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Following is the final part (at least for now) of my reply to Mr. Holding. He has already begun his own response to several of the points I have raised in this reply to him, and while I will revise my article in time to further defeat his newest claims, I see no reason to rush. I am confident that in most areas my points have already been made as well as I would like to make them, and I am equally confident that reasonable people will see how his counter-replies fail.
In any case, Mr. Holding's interest in having an honest and open discussion is doubtful at best. As discussed in the closing remarks of Part 2, he shamelessly dodged a challenge of mine, to explain what the Bible would have to say to be errant. In addition, others who have duelled with Mr. Holding have complained about his habit of not linking to the sites he is claiming to refute, no doubt to shield his readers from seeing any critique of Christianity except one filtered through his own commentary. Now, after a brief e-mail discussion, Mr. Holding did agree to link to this site on his index page devoted to it, and I duly acknowledge this. However, this page contains very little actual discussion of the contradictions I present or replies to my counterarguments. Most of that is found on separate pages discussing each individual contradiction, and while the index page hyperlinks to these pages, they do not link back to it. In fact, these individual pages, where they discuss my material specifically, do not link to Ebon Musings or even mention it by its full name; generally, it is simply referred to as "the Ebon website". Anyone who came across one of these individual pages first probably would not know what Mr. Holding was talking about and almost certainly would not be able to find my original site without prior knowledge of it. (Readers will note that I link specifically to each individual article on Mr. Holding's site before responding to it.)
I can see little reason for such a tactic except to protect his faithful flock from reading a raw, unfiltered skeptical critique of Christianity such as my site provides. Sadly, I have little doubt that this will work for many of them. Like Mr. Holding himself, his fundamentalist devotees have no interest in honest and open debate, only loud and furious denunciation of those who believe differently, the volume and fury increasing in proportion to the threat the person poses. They have no desire to see my material unless Mr. Holding or another of their apologist gatekeepers has stamped it "safe" and delivered it along with his own rebuttal.
Nevertheless, I have no doubt that there are a few thinking minds among the faceless horde of darkness, a few sparks of curiosity that have not been entirely snuffed out. It is for these few that I present Part 3 of my reply, in the hopes that even a few of them will take it upon themselves to find this site, and that it will strike a chord with them. It is for these few that I seek to show atheism is not only rational and defensible, but a genuine alternative to the shadow of theism, a life that can be at least as full of happiness, wonder and love as anything any church or preacher proffers. If I can lead even one mind out of the darkness and kindle that spark into full-fledged light, I will consider my mission a success.
Does God Tempt?
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," the New Testament says. So, is such a prayer necessary? Does God ever tempt people? The author of the epistle of James says not in verse 1:13, and yet the famous Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah would seem to show otherwise. As Genesis 22:1 says, "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham."
A clear contradiction? Mr. Holding indignantly says not:
Here our man claims that the Hebrew and Greek words in question "are exactly the same," which I am sure the lexicons would appreciate being corrected upon.Mr. Holding, you have flagrantly misquoted me in such a way as to distort the meaning of my statement. This is what I originally said:
The primary meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words used for "tempt", nacah and peirazo respectively in these two verses, are exactly the same - "to test, to prove" - and as well, they also both have the the same secondary meaning of "to tempt" exactly as it is used in English. (emphasis added)It should be plain to see that what I said is by no means the same thing as what Mr. Holding represents me as having said. Nevertheless, my original point remains and his fails, because the lexicons do agree with me. Here's what Strong's says:
5254 nacah naw-saw' a primitive root; to test; by implication, to attempt:--adventure, assay, prove, tempt, try.It should again be plain to see that the meanings of these two words are as nearly identical as one can get when translating between such dissimilar languages as Hebrew and Greek. Both have the primary meaning of "to test" and both have secondary meanings corresponding to "to assay, prove, tempt, try." What about this is Mr. Holding (and his pawn Eric Vestrup) disputing?
3985 peirazo pi-rad'-zo from 3984; to test (objectively), i.e. endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline:-- assay, examine, go about, prove, tempt(-er), try.
Perhaps recognizing that he's been trounced on these grounds, Mr. Vestrup retreats to the always-reliable apologist's defense of quibbling about semantics:
There is a semantic difference between "test" and "tempt". An examination of a complete English dictionary will verify this. Note that some of the meanings carry positive connotations, while some carry negative connotations.... As with any mode of human communication, context determines the shading being used.In essence, both Mr. Vestrup (and the apologist he quotes through C. Dennis McKinsey) make exactly the same argument: what James says God will not do is "tempt", whereas what God did with Abraham is "test", and that the subtle connotative difference between these two terms is enough to resolve the contradiction. The original quoted text from McKinsey sums this argument up succinctly:
On page 15 of So the Bible is Full of Contradictions Johnson says in this regard, 'An understanding of the meaning of the word 'tempt' will dispel the seeming contradiction. This word is used in a good sense and in a bad sense. When it's used in a good sense it means to test, to try, to prove. God tested Abraham.... When the word 'tempt' is used in a bad sense it means to entice a person to do evil. God never tempts man to sin.'In other words, the apologists' argument here is based entirely on the a priori assumption that God does not tempt people, and so whatever it is he did to Abraham, it cannot be tempting. This is pure circular reasoning, similar to the contradiction in Part 1 of this essay on the issue of God repenting, wherein Mr. Holding argued that the verses which appear to show God changing his mind cannot be read that way, because we know ahead of time that God does not change his mind. When you start out with the assumption that the Bible is inerrant, who can be surprised when that turns out to be your conclusion as well?
But rather than get down into the gutter with Mr. Holding and Mr. Vestrup on this one and quibble about translations, there is a better and simpler way to prove that God did indeed tempt Abraham, contrary to the verse in James. That way? Let's go to the dictionary, as Mr. Vestrup suggests:
There is a semantic difference between "test" and "tempt". An examination of a complete English dictionary will verify this.I have done such an examination, and will proffer the following definition for "tempt": "to entice or induce to do X", with the usual connotation that X is an act that is evil or otherwise wrong.
What was God's "test" of Abraham? He commanded a human sacrifice. The very simple followup question is then: Is human sacrifice evil or wrong in God's eyes?
Surprisingly, one might make a fair argument that it is not. (See Part 1 and the story of Jephthah's daughter.) But since Christians typically believe otherwise, citing verses such as Deuteronomy 12:31, and since Mr. Holding has indicated elsewhere that his view is no exception, I will assume he believes that human sacrifice is indeed wrong. If that is so, then God attempted to get Abraham to do something wrong. In other words, he tempted him. Shove that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Holding.
That the act was not completed does not mitigate this fact. Consider the following analogous situation: A lobbyist enters a politician's office, opens a briefcase full of money in front of him, and says, "Vote for my bill and you can have all of this." The politician eagerly agrees, then gets up and reaches out for the money, but before he can lay a hand on it the lobbyist snaps the case shut and says, "Just kidding!" Bearing in mind our definition of "to induce or entice to do wrong", was that temptation or not?
Does God Show Favoritism?
At first glance, the answer to this question is an obvious "yes" - God's chosen people are the Jews, an assertion which the Old Testament repeats constantly. But several New Testament verses deny this, claiming that God shows no partiality, no favoritism - no "respect" - when it comes to dealing with people. This is a clear contradiction, and the intuitive understanding of why it is a contradiction turns out to be correct. But Mr. Holding denies this, of course, though he feels obligated to take a potshot at me before supplying his explanation why:
The same may be said for attempts to find conflict between OT and NT uses of the word "respect" only there our critic grudgingly admits that shades of meaning are possible....Where does Mr. Holding get "grudgingly" from? I have no interest in holding to a position that is factually incorrect. When a concordance lookup proved that "respect" is not the only possible meaning of the Hebrew word so translated in the Bible, I tailored my argument accordingly. It does not matter; the contradiction remains. (I should also note that I included this contradiction partially as a blow against those Christians Mr. Holding disparagingly refers to as "KJV-Onlyists". In their case, shades of Hebrew meaning are irrelevant.)
Mr. Holding's actual argument, in any event, is quite unintentionally amusing. It appears to rest on the hope that his readers do not know what "favoritism" means.
Note the distinction here: God accepts those who "fear him and do what is right" - so that acceptance is not the result of favoritism, but of merit in Godís service.and yet
The reason, then, that the one people were chosen was because of the acts of obedience of their forefathers.This is favoritism, plain and simple. The Jews were chosen as God's people not because of anything they did right - indeed, verses such as Exodus 32:9-14 make it quite clear that they did not do right in God's sight - but because their ancestors did, and so God is willing to favor them on the strength of that alone. What Mr. Holding has described above is a textbook example of favoritism, like the board of directors of a corporation choosing their CEO's son for a high-powered position. If it were true that "acceptance is not the result of favoritism, but of merit in Godís service", as he says, then only the faithful forefathers would have been accepted by God, and the Israelites would not have automatically inherited that acceptance but would have had to work to receive it by their own good deeds and obedience. But the Old Testament insists that this is not the case. As Deuteronomy 7:6 says:
"For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth."Does this sound like God is telling them he accepts the Jews based only on their obedience? Does this look like a statement that God shows no favoritism but will accept anyone who follows his law? Hardly. (That intuition would be confirmed by Deuteronomy 23:3, which states that no Ammonite or Moabite can ever enter "the congregation of the Lord.") The contradiction stands.
But is there one more way out? In explaining the meaning of prosopolepsia in the NT verses, Mr. Holding cites an example from James 2 of accepting people based on their dress, and says:
"Respect of persons" has nothing to do with covenental agreements, or even judgment based on merit, but with judgments based on our own suppositions and deductions.Well, wouldn't this meaning of prosopolepsia apply equally well if the choice was not between a man dressed in rich clothes and a man dressed in rags, but between a man of noble birth and a man of common birth? If so, then the contradiction is maintained, because such a standard is exactly the one by which God concluded the Israelites were worthy. Mr. Holding tries to evade this by slipping in a mention that the Jews were chosen because "their forefathers, and they, were obedient" (emphasis mine), but an even cursory inspection of the Old Testament will show that this is not the case. The Jews were not obedient to God; they repeatedly lapsed into sin and idolatry, from the Exodus right up to the Babylonian captivity and the coming of Jesus, and were repeatedly punished for it with military defeats, plagues, enslavement, and other catastrophes.
As an interesting postscript: If it is true, as Mr. Holding says, that God is not partial and accepts anyone who is willing to obey his laws, then we must conclude he gave everyone an equal chance to follow those laws. But where in the Bible is such a conclusion supported? Where are we ever told that God gave sets of rules to other peoples as well? After all, the non-Israelite tribes could hardly be blamed for sinning if they were never even told what rules they were supposed to obey. But the Mt. Sinai covenant is, as far as the OT tells us, unique. Nowhere are we ever informed that God manifested himself to the Hittites, or the Ammonites, or the Canaanites, or the Babylonians, or the Egyptians, or indeed any other people. None of these races got a Moses to inform them of God's will. Just as the Argument from Locality would lead us to expect, as far as the OT tells us God revealed his will to only one people, and punished the rest with genocide, slavery and destruction for failing to obey rules they could not possibly have known about.
Are There Any Sinless Humans?
I can't help but wonder if some of these articles are works in progress - either that or some of these contradictions are so severe that the apologists' only defense is to ignore them. Refuting Mr. Holding's response to this issue is about as difficult as shooting fish in a barrel. Nevertheless, he seems to insist that I clearly elucidate how he has failed to resolve this, and so I shall.
First, before dealing with the issue of whether anyone has ever been genuinely sinless, let's consider what the Bible has to say about whether anyone is simply righteous. While the Epistle to the Romans says not, there are verses that describe both Old Testament and New Testament figures in such terms, as we can see here:
(Romans 3:10)Needless to say, all of these verses use the exact same Greek word for "righteous", dikaios. Mr. Holding is denied even the small recourse of quibbling over translation. (There is at least one OT verse, namely Genesis 7:1, which also describes someone as "righteous", but I know if I cited it he would resort to this tactic; therefore I will stick to NT verses for now.) So what is your reply to this, Mr. Holding? Has there ever been anyone who is righteous, or not?
"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one."
"And they [Zacharias and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
(2 Peter 2:7-8)
"And [God] delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds."
We now move on to a similar but related contradiction, the issue of whether there has ever been anyone who is truly sinless. Mr. Holding says:
So is the Bible telling us there were a few sinless people? Not at all. The NT folks are described as "righteous before God." This does NOT mean that they never sinned either (the word nowhere and in no way implies perfection!)....Mr. Holding, please read these verses. In particular, read Luke 1:6. Elizabeth and Zacharias are not only said to be "righteous before God", the verse then goes on to say they walked "in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." How can this be understood as describing these two in any other terms but sinless? Is Mr. Holding asking us to believe that you can be righteous, that you can obey every commandment and law of God, and that you can be blameless, and still be a sinner? (The idea of "blameless" alone would make such an idea a contradiction in terms - the Greek word there, amemptos, means "irreproachable, blameless, faultless, unblamable.") If these two had committed any sins at all, they would not be "blameless".
... but it does mean - as the next part clearly says - that they followed all the commandments. Now even if this is not an exaggeration for emphasis,Mr. Holding's exegetical skills continue to astonish me. Apparently now, in addition to being able to reconstruct Jesus' original words despite them only being paraphrased in the Gospel records, he can also tell whether someone who is described as "sinless" genuinely is sinless or whether it is just an "exaggeration for emphasis". In other words, he is claiming - everybody say it with me - "the text doesn't mean what it says." (What imaginable contradiction could not be resolved by claiming the text is an "exaggeration for emphasis"? Maybe Noah's flood was only local but its extent was exaggerated for emphasis? Maybe some of Jesus' miracles were exaggerations? I really wonder how he knows where to draw the line.)
if they followed the law, then they did what was required in the law to make them righteous before God - that is, they brought the appropriate sacrifices. By the OT covenant, that made them righteous before God.And...? What exactly is Mr. Holding implying here? That following the OT laws in every detail may make you righteous, but it won't make you sinless? What a curious position to take. I was under the impression that most conservative Christians believed that the OT laws were designed to be impossible to follow - to show our own inadequacy in the face of perfection and lead us inevitably to the realization that only through grace could we be saved. Mr. Holding appears to be coming at it from the opposite direction - arguing that the OT law code, even if followed exactly, isn't good enough for salvation (which of course begs the question of why God didn't give us one that was).
Moving on, we come to the OT verses. Verses such as Psalms 14:3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20 confirm the interpretation of universal depravity given in Romans, and since this is in accord with Mr. Holding's theology I presume he will not argue with them. Instead, we will turn to consider the OT verses that appear to be saying the opposite.
The actual word for moral perfection in Hebrew is tamiym (cf. Gen. 17:1, 2 Sam. 22:31). Tam might better be equated with "well-rounded" or "fulfilling one's duties" or "in the right place" (which would include proper reaction to sin), but it does not mean "perfection". ("Tamiym" is used to describe Noah in Gen. 6:9, but it refers to him as "perfect" in his "generations" [towledah], the word used of physical family descent. One suggests that, in the context of Gen. 6:4, this refers not to Noah's moral behavior, but to the fact that his line was untainted by interaction with the "sons of God" who came unto the daughters of men.)If tamiym can describe someone's "generations" or line of descent, then obviously it has alternate meanings other than "morally perfect". Besides, are we to believe that there is only one Hebrew word that can mean "sinless"? What about tam, which is used, for example, to describe the title character in Job 1:1? Mr. Holding insists that this word does not mean "sinless", but can offer only two examples to back him up:
Ex. 26:24 And they shall be coupled together beneath, and they shall be coupled together above the head of it unto one ring: thus shall it be for them both; they shall be for the two corners. (Can inanimate objects be "sinless"?)Unfortunately for him, he evidently failed to notice that the first example is irrelevant and the second actually weakens his case. True, it would be absurd to speak of an inanimate object as being sinful or sinless, but plainly a word can have more than one meaning - which tam does. Its meaning in relation to inanimate things has no relevance to its meaning in relation to conscious moral agents. As for the second example, this verse translates tam as undefiled, a concept which undeniably encompasses "sinless". Why Mr. Holding chose to cite this verse is not clear, and he offers no commentary as to how its use in this context helps him. (Shoot yourself in the foot often, do you, Mr. Holding?) In summary, he has given no good reason to believe that tam means anything other than "sinless" when used to describe humans, and indeed he admits that the explanation he cites is "not perfectly clear".
Songs 5:2 I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
But one final point needs to be made, and it's the most decisive of all - a coup de grace that will convict Mr. Holding by his own words. Recall this innocent-looking verse from Ecclesiastes:
"For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (7:20)Simple enough, surely? But no - there is something else going on here. In Part 1 of this response, Mr. Holding accused me of failing to understand the book of Ecclesiastes, and stated it was an example of a genre called "proverbial literature," of which we are told that:
...the genre has a high rhetorical function and cannot be read as though it were absolute. (my emphasis)Well, if Ecclesiastes 7:20 is proverbial literature and cannot be read as if it were stating an absolute, as Mr. Holding has claimed, then there is only one conclusion - namely, that there are just men who do good and sin not, in blatant contradiction to the verse from Romans and a fairly significant part of Mr. Holding's theology. By thy words shalt thou be justified...
Will God's People Be Persecuted?
Mr. Holding seems to have misunderstood the point I was trying to make with this next contradiction. Upon seeing that one of the cited verses is from Proverbs, he immediately and airily dismisses the issue as another instance of my failing to understand "proverbial literature", and makes no further reply. But as my original page stated:
This contradiction illuminates one of the many differences between the Old and New Testament Gods, as detailed in "Shadow of Turning". In the OT, when God's people are righteous and keep his laws, he rewards them with peace, prosperity, and victory over their enemies; only when they sin, usually by idolatry, does he allow the Israelites' foes to overcome and defeat them. However, in the NT, persecution of the followers of Jesus is not only allowed, it is expected, and is a sign of their faithfulness. (emphasis added)The point I was trying to make was not merely that these two specific verses are contradictory (though they certainly are that). Rather, I was pointing out that the verses are but the two examples that best encapsulate a general pattern: namely, that in Old Testament times God grants his followers earthly security and prosperity when they are faithful to him and obey his will, and only allows them to suffer defeat and persecution when they stray. But in New Testament times, things have changed, and even God's most faithful messengers suffer persecution and torture, even death. Faith in God no longer offers protection from mortal threats. What is the reason for this abrupt about-face of a deity in whom there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17)? Why does God no longer reward faith as he once did?
In the Old Testament, the concept of "martyr" is virtually unknown; when Israel's kings and rulers are killed by their enemies, it is almost invariably because they have stumbled into wickedness and idolatry, because they have turned from following God's commandments. Books such as Judges, Kings and Chronicles document this continually recurring cycle of sin, disaster, redemption, righteousness, and prosperity. (True, there are a few notable exceptions, such as the case of Job - although even he eventually had restored to him what was rightfully his - but I am speaking in terms of general patterns.)
But in New Testament times, things are different. Eleven of Christ's twelve apostles, according to Christian tradition, died martyr's deaths, murdered by enemies of the faith. (John is usually held to have died of old age, the sole exception.) As Paul's letters tell us, Christian preachers are often severely persecuted. One only read verses such as 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a catalogue of their sufferings: beatings and whippings, unjust imprisonment, death; imperilment by robbers and heathens, by wilderness and weather, by "false brethren" and by their own countrymen; frequent hunger, thirst, pain, cold and weariness. In the same chapter Paul tells us how he was forced to secretly escape the governor of Damascus in a basket lowered down the wall. Acts 16 describes how Paul and Silas were beaten by an angry mob, whipped and cast into prison. (They were miraculously freed later, but this is beside the point.) Acts 7 recounts the stoning of Stephen. Even Jesus himself warned his followers in Matthew 10:16 and 10:23 to expect trials and scourgings, saying they will be as "sheep in the midst of wolves". The list goes on and on, demonstrating that persecution is the norm in the New Testament to the same degree that divine protection was the norm in the Old. Christianity was oppressed mercilessly by the ruling powers until it finally caught the eye of Constantine, centuries after its founding.
So, Mr. Holding, why this dramatic change? Why this inconsistent behavior, this abrupt about-face from God? This is where the contradiction in this instance lies, and you have not begun to address it.
Who Was First to Ascend to Heaven?
Though I already knocked down Mr. Holding's answer to this contradiction in my original article, he insists on getting up for another round, and so I will oblige him:
Our response detailing the difference in usage between Hebrew and Greek words is described as "laughable" because Ebon did a "simple lookup" (the best kind!) that proves that "Heaven" is "a valid translation" of the Hebrew word, but "the OT simply did not have the well-developed view of the afterlife that the NT does, and so this is the closest equivalent it has for that concept." If this is the case, then how can one say that the OT offers a conflict with the NT on this point?My original argument made this clear; Mr. Holding quotes it almost in its entirety but somehow fails to comprehend its import. As I have already pointed out, the Hebrew shamiyim does mean "heaven" - that is simply not its only meaning. The reason the OT conflicts with the NT on this point is because it uses the word it has that is the closest equivalent.
By the NT era "Heaven" (reported as well with capital H) was a specific locale regarded as the abode of the righteous. In the OT it was not a specific locale, just "up there" from just above the ground all the way to unknown.In other words, Mr. Holding's defense consists of asserting that Elijah could not have gone to Heaven because the Old Testament had no concept of Heaven. (One might well ask why God did not bother to tell his chosen people about this - as well as several other important NT concepts such as the Trinity which the OT does not even hint at - but that is another issue.) Well, that won't save him. Maybe the OT itself didn't have a specific, well-developed concept of Heaven, but looking back at this event through the clarity of hindsight, it should be obvious to a Christian what was meant. Where else do righteous people go? Unless Mr. Holding is arguing that Heaven actually didn't exist until NT times, when God decided to create it?
The term evolved in use, as can be seen by anyone familiar with contemporary literature,Naturally, I have no problem whatsoever with Mr. Holding's claim that the Bible is merely a piece of fictional literature, similar to other works of fictional literature of the same era, whose key concepts underwent evolution over time in response to the changing needs and norms of the cultures that produced it.
...and asking non-questions like "where else did Elijah go, then?" (Hint: the universe is a big place!) ...are not an answer.Why exactly is this a non-question? Personally, I thought it was a very good question, and that suspicion was confirmed by the vague and evasive non-answer Mr. Holding volunteered (a non-answer to a non-question, how fitting). "The universe is a big place"? What on earth is he trying to imply? That God rewarded Elijah for his faithfulness by transporting him to an alien planet to live out his life? Or maybe God just put him in orbit? What?
This is beyond absurd. God does not reward people by launching them into space. God rewards righteous people by letting them into Heaven. This is and has always been the Christian belief. The only reason Mr. Holding even tries to wring a different meaning out of this passage is his overriding preconceived desire to explain away any and all contradictions in the Bible. In this case, however, it will not avail him. There's no reason to conclude the text means anything other than what it says - Elijah was taken up into Heaven, Jesus said no one has ever been taken up into Heaven, and there the contradiction stands.
As a postscript - it's a shame Mr. Holding dismissed my "snide" suggestion about Elijah suffocating in the upper atmosphere. That might actually have been his best way out of this contradiction - he could have argued that God killed Elijah midflight and then let just his soul into Heaven, saving the necessity of a bodily ascension.
As a second postscript, there is a quite amusing absurdity relating to this whole affair. 2 Kings chapter 2 describes how Elijah, after his ascension, was succeeded by Elisha. 2 Kings chapter 3 recounts a confrontation between Elisha and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Several years later, Jehoshaphat was succeeded by his son, Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:1). Jehoram was a wicked king and "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 8:18). As a result, Elijah sends Jehoram a letter to chastise him! (2 Chronicles 21:12). How in the world was this possible? The postal service in Heaven must be quite good.
Will There Be a Resurrection?
Once again, when faced with a clear contradiction in the Bible, Mr. Holding attempts to wriggle out of it through the "proverbial literature" exception he has granted himself - the exception that basically says he's free to interpret any verse as non-literal and non-absolute whenever he thinks the context indicates it. If he wants to play such games with the text, that's his affair; however, I'm only going by what the Bible says. He can ridicule me for that all he likes, but I suspect the majority of Christian believers (the "KJV-Onlyists" as he calls them) are far closer to my viewpoint than to his. I will hardly deny that most contradictions in the Bible can be "solved" by sufficient twistings and redefinitions of the words (though Mr. Holding's twistings are not very clever - usually they just boil down to "it doesn't mean what it says"), but those of us without preconceived faith commitments will inevitably be left dumbfounded at the necessity of such logical contortions to reconcile what seem like the plainest of inconsistencies.
In any event, the issue here dealt with concerns whether some biblical verses deny the possibility of resurrection or afterlife. Mr. Holding's thin response to this contradiction can be found here, although as already stated, there's little substance to it other than an assertion that these verses don't mean what they say. In response to two verses that most blatantly assert the finality of death, Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Job 7:9, he says:
Note also that Ecclesiastes is a discourse that takes the persona of the man who lives without knowledge of God, and that the Job verse is words said by Job and thus do not necessarily reflect an accurate teaching, but merely reporting what he said; though that book too is written as a discourse/dialogue.Regarding "proverbial literature" as it relates to not being able to take verses literally, I will only say this: Boy, the Word of God sure is hard to understand! Especially for a hayseed skeptic like myself. I can't help but wonder if Mr. Holding believes there is any part of the Bible that can be understood by modern readers without detailed linguistic, literary and historical studies. Does the Bible contain any universals at all? Or must we all be scholars like Mr. Holding before we can even begin to understand it, and if not, how are us poor ignorant laymen to discern which parts can be taken literally and which can't? I really would like to know this.
I'm also especially amused by Mr. Holding's claim that Ecclesiastes is written from the viewpoint of "the man who lives without knowledge of God" - why does he want to argue this? Because it contradicts so many other parts of the Bible! Mr. Holding is essentially attempting to save the Bible from a charge of errancy by arguing that an entire book of the Bible was written by a guy who didn't know what he was talking about. Talk about burning the village to save the village. (Perhaps he might tell us what specific textual evidence he and his fellow scholars have used to come to such conclusions? And if what he says is true, then why does the writer of Ecclesiastes exhort us to "fear God" in verses such as 5:7?)
As for the verse from Job, it is true that this phrase is spoken by Job himself in the middle of a rant against God's injustice. But nothing and no one in the entire book contradicts it - Job's pals Eliphaz and Bildad don't tell him he's talking nonsense, and neither does God (whose sole answer to all of Job's complaints is essentially, "I created the universe and you didn't, so hush your mouth.") Nor is this some false accusation Job throws out on impulse, without thinking it over - in fact, he then goes on to say specifically (in verses such as 7:11) that the lack of an afterlife is the very reason he is complaining against God's injustice - either because he believes he will not be rewarded in the next life for his suffering or because he doesn't believe he can be punished any worse than he already is, the text is not clear.
In either case, the problem is not resolved, and given the generally extremely muddled view of the afterlife in Old Testament thinking (or as the Jewish Virtual Library puts it, "The Torah, the most important Jewish text, has no clear reference to afterlife at all"), there's no good reason to conclude these verses mean anything other than what they say: that there is no resurrection, no afterlife, that the dead stay dead. And as this conflicts with numerous verses of the New Testament, the contradiction stands.
On the Contents of the Ark
"Paging Indiana Jones" indeed. The Old Testament claims that the Ark of the Covenant contained the two stone tablets of the law given to Moses - nothing else. But the writer of the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews, who apparently needs to brush up on his Bible, said that it contained additional treasures as well: Aaron's rod and a golden pot full of manna. It is nowhere attested in the OT that the ark contained any such things. (Exodus 16:33 does mention the pot and the rod, but it simply says to "lay them up before the Lord" and never specifically says they were put into the ark. Mr. Holding confirms this in his response: "Some have noted that nothing in Exodus states that the rod or manna were put in the Ark. This is true....") What does Mr. Holding have to say about this?
Kings and Chronicles refer to a time after Solomon. Hebrews refers to a time just after Israel left Egypt and when the Ark was first made. That's a span of almost 500 years! Do you think the manna and the rod were still fresh? No, they were organic materials and would have crumbled away long since.In the first place, the ark itself was made of wood (Exodus 25:10) - so if Aaron's rod had long since decayed away by the time Kings and Chronicles refer to, the ark should have been long gone as well. But this doesn't seem to have been the case. In the second place, even if the manna itself had decayed, the golden jar would still be there. Gold does not rot.
One would have to assume that sometime in that 500 years, the jar was lost or removed, which does not seem unlikely given the loss of thousands of other artifacts through time!"Which does not seem unlikely"? This isn't some random container up for looting, it's the Ark of the Covenant. (Hasn't Mr. Holding seen "Raiders of the Lost Ark"? Doesn't he know that evil spirits will fly out and eat your face if you open it?) According to the Bible, the ark was untouchable - only the Kohathites, of the Levite tribe, could carry it around, and if they so much as touched it or looked into it they would die instantly. Any non-Kohathite would die instantly for even coming near. (This article, from a site Mr. Holding often favorably refers to, makes this all clear in the section on Uzzah.) This would make it rather difficult, to say the least, for anyone to remove the jar.
And finally, we come to the last contradiction of all: Is God the author of confusion? Paul says no in 1 Corinthians, but has evidently forgotten the Tower of Babel story.
Mr. Holding seems to have no response to this at all. He calls it "snide" and says, inexplicably, that Babel "represented the imposition of a new order determined by God, not a dismantling of order." What this is supposed to mean is unknown. At the Tower of Babel, God "confounded" all the people by splitting what had formerly been one language into many, preventing them from understanding each other; in other words, he created confusion. I'm surprised Mr. Holding didn't simply resort to his usual tactic of labeling the 1 Corinthians verse "proverbial literature" and therefore non-literal - but that would mean that God is at times the author of confusion, and perhaps this is a solution he is resolved to avoid.
At any rate, Mr. Holding has failed to respond to the more significant part of this issue, which is that on this point the Bible is not only contradictory within itself, but also contradicts external reality. God plainly is the author of confusion - the vast diversity of sects, churches, schisms and splinter groups within Christianity, each of which claims to draw its inspiration from the exact same book, proves this. Why has a unified book, written by one God with one aim in mind, caused so much confusion, disorganization and disarray? Why has the Bible been used, at one time or another, to support virtually any political, religious or ideological position one cares to name - from slavery to liberty, from free will to predestination, from left-wing to right-wing, from those who would not raise a hand even to defend their own lives to those who gleefully go off to slaughter the unbelievers?
Are we to believe that Mr. Holding and his ideological confreres are the first to really understand what the Bible means, and that everyone who came before him has gotten it all wrong? Given the self-evidently enormous diversity of opinions the Bible has spawned, as well as the great numbers of respectable scholars who have reached conclusions diametrically opposed to many of his, why should we accept his conclusions as any more valid than anyone else's?
There is only one way out of this hopeless maze of confusion and misinterpretation: Recognize that the Bible possesses no special divine wisdom or insight, that it was not written with the help of God's guidance, but that it is only a book written by fallible, ignorant men. Ever since the first words of Genesis were put to paper, various groups have been squabbling over it, each one seeking to support their own interpretation and turn its words to their own best advantage. Given the vast range of beliefs that have been twisting and tugging this book in all directions ever since its formation, it is no surprise that an equal or greater diversity of opinion finds support in it today. If the Bible is God's word, then God is either hopelessly confused himself, or so sloppy and careless that it does not matter to him whether he is understood by anyone else. Such a shifting foundation of sand offers no solid ground upon which to build a religion, though that has not stopped hundreds of groups and individuals throughout history from each claiming that their particular sand grain is the way, the truth and the life, to be followed to the exclusion of all others. Mr. Holding and his kin are merely the latest iteration of this trend.
But, in time, the sand will blow away. And when that happens, only one way of life will remain, only one solid rock left behind that is unmoved by the scouring of logic, evidence and reason. That way, of course, is atheism - the way of freedom from the ever-shifting, empty desert of gods and religion, the path of light into a new future undarkened by the old superstitions. Should Mr. Holding or any of his followers ever dare to join myself and others on this path, we will be there, waiting to show them the way.
Back to Reply to J.P. Holding, Part 1
Back to Reply to J.P. Holding, Part 2
Onward to Final Statements