Book Plunge: The Moral Arc

What do I think of Michael Shermer’s book published by Henry Holt and Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Michael Shermer’s book is a massive work on the topic of morality. Unlike many atheistic writings today, this one isn’t a total rant on the topic. It also actually has a serious bibliography. There are several interesting points in fact that theists could agree with. Some stories in the chapters on forgiveness can be incredibly moving and remind those of us who are Christians of what we need to be doing.

While there is plenty of food for thought, there are some major areas of concern. I do not plan on touching on all of them. I do find it interesting that Shermer will say infanticide isn’t the worst evil and will state there are some cases where it could be understandable and spends a couple of pages doing this. When he comes to the holocaust though, he talks about how the Germans and others convinced themselves that the Jews had been effectively dehumanized and killing them wasn’t that big a deal. For all Shermer’s talk about how we can fool ourselves, you think he would speak more on this.

Shermer also thinks that having more science (And by fiat he throws reason in there as being under the rubric of science without an argument) will lead to more morality. All these nations that were engaging in evil had pseudo-science, under which he includes creationism. That would be fascinating to see in a country like Russia, that were our competitors and with their pseudo-science managed to launch a satellite and send a man into space before us. Sure, we landed on the moon first, but it was a tight race. Russia was also highly atheistic with that. Germany also was a highly intellectual society. It’s not just a matter of reason that leads to morality.

Still, there is one chapter I want to focus on. It’s noteworthy that when he does a chapter asking if religion is responsible for morality, that this is the one that does not have interaction hardly with the best authorities. Shermer will meticulously document everything in other chapters, In this one, it is just pretty much throwing out everything that has been thrown out in other atheist books.

Shermer rightly points out the good that has been done in the name of Christianity. Not only has the good been done, but Jesus has been the greatest exemplar for living a moral life. No one else has had such an impact on the morality of mankind as Jesus has. One thinks Shermer is too quick to discount this.

Immediately Shermer shifts to moral problems of the church. No doubt, the church has not been perfect, but Shermer would have you think these issues are cut and dry. The Crusades are first brought up, although Shermer says nothing about them being wars to liberate people who had been held captive by Muslims for hundreds of years prior. The Inquisitions are brought up, although nothing is said about them being supported by the state and even by people who weren’t Christians as a way of providing law and order. Not a single scholar of the Crusades or the Inquisition is cited. Again, the silence of references is deafening.

After that, there are a list of wars that are supposed to be all about religion. (Because we know that the English Civil War was fought over the proper method of baptism.) The American Civil War is also included although that was fought over far more than just slavery. World War One is also somehow turned into a religious war. How? Beats me.

Naturally, Shermer says that German soldiers even had God With Us on their belt buckles. By this logic, Americans having “In God We Trust” means that every war we’ve engaged in has automatically been a religious war. Apparently, Shermer is unaware of the effects of political slogans.

Shermer also talks about the idea of loving your neighbor meaning to only love someone of your own tribe. He cites the exact same person that Dawkins cites in The God Delusion. He also makes the exact same mistake that Dawkins makes. He never brings up how Jesus interpreted this passage and how that’s mandatory for Christians today.

Shermer of course brings up Numbers 31. He says that at one point one can imagine the virgins who were spared saying “God told you to do that? Yeah right.” Of course, a specific order from God is not mentioned in the text. Furthermore, Shermer will complain if God kills everyone. Then if God spares the innocent, well He’s still responsible. Shermer also assumes the only reason they would spare a virgin is for sexual reasons. Hardly. Sex-crazed Israelite soldiers would not be cutting themselves off from the community for fighting in war before engaging in any intercourse.

Shermer also argues that the Bible is one of the most immoral works in all of literature. Shermer claims the Bible mistreats women, yet in the Bible, men and women are said to be equally in the image of God. You have women making an impact like Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, and Esther. Women increasingly gain more and more favor in the Bible. Perhaps Shermer could familiarize himself with a book like Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.

Shermer then says that God banished Adam and Eve for choosing knowledge over ignorance. Not really. What the crime was was trying to claim the wisdom of God outside of God. To say one would have knowledge of good and evil, was a way of saying you would in fact be like God in knowledge. You could practically usurp Him. God was holding out on them supposedly. Again, Shermer does not bother looking at any commentaries or Old Testament scholars.

Of course, you have the usual rant about the flood, but after that Shermer says YHWH gave his favorite warlords multiple wives. It would be good to see where this happened. If we look at the patriarchs, Abraham had a concubine but after that, he was a one-woman man. Isaac we are told only had Rebekkah. Jacob had the most with four different partners in his lifetime. Joseph we are told of only one lover.

In fact, when polygamy shows up in the Bible, it usually does not end well. It leads to more chaos and is thoroughly done with by the time we get to Jesus. Shermer also says the women are never asked how they feel about the arrangement. Probably because the question would be nonsensical to them. “How do we feel about it?” The women were not internalists who spent their lives analyzing their inner being. They were more focused on survival.

Shermer says believers have to cherry pick what we will do from the Bible. Not really. We just have to know how to interpret it. Shermer doesn’t and he doesn’t show any interaction with Biblical scholars on this. This would be like me writing a chapter in a book critiquing evolution and not citing a single evolutionary biologist. You can make any position look ridiculous if you only give one side of the story.

Shermer also has statements about crimes for which YHWH ordered the death penalty. What is forgotten is that Israel had these laws and Israel was to be a nation sold out to YHWH and living to honor Him, just like any nation would honor its gods and its rulers. A little bit of leaven works through the whole dough as it were and ignoring the covenant was treated severely.

Let’s look at a favorite passage of Shermer’s. That’s Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Shermer asks if anyone would want to do this today. Nope. I wouldn’t. So what? Shermer would have you think that the purpose of the OT Law was to bring Utopia and that things could never get better. No. The Law was great for the time and a step forward, but there was still work to do. What is happening here is that a woman had been violated and because of that, few would want to take her. Being with the person who violated her could be something that she’d want to maintain some honor. (See Tamar when she was raped for instance.) The father would be paid because he would have lost a dowry. The man meanwhile would have to provide for this woman forever. In other words, if you really want this woman, you’d better be prepared to have her for all time.

Shermer then goes to the great Biblical scholar, comedienne Julia Sweeney. For her, the story of Abraham offering up Isaac was a truly wicked story. Of course, Sweeney talked about reacting like this in childhood and seems to have not moved past a childhood understanding at all. Abraham’s test was asking “Do you believe I’m able to complete my promise to you if you offer up Isaac?” The result of God stopping Abraham is also a way of saying to all the other people “I am not like the pagan gods. I will stop you from offering up your children.”

Sweeney goes on to list other preposterous commandments. One is that if two men are in a fight and the wife of one grabs the genitals of the other, cut off her hand. Of course, Sweeney doesn’t realize that cutting off ones ability to reproduce was cutting off their livelihood in being able to produce for their family and provide and destroying their honor. It’s enough to say “I find this offensive!” and not bother to understand it.

Shermer says some will say some laws have been revoked, but Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and not destroy it. In fact, He did do just that. That’s why it’s basic NT to understand the Old Testament Law doesn’t apply to us today and we were never under it. Shermer incredibly says Jesus’s morality is even worse than the OT.

For instance, Jesus says that if you hate your brother in your heart, you deserve the death penalty. Shermer misses why Jesus is so hard on such hatred. He is because it really means that if you thought you could get away with it, you would murder someone. That’s where hatred gets you. You don’t do it often because the costs outweigh the benefits. Turn that around and you are quite likely to do it. Shermer says similar about Jesus’s commandment on lust and says Jesus has a practical solution about plucking out your eye. Is Shermer so blinded by his anti-religious stance that he can’t understand that Jews spoke in hyperbole? This is an extreme measure and Jesus is not recommending one literally do this.

Shermer also says Jesus never married and had a family but turned away his own mother, such as in John 2. Of course, he ignores that Jesus did do what His mother asked. He just latches on Jesus referring to her as woman, which in Josephus is a term used to refer to a beloved wife and the way Jesus typically addressed women. It can be a term of disrespect sometimes, but the context tells you whether it is or not.

Shermer also tells of a story where Mary and his family wants to see him and Jesus says to His disciples “Send them away. You are my family now.” I must have missed that part. I don’t remember Him ever saying to send her away. Naturally, we also have the same misunderstanding about Luke 14 and hating your mother and father. It always amazes me when atheists lambaste literalism and then engage in it themselves.

Shermer of course buys into the Dark Ages myth and acts like Christianity had nothing to do with the advancements of that time since Homer and the seven wonders of the world knew nothing about Christianity. Of course, these achievements of theirs weren’t done in an effort to better understand the world. Christians were interested in that. Since the world was made by a rational God, we could expect it to be rational. Shermer will also ignore how during this time slavery was abolished for the first time and not just by Galatians 3:28, but because men and women were in the image of God.

Shermer also finds capitalism to be opposed to the Bible. Why? Well Jesus sent away the rich young ruler. Jesus never though condemned the owning of wealth. He condemned being owned by wealth. Jesus Himself was supported by some wealthy patrons, such as in Luke 8. Jesus spoke warnings to the rich often because the rich were assumed to have the blessing of God, but Jesus said this was not necessarily so. You can have money, but you should not have the love of money.

Finally, let’s look at Shermer’s look at the Ten Commandments.

The first one is to have no other gods before Him. Now in all of these, Shermer ignores that this was part of the society of the time and not meant to be applied everywhere. He starts by saying this one violates the first amendment and restricts freedom of religion. It’s unbelievable to see someone say something like this. Sorry Shermer, but this isn’t the way ancient societies wrote and God started where His chosen people were. If you are under His patronage, you are to be loyal to Him.

The second is about idols and again Shermer, says this violates freedom of religious expression, but also what about Christians who have crosses on their necklaces? What about it? Last I saw we aren’t worshiping them. Shermer then says if Jews had little golden gas chambers the reaction would be shocking. Indeed. That’s the point. Christians took an emblem of shame and turned it into one of victory.

He then looks at God as a jealous God saying this explains all the bloodbaths that took place. Actually, jealousy could be an honorable trait. It meant that one was to be recognized as having exclusive rights to what they were jealous for. This is what a husband is supposed to be for his wife. He alone has exclusive rights to her. Would Shermer consider me to be noble if I wanted to share my wife with my neighbor?

The third is about not taking God’s name in vain. Of course, Shermer sees this as the same violation and probably relates it to profanity. Instead, it means to treat YHWH honorably. It wasn’t about cussing, but about taking the name of God lightly and dishonoring His reputation.

The fourth is the Sabbath. Shermer says this has nothing to say about morality. Assuming that is correct, what of it? The Sabbath was a great way Israel was to set themselves apart from others. They would be saying that they were trusting that YHWH would provide on that one day they didn’t work, quite a big deal for a day-laborer society.

The fifth is about honoring your father and mother, and yet Shermer finds this one problematic. Why? Because one is commanded to honor. Shouldn’t that come about naturally? Well let’s see if Shermer would want to live this way. Don’t tell your children right from wrong and tell them what to do and not to do. Let it come about naturally. See how well that works.

The sixth one is not to kill for Shermer and here he finds a problem. Isn’t it arbitrary about when killing is allowed and not. Actually, the word is murder and it refers to an attitude and way of killing specifically. The Hebrews had several words for different actions that constituted killing. That doesn’t mean that each counted as murder. Shermer speaks about several biblical scholars and theologians here. Unfortunately, he never cites one.

The seventh is adultery. Shermer says this is rich coming from a deity who knocked up someone else’s fiance, but it doesn’t take into account the lifestyles people find themselves in. Should we limit what two adults want to do together? Perhaps we should because sex is something sacred and to be honored. This is one problem of Shermer’s Moral Arc. He assumes where he is is good and it’s good entirely by focusing on saying “We are more tolerant” to the disregard of other virtues, like honoring one another sexually.

The eighth is to not steal and Shermer says “Do we need a deity to tell us this?” No. Who said we did? This is just an example of something that is to be followed. We can say these are defining characteristics of Israel.

Finally with the commandment to not lie, at least here Shermer agrees with this one. Of course, his reason is about how it is for us to be lied to or gossiped about. Perhaps it should have been something about the love of truth.

We conclude with coveting. Shermer says this goes against capitalism. Not really. Coveting is saying you want the specific good your neighbor has and not just one of your own. Of course, he says a man’s wife is thrown in with everything else. This is like saying that when you go to the store if you have a list that says “Eggs, bread, soap, butter, fish, and bananas” that that means that soap is included as something edible. The list in the Bible is a list of things that are coveted and yes, it is possible to covet the wife or husband of your neighbor.

Shermer’s book is better than some, but still lacking overall. I do not think he makes a case and one of the big problems is no major foundation ontologically or metaphysically is given for goodness at all. Still, I have chosen to focus on this one chapter. One would hope Shermer would interact with biblical scholars here and Natural Law theorists elsewhere, but he does not.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/16/2015: Matthew Flannagan

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sorry for the delay in the blog. I’ve had some circumstances come up beyond my control so today, I’m giving the entry for the show that I will be recording in a few hours and this week, my guest is Matthew Flannagan.

How could a good God kill innocent children? This is one of the thorniest objections that comes up against God today. To some extent, some could perhaps understand God sending a grown human being to Hell who has lived a wicked life, but what about the children? What have the little children done to deserve a death? What kind of God tells people to go into a city and destroy men, women, and children? What kind of being do Christians worship? Matthew Flannagan is here to help us answer those questions. Who is he? According to his bio:

Matthew Flannagan Cropped for 6x4 and 8x12 inch prints Different background colours are avilable by request January 2014
Matthew Flannagan
Cropped for 6×4 and 8×12 inch prints
Different background colours are avilable by request
January 2014

Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian and ethicist. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago and a Master’s degree with honours in Philosophy from the University of Waikato. Matthew currently works as a teaching elder at Takanini Community Church and regularly participates in local and international conferences, panel discussions and public lectures. Matthew is the author of numerous articles on ethics and philosophy and contributor to several books on apologetics, he recently co-authored Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (BakerBook: 2014) with Paul Copan. He and his wife Madeleine also run the popular blog MandM at mandm.org.nz.

The book Did God Really Command Genocide? can be purchased here and based on my review it is a book I highly recommend. In fact, it is one of those books that the further you get into it, the better it gets, which for a non-fiction book is quite a rarity. The book is highly exhaustive and will cover the major issues in the debate very well.

Dr. Flannagan, a father himself, will be answering the hardest questions I can give to him on the topic since your friends and opponents will be asking you similar questions. Couldn’t God have found a better way to do things than this? Why is God so bloodthirsty? Doesn’t He kill people for minor offenses? If people can kill back then because they’re so convinced that God is telling them to do something, then what is to stop a government official today in office from doing the same thing? Is it true that something is good because God says it is good, or does God say that it is good because it is good?

I hope this show will equip you to answer questions that you get on this topic, which is a favorite among skeptics on the internet. I also hope it will give you a greater understanding of the Old Testament texts and how to read them as well as deal with issues in relation to Inerrancy. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Slavery and Marriage?

What do slavery and marriage have in common? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I know some of you think you already see the connection. You might even be thinking “There’s a difference between the two of them?”

No. That’s not what I’m getting at.

I have been looking at the Old Testament Law lately and seeing how it relates to us today. Does it stand for all time, or are there things in there that are actually less than perfect? The answer to the question is the latter. The law is good, but it was not meant to be something for all time. Keep in mind in Galatians 3 that the Law was meant to be a guide to us until the time of the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ, came.

Something we often see in the Bible in the Old Testament is polygamy. By the time we get to the NT, we don’t see this as much. Jesus affirms in the gospels that marriage is one man and woman. Polygamy was a differentiation from the ideal but it still had the foundation that Jesus affirmed of one man and one woman. Interestingly, Jesus starts off with asking the Pharisees what Moses said. Moses was of course the authority.

Jesus instead points them back to the higher authority of God who created marriage as one man and one woman. How did he override Moses? He stated that Moses granted a concession. He said that the hearts of people were hardened and so Moses granted the people that they would be able to divorce. Quite likely this was done to avoid an abuse to the system of marriage. There is a case where a law can tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil.

For instance, we do not prosecute people for adultery even though by and large, we consider it to be wrong. Why? Because we don’t want to spend every effort micromanaging everyone’s marriage. We do have a place for freedom to allow people to do evil so that there can be even more freedom to do good. Our laws should often seek to have the bare minimum for a functioning society to do good and to have laws that encourage goodness. We do have penalties for if a marriage is made void because we want to encourage marriage. The law is meant to make a statement about actions and encourage good behavior.

In other words, God took a system that was less than ideal and said “For the time being, I am going to work with this system and use it for good until we reach the point where it is not needed.” The goal would be to change the hearts of the people through the Law over time so that they would not want to divorce or to practice polygamy. It would seem there was some success with polygamy at least as there is not much mention of it after the exile when the Law started to be taken seriously.

What does that have to do with slavery?

Because slavery in the OT also showed less than the perfect will of God.

Now let’s be clear, we are not talking about slavery like it was in the Civil War time. The slavery done then was not a system set in place to exploit the poor. In fact, it was set in place so the poor could have a job. Keep in mind that there weren’t supermarkets and gas stations and Wal-Marts you could go and apply at. You did have to work for someone else and usually in a home setting.

This was also an age where a lot of people might not have their own home. Today, it seems natural, but homes cost money and time and resources, and not everyone has those. When you get a home, how will you put food on the table, or even get a table for that matter? How will you provide clothes for the family? One way to deal with this is to live with someone else and to the work for them. They provide room and board for you and your family and you work for them.

There were numerous problems with this system as it could easily lead to exploitation, but it was a way the world had to work in the infancy of humanity. The large market of jobs was not available in a society not as developed. The more economies were built by people, the more they had job opportunities. In our society, we can find that hard to think of with so many businesses that can offer places to work. We need to look outside of our own system and see the biblical system and how it was.

We can realize the law was good for the time, but it was not perfect, and we should not treat it as the way a perfect society was to be for all time. We have the fullness in Christ now. Some might be tempted to think things will be easier, but let’s remember when Jesus commented on the moral aspects of the Law, he always went even stronger than the Law did. Fortunately, he enables us to do that which we would not be able to do on our own as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Bunch of Bull

What to do with a dead bull? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our look at the Old Testament Law, we’re going to be looking at the last few verses of Exodus 21. Many of these will be relatively straight forward, but they are important to cover. The verses are as follows:

“28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded. 31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.

33 “If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.

35 “If anyone’s bull injures someone else’s bull and it dies, the two parties are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. 36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and take the dead animal in exchange.”

Looking at the start, when a bull gores someone to death, the bull is to be stoned and the animal must not be eaten. This is a society where meat would not be as abundant as it is here. Surely you can put that dead body to use? Not at all. The idea is that an animal that dies for the death of a human being should not profit anyone. No one should be able to have a blessing come in that way when a human being dies. It is not because God is wasteful, but because Israel was to have the highest regard for human life.

As for the idea of if the bull gores and has had that habit, we can understand this more for much the same reason we often chain up dogs that are dangerous. If someone does not tie up a dog that can be dangerous and that dog does act that way, then the owner is to be held responsible. In this case, there is a way to redeem human life. One can pay for the act of the animal since the animal could not really be accused of malicious intent. Why the difference for a slave? There’s no indication that the death of a slave would not be punishable by death as well. This is talking about the price of redemption. The slave himself is under the care of another so the master would determine the value normally. In order to be fair to all workers, one universal price is given.

For the case of the pit, one should warn one’s neighbors about such an enterprise to catch an animal in hunting. You would be responsible for not giving adequate warning.

Finally, with a bull goring another, no one keeps the live bull because there should be no profit in the case of something like this. The one who has the live bull will lose income with half going to the other owner. Once again, this changes if the bull had a habit of goring as the owner of the dead animal gets all the money.

These laws are practical for a good working society in the ANE. We also see there are many principles that we still apply today, and that’s something major to look for in the study. It’s not just the law to look at but the principle for the law.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

My Freedom For A Tooth

Slavery sure comes with an interesting dental plan! Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our look at the Old Testament Law today, I’m going to be discussing Exodus 21:26-27 which reads as follows:

“26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.”

We earlier looked at a passage where it talked about the disciplinary features of the rod for a slave. This was the usual form of punishment in that time. In the Israelite society, you would not build a prison out in the wilderness. You had to have other systems of justice set up that were easily portable.

We saw how the Law talks about beating a slave and that if that slave dies, one is punished, which would be the death penalty. If the slave lives for a few days, the owner of the slave is to be given the benefit of the doubt since one could not as easily prove malicious intent, one would assume no slave owner would want to lose the extra help that he bought and pays for.

Let us return to that discipline. Even then, the well-being of the slave is still being looked out for. Note that there is nothing in the text inherently unkind about using the rod. The rod was also to be used on one’s own children and certainly one was to love their children, so let us avoid at the get-go the very idea that a physical form of punishment to bring about pain was meant to be ipso facto unloving.

So now we have a slave who is misbehaving. What is the standard? Any serious injury will result in freedom for the slave. This is a high-context society so not every case will be spelled out, but we are not to think that knocking out someone’s tooth will result in their going free but if you break their leg, then that is okay.

Not only that, but when a slave was to be set free, as we saw above, he was to be supplied with from his master so that he will have enough to start out on his new life and hopefully not have to go into slavery. There would even have to be more abundant supplying of goods in this case since one has given a heavy incapacity to the slave’s ability to work in the future.

Notice that nothing is said about the well-being of the master in any of this. Instead, it is all about the well-being of the servant. This is the one God is looking out for. Before God would say anything about slaves who misbehave, he chooses to focus on the lives of the masters beforehand and makes sure that they’re on the right track.

Once again, none of this is the ideal situation, but it is an institution in the midst of reforming. Passages like this should show us that God did not support an abusive system but was taking a system that is less than ideal and planting within it the seeds of its own defeat.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Premature from Combat?

Whoa. What’s the child in Exodus 21? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Tonight in our look at the law, we will be looking at Exodus 21:22-25.

“22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

There are some people who approach this text and use it as an argument that the fetus in Exodus 21 was not a human and that the Bible does not uphold a teaching consistent with the pro-life position. I do think that the pro-life position can be known without the Bible, however, I also do think that the Bible is pro-life and so the position needs to be defended.

Meredith Kline in looking at this passage has said that it is striking that there is no mention of abortion specifically in Hebrew law. The idea would be unthinkable since children were one’s livelihood. Meredith Kline is a Hebrew scholar who does not see anything about abortion in this passage. What it instead is about is a case where two men are fighting and when they hit a woman, she ends up giving birth.

This is the case of a premature birth. If there is no injury, then there is no penalty. If there is injury, then there is a penalty and the reason for this is because of that which the abortion side does not want to say is the case. There has been a human being hurt in all of this. If the human being dies, then it is a case of life for life. The punishment must equal the crime. It is the case of one human being given over for what it is that they have done to another human being.

Thus, we in fact have a high view of the child in the womb in this passage. This is something consistent with other passages of the Bible such as Jeremiah 1:5 and my own wife’s personal favorite of Psalm 139.

Of course, I do believe one needs other facts to make the case and fortunately, we live in an age where there is much information on the life of human beings in the womb. In fact, for those who are interested in reading other blogs, I think one of the best can be found at the blog of my friend David as he has written at RayadoRiver. There is a link in the sideroll of this blog and I recommend you become followers of his blog as well.

In conclusion, we find that the Bible does uphold the pro-life position in this passage that that which is in the womb of the woman is a full human being and if one murders that which is in the womb, then they are just as accountable as if they had killed an adult.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Rod For The Backs of Slaves

You could use the rod on a slave? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Now we’re getting into some stuff that people really consider problematic in the Old Testament Law. We’re looking at Exodus 21:18-21. Let’s see what it says.

“If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

The first scenario we might not have much problem with. If you support the death penalty, it makes sense. Two men fight and one hits the other so hard that it kills him? Then that first one dies since he took another person’s life. This is also consistent with Genesis 9 where an attack on man is an attack on the image of God and the life of the attacker is to be given back to God.

What if he doesn’t die? Well the man is unable to provide for his family then. Many of us today have missed work and know how hard it can be when that happens. Imagine how much harder it is in a society where your daily bread did depend on working. You didn’t have refrigerators to store the food in. Now imagine losing that income. Who will provide?

Furthermore, what if you were the one who had to pay up for losing your temper? Where will your income come from? That which you’ve worked to earn has to go to someone else to pay for your lack of self-control. You can be sure the Mrs. would not forget about that and neither would you. It would be a costly reminder of sin.

All well and good. Now we come to this.

Slaves?

Let’s start with something as we’ve said. The slavery was not exploitation. No doubt, sometimes it was used that way, but that was not the view of Israel here. Slavery was done so people could provide for their family. Some readers might think the idea of selling your labor to someone else to provide for your family sounds ridiculous.

This is said right before you go to work for your boss who takes you on so you can do a service for him, to which he’ll pay you so you can provide for your family.

Are the two identical? No. You don’t usually make contracts with your boss, he usually doesn’t give you a place to live, and there are not likely to be situations where you will be beaten.

However, there are still enough similarities that we can grasp what is going on and understand some of how the system worked. The idea was the poor would go to the rich for a job so they could provide and when hired, they were expected to do the job.

In the time of Israel, physical discipline was a common form of punishment. We still use it today. Some do debate it and there is no doubt that it can turn into abuse, but some readers of this blog will likely be people who were recipients of physical discipline when they were growing up and sometimes, they’ll admit they deserved it and are the better for it.

But notice that if the slave dies as a direct result of beating, the master must be punished. Considering this came right after punishment for the taking of another life above having the death penalty as the punishment, there’s no reason to think that there is suddenly some other punishment. Note then that this means murder was treated exactly the same whether the person was a slave or not.

Okay. So what explains the other difference? What if the slave gets up after a day or two? Why is the owner not punished?

Note above the punishment was paid money for the loss of services. In this case, the master himself is losing the service of the slave and is suffering as a result. He will not be punished, but he will get no monetary relief for his actions. When he sees how badly his income suffers in comparison to his competitors, that should be enough.

What happens if the slave dies a few days later which would be an indirect result? This is where we get the principle of the benefit of the doubt. The idea is to assume the slaveowner meant to discipline but unfortunately, something went wrong. It was not his intention to kill. In other words, it’s accidental death much the same for any other event of accidental death.

In other words, the penalty would be exactly the same regardless of who was killed.

Once again, none of this is meant to be an ideal utopian society. What it is meant to be is a society in reformation. It is God working with the culture as it is planting little seeds of reform. When it comes to the eventual abolition of slavery, one will see that this is also what happened there.

At this point, the skeptic must simply show that ancient slavery in Israel was like modern slavery in America. That will be difficult, but he is welcome to try.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Personal Injury in Exodus

What about how you hit me? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

It’s good to be writing again. Our home was one that was in the area of the storm. We didn’t get hit, but we had damage to our internet. I just recently was able to get back on again and after some posting, figured it was time to continue the OT look. Let’s go to Exodus 21 again.

“12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.”

For the first three verses, we in our society would not have much problem. If you kill someone, you yourself get killed. Some will object to the death penalty, but even still they could likely understand that it isn’t the barbarism that so many skeptics usually associate with the Bible. For the concept of a place to go to in case of an accident, that will be dealt with when we get there.

Note that this even includes a sudden killing out of anger as opposed to a deliberate planning. This would teach the Israelites about controlling the passions in their society and realizing that they were not sovereign and meant to take life by their own standards but were to trust in YHWH.

What about cursing a father and mother? Some of us think it is extreme to have the death penalty here. Note that this is more than just disagreement or words of anger. This is specific cursing. This is an act of uncontrolled hatred that will lead to the breakdown again of the family.

In the ancient world, your heritage was extremely important. Where you came from mattered. For us, when we read a passage like Genesis 5 with its genealogies or read the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, we probably have our eyes glaze over wondering why this is in the Bible. Many who start out reading the gospels can wonder why Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy.

For a Jew, this would have been one of the most important parts and a part of great honor.In looking at this, the Jew could see where he came from. It would show his position of honor in society as it would be good to have relatives who behaved well and were honorable in your family tree.

To denounce that tree is to denounce your whole family and your whole society. It would be the equivalent of what we today call treason and even today, treason in the United States can be punished with the death penalty.

Kidnapping might seem severe to us, but why should it? For the ancients, kidnapping could destroy the unit of the family as well as stealing someone’s work force and could possibly lead to taking advantage of them in order to gain land privileges. In other words, the breakdown of the society would be far easier if kidnapping were allowed. This should show us the value God places on the order in society and the family unit.

What can we get from all of this? We can get that God is not a God of wanton destruction. He wants a stable society and He’s giving strict rules to show that. These rules would also be didactic. That means, not everything would be spelled out immediately but wise judges would work them out. Today, just one of our laws can be longer than the Torah itself. The Jews were expected to have wise people amongst them who could judge accurately.

We’ll continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Exodus 21:2-11

Why this slavery stuff in the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I developed the idea last night that so many skeptics raise up points about the Law in the OT so why not just go straight through the Torah and look at the laws that we do not understand and explain them on a point by point basis? That does not mean that we will not have diversions from time to time based on current events and such, but hopefully this will be the kind of thing that can set some matters to rest.

The text I will be looking at is Exodus 21: 2-11.

“2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

To begin with, slavery is not to be confused with slavery in the Civil War. In that time period, a people was exploited and taken advantage of based on their race and it was done at their expense. In the ancient world, slavery was still a necessity. You did not have a Wal-Mart around the corner that everyone could go and work at and get jobs. Out wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had to work for someone and like today, if you have a job, it is because of a richer person. (The exception being rich people who run the companies themselves)

So what we have going on is Joe Israelite. He is poor and needs some money. What does he do? He goes and offers himself on a contractual basis to one of his fellow Hebrews to be provided for. The statement is that if the Hebrew will provide room and board for him, then he will be sure to work in exchange. What if this man is married? Then when he comes, his wife is to be provided. The wife doesn’t even have to work.

What if the master gives a wife? The master is doing that for the benefit that can come from the wife true, but also it would be a way of creating an alliance between the two families. When the two families joined together, it created a system to ensure the survival of the family unit. The only way that can happen is if the two are connected for life and if the man wishes to leave, that will break the connection resulting in the woman not being able to be provided for in the future.

Hence, if the man wants to ensure the welfare of his wife, he needs to stay with the master. Besides, the wife belonged to the master prior to the servant and that has not changed. The master would lose out if that happened and that would mean his own future family would be in danger. In the ancient world, you didn’t give something for nothing. There was always some sort of exchange going on.

Of course, a man could become a servant for life. If that was the case, then they had a ritual to bring that about. Now someone could ask “Yeah. But what kind of treatment would he get?” We will deal with that later in the text.

Now what about the last part of selling a daughter as a servant. Why would a guy do this? Because he doesn’t have the means to provide for her and wants to make sure that there will be a family that will. This was looking out for the family unit. Tying together two families would ensure the survival of both families. Notice some aspects about what would happen when the exchange took place.

To begin with, the master was expected to honor his covenant. He was not to treat her like an object but rather as a person. He is the one who has broken faith. Note that. The woman does not break faith. The man is to be held responsible for breaking his covenant with a woman. If he gives her to the son, he must treat her as if she is a daughter that is born to her. If he marries another woman, he is not to neglect her. The law at this point is entirely looking out for the woman, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re always told about this sexist society. The man will have an easier time taking care of himself than the woman would.

Now to be sure, this is not ideal for us, but that is fine. The goal was not to create the ideal society at that moment. The purpose was to begin the creation of a really good society. That was an incremental process that would happen step by step.

Hopefully this has shed light on the passage and further passages will explain the Jewish system even more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters