Misogyinistic, Genocidal, Homophobic, Infantcidal, Racist, Bully- Character of God???

 „The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.“ – Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of the most influential voices of the atheist community, writes the words above concerning the character of the God of the Old Testament. Having researched (hopefully, however poorly) and having read the Old Testament, he concludes that the God of the Bible is bad and people are better off without him. Many people agree with him. Its not hard to find a forum online where people are voicing their disgust in this „vile“ being. I must admit, at first glance the certain passages of the Old Testament can be difficult to understand, but I’m convinced that they are not impossible. I don’t plan to solve the God delusion in this post, but what I hope to do is speak to a few of those „difficult“ passages in hopes of showing that they are understandable and interpretable, and have great significance to the original readers and to us, 21st Century believers, as well. I’m not going to mention everything (there are great books out there for that), however I am going to discuss 3 areas/passages that I feel are most difficult for people:  Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (The destruction of seemingly innocent people/Genocide), Genesis 22 (Abraham’s „test“), Leviticus 12:1-8 (Misogyny in the bible), and lastly Leviticus 25:44-46 (Slavery/Racism).

1. Deut. 20:16-18- To make this blog as short as possible, I will not include the scripture text. However, I do recommend a thorough read of the text that I’m discussing before each section. Before I begin, I will say that doing hermeneutics requires that we 1) realize and affirm that we, 21st century westerners, read with a different set of lenses (i.e. worldview) than the ancient near eastern original audience of the scriptures, 2) we must adjust our lenses to a proper worldview of the ancient near eastern people in order to properly interpret a biblical authors intent.

This divine command to kill the Canaanites is probably one of the most difficult hurdles for critics of the Old Testament God. Scholars have went to great lengths to properly explain and justify the command of the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. For in depth details, consult those sources. There is a lot that is to be said about linguistics, archeology, literary context, and semantics- I won’t bother with these things (not as though they are unimportant). I want to discuss the problem of sin (evil). Before the command to enter the land of Canaan, the Israelites were given the commandments of the Lord (Ex. 20:22-26; Deut. 5:6-21). The first commandments given were commandments regarding idol worship. God abhors idol worship. He hates it. And the Canaanites, at that time were great at it. In fact, their worship consisted of imitating the activity of their gods and goddesses. Baal, a Canaanite fertility god, was said to be stimulated by the sex acts of his worshippers on Canaanite high places. Temple sex, bestiality, homosexual activity, and child sacrifice were permitted and encouraged by this god, and the Canaanites practiced fervently. Profound moral corruption was abundant, and God could tarry his hand against them any longer. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah was ripe for judgment in the days of Abraham, so were the Canaanites ripe for divine judgment after the exodus, which would ultimately be carried out in keeping with God’s saving purposes in history. Is God no longer just for enacting judgment against a wicked people?

2. Genesis 22- Critics say that God can’t be good if he ask a man to sacrifice his son. This would suggest that he is in favor of child sacrifice and child abuse. God’s command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is hard. But the text doesn’t leave the reader without hints of hope. At the very beginning of the chapter, the reader is told that God came to „test or try“ (נִסָּ֖ה) Abraham. The word נִסָּ֖ה suggest that this request is unusual- it is out of the ordinary. God does not usually make request as this one, and it was unique to Abraham’s situation.

We also often read these verses as a stern command towards Abraham to sacrifice his son, as if God has no compassion. Unfortunately we miss the tenderness with which God gives this command to Abraham in the English translation. A more accurate translation of verse 2 would be „Please take your only son or take, I beg of you, your only son“. Theologian Gordon Wenham writes „here we see a hint that the Lord appreciates the costliness of what he is requesting of Abraham“. God understands the magnitude of this difficult task, and would not have asked a worthier man to do this than Abraham. Furthermore, had Abraham not seen the broader purposes of this request and could not bring himself to go through with it, one commentator writes that Abraham wouldn’t incur any guilt for declining God’s pleas.

We also see hints of God’s covenantal faithfulness. God uses similar language as in chapters 12 and 17 to remind Abraham of his promise. Verse 2 reads „Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac“- this is covenantal acknowledgement. God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled with his son Isaac. This is what makes Abraham the father of faith, despite of the difficult command he believed that God could even raise Isaac from the dead should he be put to death. We know this because Abraham said it in verse 4 „Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you“. There was no doubt in Abraham’s mind that the promise of God would be fulfilled through his son Isaac.

3. Leviticus 12:1-8- In these verses it explains that a woman who gives birth to a female child is ritually impure for 80 days, where as she is only impure for a total of 40 days after giving birth to a male child. Critics say that this is just one place where the God of the bible shows his sexism and misogynistic ways, claiming that women are in some way inferior to men. Upon further examination, we find that this cannot be.

Genesis 1 records for us that God created both man and woman in his own image (1:27). In the next chapter, we are told that woman was created from the rib of Adam (2:21-22). Both of these images show an equality between man and woman. There is no inferiority and the Hebrew people recognized that. Furthermore, it was not necessarily a bad thing to be impure. Impurity does not equal sinful. There were a number of things that could make a person ritually or ceremonially impure- many of them are natural body functions. A man and a woman became unclean after sex because of the seminal discharge. Sex was not viewed negative (its encouraged among spouses!) or sinful, but because of the exchange of body fluids, the people became impure, and had to go through the purity rites. A woman became impure during her menstrual period, which happens every 30 days or so. It a natural body function that cannot be avoided- not sinful but does make her impure. If a person had a skin lesion, or a cut, he or she became impure. There are many things that could make a person impure that does not necessarily mean sinful.

Now, why are the women impure for 80 days after having a little girl verses 40 days after having a little boy? I’m not sure. Scholars have no definitive reason. Some say that there may have been some historical context that was not recorded and has been lost. For example, western men will often take off their hats when entering a building as a sign of respect. Many of us don’t know how or why it shows respect, we just do it. The removing of the hat is rooted in our historical context, but many of us have lost its rationale. Likewise, the reasons that a woman remains impure for twice as long may have some other context that was lost. Keil records in his commentary that ancients believed that a woman’s vaginal discharge persisted longer after giving birth to a female child, which would naturally increase her period of impurity. Other commentators say that vaginal bleeding happens with both the mother and the newborn girl, due to the withdrawal of the mother’s estrogen after birth. So there becomes two sources of ritual uncleanness (blood flow) as opposed to one source with a male child.

Despite the rationale, critics miss the main point and that is the process by which the mother’s become pure again. The goal for any ritually impure person is to become pure again. In the case of child birth, it is the same for both male and female children. The mother was to bring a lamb and either a dove or pigeon to the priest. One would be a burnt offering and the other a sin offering, after which should would become ritually pure and could once again join the covenant people in worship. God is so merciful that he even makes a concession if the mother was poor and unable to afford a lamb. She could being two doves or pigeons and the priest would atone for her and she would become pure again. I don’t see a hateful, misogynistic God. I see a loving, caring, merciful God!

 4. Leviticus 24:44-46- Slavery in the OT. It was said that slave masters in the US would quote from Leviticus as a means to justify their treatment of their slaves. This was an unfortunate, and gruesome point in the history of the United States, and I understand the apprehension against verses like these. The english text uses the word „slave“, which is accurate however it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. I prefer to use the word „servant“. I think it is more accurate and in line with Hebrew custom. Hebrew servitude was nothing like the chattel slavery found in Greco-Roman society and the early United States. In fact, it was more of an indentured servitude. The servants had legal rights and were protected. Israelite law said if the servants were treated poorly, they were free to leave (Ex. 21:26-27). Servants could rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10). Master were commanded to treat their servants with compassion (Deut. 15:12-15). All of this is unlike chattel slavery. Furthermore, if an Israelite man became a servant, he and his family would be released from service in the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a designated sabbatical year, where everything restarted. There was no sowing or reaping that year as to let the ground rest. The state of Israel was reset. Any debts were forgiven, and land purchases reverted back to the familial owners. God designed it so that his people could begin afresh again.

The use of property language is problematic for some in these verse as well. First off the literal meaning of „property“ in this context is money. So the servant is not a commodity to be exchanged but a person who has great value. Their dignity as a human being was inextricably held in tact. Far from the dehumanizing treatment of slaves in the south. Though „property“ language is used, it doesn’t mean property owned by another. For example, football players are often traded and released. All the teams have „owners“. There is use of „property“ language in this case, but it doesn’t mean that these players are owned or have become the property of another. I think the same is happening here in these verses of Leviticus.

I will say a few words about permanent servitude. A foreigner could become a permanent servant. When a person became a permanent servant, it was more than likely a move up. Permanent servants had access to food, shelter, and protection. They earned a small wage and could begin a family. It was far greater than living on the streets.

God did not intend servitude to be the way of life. God knew man’s temptation to abuse this kind of system. And Israel, of course, abused it later in their history. We read in Amos how men began to mistreat their servants and abuse them. Men began to trade servants for a simple pair of sandals. God would not stand for it. He tells the prophet Amos because of their sin, judgement was coming. And thats exactly what happened.

I hope this helps somebody. Unfortunately, I could not discuss everything in great detail, but if you have more question or want to read more, send me a message and I’ll gladly give your more thorough resources.

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Rapture Ready? A Word About the Left Behind Movie and Rapture

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For those who have not heard, Hollywood is rebooting the Left Behind series/movies, written by Tim LaHayne and Jerry Jenkins. These movies were very popular between the years 1995-2007.  This recent release stars Nicholas Cage and it depicts (with some fantasy and special effects) the end of time according to dispensational theology. I never read any of the books, but I have seen a few of the old movies (especially the Tribulation Force Movies) and let me say they are intense. This recent release seems just as intense.

Let me first briefly discuss what Dispensational Theology is and how it relates to the movie. Dispensational Theology was developed from the writings of John Darby (Google him for more information). It was made popular in the United States through the dissemination of the Scofield Reference Bible that was given to many of the soldiers during WWI (mass dissemination). Dispensational Theology holds to a very distinctive eschatological end times, namely a premillennial eschatology and a pretribulation rapture.  The movie Left Behind follows the events of the „rapture“- mankind is thrown into a world of chaos and judgment as people who are left behind face the 7 year tribulation period.

Premillennial dispensationalism makes for a great movie, but I think it deserves another look in terms of what the bible says. That brings me to the focus of this blog. There are many verses that we could discuss regarding rapture. However I just want to look at 2 very popular verses.

1. 1st Thessalonians 4:16-18 –  „For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.“

„Rapture“ is derived from the Latin word rapiemur which translates „take or snatch away“. The Vulgate uses this word in place of Greek word harpazō (ἁρπάζω). (Most of you know that the original text was written in Greek, so that is our point of reference). There is a great deal of discussion surrounding the use of harpazō in other bible verses. Some of them are quite compelling. For more information on Greek syntax and word usage, google rapture. Anthony Hoekema (The Bible and the Future) has a great (however biased) discussion regarding the use of harpazō in other verses of the bible.  See his chapter on premillennial dispensationalism. My aim is hermeneutical- how should we interpret what Paul is saying?

Before I dive in completely, let me first say this briefly. When it comes to doctrine, there are the essentials, and then there are the peripherals. I have divided these two broad areas into four categories- 1) absolutes, 2) convictions, 3) opinions, and 4) questions. The vast majority of absolutes develop the essentials to my doctrine- things such as: resurrection of Christ, supremacy, sufficiency, and inerrancy of Scripture, the trinity of God, etc. What I’m about to discuss may fall some where in between opinions and questions, which places it in the peripheral area. So don’t let this bother you too much- this is what I think the bible says.

The first step in the hermeneutical process is to look at the passage in its immediate context. Paul seats this discussion in a larger discussion regarding the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11). Apparently, the young Thessalonian church was unclear regarding what happened to Christians after they die. From the book of Acts, it maybe that Paul was unable to teach this because he was forced to leave (Acts 17:5-10). The Thessalonians did not have the understanding to cope with the recent deaths of some community members, and so they responded with bewildered hopelessness. However, Paul comforts the church, writing these words But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.“  Paul exhorts them to not grieve as those with no hope grieve, those who have died in Christ will rise again when he returns.

These are the events of Christ’s second (and final/only) coming. This is understood by Paul reference to the Archangel and sounds of trumpets (v. 16). In the Old Testament, trumpets often signal the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, the “trumpet” was associated with battle, the day of the Lord, and the resurrection. This is pointing to the very end. Not all people will see the death of their physical bodies. Some will be alive when the Lord returns (Matt.16:28). Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that those who have passed will suffer no disadvantage from those who will be alive to see the Lord’s return.  Dead Christians rise from their graves to the realm of the living, and then the living and the dead together are caught up from the earth. It is not about being „raised“ out of this earth but being raised in our physically transformed bodies to this earth. At no point has Paul ever hinted to an idea of a „rapture“ or exclusively taking away his church.

Finally, Paul is speaking to a specific people who have a specific culture that we need to recognize. Apantēsis  (ἀπάντησις) „to meet“ in the air is often  used of an important dignitary’s reception by the inhabitants of a city. The city inhabitants come out to greet and welcome their honored guest with fanfare and celebration, then accompany him into the city (ESV Study Bible). When a king or a lord would return back to his country after victory in war, he would be met at the city gates by his people or ambassadors, trumpets would be sounded, and the king would be welcomed back by his own people to rule and reign as the victor over threatening powers. Paul uses this same language to symbolize Christ’s return. He returns because he has finally and fully defeated evil, suffering, and death itself and he is fully establishing his Kingdom here on earth. This is very different for the rapture idea.

2. Matthew 24:40-42- „Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.“ With no context, these verses seem like great proof texts for the rapture. But when read in context, one can see that it is obviously talking about something completely different. These verses are seated right in the middle of Jesus‘ discussion about the end of days and the second coming of the Son of Man. The idea of one being taken, and one left is a reference to the flood, which Jesus discusses immediately before these verses. Verse 39 says, „and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.“ He parallels the one „taken“ to those that were swept away by flood waters. Those who were swept away by the flood waters were the one who were being judged- likewise with the one taken. In other words, it is a bad thing to be taken for they will see the judgment of the Lord.

There are other verses that could be discussed (1 Cor. 15:51-52, Matt. 24:30-36). Check them out for yourself. Remember to read in context. Grab a study bible as well (I would usually recommend John MacArthur’s Study Bible, but he is dispensational so with regards to these passages he will lean heavy towards rapture theory).

These second coming passages are exactly that- second coming. Rapture theology in my opinion suggest a third or a partial or intermediate coming of Christ, and I just do not see that any where in scripture. Once He returns, it will be permanently, to establish his Kingdom right here on the earth. What do you think? Write me a comment below and subscribe to my email list.

What I Should Have Learned In High School

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Recently I have been in what I will call a season of „reflection“. Its been bitter sweet. It is good to take some time to evaluate your life’s progress every now and again, and to see where you did well and where you made your mistakes. These following  things I wish someone would have told me in high school:

1. Traditional college may not be the best option: I was fortunate to have a great college experience. I learned a lot of great information. Met a lot of great people. But it came at a big cost. Upwards to 40K+. I did not have much familial assistance, so it was all paid through Pell grants, a partial scholarship, and loans. Traditional college has become far too expensive, and it should cause high school students to consider other options, especially if they are seeking advanced degrees (which I recommend these days). Not to mention, after you complete the degree the job market is saturated with people seeking employment. The chances of you landing a job in your field of choice right out of college with little to no experience is slim. High school students should consider programs that push you past the traditional bachelor’s degree, or programs where you can gain practical experience while being taught. There are a number of programs that offer accelerated degrees- instead of spending the traditional 6-7 years earning a bachelors and then a masters, in 5 years you could earn both a bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Having an advanced degree is important. Only about 10% of Americans hold advance level degrees (Master’s or Doctorate). Once you become apart of this 10% club, you become very marketable in your specialized field.

I also suggest high school students explore trade or vocational school. If the traditional college experience is not for you (college is not for everybody), then I suggest a vocational school. Vocational or trade school specializes you in a particular area. Computer electronics, software development, HVAC, Medical Assisting, Nursing, Auto Repair, etc. are all opportunities that are available through vocational school. These vocations are available to the traditional college students, but are often given to those who have specialized in this area. You also gain hands on experience in school, so that when you graduate you are completely ready for field work which puts you a step above the traditional college student. The only downside I see to vocational school is that a career change could be devastating. You have been trained to do one thing and if you change that then you lose all of your marketability.

2. Community colleges are great options: Everyone wants to be apart of the big, prestigious Universities. Who wouldn’t want to say that they attended Purdue, or Harvard, or Princeton. These are great schools, but with the rising cost of education it may be best to consider the community colleges. Community colleges have become great institutions of education, not to mention that most community colleges will only employ the most qualified professors (professors who often teach at the Universities as well). If I can get taught the same stuff, from the same professors, for half the cost I would take that.

3. Go where the money is: I was offered a great financial aid package at Alabama A&M. The scholarship they offered me would have paid well over half of my tuition including room and boarding. But, for whatever reason (maybe I was afraid to move that far away from home), I did not take it and I decided to attend the University of Missouri. Mizzou gave me a financial aid package, but it wasn’t near as good as what Alabama A&M was offering. Had I attended Alabama, I would be in significantly less student debt.  Apply to different schools and see what kind of financial assistance packages they can offer. Go where they offer you the most money.

4. Find out what you want to do early: I recommend high school students find out what their passions are early. Its okay to be unsure, but it may cost you more in the long run. Being an undeclared major, or switching majors after Freshman year only prolongs your time in school and ultimately cost you more. Find out what you want to do, hop in and do it. Now I understand that things happen, and people often discover themselves in undergrad. That’s okay. But if you can, explore other things early so that the epiphany happens sooner rather than later.

5. Take summer classes: If you decide to go the traditional college route, I recommend taking advantage of the summers. Get those silly prerequisites and electives out of the way quickly. I wish colleges would do away with the elective requirements. If you want to take an elective it should your choice, not a requirement in my opinion. To me, it seems like a huge waste of money. I had to complete my elective credits, so I decided to take a architecture class and a textile apparel class. Needless to say, they were both a waste of my time and money. I didn’t take them over the summer like I should have, so I endured 16 long weeks of classes that I was disinterested in. Colleges will require you to take electives and prereqs, my advice is to get them done over the 6 week summer session, so that during the longer semester you can focus on things that are actually interesting to you.

These are my reflections. What are some that you would add?