If you knew how to read, you would know that you are not God

September 1, 2014 § 58 Comments

There has been a bit of a hubbub lately about the Old Testament. Generally speaking there are two sides to the debate. One side considers it obvious that God directly ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites and other mass slaughter in the Old Testament, and concludes that therefore killing the innocent – persons not engaged in attacking behaviors and not being punished for specific deliberate crimes, infants being paradigmatic – cannot be always and intrinsically immoral. This side claims that the Old Testament cannot be inerrant unless their personal interpretations are correct.

The other side is not so stupid, unimaginative, and arrogant.

The inerrancy of the Bible doesn’t mean that your personal interpretation, or any particular interpretation, is true and correct.  It means that a true and correct interpretation exists.

Finite texts of sufficient complexity always underdetermine theories of meaning. If you have a theory of what a given text means, your personal theory is never the only possible theory of what the text means. This is built into the nature of symbols and meaning. In the context of interactive dialogue this becomes obscured, because interaction with the (presumed to be honest) speaker is possible to clarify meaning. But any ‘dead conversation’ is open to a multiplicity of interpretations.

The dilemma is falsely posed as pitting God “speaking directly” against the intrinsic immorality of murder. But that is just obviously nonsense. It is posed this way to beg the question: to invert the burden of proof.

When the Bible tells us that Samuel said “Thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts”, it is entirely possible that it is giving a literal account of words actually spoken by the actual prophet Samuel.  I rather expect that it is; although that is not the only possible interpretation, and inerrancy only really guarantees that true and accurate interpretations exist, it doesn’t guarantee that I have it right.

But Samuel saying those words as a formal preliminary to issuing commands doesn’t necessarily imply what folks think it implies. We know that, as Popes do now, prophets had authority from God. But the fact that Papal authority comes from God doesn’t imply that every word and deed of every Pope is tantamount to a literal act of God. In reality Papal infallibility is something very rarely invoked, and the use of a formal introduction for the words of a Prophet doesn’t convert those words into a set of axiomatic syllogisms from which a positivist theory of everything can be constructed. Samuel’s formalism could conceivably mean that God actually spoke those words from a burning bush; but in the full context of the OT that seems less than likely.  At best we can say that we don’t really know whether the formalism “thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts” is a formality – like the wearing of a crown – when the prophet gives orders.

What is being pitted against each other is some folks’ personal interpretations of the OT against the intrinsic immorality of murder. Understood this way the conclusion is manifest and immediate: those folks’ personal interpretations are wrong. Whatever the right interpretation might be, that particular interpretation is falsified. That you are wrong in how you interpret the Bible doesn’t threaten the Bible’s inerrancy: it threatens your personal world view. If that amounts to a “red pill” – perhaps the beginning of an understanding that positivism is modernist nonsense and that sola scriptura is positivist – then, in the words of the Prophet Morpheus, welcome to the real world.

If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion that a bedrock Christian doctrine such as the absolute prohibition of murder under the natural law is wrong, this doesn’t demonstrate a problem with bedrock Christian doctrine. It demonstrates a problem with you. If your reaction to this is some sort of outrage, some notion that you just must be right in your personal interpretations because God would never be so tricky as to construct a world in which positivism is a false and deceiving lie, then you’ve got some work to do.  But the work you have to do is on yourself.  Nobody ever guaranteed you a world in which positivism is a coherent epistemology.

 

§ 58 Responses to If you knew how to read, you would know that you are not God

  • Zippy says:

    If you read this and find yourself asking “then what good is inerrancy all by itself?”, you are on the right track. Inerrancy is worthless without the living authority of the living Church of Christ.

  • donalgraeme says:

    Something tells me that I’m going to need to read this several times to really grasp what you are saying here Zippy.

  • Bonald says:

    Let us consider, then, how two doctors of the Church interpretted such parts of the Bible:

    “But God telling Hosea to take himself a whore is a command, and as a divine command it makes what would otherwise have been a sin not a sin. For as Bernard says, God can dispense the second tablet of commandments which deal with man’s relations with his neighbors, since the good of the neighbor is a particular good, but he can’t dispense the first tablet of commandments, which deal with man’s relationship to God.”
    —Thomas Aquinas, Quastiones Disputatae de Malo, Quest. 3, reply to objection 17
    (http://bonald.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/aquinas-as-voluntarist-as-scotus/)

    The option that something can be intrinsically immoral so long as the universal good doesn’t come directly into play via divine command shouldn’t be dismissed quickly.

  • Chad says:

    I wish there was a single debate this engaging, as filled with different concepts, picked up by as many debates as this just once a month. The fruits from digging through comments, through scripture, and through my own head have been fantastic.

    The end result is that, while I would admit I find any slaught of infants deplorable and against all natural laws in all cases, I also have to admit that from the text it seems clear (to the best of my ability) that either God commanded this to Moses or that Moses thought he did and used his authority as such. From what my understanding of supernatural law, it asserts itself over natural law (for a simple example, the supernatural laws of mercy assert themselves over the natural laws of justice that make it brutal, cold, lacking in Love and thus unGodly).

    However, it has also made me look square in the face of the whole thing and simply admit to myself that I do not understand God well enough to make a claim of assurance either way on this instance, and also will lead me to question much more of the words of the prophets in terms of what the goals and truths they were trying to convey are, since there is such room between cultural projection, translation, and interpretation. Most of the time I’m not sure how much it will be a concern, as they speak clearly on what the problems they’re talking about are as well as what God desires, but some of it gets blurry when they blur the lines between individuals and nations with the language they use.

    Good stuff. Thanks for sharing

  • Chad says:

    Oh, and thanks specifically for taking the time to share both your thoughts on the situation as well as the postivism involved in the OT as well as how those views can be found within the Catholic Church

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    Doing what God tells us to do is like following our conscience: that is to say, it is always the right thing to do, but in an epistemic confrontation with bedrock Christian doctrine the latter wins and must reform our perception of the former.

  • William Luse says:

    The option that something can be intrinsically immoral so long as the universal good doesn’t come directly into play via divine command shouldn’t be dismissed quickly.

    I like Bonald a lot, but I can’t say I follow that. Right now I can only say that any time an intrinsically immoral act is contemplated, the universal good is in play. Maybe he could re-phrase for my benefit.

    But I can’t follow Aquinas either: “For as Bernard says, God can dispense the second tablet of commandments which deal with man’s relations with his neighbors, since the good of the neighbor is a particular good…

    ?

  • William Luse says:

    ..inerrancy only really guarantees that true and accurate interpretations exist, it doesn’t guarantee that I have it right.

    With the further proviso that there is no guarantee that we’ll ever have it right, in this life, anyway?

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    Right — inerrancy is a characteristic of Scripture, not a characteristic of me.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    The issue is very simple in reality. God is logically unable to be morally imperfect, so the problem can be answered any of the following ways to reach that conclusion.

    1) The passage is hyperbole or Jewish folklore
    2) God commanded it knowing it would not occur
    3) You are misunderstanding how God interacts with morality, and that this is actually in full coherence with God’s nature (for instance, the theory that God is under no obligation not to take innocent lives, since they are His to take)

    There are potentially myriad answers to the problem, but they end up with the same result. God is right. God is just. Any other conclusion is incoherent, so I’m not entirely sure why atheists use this argument. It presupposes God’s existence, and yet in doing so it already locks in the answer, no matter how you get to it.

  • Reading through my own responses in the discussion has kind of opened my eyes to how in flux my own views are. I changed my own opinion a couple of times in that thread, and right now I hold to something like, “Well, there’s GOT to be an answer, even if I don’t get what it is”.

  • Mike T says:

    I don’t know how much you followed the various comments, but the point that Lydia made (which I was reacting to) was that she was prepared to throw out scriptural innerrancy in order to preserve her belief that the Canaanite genocide could not have been ordered by God. Whereas I (and MarcAnthony) were saying that if scripture actually said “the Lord of Hosts ordered Moses thusly…” we would be prepared to believe that God ordered a specific act as an exception to the natural law because we have a prior commitment to believing that scripture is inerrant and protected by the Holy Spirit.

  • Mike T says:

    If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion that a bedrock Christian doctrine such as the absolute prohibition of murder under the natural law is wrong, this doesn’t demonstrate a problem with bedrock Christian doctrine. It demonstrates a problem with you.

    Half of what Lydia and I fought was over whether this applied or not. I said that if God ordered the annihilation of the entire city, it’s our understanding of the act that is wrong not our understanding of intrinsic morality. My take was that since God cannot murder it must be understood as a particular judgment of an entire nation in the same sense that God unleashed a flood that intentionally wiped out infants and young children along with their fully accountable parents.

    I’m curious, what do you think of her position that God cannot delegate the decision to execute a particular judgment to human agents?

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    the point that Lydia made (which I was reacting to) was that she was prepared to throw out scriptural innerrancy in order to preserve her belief that the Canaanite genocide could not have been ordered by God

    I think she must mean something other than ‘there exists a true and correct interpretation’ by ‘inerrancy’. Inerrancy can’t mean that every interpretation is true and correct, and admitting that we don’t happen to know a true and correct interpretation which is consistent with other things that we know doesn’t deny the existence of one.

    I said that if God ordered the annihilation of the entire city, it’s our understanding of the act that is wrong not our understanding of intrinsic morality.

    But the way this is framed begs the question, epistemically. If a voice from a burning bush told me to go sleep with my neighbor’s wife, I would be more certain that the voice wasn’t God than that I should make an exception to the prohibition of adultery in this case. “God commanded me to do it” situations always involve our relative epistemic certainty that it is God speaking compared to our certainty that what is being commanded is good.

    The situation with interpreting these OT passages (and the Bible generally) is similar. Inerrancy just guarantees that some true and correct interpretation exists: it doesn’t guarantee that any of the ones we have discussed or thought about is true and correct.

    I’ve suggested some possible interpretations of the pertinent OT passages which, if true and correct, would not call into question the absolute moral prohibition of murder. I have other candidates which I have not mentioned. But even if I hadn’t suggested any that wouldn’t threaten inerrancy. Inerrancy just means that a true and correct interpretation exists, it doesn’t mean that I know what that interpretation is or even have candidates for it.

    I think the resistance to this arises from Biblical literalism, positivism, whatever you want to call it: from the notion that the text of the Bible alone can resolve theory choice about which interpretations are correct. Modern Christians want Biblical inerrancy to be something that resolves their epistemic uncertainties for them. But textual inerrancy can’t do the epistemic heavy lifting they want it to do, and admitting that the absolute prohibition of murder trumps the basket of interpretations they see as ‘reasonable’ calls into question an entire world view.

  • …we would be prepared to believe that God ordered a specific act as an exception to the natural law because we have a prior commitment to believing that scripture is inerrant and protected by the Holy Spirit.

    My username on WWWtW is MarcAnthony. I don’t think I’d go that far. Rather, I’d say that somehow my interpretation of the verse HAD to be mistaken in some way, or else I was misunderstanding the natural law. As far as I’m concerned it would HAVE to be one of the two.

    I don’t think God has the ability to contradict natural law (it’s His nature, after all), and I do think Scripture is inerrant. So those two options are the only ones open to me. Zippy is right in that the problem is not that the Bible is not inerrant. It’s that something is wrong with either my concept of inerrancy, my specific interpretation of events, or my understanding of natural law.

    But dropping either natural law or inerrancy are not options for me. The problem, somehow, some way, has to be with me.

    My issue was mostly with William Luse, who’s responses to me were along the lines of “Stop talking about it, there’s no answer and if you pretend their is one you’re a bad person who believes horrible things and I think you’re repellant”. I grew tired of it; if he didn’t think the question was worth discussing, then don’t discuss it and leave us alone!

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:
    Bill is a big boy and can speak for himself, but I am equally intolerant of an approach that is unwilling to start with what we actually know – e.g. that slaughtering infants is intrinsically immoral, always wrong, and therefore not something God would ever command – and work the problem from there. I don’t think Bill is unwilling to discuss the issues. He is just, like me, unwilling to tolerate reframing the issue by folks who think they speak on God’s behalf just because they happen to have a certain theory of Scriptural interpretation — a theory which leads them to pretend to speak for God.

  • Mike T says:

    Modern Christians want Biblical inerrancy to be something that resolves their epistemic uncertainties for them. But textual inerrancy can’t do the epistemic heavy lifting they want it to do, and admitting that the absolute prohibition of murder trumps the basket of interpretations they see as ‘reasonable’ calls into question an entire world view.

    The problem is that if God actually ordered it as a particular judgment, it would be a lawful execution, not murder. Claiming that infants are beyond God’s judgment is a stretch since God did not spare the antediluvian infants.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    The problem is that if God actually ordered it as a particular judgment, it would be a lawful execution, not murder.

    And again, this framing begs the question epistemically.

    The only way to know apodictically that God is ordering it is if you are God. Otherwise it is always possible that you are deceived: that you are wrong. So we can’t escape from comparing how likely it is that we are deceived that murder is always wrong versus how likely it is that it is actually God telling us to do it.

    The Tower of Babel story makes for good reading on this point. If we build a tower to Heaven to try to become like God all we actually accomplish is to become confused. We lose our ability to talk to each other. Interestingly, language is precisely where it all unravels.

  • Ian says:

    Zippy,

    Couldn’t God make absolutely certain that there was no possibility of epistemic doubt in a particular situation? For instance, when Christ comes again, won’t everyone – believer and unbeliever alike – know exactly what is going on, no doubt whatsoever?

  • Zippy says:

    Ian:
    I think your question is similar to asking “what is the Beatific Vision like?”

    It isn’t that the question is meaningless. But it is unanswerable.

  • CJ says:

    If a voice from a burning bush told me to go sleep with my neighbor’s wife, I would be more certain that the voice wasn’t God than that I should make an exception to the prohibition of adultery in this case.

    I once had a similar conversation with a woman about Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. She said that if “God” told us to do something that would otherwise be evil we should just do it because Abraham.

    My response was that we don’t know what Abraham knew about God, but we know that God really, really hates human sacrifice based on his judgment of various OT peoples for that reason. So whatever Abraham did, if you think God is telling you to toss your kid on an altar, your first thought should be “I’m being deceived.”

  • Zippy says:

    CJ:
    Yes exactly. More generally, it is not necessary to interpret the OT – as an inerrant historical account of God revealing Himself gradually and in many different ways to pre-Christian pagans and Jews, in preparation for the Incarnation – as in any way in conflict with bedrock Christian moral doctrine.

    When folks do interpret it that way, that does demonstrate a problem. But the problem doesn’t reside in either the inerrancy of the OT or in bedrock Christian doctrine.

    With apologies to Arthur Conan Doyle, when all other possibilities have been accounted for, the problem is us.

  • Mike T says:

    But it is part of understanding some of what happened here. Isaiah actually did see something akin to the Beatific Vision if not the actual thing. He knew what he saw was God in his glory.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    But it is part of understanding some of what happened here.

    Even if I grant that (say) witnessing a miracle like the Transfiguration is an apodictic rather than empiric experience – for the sake of argument only, since I don’t actually agree that it is – there are no such experiences recounted in the OT with Yahweh directly commanding (say) the slaughter of children.

    The OT itself recounts the ‘problemmatic’ events as “Samuel said” and “Moses said”, etc, talking to the Israelites, invoking the Lord as the source of their authority. You can believe that they literally said “Thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts” (or not) as part of your interpretive hermeneutic; and in fact I actually do believe that, personally. But the part where God tells them to slaughter children – the words from God’s mouth (in the form of a burning bush or what have you) – isn’t in there.

    I’m already granting far more here than my own worldview allows, just to make discussion possible.

    In my view many folks’ entire approach to the OT is wrongheaded, and typically stems from attempts to substitute text for living authority — attempts going back at least to Wyclif. Fixed text underdetermines meaning. (That doesn’t mean ‘any interpretation will do’, but it does mean that given a fixed text of sufficient complexity there are always multiple possible good faith interpretations).

    Doctrine is a kind of meaning, and the alternative to development of doctrine in the context of living authority isn’t ‘fixed’ doctrine wrought by ‘fixed’ text: it is raving postmodern insanity. Men are ultimately judged on their obedience to God; that judgment depends in part on the state of knowledge of the man acting. Post-Incarnation Christians know more than pre-Incarnation pagans and Jews. Post Chalcedon Christians have less excuse for heresy than pre-Council Christians. The Faith is a living Faith and literally cannot rationally be otherwise.

  • Ian says:

    Zippy,

    Thanks for your previous response.

    How do you interpret the Abraham-Isaac story? There the text says that God actually told Abraham to take his only son and offer him as a burnt offering. There’s no “Samuel said” or “Moses said” sort of thing going on here.

  • Zippy says:

    Ian,

    I don’t claim to have an overall interpretive metastory, but it is notable that once events proceeded to the point where Abraham himself was absolutely committed to obeying Yahweh he was told not to kill Isaac. “Yes, I insist on obedience, and yes, everything you have you owe to me; but I am not the kind of god you are used to” seems like the kind of message that a pagan like Abraham would take away from the encounter.

  • Andrew E. says:

    I heard a protestant argue recently, somewhere around the orthosphere I can’t remember where exactly, that the text of the Bible is a living text. It’s not like the text of just any book, it is of a different kind. So when it is said that the Bible needs a living authority or tradition to accompany it the counter is that the Bible contains the “livingness” already within because of the nature of what the Bible is.

  • So when it is said that the Bible needs a living authority or tradition to accompany it the counter is that the Bible contains the “livingness” already within because of the nature of what the Bible is.

    That sounds suspiciously like question-begging nonsense.

  • Phronesis says:

    Bonald, I don’t think the passage you point to shows what you think it shows. You are right to say that Aquinas and Scotus are more in agreement than the typical story lets on, but you seem to have it exactly backwards: Scotus is not nearly as much of a voluntarist as you, or whoever’s views you were summarizing in your post, indicate.

    The extreme voluntarist view is that the moral law given to man is not inscribed in human nature. God could not only command exceptions to the law (which would leave the general normative force of the law intact) but that God could change *the law itself*, such that all acts of adultery would be morally licit. This seems to be the position you are attributing to Scotus and Aquinas, when you say that the precepts of the second tablet aren’t strictly speaking part of the natural law, as if God were free to change the laws whensoever He wanted. Neither Scotus nor Aquinas held this view.

    I can’t think of a place where Aquinas says what you said in your blog post, that the commands of the second tablet are not “strictly” part of the natural law. That’s certainly not what he’s saying in that De malo passage. There, Aquinas says that while the law as a general rule is immutable and flows form the divine goodness, nevertheless in particular instances there can be exceptions. That is *very* different from saying that the commandments with regards to our neighbor aren’t strictly part of the natural law. See for instance ST I-II, q.100, aa. 1&8 (see especially a.8, ad.3, which in the context of the whole question treats the issue more fully than the De malo reply you cited).

    Now, properly speaking, God’s commands aren’t even dispensations from the precepts of the natural law, let alone changing the law itself (see q.100, a.8). For instance, murder is the intentional killing of an innocent person, but ‘innocent’ can be said in many ways. In the broad sense of the word, a man may be innocent by human standards because he has never committed a crime, or even because he never committed an actual sin. Still, all humans, the just and the unjust, die as a consequence of original sin. In that stricter sense, no one is innocent, and God can (and does) take their lives at any time without being a murderer. Aquinas goes a step further, and says that God can command one man to kill another to carry out God’s prerogatives on this matter. This would not be murder because it is not the killing of an innocent in that strict sense of the word. So according to Aquinas’ view, the slaying of the Amalekites is not even granting a dispensation to the fifth commandment.

    I’m not as familiar with Scotus’ view, but my understanding is that he basically held Aquinas’ view, with a further distinction. He agreed that the moral law flows from God’s goodness, but the fact that it is *morally obligatory* flows from His will. So God, in creating man, could have made the precepts of the natural law not obligatory, but simply good. Think of an Aristotelian virtue ethic, in which virtue and good actions are the stuff of a happy, good life, but are not strictly commanded by a law giver. But the sins forbidden by the ten commandments, even had they not been forbidden, would still be formally evil, because they are in fact evil. I could be wrong: this might be one of those issues that depends on your reading of Scotus.

    It’s a different question whether you think those solutions work or not. Nevertheless, I don’t think either of these thinkers hold the position that you cited in your blog post. Nor do I think Aquinas “didn’t have the guts” to face the literal meaning of Scripture. His treatment wouldn’t be nearly as subtle as it is if he was pretending that the problem wasn’t a problem.

    On the theoretical level, I find Aquinas’ solution satisfactory. Practically speaking, however, I find it problematic. If I thought I heard God commanding me to kill Amalekite children, I might know that it is in principle possible for God to command this; but epistemically, I don’t know how I would determine whether it was God commanding this of me, or a demon. In fact, the only reason I know that God, and not some demon, commanded the Israelites to slay the Amalekites is because Scripture is inerrant, and the literal meaning of that passage seems to indicate that He did in fact command it.

    But getting over the epistemic problem, if I knew for a fact that God was commanding me to kill someone, I think the pious response would be to plead for his life. Just like Abraham pleaded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or just like Moses pleaded for the lives of Israel after the golden calf incident. The chief tragedy of the Amalekite incident is not the slaying, it’s that Saul et al. did not learn the lesson of meekness taught through the examples of the patriarchs and prophets.

  • Bonald says:

    Phronesis has completely misread my post, attributing to me the position that I laid out in order to demolish with the quote from Aquinas. However, he’s done a much better job that I did in explaining the Thomist-Scotist position, which I, by the way, accept and recommend again to your consideration.

  • Zippy says:

    Phronesis writes:

    Practically speaking, however, I find it problematic. If I thought I heard God commanding me to kill Amalekite children, I might know that it is in principle possible for God to command this; but epistemically, I don’t know how I would determine whether it was God commanding this of me, or a demon.

    Precisely.

    Whatever one may make of the deontological situation as a logical matter, our epistemic limitations render it moot. And since moral theology deals in what we actually should and should not do in actual situations, epistemically-mooted deontology has no implications in our moral theology.

  • Bonald says:

    It can have implications for whatever you call the branch of theology that deals with the relationship between God and moral obligation.

    P.S. Rereading my own post, I can see how someone might read it as Phronesis did. If I want to do a decent job of this blogging thingie, I really must learn to state my own position unambiguously.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    I view that as rather like speculation about what happened before the Big Bang, or in other inaccessible universes in a multiverse. There is a point where we have to admit our own limitations and simply acknowledge that the Tower cannot actually reach Heaven. We may (or may not) know once we are there; but for now there are inherent limits on what we can know.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    “I’m curious, what do you think of her position that God cannot delegate the decision to execute a particular judgment to human agents?”n why

    I cannot see any reason to believe the above statement is true. God could delegate a responsibility to execute judgment to mortal men very easily, just look at how the Babylonians were used against the sinful Israel before captivity.

  • Zippy says:

    Mark Citadel:
    That is a different subject. The subject is whether committing a manifestly intrinsically immoral act – say killing an infant or committing adultery – can be justified by appealing to the idea that God told you to do it. And the answer is an unequivocal “no”.

  • Mark Citadel says:

    Zippy: It may be more nuanced than that.

    In a practical sense, I agree. You could never have any kind of moral system in a society where people could appeal to some kind of ‘special private revelation’ in order to justify acts that are clearly Biblically immoral.

    But on a theoretical level, let us say that God commands me to do something that seems to me to be in contradiction to the Scripture.
    And let us assume that I KNOW for a fact that God is commanding me to do this, and that it is not some trick or deception. (theoretical, I know)

    What can be my conclusion? Well, since God could not logically command an immoral act, there are only two possible answers.

    A) I have misunderstood Scripture

    B) God is engaging in an Abraham-like test, and if so, going by that example, we should move to carry out the act diligently, in the knowledge that God will intervene at the last moment and reveal it as a test, thus stopping what would be illogical from taking place.

    But like I said, in practical terms, this is all kind of useless. We just could not function in a way that answered affirmatively to your question, so we are compelled to answer in the negative. I think it is fair to say that God understand this. Nobody will be legitimately receiving a command from the Lord to kill an innocent child anytime in the near future.

  • Phronesis says:

    Bonald,

    And after rereading your blog post, I can see how you were intending to say something different from I thought it did. I’ve heard Aquinas called a voluntarist about the divine ideas, about the nature-will distinction, about the relationship between the intellect and will, and on different ethical matters; and De malo is supposedly the big text where he changed his mind. But each time I encounter this “voluntarism”, I find the arguments wanting. So that background is why I was probably so quick to rush to judgment.

  • Zippy says:

    Mark Citadel:

    And let us assume that I KNOW for a fact that God is commanding me to do this, and that it is not some trick or deception. (theoretical, I know)

    If we assume what is not possible, we can conclude anything we like.

  • Paul J Cella says:

    FYI. A Protestant view of “living text” which is (so far as I understand) compatible with Roman Catholic teaching, holds that Scripture does bear the mark and presence of the Holy Spirit, and that this is no small thing.

    Behind all the old litanies and lectionaries and prayer books is the notion that the people of God are to repeatedly and systematically read aloud the words of the Holy Writ, in their prayers, in their meetings, in their songs, as part of their very obedience to God. It’s not for mere private study, though this too is important; it is the public, unified obedience of Christians to hear the Bible read, to sit under its influence and instruction.

    We know from other literature, poetry most of all, that audible recitation and public reading has a powerful effect on human minds — even illiterate or immature minds. Whole societies in history have maintained their culture by means of public readings of their stories. On a much smaller scale, I have written of the powerful reassurance derived from reading Chesterton’s great poem on King Alfred.

    How much moreso, then, the reading of God’s word, the literature His Holy Spirit preserved for our benefit? We conform our hearts the Lordship of Christ, when we become hearers of his Word, and by hearing, doers of his commands. This is the sense of the living Word of God, inerrant, as a characteristic of Scripture. And the broad-hearted Protestant must acknowledge that even in the deariest parish of medieval Papism, they still brought folks under the regular reading of the Bible, God’s record of his covenantal love for his people; and so brought them to saving faith.

    None of which for even a moment contradicts Zippy’s excellent point about the ever-present possibility of wrong interpretations, false readings, etc.

    As Bill said at some point in one of these threads, the quality that most appeals about Lydia’s treatment of the Canaanite passages is humility, which is exactly the proper posture before the Word of God.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul:
    Superb comment. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Contrast Lydia’s modesty and willingness to accept mystery to the breathtaking arrogance of her critics, who insist that God simply must fill in the blanks and bring them to comfortable epistemic resolution, and in so insisting wrest the Scriptures from their corporate place in the Church of Christ and pretend to speak in God’s voice.

  • Zippy says:

    Andrew E:

    So when it is said that the Bible needs a living authority or tradition to accompany it the counter is that the Bible contains the “livingness” already within because of the nature of what the Bible is.

    One way to think about the Protestant-Catholic divide is to consider where the Real Presence is to be found.

  • […] two different people reading and interpreting Scripture. We know that incorrect interpretations of Scripture are possible. In fact incorrect interpretations probably outnumber correct interpretations by an order of […]

  • Mike T says:

    If we assume what is not possible, we can conclude anything we like.

    Are you saying that it’s beyond God’s power to make you absolutely certain that he is talking to you?

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    No. I am saying that it is impossible for someone (or thing) that is telling me to do evil to convince me that it is God.

  • Mike T says:

    One thing I find weird about the argument about Samuel is that if he said “thus sayeth the Lord…” and it was wrong then his prophecy was false and false prophecy is a mortal sin. It would be even more serious if the matter were a falsely ordered genocide.

    From my perspective, the best we can say on how Samuel didn’t end up in hell (that we know of) is “I will have compassion on who I will have compassion, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” Probably the same with Moses. If they weren’t under God’s orders, and we can assume they were not moral idiots, all we can conclude is that there is enough mystery to not draw much of a moral lesson out of these pages.

  • From my perspective, the best we can say on how Samuel didn’t end up in hell (that we know of) is “I will have compassion on who I will have compassion, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.”

    That is why anybody avoids Hell. We don’t know whether or not Samuel repented.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    One thing I find weird about the argument about Samuel is that if he said “thus sayeth the Lord…” and it was wrong then his prophecy was false and false prophecy is a mortal sin.

    Giving orders to the army isn’t a prophecy though. If the phrase meant (or even was, prior to translation into modern English) the equivalent of “Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the Prophet of God speaks!” then this whole discussion is much ado about nothing.

  • Peter Blood says:

    It’s clear that Samuel was cut from the same cloth as Jonah (who was ready and eager to watch Ninevah burn), and got a starry-eyed flunky to write a pro-Samuel account. Maybe it’s just a Jewish thing, seeing as how Israelis set up a party zone to watch Gaza get blown up.

  • Fake Herzog says:

    “Maybe it’s just a Jewish thing, seeing as how Israelis set up a party zone to watch Gaza get blown up.”

    Slander. A few Israelis watched the bombing and cheered, understandably, as they were the ones living under attack from Hamas rockets. There was no “party zone.”

  • Peter Blood says:

    They cheered as children were slaughtered. Perfectly understandable, old top.

  • They cheered as children were slaughtered. Perfectly understandable, old top.

    Who is “they”? All of Israel? The majority of Israelis?

    Are you really going to play a game of “Who’s happier about the other side’s suffering” game here as if it means anything?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ Peter Blood:

    I don’t think Fake Herzog is protesting against the proposition that some Jews are evil. Some people out of every culture/religion/background are evil. There have been plenty of evil Christians. The protest is against the proposition that reveling in the slaughter of children is “just a Jewish thing”. Even with the qualifier “maybe”, that’s still a ridiculous idea.

  • jamesd127 says:

    1. The command to genocide the Canaanites is repeatedly prefigured in the bible. Clearly all religious authorities over time accepted it as the lords command. If you reject that, you might as well reject the entire bible. It is not just Samuel says “The Lord Saith”, pretty much everyone else said that that the lord will say, and they lord did say.

    2, The Hebrews has a superior culture to the Canaanites, who suffered from the decadence of late stage Bronze age civilization. The canaanite culture was apt, like today’s progressives, to replenish their dwindling numbers by converting people of more fertile cultures. Genocide was a necessary protective measure against conversion.

    The Hebrews had a lower death rate due to their rules of washing their hands, burying their feces, and not eating animals that died of natural causes.

    They had a higher reproduction rate because of strict patriarchy, no female autonomy, no female consent required for sex and marriage, absolute patriarchal power over wives and children, plus a patriarchal duty of care and protection for wives and children, in particular the no infanticide rule.

    The Hebrew economy was more productive because of rules protecting private property, and prohibiting coveting, thus prohibiting redistributionist ideologies.

    The Canaanites were successful in their efforts at conversion, inducing some Hebrews to sacrifice their children to Moloch (Canaanite equivalent of Jehovah). This sacrifice was conducted by dropping the living child into the fire in front of the assembled congregation.

    To preserve the superior Hebrew culture against the successfully evangelistic Canaanite culture, necessary to eradicate the Canaanites.

    Similarly, today’s progressive do not reproduce, but instead seduce the children of conservatives.

  • Zippy says:

    If you reject that, you might as well reject the entire bible.

    If you reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, you might as well reject the entire Bible.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    It is not just Samuel says “The Lord Saith”, pretty much everyone else said that that the lord will say, and they lord did say.

    This is support for – not an argument against – the idea that “Thus sayeth the Lord” was just something the prophets prefaced their statements with, regardless of whether or not they’d actually heard anything explicitly from the mouth of God in that instance.

    That so many prophets said it so much makes it statistically likely that God didn’t actually make any explicit commands every single time.

    To preserve the superior Hebrew culture against the successfully evangelistic Canaanite culture, necessary to eradicate the Canaanites.

    The ends actually don’t justify the means, believe it or not.

    From Veritatis Splendor:

    The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is “according to its species”, or “in itself”, morally good or bad, licit or illicit. The foreseeable consequences are part of those circumstances of the act, which, while capable of lessening the gravity of an evil act, nonetheless cannot alter its moral species.

  • If you reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, you might as well reject the entire Bible.

    I think I still see smoke coming up from that burn.

  • […] we can overturn natural law I would argue that that it’s a good time to remind yourself that you, in fact, are not God, and not a Sacred Author, and not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. You’re a man who is […]

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