unique human being with unique features, and no one knows what He looked like during His humiliation.”

i) That would only be a miserable failure if a visual representation is supposed to be photographically realistic. And where’s the argument for that assumption?

ii) Is Rev 1:13-16 a photographically realistic depiction of Jesus, or does that include some symbolic details? If the latter, does that make Rev 1:13-16 a miserable failure?

“Furthermore any effort to image Christ's humanity apart from His divinity is to slip into functional Nestorianism since such would be to bifurcate the God-man.”

Well, according to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are divine indicia. And Western art frequently depicts the miracles of Jesus. In so doing it bears witness to the divinity as well as humanity of Christ.

“Therefore any and all representations of any of the Persons of the Godhead are pure speculation, the product of a sinful human being's sinfully corrupted imagination.”

So Daniel’s picturesque description of the Father (Dan 7:9) is pure speculation, the product of a sinful human being's sinfully corrupted imagination.

“With this in mind it becomes clear that all endeavors to defend or offer counterarguments against God's 2nd Commandment prohibition against human efforts to image Him are sinful, and sinfully motivated. Thus those who image God, and their erswhile apologists (or e-pologists), enablers, and defenders are partakers of the same bitter root of sin.”

So we should eject Daniel and Revelation from the canon (not to mention other Scriptures containing sinful and sinfully motivated throne visions).

“With this in mind it becomes obvious that all involved in this type of sinful behavior are to be rebuked and called to repentance for their ungodly perversions.”

With this in mind it becomes obvious that Daniel, John, et al. are to be rebuked and called to repentance for their ungodly perversions.


To: Hellspawn
From: Anton LaVey
Re: Change of plans

There has been another security breach. This time we’ve been outed by Billy Birch:

“Though castigated by some Calvinists, it is no wonder why Roger Olson notes that it is at times difficult to distinguish between God and Satan in a Calvinistic worldview, when such language about God is employed.”

We were originally planning to sacrifice Josh Thibodaux at our monthly Black Sabbath, but in light of this development I’ve decided to keep Josh on ice for next month’s solemnities and promote Billy Birch to the head of the line.

Of course, we’re still saving the more illustrious sacrificial victims like Ben Witherington and Roger Olson for special occasions, like Halloween or the Winter Solstice. And we always like to keep one or two Arminians in the dungeon in case we run low on reserves.

Paul Tobin Vs. Richard Carrier On Luke's Census

Paul Tobin:

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....

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! 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!”

Richard Carrier:

On the other hand, there might be no mistake at all [in Luke 2:1]: the phrase is pasan tên oikoumenên, "all of the inhabited," where the adjective "inhabited" implies some noun in the feminine, such as "land" or "region," but usually referring to "the whole world." However, this idiom was used not only to refer to the whole Roman Empire, but to regions like "the whole Greek world," and thus may have been meant here as simply the whole Jewish world, or, even more likely, to the whole of Syria (which then included Judaea)--for "Syria" is also a feminine noun.

Another reasonable possibility is that Augustus did issue a decree that all provinces be assessed, but without ordering that it all happen at once. The second paragraph of the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy expands Luke 2:2 by saying "in the 309th year of the Era of Alexander, Augustus put forth an edict." The Era of Alexander began in 336/335 B.C., so the 309th year would be 28/27 B.C., exactly the time when provincial censuses begin (though not in all provinces: see How Often Was the Census Held? below). Luke could not have meant Jesus was born in 28 or 27 B.C. (for all the reasons given throughout this survey below, and because this early date doesn't work in Matthew's narrative, either). But if Luke meant an Augustan decree issued in 28 B.C. first applied to Judaea when Quirinius was in office, then Luke 2:2 becomes completely intelligible: this is the first Augustan census of Judaea--in other words, the first time the Augustan decree affected Judaea, which happened to be when Quirinius was governing Syria (a chronological marker no author would use unless Quirinius only governed Syria once).

Paul Tobin:

But unfortunately, the problems begin to pile up the moment we consider the whole story [of Luke's census] in more detail....

Apart from being a logistical nightmare, this method of going to one's ancestral hometown to register for the census is unheard of in other historical sources. (in John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010], p. 160)

Richard Carrier:

The second "mistake" lies in supposing that people would be called back to ancestral towns to be counted, rather than be counted in the actual towns they were in. This charge has been formulated a dozen ways, but none of them really carry much force. Though Jesus' family appears to have resided outside Judaea in Nazareth, there could easily be any number of reasons why an ancestral connection with Bethlehem would require them to journey there for a census of Judaea (so much as a tiny plot of ancestral land would be enough, and Judaic law made it unusually difficult to get rid of such properties), though it does seem oddly unnecessary to take a woman on the verge of labor on such a dangerous trip (as all journeys were in such regions). We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri [1.3] but also from common sense: it is a well known fact that even Roman citizens had to enroll in one of several tribes to be counted, and getting provincials to organize according to locally-established tribal associations would be practical (see also Endnote 8 in my essay Luke and Josephus; and also [1.3.5]). Finally, even if Luke were making this up, he would sooner make something up that sounded plausible: in other words, such procedures were probably followed in at least one census within the author's memory, and we have no way to disprove the use of such a practice in previous provincial assessments.

Paul Tobin:

Finally, the clincher. Both Matthew and Luke said Jesus was born during the time of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1, Luke 1:5). (in John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010], p. 161)

Richard Carrier:

The second point is more forceful than the first: namely, that Luke is referring to Herod Archelaus [in Luke 1:5], not Herod the Great, and I think this most likely (see 1.1.3 below).

Paul Tobin:

I showed in detail why the evangelical “stock reply” of an earlier census under the same Quirinius is impossible.

Richard Carrier:

Nevertheless, though Matthew's account looks and smells like a fantastical legend (see below), I do not see Luke's account as historically impossible, as some have tried to argue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tina! Bring me the ax!

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.

IV. Prophecy

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.

V. Typology

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?

VI. Hyperbole

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.

VII. ”Mainstream”

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.” [1]

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. [2]

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”[3] 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 [4] or it can be used to argue for the non-occurrence of a purported event.[5]

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)[8]

Several problems:

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.[12] To many scholars, this issue is, of course, a “problem” in the sense that it is something that needs to be explained.[13]

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.”[14]

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. [15] 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.[17]

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.[23]

Which begs the question.

Thus mainstream scholarship is virtually unanimous[24] 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[26] 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. [27] 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[28] 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.”

Two problems:

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[31] 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.