57. What about Pascal’s Wager? Why risk going to hell?

1024px-Blaise_Pascal_VersaillesBlaise Pascal was the seventeenth-century French philosopher and mathematician who famously argued that, in the absence of conclusive evidence, it was better to wager that God existed, since you had everything to gain and little to lose.

Pascal writes:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager?… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

Pascal’s Wager appeals to us because it is sometimes reasonable to take precautions against a potential consequence, even when conclusive evidence is lacking. With eternal life on the line, even if there is only a small chance that God exists, doesn’t it makes sense to err on the side of caution, just in case?

Claims and Consequences

Pascals Wager breaks down into two main parts: a claim and a consequence. The claim is that God exists and wants us to believe in him, and the consequence is that he will reward us (or punish us) based on how we respond to this claim.

Before we delve into Pascal’s wager, let’s briefly look at what it means to make a claim.

Claims

When someone makes a claim that might be called into question, it’s their responsibility to meet the burden of proof. This is just a practical matter, since it’s all-too-easy to make up assertions. There are, in fact, far more things that could be claimed than things that actually exist.

For example, I could claim that:

  • there are six invisible aliens living in your colon;
  • your mom had a secret affair with Mr. T.;
  • God is currently living as a lesbian in the Bronx;
  • only whales and kangaroos get into heaven;
  • all lawyers go to hell; and
  • Einstein was born with an invisible Siamese twin hermaphrodite attached to his ankle that had to be removed by a voodoo priestess.

And the list goes on and on. Claims are easily made up and can be difficult to prove, and the burden should not be placed on you to prove them all.

It annoys me that the burden of proof is on us. It should be: “You came up with the ideas. Why do you believe it?” I could tell you I’ve got superpowers. But I can’t go up to people saying “Prove I can’t fly.” They’d go: “What do you mean ‘Prove you can’t fly’? Prove you can!’
~ Ricky Gervais

The more extraordinary the claim, the more important it is to have good evidence. For example, I could claim that my cat once had kittens, and I could claim that my cat once had puppies. The latter claim is going to demand a lot more evidence because it’s much more extraordinary.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
~ Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

If a claim cannot be proven true, it’s equally important that it can be proven false, so that (either way) the truth can eventually be known. Falsifiability is also important because its easy to make excuses to purposefully render a claim unfalsifiable.

It is nothing short of extraordinary to claim that invisible supernatural beings exist, and that one in-particular has always existed; he is omniscient and omnipresent, and he is the one who created everything, and a part of him came to earth through a virgin, performed many miracles, sacrificed himself to himself to save you from eternal suffering, and then rose from the dead. Such a fantastic claim demands extraordinary evidence.

Excuses, excuses!

So the first red flag with Pascal’s Wager is that it makes an extraordinary claim, and then excuses itself from having to meet the burden of proof.

But Christianity offers a good excuse for not having to provide evidence: God has intentionally obscured all evidence in order to preserve free will! This is a creative excuse, but is it actually true? Or was this just a clever excuse engineered to avoid having to meet the burden of proof, and to make the claim impossible to falsify?

Inventing GodsConsider for a moment that every god in the history of the world also refuses to reveal itself to you. (Isn’t that an amazing coincidence!?) Baal, Zeus, Mazda, Vishnu, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster — they too are all invisible and they all have good excuses for not appearing to you. Even if it’s claimed they once appeared, they will most certainly have a good excuse for not appearing to you right now.

And gods are not the only ones excusing themselves from having to meet the burden of proof. Every spirit, monster, UFO alien, Sasquatch, fairy, leprechaun, chupacabra, and unicorn has a good excuse for not providing proof. It’s never that they don’t exist, it’s always because they are rare, or invisible, or small, or elusive, or on vacation, or they want you to do something before they will reveal themselves, or there is a government conspiracy covering them up.

The God of the Jews is no different; instead of just providing proof, we hear excuses for why the burden of proof can never be met.

So Pascal’s Wager makes a claim, and just like every other god, spirit, or imagined creature, it offers a creative excuse for why the burden of proof cannot be met. Evidence and reason are all we have to work with when it comes to determining truth, and once we begin to accept excuses in place of facts, we must accept all other unsubstantiated claims that carry consequences.

The Problem with Mohammad

To use a real-world example, Pascal could have just as easily wagered for Mohammad:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “Mohammad is God’s prophet, or Mohammad is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here…. Wager, then, without hesitation that Mohammad is God’s prophet.

Muslims too believe they have good evidence, and after 1,500 years of trying, Christians have failed to disprove this evidence to the satisfaction of over a billion Muslims.

Seeing as how the evidence is inconclusive, Pascal’s logic dictates that we play it safe, and wager that Mohammad was God’s prophet… just in case. But we cannot wager on both Christianity and Islam, because each idea is mutually exclusive, and this is where Pascal’s logic begins to unravel.

Consequences

Having excused itself from having to meet the burden of proof, Pascal’s Wager (and by extension, Christianity) raises a second red flag by warning of severe consequences for not believing.

KnockAppealing to consequences in this way is considered a logical fallacy, because it places the crux of the argument on the consequence(s) rather than the evidence. This tactic is generally frowned upon because: 1) it doesn’t provide any new evidence, 2) it attempts to motivate through fear rather than facts, and 3) it’s just as easy to invent consequences as it is claims (and if you don’t believe that, your teeth will fall out!).

While it’s entirely possible that the consequences of an unsubstantiated claim might be real, consequences are often used to manipulate others, and so we must be on guard against their misuse, especially when they are not accompanied by strong evidence, or when the claimant has something to gain.

Superstitious Claims and Consequences

Superstitions operate on the same basic principals as Pascal’s Wager: they too make a claim that is difficult to disprove, and they appeal to consequences to motivate others to action. For example:

  • You should throw spilled salt over your shoulder to prevent demonic temptation.
  • If you walk under ladders you will have bad luck.
  • If you break a mirror you will have seven years bad luck. (Unless you throw a shard into a south-flowing river.)
  • You should pass along that chain letter to improve your luck; breaking the chain will bring bad luck.

Likewise, Pascal’s Wager says: “You should believe in God to have eternal good luck; if you don’t believe you will have eternal bad luck.”

And as with the chain letter, it’s obvious that the original author invented these consequences to motivate others to distribute his letter. The consequences of Christianity may have been invented for similar reasons, because they work to motivate others to believe in and spread Christianity.

One distinct difference between Christianity and superstition is that Christianity’s consequences are carried out indefinitely. While the severity of a consequence does not add one iota of proof to the original claim, the perceived risk is greater, which provides all the more motivation to believe.

So Pascal’s Wager (and Christianity) not only skirts around the burden of proof, but by making claims of eternal consequences, it manages to inject the maximum amount of urgency into its claim without providing any more evidence. What’s more, because the consequences do not become apparent until after you’re dead, neither the original claim or its consequences can ever be falsified — you can’t prove it, you can’t disprove it, and the consequences are the most extreme imaginable. (Brilliant!)

But what if you’re wrong?

Assuming Pascal is correct, and God will condemn us to hell for not believing, then we must ask ourselves: “Is it then morally right to submit to a God who would do such a thing?”

This situation is a bit like living under a dictator who insists that you serve him or be put to death. Do you join him? Do you help him kill others who refuse to join? Or would you rather die than partake in actions you believe to be immoral?

While we’d all like to think we’d take the moral high ground, history and scientific experiments (e.g. the Milgram experiment) have shown that most of us will check our moral compass at the door and submit to whomever is in charge (our species is pathetic that way). I suspect the same thing occurs with God: believers assume God is good because he says he is, and since he’s in charge “might makes right,” and we don’t give much thought to the actual morality of his actions.

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
~Luke 12:5

Believers will sometimes argue that because we are God’s creation, he has the right to do whatever he wants with us (including throwing us into hell forever). But is that morally right?

If it turns out that aliens are responsible for creating us, and they return next Tuesday to enslave and torture us, do they have the moral authority to do so? Or if a scientist creates a living being, fashioned from something other than DNA but still capable of experiencing pain, does that give him the right to torture it? Would you stand idly by as he jabbed hot pokers in its eyes, defending his actions by saying, “It’s okay, because he created it!” Will you stand there in Heaven, watching as Satan jabs hot pokers in my eyes, saying, “It’s okay, because God created him!”

Hell Viewing Station

If it is true that God allows people to be tortured, I believe it is morally wrong to submit to such a God, for several reasons.

First, I believe (as the Bible says) that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:12). I do not wish to burn in hell forever, nor do I believe God would wish this punishment upon himself if the situation were reversed.

Second, if punishment must exist, it should fit the crime. Eternal punishment for a finite crime is infinitely excessive, gratuitous, and therefore evil. 

And finally, if punishment must exist, it should serve a purpose. To punish people without any end-goal in mind is pointless. Even if this punishment succeeds in teaching them a lesson, they can no longer do anything about it. Their endless tears of regret and screams for mercy cannot possibly bring about more justice after that point. This is not justice, and certainly not the actions of a loving creator.

Strange a God who mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness, then invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none Himself; who frowns upon crimes yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon Himself; and finally with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship Him!
~ Mark Twain

If it’s true that God knows the future, and hell really does exist, then his story is not about the few he managed to save, but about the majority he knew would be lost. Even if God did not know what would happen, he should’ve learned from Adam, or at least by Noah’s time, that mankind and free will were not a good combination. God gambles with the souls of men, knowing most will be lost.

The God of hell should be held in loathing, contempt and scorn.  A god who threatens eternal pain should be hated, not loved; cursed, not worshiped.  A heaven presided over by such a god must be below the meanest hell.
~ Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)

Eternal suffering does not serve a loving God, it is not logical, it is not just, and it is wholly incompatible with his character. However, fear of hell does motivate people to join and spread Christianity, and I don’t think this is a mere coincidence.

Why would God even want to fill heaven with a bunch of “yes men,” who blindly go along with God’s definition of “good”? Wasn’t the point of creating man to avoid having a bunch of robots? Does God only want us to use our free will to choose to serve him, but never to question what is good? What if this is a test, and God is really looking for those who will think for themselves; those who will refuse to compromise their sense of morality even in the face of eternal torment? If God desires the company of those who are truly good, then he will want those who stand up to all kinds of evil, even when that evil is perpetrated by God himself. But then again, maybe God really does just want a bunch of sheep.

 I have always considered “Pascal’s Wager” a questionable bet to place, since any God worth believing in would prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite.
~ Alan M. Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer

(Note: I realize not all Christians share the same vision of hell, and this is something I will take on under a later question. But with respect to Pascal’s Wager, if we assume that hell is not all bad or is only temporary, then it makes it far less risky to wager against God.)

Fake it till you make it?

In response to Pascal’s Wager, some atheists argue that you can’t make yourself believe if you don’t, and God would know if you were faking. I disagree. You wouldn’t be repenting if you didn’t believe, at least a little. We don’t repent to Baal or Zeus because we don’t believe in them. Pascal’s Wager is not intended for those who have no faith in the possibility of God’s existence.

That said, I can’t stress enough how insanely suspicious it is that God should place any importance on our ability to believe without evidence. If God were real, and truly a god of love, he would place value on things like love, compassion, mercy, virtue, forgiveness, etc., and would judge us on these things. It does not make sense that God would place any value on some measure of gullibility, however, it does make sense that if God does not exist, that those who invented him would place a value upon belief without evidence, precisely because there was none.

“Religion is poison because it asks us to give up our most precious faculty, which is that of reason, and to believe things without evidence.  It then asks us to respect this, which it calls faith.”
~ Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

I strongly suspect that ideas like “hell” and “faith without evidence” exist not because they are reasonable, or true, but because they work to motivate us. Add this to the fact that Christianity’s claims and consequences can never be proven nor falsified, and the whole claim smells fishy.

Conclusion

Christianity has always presented itself as the only viable option (“turn or burn”), and Pascal’s Wager just spells this out. Is Pascal’s Wager a compelling argument? Absolutely, it is probably the most compelling argument one could forge from nothing.

But Pascal’s Wager asks us to betray our mind to cover our ass. It does a disservice to truth by asking us to elevate our beliefs beyond what the evidence supports. It adds no new evidence for the existence of God; it employs the same reasoning as superstition; its logic can be used to defend any god or religion, and even if true, we would have to betray our own sense of morality in order to fully embrace it.

The only thing we know with any certainty is that we have this life, shall we wager it away on the chance at another? In accepting Pascal’s Wager, we wager our minds, our money, our time, our reason, our morality, our children, and possibly even the very survival of our species.

If we were to all accept Pascal’s Wager, and give ourselves over to God and the Bible without question, and we are all wrong, what then? Then we have allowed our species to become enslaved by superstition, and gambled away the only life we will ever have, and with it humanity’s only chance at understanding the truth about who we are and where we came from.

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
~ Unknown (aka “The Atheist’s Wager”)

Posted in God's Behavior, Heaven and Hell, Logic and Reason | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

56. Why did God create Satan?

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
~ Colossians 1:16

God’s creation of Satan is one of the most perplexing and counter-intuitive ideas in the Bible. Even if we can somehow manage to acquit God of the charge of creating evil itself, he is still guilty of creating Satan, an entity whom he knew would turn evil. So I’ve gotta ask: what on earth was God thinking?

Jesus: “Hey dad, whatchya doin’?”God creating Satan

God: “Creating an angel who will rebel against me and bring horrible pain and suffering to mankind.”

Jesus: (Spitting out his holy water) “WHAT!? Why!? Why would you do that?”

God: “Well, I want to create some worshipers who will love me and love what is good. In order to have that, I need them to experience both good and evil, so they can freely choose the good.”

Jesus: “Okay… I’m listening.”

God: “Well, if they are truly lovers of good, and they see me doing evil, the won’t love me, will they? Also, I am perfectly good, so I can’t do evil even if I wanted to. That’s why I’m creating ‘Satan,’ an angel who can do evil and take all the blame.”

Jesus: “Won’t the humans just blame you for creating Satan?”

God: “Na, I’m not going to make them that smart.”

Jesus: “But still… whether you do evil, or you create someone who does evil, it’s still you doing it; Satan can’t do evil if you never create him. Also, how can a perfect God even make an imperfect thing?”

God: “Son, you are waaay over-thinking this. All you need to understand is this: God good, Satan bad. Satan will tempt the humans into sinning, do a bunch of evil stuff, and try to steal their souls. That’s when we — and by we, I mean you — swoop down and save the day! Ta da! We’ll be like superheroes! And in the end, I’ll show everyone how good I am by casting Satan into the lake of fire for all the evil he did.”

Jesus: “You mean… all the evil you did… by creating him. How about you just show everyone how good you are by not creating Satan?”

God: “Son, you don’t understand, I need Satan. If there is no Satan, Adam and Eve will never sin, and –“

Jesus: “Wait, hold on… never? Are you sure?”

God: “Sure I’m sure. I would much rather they sin of their own accord, that way all the responsibility for the fall rests on them, but they’re just not taking the bait.”

Jesus: “So… you’ve set up this forbidden tree, and they’re not biting, so you think they need a little more… motivation?”

God: “Ya, just a little push in the wrong direction.”

Jesus: “And if you don’t create Satan, the fall will never happen, and everything will remain perfect and good?”

God: “Yes, and that’s a problem.”

Jesus: “So… you are orchestrating their fall?”

God: “No… yes… maybe… indirectly… but I assure you it’s all for a good reason.”

Jesus: “If it’s for a good reason, why not just explain to them that it’s in their best interest to sin?”

God: “Because, I’ve already told them to never eat of the tree, so if I go down there now and try to talk them into it, I’ll look ridiculous. And besides, I don’t tempt people, only Satan does (James 1:13).”

Jesus: “You don’t tempt people!? What do you call that forbidden fruit tree you placed in the middle of the garden?”

God: “Um… ornamentation…?

Jesus: “So you create the temptation, and the tempter… but still deny any wrongdoing?

God: “Correct. The way I see it, I’m creating a good angel, it’s not my fault if he chooses to do evil.”

Jesus: “I see. Let me try to put this problem another way. There once was a man who hated his brother and wanted to kill him, but he didn’t want to become guilty of sin. When the man heard about a violent slave who had killed his last two masters, he went and purchased the slave, and gave him to his brother as a gift. Now, if the slave kills his brother, whom will you find guilty of sin?”

God: “That’s easy, I would find them both guilty; the slave for the act of murder, and the man for giving the slave to his brother when he knew full well he would… oooohhhh, I see where you’re going with this.”

Jesus: “Good, so you understand that if you create Satan, knowing full well what he will do, then you are every bit as guilty. If you are perfectly good, you cannot create something that is evil, and if you do — and you are perfectly just — you must cast yourself into the lake of fire for orchestrating such evil.”

God: “Whoa, hold on there! I’m also a God of mercy! Can’t I just figure out a way to forgive myself? Or cast you into hell in my place?”

Jesus: “It’s always about the loopholes with you, isn’t it?”

All jokes aside, is it reasonable to believe that a perfectly-good, all-knowing God would create anything that would result in the production of evil? Surely a perfectly-good God would have some sort of zero-tolerance policy on evil, and would bring any evil to a quick end… but he doesn’t.

The Christian rebuttals

Believers almost universally maintain God’s innocence when it comes to doing any evil, and they typically defend God’s creation of Satan by making one (or more) of the following claims:

  1. God created a “good” angel named Lucifer, who turned evil of his own free will.
  2. God has a good reason for creating Satan, but it’s a mystery.
  3. God uses the work of Satan to help him “manifest his glory.”
  4. You can’t have free will without Satan.

1) God created a good angel named Lucifer, who turned evil of his own free will.

But just because God created Satan, does not mean that He created him as an evil being. Rather, God created him good, and then he chose to become evil.
Eric Lyons, M.Min.Has Satan Always Existed?Apologetics Press, 2005

I’m surprised how often this answer is given without any further explanation, as if God simply didn’t know Satan would turn evil.

How could God consider Satan “good” when he knew he would turn evil? This is like a car manufacturer calling his cars “good” when he knows the engines will blow-up after 50,000 miles. To call them “good” is either a lie or incredibly shortsighted.

If God knew Satan would become evil, and chose to create him anyway (as opposed to skipping him and creating a different angel, or creating him with different desires, or not creating anything at all), God is responsible for the consequences.

Imagine, for example, that you traveled into the future and saw that your future child was responsible for the torture and death of millions of innocent people. Knowing this, would you choose to conceive this child? If you did, knowing what would happen, do you think you are at least somewhat responsible for the outcome?

Knowing the future puts you in a unique position to change it. If you conceive this child knowing what will happen, then you become an accessory to these crimes (morally speaking), because you could’ve easily prevented them. Likewise, if God knew Satan would turn evil, he had the opportunity to prevent evil by simply choosing to forego his creation.

Even if God didn’t know the future, he is all-powerful, and able to stop Satan. In fact, by not stopping him, God gives his approval for everything he does.

Again, imagine you have conceived this child, and that you are also able to stop him by simply asking. If your child turns to you before every evil deed and asks, “Is this murder okay?” “Is this rape okay?” “Is this torture okay?” If you answer “Yes,” “Yes,” and “Yes,” can you still claim to be wholly innocent?

You cannot pull the trigger and blame the bullet for the outcome. Likewise, you cannot be the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of all things and deny responsibility for your own creation.

Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
~ Isaiah 49:5

2) God has an explanation, but it’s a mystery.

Let me go right to the first question that everyone always wants to ask: if God knew Satan was going to do what he did, then why did God create him? Remember, I told you that the scripture said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The Secret things belong to God.” There are just things that we can never know until we get to heaven.
Jennifer Mills, To You with Love from Jesus: Fifty of the Most Commonly Misinterpreted Scripture Truths from the Bible Revealed, p. 48

…God created Lucifer, the angels that chose to rebel, and people because He wanted to… We also need to realize that there are things we do not fully understand. God has a wonderful plan that stretches into eternity, full of things that we “do not know.” It is important to remember that God is in control and that He promises to work everything (even the bad things) together for the good of those who love Him. Sometimes we need to trust Him and walk in faith.
~ AnswersInGenesis.org, Kids Feedback: Why Did God Create Lucifer?, April 14, 2011

We’ve seen this excuse before, because it’s a wonderful catch-all for any problem that cannot be logically explained. This rebuttal does not offer any explanation, it just posits one exists, and places it just out of reach on the other side of death.

As previously stated, this kind of excuse can be employed by any religion to defend any problem. If a Muslim approaches a Christian and says: “Don’t worry about the difficulties you perceive with Islam, these things will be explained to you in the afterlife!” I don’t think the Christian would be convinced. It’s special pleading to argue: “My logical absurdities will all be explained in the afterlife, but yours will not.”

Publication2It’s also important to understand that we are not simply asking God to explain a mystery — a mere gap in our knowledge — we are asking God to make the illogical logical. Can God create a circular square? Can he make down also be up? Or black also be white? Can he make the south also be west? Can he be perfectly good and create evil? Or all-powerful and not responsible? (And don’t even get me started on the trinity).

Isn’t it enough that God asks us to believe in an invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive God? Must he also demand we have faith in the illogical? Does God purposefully disguise himself as nothing to test our faith? And then go so far as to make himself illogical, that he may test our faith against our god-given ability to reason?

3) God created Satan to help “manifest his glory.”

To summarize, God knew that Satan would rebel and that Adam and Eve would sin in the Garden of Eden. With that knowledge, God still created Lucifer and Adam and Eve because creating them and ordaining the fall was part of His sovereign plan to manifest His glory in all its fullness.
~ GotQuestions.org, If God knew that Satan would rebel and Adam and Eve would sin, why did He create them?

God has ordained that Satan have a long leash… because he knows that when we walk in and out of those temptations, struggling both with the physical effects that they bring and the moral effects that they bring, more of God’s glory will shine in that battle than if he took him out yesterday.
~ John Piper, Why does God allow Satan to live?

Some Christians logically conclude that God must’ve known what Satan would do, and they try to rationalize his decision by saying he allowed it in order to bring about some greater good. There are several problems with this kind of reasoning.

First and foremost, a perfectly good God would never use “good” ends to justify “evil” means, it’s just not in his nature. A perfectly-good God would say, “This plan requires the use of evil, and because there is no evil in me, I cannot knowingly produce evil.”

Second, if we argue that God allowed evil because he benefits from it, then we give God a motive for creating it, which makes it all the more difficult to (later) argue that God doesn’t desire evil. Clearly God does desire evil, because he creates it, he doesn’t stop it, and he benefits from it!

Third, assuming evil is necessary for some greater good, then God should not be calling Satan’s actions “evil.” Satan’s actions are actually good, for without them, the greater good could never be accomplished (i.e. the fullness of God’s glory could never be achieved, or mankind could not learn some valuable lesson). God should be thanking Satan for helping him to bring about his sovereign plan, not chastising and punishing him for doing good.

And finally, if we believe that every bit of evil that exists is absolutely necessary in order to bring about a greater good, this thinking leads us to some strange conclusions. For example, we probably shouldn’t attempt to reduce suffering, lest we inadvertently prevent the greater good that God is busy trying to accomplish. Surely if God did not want this evil to exist, he wouldn’t have allowed it. Pain and suffering are good for us! 

Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.
~ Mother Teresa

4) You can’t have free will without Satan.

Satan himself rebelled against God without anyone tempting him, and in the very presence of God, no less; so we know an evil tempter is not a prerequisite for rebellion against God. Adam and Eve had the forbidden tree, all they had to do was choose to eat of it. 

It’s also safe to assume Adam and Eve would never have eaten from the tree had it not been for Satan, for surely it would’ve been preferable to God had they sinned of their own free will, so all the blame could rest squarely on their shoulders. Once you involve Satan, some (or all) of the blame is transferred to him, because they never would have sinned if it were not for this interference. (Again, if they would have sinned without it, this extra bit of entrapment would not have been necessary.) The blame then gets transferred back to God, who created Satan, knowing Satan would trigger the fall.

Conclusion

If God created everything, and God is perfectly good, then it stands to reason that all of his creations would be perfect… yet evil abounds. In order to explain this discrepancy, believers posit that evil springs from free-willed creations, and not from God. However, if God is all-knowing, then he can prevent evil by not creating evil beings like Satan. And even if God somehow did not know Satan would turn evil, God should not have risked creating him, or God should have used his absolute power to stop him.

Some believers have tried to defend God’s continued use of Satan by saying Satan’s existence is necessary for some greater good, however, this forces us to admit that God knowingly did evil. Even if this is permissible, we are still left to wonder how this can be for a good cause when the majority of mankind end up in hell. (Wouldn’t it be “more good” to not create humans at all?) Also, if evil is absolutely necessary in order to bring about the greatest good, then Satan’s actions should not be punished, they should be rewarded.

Other believers have resorted to redefining words like “good” and “evil” to the point where they lose all practical meaning; while still others dare to try and re-define the very nature of God, to allow for a good God that does evil.

But most believers simply throw up their hands and say, “We have to wait for God to explain these things in the afterlife,” though they are unwilling to accept this kind of reasoning when it is offered by competing faiths.

Bottom line: I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe that God would create Satan. I think the real reason this problem exists is because too many impossible demands have been placed upon God’s character. The God of the Jews had to be more powerful than all the other neighboring gods; he had to be the best, the strongest, the wisest, the oldest, the first, the last, the most benevolent, and (eventually) the only. We like our God to be absolutely perfect, the problem with this is that, if God is perfectly good, evil should not exist. The faithful have tried to patch this problem by offering Satan as a scapegoat, but then people asked: “If God made everything, why did he create Satan?” And we are back where we started. 

So we can choose to hope against reason that our invisible, intangible, elusive, and illogical God will explain all absurdities in the afterlife, or we can assume the Bible’s description of God is fundamentally flawed. If the latter is the case, at worst, we add God to a long list of deities that have become victims of rational thought; at best, God exists, but he is either weaker or more malevolent than the we have imagined.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
~ Epicurus

Posted in Biblical Contradictions, God's Behavior | Tagged , , , , | 158 Comments

55. Does the human yolk sac infer evolution?

embryo-6 weeks old-1

One human yolk sac, hold the yolk (six weeks gestation).

The human yolk sac emerges during the first few days of gestation and provides some of the first cells and circulation necessary for life. After about seven weeks, the yolk sac’s role diminishes as it is supplanted by the placenta.

But in oviparous (egg-laying) animals the yolk sac goes on to be filled with yolk, which allows the fetus to continue feeding while outside the womb.

Because most mammals get their nourishment directly from the placenta and lactation, yolk is unnecessary. 

But does the existence of a yolk sac in humans infer evolution?

Evolutionists say yes, insisting the yolk sack is a vestigial remnant of our egg-laying past.

Creationists say no, and point out that the yolk sac plays an essential role in the development of the embryo.

Evolutionists agree that the yolk sac is vital, but argue that it no longer plays the role it once did.

Creationists assert it never played that role, and that God must’ve designed the yolk sac to play two distinct roles.

And historically this is where the debate would end, in a draw, because you can’t prove that human yolk sacs once carried yolk… or can you?

What’s that you’re hiding in your genes?

Recently, researchers decided to see if human DNA contained the genes responsible for creating yolk. I’ll let Professor Dennis Venema explain the particulars:

One protein used as a yolk component in egg-laying vertebrates is the product of the vitellogenin gene. Since placental mammals are proposed to be descended from egg-laying ancestors, Chicken embryo at 16 days. researchers recently investigated whether humans retained the remnants of the vitellogenin gene sequence in pseudo-gene form. To assist in their search, this group determined the location of the functional vitellogenin gene in the chicken genome, noted the identity of the genes flanking the vitellogenin sequence, and located these genes in the human genome. They found that these genes were present side-by-side and functional in the human genome; then they performed an examination of the human sequence between them. As expected, the heavily mutated, pseudogenized sequence of the vitellogenin gene was present in the human genome at this precise location. The human genome thus contains the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg yolk formation in egg-laying vertebrates at the precise location predicted by shared synteny derived from common ancestry.

While the vitellogenin pseudogene is compelling, it is but one example of thousands that could be given.

If creationists are correct in saying that the human yolk sac was never designed to carry yolk, what are we doing with a “scrambled” yolk gene?

The Creationist Response

In light of this new evidence, creationists kick the can further down the road by speculating that the vitellogenin gene is still active, and serves some other purpose in mammals.

It is presumptuous to assume that just because these genes were first found in association with egg yolk that their mammalian counterparts are vestigial remnants or that they, like so much other so-called junk DNA, will not be found to actually have functions unrelated to any ancestral history of making yellow goo.
Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell for Answers in Genesis

Dr. Mitchell goes on to point out that the vitellogenin gene is known to serve other purposes in honeybees and some non-mammalian vertebrates.

And maybe she’s right, just because the vitellogenin gene is associated with yolk production in non-mammals, doesn’t mean the gene is associated with yolk production in mammals… well.. except for that it is.

Echidna-Photo-550x461Luckily for us there are a few mammals that actually do have a functional vitellogenin gene; namely the monotremes: the platypus and two species of echidna. And guess what these mammals can do that no other mammal can do? You guessed it, they can produce yolk.

So it doesn’t seem presumptuous to assume that this is what the gene does (or once did) in mammals.

So why has this gene mutated?

It’s worth noting that when a copying error occurs in a vital gene, the carrier becomes less likely to survive or reproduce. But if a copying error occurs in a non-vital gene, the damage is inconsequential, and therefore the error is allowed to remain.

For example, if a chicken were born with a damaged gene that caused its eggs to contain no yolk, this mutation would be an evolutionary dead-end. Nature wouldn’t allow it. But if the same damage occurred in a placental mammal, it would be inconsequential, because the animal could get equivalent sustenance elsewhere. 

Natural selection selects for advantages and selects against disadvantages, propelling life forward through a simple process of trial and error. But inconsequential changes are just that. 

Conclusion

We have these three clues: an empty yolk sac that’s just like a bird’s, a gene that’s necessary for generating yolk, and evidence that this gene can produce yolk in mammals. Sure, we can always say, “God just wanted to design it this way,” but even if true, God designed it in such a way that also strongly infers evolution.

Professor Dennis Venema writes elsewhere:

These data make perfect sense if humans are descended from egg-laying ancestors and share common ancestry with chickens. It is very difficult to rationalize this data from an antievolutionary perspective. Since the common ancestor of humans and chickens was a reptile, this indicates that the vitellogenin pseudogene should be present in all non-egg-laying mammals. Studies so far have found this unitary pseudogene in wide variety of additional species ranging from dogs to wallabies.
Dennis R. Venema, An Evangelical Geneticist’s Critique of Reasons to Believe’s Testable Creation Model: RTB and Human-Ape Common Ancestry

From an evolutionary perspective, our yolk gene has suffered the same fate as our vitamin C gene: both were once vital, but became nonessential after we had alternative sources for obtaining similar sustenance.

Interestingly, creationists argue that our vitamin C gene was once functional in the Garden of Eden, but broke sometime after the fall of man. But creationists can’t very well argue that our yolk gene also once performed perfectly in the garden, so they argue that the gene must do something other than the obvious. 

We can always make up new excuses, but if looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Or in our case, if we have a yolk sac like a duck, and the genes for producing yolk like a duck, then maybe we’re related to the duck.

Other Sources:
Science Daily, Loss Of Egg Yolk Genes In Mammals And The Origin Of Lactation And Placentation, Mar. 2008
Forbes.com, The Fossils in Our Genes, John Farrell, Oct. 2011
The Mammalian Yolk Sac Placenta, Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Sept. 2009.
Creation.com, The human umbilical vesicle (‘yolk sac’) and pronephros—Are they vestigial?, May 2009
ChristianAnswers.net, Does the human fetus temporarily develop gills, a tail, and a yolk sac?
Posted in Intelligent Design? | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

54. Did Isaiah 7:14 predict the virgin birth of Jesus?

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
~ Isaiah 7:14

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
~ Matthew 1:22-23

Isaiah 7:14 is the only sentence in the Old Testament that hints at a virgin birth, which makes Isaiah 7 a very important chapter. Could it really be that Isaiah predicted the virgin birth of Jesus 700 years before it happened?

Let’s open our Bibles to Isaiah chapter 7 and attempt to reach an intellectually honest conclusion about what is being predicted, and see if Jesus fits the bill.

Isaiah 7:1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. 

Allow me to set the scene. In 743 BC, Israel was still divided into two nations, Israel and Judah. Ahaz was 20 years old at the time and had just succeeded his father as the King of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:1, 2 Kings 16:2).

MapTo the north of Judah were Ahaz’s rowdy neighbors, King Pekah and King Rezin. Pekah ruled Israel (sometimes referred to as Ephraim, because Ephraim was the primary tribe), and Rezin ruled Syria (sometimes referred to as Aram or Damascus, because Damascus was located in Syria at that time). These three nations were stacked on one another like an ice cream cone, with Syria on top, Israel in the middle, and Judah on the bottom. 

To the east lived a big-bad-wolf named Assyria; a rising superpower that wanted to devour this tasty ice cream cone. Concerned about this threat, King Pekah (Israel) and King Rezin (Syria) agreed to join forces to fight Assyria if necessary, but King Ahaz (Judah) refused to join their coalition (most likely due to past tensions).

In what is now referred to as the Syro-Ephraimite War (736 BC-732 BC), Israel and Syria attacked some areas of Judah with some success (2 Chronicles 28:5-6), but neither was able to independently capture Ahaz or the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:1, 2 Kings 16:5, 2 Chronicles 28:16), so they decided to join forces.

Isaiah 7:2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram [Syria] has allied itself with Ephraim [Israel]”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

When King Ahaz heard about their collaboration, he feared the worst.

Ahaz was no friend to God, but he did represent the Davidic line, so God took pity on him and sent Isaiah to reassure him that these two tyrants would not overthrow him.

Isaiah 7:3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” 

The two kings to the north wanted to defeat King Ahaz and capture Jerusalem so they could share the spoils and put someone else in power who would help them in their fight against Assyria.

God tells Ahaz to keep calm, and to not be afraid, and refers to the northern kingdoms as “two smoldering stubs of firewood” that are on their way out.

Isaiah 7:7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘It will not take place, it will not happen8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’”

Again, God reassures Ahaz that this invasion will not happen. Isaiah also gives us an important time-frame for this prophecy: within 65 years, Israel will be shattered.

Isaiah 7:10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

God offers Ahaz a sign to verify what Isaiah has spoken and to strengthen his faith. Normally Ahaz would’ve been correct not to test god, but since God was offering, God (presumably) knew Ahaz needed a sign. When Ahaz refused God’s offer, Isaiah rebukes him for acting as if he didn’t require one:

Isaiah 7:13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 

Isaiah-iconIf it seems a little odd to jump from a story about Ahaz and his naughty neighbors to the north, to a prophecy about the virgin birth of Jesus, that’s probably because it is. Let’s take a look at what has been prophesied so far and see if Jesus fits the bill.

Unlike some prophecies which can be vague, this one is reasonably clear. Isaiah is predicting that:

  1. A child will be born to a virgin (or a young maiden).
  2. His mother will name him Immanuel (“God is with us”).
  3. His birth will serve as a sign to Ahaz.
  4. Before the child matures, the two kingdoms “will be laid waste.”
  5. The two kingdoms will be scattered within 65 years.

In comparing this prophecy to Jesus:

  1. It’s claimed that Jesus’ mother was a virgin.
  2. The angel Gabriel instructs Mary to name him Jesus (“God saves”), not Immanuel (“God with us”).
  3. Jesus’ birth could not serve as a sign to Ahaz, since Ahaz had died hundreds of years earlier.
  4. The two kingdoms were destroyed long before Jesus was born, so their destruction did not take place between his birth and his maturing.
  5. Jesus was not born within 65 years of the prophecy.

Taken at face value, Jesus is no match.

There are, of course, a litany of explanations offered by Christians to address these discrepancies, but there is no consensus. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular explanations to see if any sound reasonable.

“Jesus was literally ‘God with us.'”

It’s true that Jesus came to be known as the physical incarnation of God on earth, but was this really what Isaiah was predicting?

The Hebrew grammar makes it clear that Immanuel (“God with us”) was the name to be literally given to the child by his mother; the verse reads: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel is what she names him after giving birth, it is not a title he earns later in life.

We see a parallel to this in the next chapter (chapter 8). When Isaiah has a son, God tells him to: “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” Isaiah doesn’t give him some other name, he literally names him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (against his better judgement). This sort of thing happens several other times throughout the Bible (see 1 Chronicles 22:9, Luke 1:13, and Luke 1:31).

Also in chapter 8, Isaiah speaks about how he and his sons serve as signs:

Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.
~Isaiah 8:18

In Isaiah’s day, it was normal for children (and even objects) to be given names that represented signs and symbols, or that spoke to the nature of God. Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s name meant “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil,” but that didn’t mean he would literally be the one plundering, nor did Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub‘s name mean that he would literally be the “remnant that returned.” Likewise, to Ahaz, the name Immanuel meant that God would keep his promise and remain with him during this difficult time.

It’s ridiculous to suggest that Isaiah may have thought Immanuel was going to be God in the flesh. If Isaiah did think this, why did he only mention Immanuel twice (in Isaiah 7 and 8)? Other than serving as a sign, Immanuel was an unimportant character.

“God was addressing the house of David, not Ahaz.”

This explanation suggests that God was addressing the Davidic line and not Ahaz himself. The motive in saying this is to try to negate the 65-year deadline, but this idea falls apart when you consider:

1) The passage reads: “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’ Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Who was trying the patience of humans and God? It was Ahaz, who had just refused to choose a sign. It was not the entire line of David.

2) The “house of David” is notified of current events in Isaiah 7:2. Just because someone addresses “the House of David,” it does not automatically infer future events. (It’s possible that Isaiah was addressing Ahaz and his counsel.)

3) Verse 16 emphasizes that the two kingdoms will be destroyed before the child matures. The birth of the child signals that these events are about to take place. Had this truly been about Jesus, there would be no need to emphasize the time between the child’s birth and when he matures; God could’ve said, “These kingdoms will be destroyed long before Immanuel is born.”

4) If we insist this sign is intended for a future generation, it takes away from the story of Ahaz. Suddenly this poor schmuck is left with no sign at all. While Ahaz may have refused to ask for a sign, God was not punishing him for his shortcomings, God still knew Ahaz needed a sign, and the sign God offers him was directly related to the situation at hand (the destruction of the two kingdoms).

5) An almost identical incident plays out years later with Ahaz’s son Hezekiah (Isaiah 38). God sends Isaiah to speak to King Hezekiah who is on his deathbed. God promises to add fifteen years to his life and deliver him from the Assyrians, and then seals this message with a sign. 

“‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.
~ Isaiah 38:7-8

Just as Hezekiah received a sign to show that the Lord would do as promised, Ahaz was also to receive a sign.

“This chapter has a dual meaning.”

Upon careful inspection, many Christian scholars agree that this prophecy was far too relevant to Ahaz’s circumstances to only be about Jesus.

Taken in the context of Isaiah 7, it is hard to deny that verse 14 directly predicts a child who would be born during rather than after Ahaz’s life…
Built Upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew edited by Daniel M. Gurtner, John Nolland, pp. 238-239

But if the prophecy was for Ahaz, then it’s not about Jesus… unless there is some kind of dual meaning. A dual meaning might seem like an ideal solution, but it’s not without consequences.

First, Matthew strongly suggests that all the events surrounding Jesus’ birth represent a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
~ Matthew 1:22-23

While Matthew may want to believe this prophecy is about Jesus, he doesn’t bother to explain how the rest of the prophecy relates to Jesus, or what it means for poor Ahaz. (Perhaps this is why Matthew and Luke are the only New Testament authors to cite the virgin birth as evidence.)

Second, not all Christians agree with the dual-meaning, because dual meanings are subjective, easily faked, and impossible to prove.

This two-fold approach provides an easy way out of a difficult problem because it enables the reader to maintain contemporary relevance for Ahaz as well as the New Testament perspective on the fulfillment of these verses… It seems fundamentally illegitimate to claim that God inspired Isaiah to say things that meant one thing (the meaning he was aware of), and then suggest that these words also mean something different from what Isaiah understood them to mean (the New Testament meaning)… there would be no legitimate authoritative basis for the second meaning.
~~Isaiah 1-39, Gary V. Smith, p. 204

Indeed. Dual meanings allow anyone to read anything into Isaiah’s words; a practice formally known as eisegesis (which literally means “to lead into”). Exegesis (which means “to lead out”) is the opposite of eisegesis, and insists on letting the text speak for itself. Gary Smith admits there is little exegetical grounds for interpreting Isaiah 7:14 as Messianic:

The main critique of this Messianic approach is that it appears to read back into the Isaiah passage a meaning that is difficult to develop from the words in 7:14. It almost seems that this interpretive conclusion is controlled by theological beliefs derived from the New Testament rather than exegetical evidence in Isaiah 7.
~Isaiah 1-39, Gary V. Smith, p. 204

CaveIf you’re going to allow eisegesis for Christianity, you must also permit it for other religions. A good example is how Muslims read their prophet into Isaiah 7:14. Specifically, Muslims claim that because the Qur’an uses the phrase “God is with us” (Qur’an 9:40) in a remark loosely related to Muhammad, this is evidence that Isaiah was prophesying about Muhammad. Christians would, of course, argue that Muslims are reading this into the text, but Muslims could accuse Christians the same thing. I think they’re both right.

We also saw dual-meanings crop up in Isaiah 53. When Christians come to the realization that the suffering servant was just a personification of Israel, they attempted to salvage the connection to Jesus by appealing to various allegorical, spiritual, metaphorical, or typological types of dual-meanings. But again, these dual-meanings are extremely subjective, and can be easily manipulated to conform to any preexisting theological bias, and therefore they cannot be used as evidence to prove the claim.

“Isaiah 9 also speaks about a child, who appears to be the Messiah.”

Isaiah chapter 9 may be about the Messiah, and so some Christians attempt to link the child in Isaiah 9 with Immanuel in Isaiah 7.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

There are good reasons to doubt this theory.

1) Jews do not believe that Isaiah 9 is Messianic prophecy, because it describes a child who has already been born (most likely King Hezekiah).

2) Even if we assume the child in Isaiah 9 is the Messiah and he is also the child Immanuel, the Messiah would still need to be born within 65 years of Isaiah’s prophesy.

3) There are no details linking these two children. The child in Isaiah 9 is never called Immanuel, nor is it said he was born of a virgin. Likewise, it’s never stated that Immanuel would reign on David’s throne, or bring about a new government of everlasting peace.

4) To make matters worse, between Isaiah 7 and 9 there is another child, Isaiah’s child. There are actually more reasons to speculate that Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is Immanuel. However, Isaiah’s wife was no virgin (or young maiden), nor did she name him Immanuel, so it appears these are two separate children.

In all likelihood, Isaiah is speaking of three separate events and three separate children, one in each chapter.

Conclusion

An honest evaluation of the evidence should lead us to conclude that Isaiah was speaking of a child to be born within 65 years, not 700+ years in the future.

Hearkening back to question 32, we see a number of prophetic problems with Isaiah 7:

  1. Isaiah’s prophecy was no secret to the ones proclaiming its fulfillment (#2); in fact, Isaiah is more frequently alluded to in the New Testament than any other book in the Old Testament. Early Christians were heavily invested in trying to persuade others that Jesus was the Messiah, and so there existed the means, the motive, and the opportunity to fabricate the virgin connection (#4, #7, #19).
  2. In their eagerness to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, followers ignored the other prophetic details in Isaiah 7 that did not point to Jesus (#8).
  3. The virgin birth, while highly improbable (#5), is valueless as prophecy because it is easily lied about and impossible to verify (#19).
  4. To its credit, Isaiah’s prophecy is not “eternally pending” (#17), and sets a deadline of 65 years. But then this important deadline is either discarded or reinterpreted by Christians who want it to be about something else.
  5. Because the remaining prophetic details don’t match up, Christians must shoehorn Jesus into a prophecy that was never considered Messianic (#9, #18).

…it should be noted that no known Jewish writings prior to Matthew interpret this passage as a reference to the virgin birth of the Messiah.
~ Isaiah, Volume 1, by Terry R. Briley, p. 125

While Mary’s virginity is impossible to verify, it is possible to show that Isaiah 7:14 was never intended to be viewed as Messianic, and that Jesus does not fit its description.

If God truly wanted to give a prophecy about Jesus, he could’ve said: “The Messiah will be born of a virgin in 725 years, and he shall be named Jesus.” Sure, skeptics could still argue that Jesus’ story was manufactured to match up with Isaiah’s prophecy, but at least we would have a match; at least we could say the prophecy was spot-on.

What we have here is not a match, it’s a prophecy about another child, who was to be born in another time, for another purpose, and we’re forced to resort to fuzzy logic and mental gymnastics to force Jesus’ slipper onto Immanuel’s foot. We shouldn’t have to resort to these kinds of tactics to defend a legitimate prophecy.

But if this prophecy was clearly never intended to be about Jesus, then why did Matthew insist that it was? The only reasonable explanation is that some early believers were not above lying, not if it helped them to sell Jesus’ as the messiah.

Posted in Jesus, New Testament, Old Testament, Prophecy | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

53. Is the Bible divinely inspired? Or did it evolve over time?

Bible

Another argument that is made to demonstrate the Bible’s divine inspiration is the argument from consistency, which goes something like this:

It [the Bible] is truly an amazingly consistent document. The messages of approximately 40 different writers of the 66 books of the Bible, written over 1,500 years, in three different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—God’s plan of salvation from sin won for the whole world by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of this book.
~ FaithFacts.org

But is a miracle the only possible explanation for this consistency? Or is it possible that such a story could develop over time?

While it’s probably ill-advised to tell a creationist that evolution also explains the origin of his religion, evolution provides us with one of the best metaphors for explaining how complex religious stories might arise over time.

The Meme

In his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, the infamous Richard Dawkins coins the (now famous) term “meme,” which is just an idea or concept that gets passed around and becomes subject to evolutionary forces. (His original intent was to show that genes are not the only things that evolve. But the meme, ironically, became a meme unto itself, evolving into internet memes and the new science of memetics).

In short, if an idea or concept is useful (like language, or instructions for catching food), or interesting (like a funny story), or has some explanatory value (like how the world came to be), it tends to get repeated. When these ideas are repeated, they are like living organisms making copies of themselves.

Memes are similar to genes in that the most useful ones will generally get copied more often. As they are copied, their content is inherited, they face competition, and they may adapt to changing conditions. When a gene or meme reproduces more rapidly than others, it is considered more fit. 

However, unlike biological evolution, memes do not derive their adaptations from small random changes, their changes are usually intentional.

The Gospel of James (T. Kirk)

Let’s use Star Trek as a modern example of how a cultural meme might evolve.

star trek tosThe “Star Trek meme” began in the 1960s inside the head of Gene Roddenberry. His idea for the teleplay faced competition from other shows, but was selected because it was believed it would have more mass appeal. This new meme quickly copied itself with the help of the story-retelling medium of television.

Over the years, the story has evolved in the minds of many writers, artists, directors, and fans. The core themes remain the same, and the characters, philosophies, and technologies became more flushed out. Gene Roddenberry’s idea has spawned over 726 episodes, a dozen movies, hundreds of characters, and thousands of books. 

We might even go so far as to say that:

Star Trek is truly an amazingly consistent story. The messages of hundreds of different writers, writing over 50 years, in many different languages, all fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. There is one continual theme throughout—exploring strange new worlds, going where no one has gone before, while adhering to Federation law and the prime directive. This consistency itself attests to the miracle of Star Trek. 

Well… obviously Star Trek is no miracle, nor is it divinely inspired, but it does show how one simple idea can grow into a highly complex story with consistent themes. Is it possible that religious stories might also do likewise?

[Note: Some non-Trekkies have argued that Star Trek contains contradictions, errors, and inconsistencies, but I can assure you that all of these issues have been explained away by faithful Trekkie apologists.]

The Evolution of Religion

Like Star Trek, Christianity also began with a small cult following. But let’s go all the way back to the beginning and consider the possible evolution of God himself.

From its earliest days, “The God meme” (if you will) has been under attack, not only from other religions, but also the idea of God in general. And in nature, when an organism faces threats, it must adapt or risk extinction. The God meme may have undergone a similar process of refinement and adaptation.

While the idea of God provided an explanation for how everything came to be, the idea wasn’t without its problems.

For example, when the idea of God was first suggested, people may have asked, “Why can’t we see God?” There may have been many answers, but the most effective explanations — those that worked well enough to get repeated — were naturally selected out. In this case, the best defensive answers were: “Because he’s invisible,” and “If you saw him, it would kill you.”

Satisfied with these answers, people went on to ask, “Well… if we can’t see him, can you have him lift that rock? Or do something else to prove he’s really here?” And again, the best defensive answer became, “God’s creation should be enough evidence, and God desires that you believe with no more evidence than this.”

Job-redeemerlivethAfter following God for some time, people noticed another problem, and asked: “Why does God treat us the same as the non-believers? We both suffer and prosper equally.” The story of Job answers this question, essentially saying: “Never question the meme! It knows better than you, so just believe.”

When it came to competition, the meme said: “You should kill anyone who tries to introduce foreign memes. If you continue to believe in this meme, good things will happen, but if you believe in other memes, horrific things will happen!”

And so the meme gradually increased its fitness, by: 1) providing non-falsifiable answers, 2) discouraging questions, 3) eliminating the competition, and 4) offering a slew of promises and threats.

By far, the greatest adaptation to the God meme was Jesus, who took a primarily Jewish religion and made it accessible and applicable to everyone. Christianity also brought with it powerful new threats and promises, and commandments to spread this updated meme:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
~ Mark 16:15

For mellina, the authors of the Bible built upon the foundations others had laid. They were able to do this because they all spoke the same language (mostly Hebrew and later Greek), lived in the same vicinity, and shared the same stories, culture, and history.

The Evolution of Biblical Themes

When we look at the Bible, it does appear as if many of its core themes have evolved.

  • The character of God evolves. The God of the Old Testament is strikingly different from the God of the New. The God of the Old is primarily interested in the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He is jealous and angry; he wipes out sinful cities, floods the world, sends plagues, and kills millions; and he repeats ad nauseam that he is one God. The God of the New Testament is three Gods in one! He extends love to everyone, Jew or gentile. He preaches forgiveness instead of vengeance, and sends healing instead of plagues or floods.
  • michaelangelo adam and eveThe character of Satan evolves. He begins as a very literal snake (Gen. 3:1-14), but is eventually replaced by a fallen angel.
  • The role of the messiah evolves. We go from a literal king who will save the Jews and restore Israel, to a metaphorical king who doesn’t save Israel, but saves the world by being executed. 
  • God’s salvation plan — the most commonly cited example of Biblical consistency — also evolves. In Noah’s day, God’s plan wasn’t to save the world, but to flood it. Much later, God makes a covenant with Abraham, but it wasn’t for salvation, it was for land and offspring in exchange for ongoing loyalty and penile mutilation (Gen. 17:1-14). Under Moses, this covenant was extended to include a torrent of new rules, and the people did begin offering sacrifices for forgiveness, but this wasn’t done for salvation from hell, but for the ongoing safety and prosperity of Israel. In fact, God even plays down the importance of sacrifices, and says that they are not a prerequisite for obtaining forgiveness (more on this later). It’s only after Jesus arrives that the importance of sacrifice is played up again, and the nearly heretofore unmentioned idea of hell comes to the forefront, along with a new requirement to believe that God has a son in order to escape torment. 

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
~Hosea 6:6

The character of Jesus has continued to evolve over the centuries, as thousands of denominations experiment with new twists on an already successful meme.

[Note: Apologists have spent centuries reconciling these inconsistencies, but are these accurate and fair explanations? Or do they represent new adaptations evolved by the meme in order to protect itself?]

The Exponential Power of Memes

Perhaps the most profound aspect of this evolutionary metaphor is this: if tenacious extremophiles (like those that can survive in acidic waters, or under Arctic ice, or at the bottom of the ocean, or miles below the earth’s surface) can randomly adapt their way into the most inhospitable environments, then how much more should intelligently designed memes be able to adapt to the eager environment of the human mind? And have we grossly underestimated this potential?

If we assume for a moment that God is not real, and is just a meme that we ourselves have created, then consider how our minds have turned absolutely nothing into everything we need. We have convinced ourselves that God is invisible, and does not need to be tested, and that it is wise to believe without any evidence. We’ve managed to excuse God’s indifference towards his followers, and we’ve promised ourselves everything we could ever want… in the afterlife.

Through centuries of trial and error, the God meme has developed both offensively and defensively. It has learned how to provide its host with what it needs, in order to get repeated, and how to protect itself from attack. The meme “knows” what works, because what works gets repeated. The meme knows the mind, because it is born of the mind. It knows what we hope for and what we fear, and it uses these things to its advantage.

It’s as if the meme enters the mind and asks: “What does it take to survive here? I see this environment has hopes and fears; if I can provide solutions to these things, I can make a home for myself here, and make copies of myself into other minds that need the same things.”

Our meme supplies us with interesting stories to tell and “good news” to share. It provides us with hope, reassuring answers, explanations, and a feeling of certainty. It gives us a way to cheat death. It promises to protect us from our enemies and to heal our bodies. It gives us purpose and makes us feel loved. It gives us a community — one we can trust, and a social safety-net. It allows us to believe we are behaving as we ought, and it allows us to relinquish our guilt. It gives us a father-figure to cry out to in times of need, and a feeling that everything will be okay, and that someone is in control.

But reject this meme, or refuse to spread it, and it threatens us with eternal suffering.

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
~ Matthew 10:33

v3fwVkHAnd so, when we’re born into this world, this highly evolved meme stands ready to be poured out onto our brain, filling in all its cracks. “Ahhhhhh,” sighs the brain, “That’s exactly what I needed!” And it is! Because it has evolved to be. And from that point on, the brain and the meme share a kind of symbiotic relationship: the meme reassuring the brain, and the brain protecting the meme (regardless of which religious meme it may be). The religious meme has become like the Borg in Star Trek, warning us: “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”

Conclusion

It’s possible that the Bible was divinely inspired, but it’s also possible that religious memes have evolved to meet our needs.

If God is just a highly evolved meme, then the only thing that can stop it is competition, competition from another meme whose fitness exceeds that of the meme currently occupying the same space in our brain. However, I’m doubtful that any natural view will ever trump religion’s ability to fill the desires of our heart, for the same reason that eternal life will always be more appealing than eternal death. Religion has evolved to meet our needs, atheism has not.

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament | Tagged , , | 32 Comments

52. Why did the Israelites worship a golden calf? (Exodus 32)

Golden CalfWho would’ve thought that a casual conversation between a man and a burning bush would lead to some of the most spectacular miracles the world has ever seen? But that’s how the exodus began, and the Hebrew slaves who lived in Egypt became firsthand eyewitnesses to many of these amazing miracles, including:

  • The ten plagues of Egypt: the Nile turning into blood, the toads, the gnats, the flies, the locusts, the boils, fire raining from the sky, and the death of all the firstborn of Egypt;
  • Moses’s staff turning into a snake and back again;
  • the parting of the Red Sea;
  • God appearing as a magical pillar of smoke and fire that led them day and night;
  • bitter water that was turned sweet;
  • God appearing as a cloud on multiple occasions, with a voice like thunder;
  • manna that magically appeared on the ground each morning, and
  • water that came flowing from a rock.

And 70 elders even got to meet God in person!

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.
~ Exodus 24:9-10

Yet after meeting God and witnessing all these amazing things, these men did something utterly inexplicable, they disobeyed a direct order from God and worshiped a golden idol. Why?

How the Israelites turned against God

After God had performed all these miracles, he led the Jews around the desert for a while, and then appeared at the top of Mount Sinai. 

Baby GoatFrom there, God called to Moses, and began to chat with him for forty days about the kind of sanctuary he wanted. God described to Moses exactly how it should look, and how the ark should look, and the bread table, and the lampstand, and the tabernacle, and the tabernacle court, and the curtains, and the alter, and the basin, and the priestly garments; and then he told Moses who should make this stuff, and how the priests should consecrate themselves, and what sacrifices should be offered, and what blood and guts should go where, and what anointing oils and incense should be used, and how much the Israelites should pay in taxes, and how everyone should conduct themselves during the Sabbath day, and — somewhere between explaining how to make quality men’s undergarments (Ex. 28:42Ex. 39:28) and why it was okay to kill and eat adorable baby goats but not delicious pigs (Ex. 23:19, Lev. 11:7), God glances down the mountain and exclaims, “Holy Moses! Those nimrods are making a… a… holy cow!”

Moses was taking so long in returning that the Israelites began wondering if he was ever coming back. So they turned to Aaron and said, “It appears as if your little brother is not going to return, would you fashion some new gods for us to worship?” And Aaron (who was second in command and had met God in person) did the unthinkable:

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”
~ Exodus 32:2-5

Aaron was an idiot.

By this point, God is fuming (though he surely saw it coming). God told Moses he was going to slaughter the lot of them for their insolence (Ex. 32:10), but Moses reasoned with God, and God realized Moses was making some valid points, and so he relented.

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
~Exodus 32:14

“Fine,” God said, “you handle this. I’m in no mood to speak to them right now, anyway. I just — I just can’t believe it! And after I specifically told them not to do that, then they go and do it anyway! What a stiff-necked people!”

So Moses departs and descends Mount Sinai, careful not to damage the heavy stone tablets that God had written upon, so that he could smash them in full view of everyone.

The Israelites had made a graven image, and this was a clear violation of God’s second commandment (Ex. 20:4-5), so in an effort to teach them the importance of obeying God’s commandments, Moses violates the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not kill”), and kills 3,000 of them. God then strikes them with a plague, just to make sure they got the message, and they did: some of God’s commandments are absolute, while others are… well… more subject to interpretation. 

(Fun fact: Moses did not kill his brother Aaron, the person who was actually responsible for making the idol).

Was it all just one big misunderstanding?

After everything they’d witnessed, why would these Jews disobey God and worship a golden calf? Or to put it another way, why build a cow when you can get God’s milk (and honey) for free?

One possible explanation is that they saw this as a tribute to the god who did these miracles, and that the Jews just didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong. After all, Moses never said God wasn’t a cow…

But the Bible is clear that God had warned the Israelites about making idols (Ex. 20:4-6Ex. 20:22-23Ex. 22:20) and that they understood this warning (Ex. 24:3-7). God also makes it clear that this was an intentional violation of a commandment they’d been given:

“They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’”
~ Exodus 32:8

This wasn’t just a simple misunderstanding.

Golden CalfThe only reason the Bible gives for this dissent is that these men were prone to doing evil (Ex. 32:22), but this answer isn’t very satisfying. These Jews had just witnessed spectacular miracles and were terrified of God (Ex. 20:18-19), and they were also ordered not to serve other gods under penalty of death (Exodus 22:20). A rebellion under these circumstances would equate more to lunacy than evil.

Today, many (if not most) Christians would be willing to lay their lives down for God, without having observed anything like these great miracles, so how much more would they believe if they had witnessed these things? How much more should the Israelites have believed? Would you run off to find some other alternative god to worship?

Conclusion

So to sum up, God performs a bunch of fantastic miracles, leads his people out of Egypt, feeds them bread and water, gives them direct orders not to make other gods, and so they rebel and make other gods. Even Aaron, a man who’d seen these mighty works and saw God in person (or at least his feet), was willing to fashion this false idol, and build an alter to it, and order a festival in honor of it!

Do these sound like the actions of a people who have just witnessed such events firsthand? Like the crowd that chose Barabbas over Jesus, these eyewitnesses do not appear as impressed as one might expect.

That’s not to say there are not some grains of truth to the story. Some Jews may have been enslaved by Egyptians, and they may have even thought God had rescued them. These stories may have become exaggerated over time. I imagine if we were to travel back in time to witness these events firsthand, we would probably return with a much different version of this story.

So what was the author’s motive? How does the author(s) benefit from writing this story? We all like to tell and hear stories, especially stories that have explanatory value; but the author(s) of Genesis and Exodus also benefit by using these stories as a way to place a lien against a particular piece of land, long before property liens existed. In essence, the story says, “The God who created all things has personally promised us this specific piece of land.” But this lien only works as long as the people believe in the God who established it, and so the story insists that only this one God be worshiped, and strict penalties are imposed for those who stray from the official state God.

The goal of Exodus 32 may have been to stop any thoughts of dissent before they started. The author is saying: “Don’t bother worshiping other Gods, because this has already been tried, and it didn’t end well. Also… we’ll kill you… so don’t.”

Posted in Miracles, Old Testament | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

51. Was David prophesying of Jesus in Psalm 110?

god-jesus-holy-ghostThe book of Psalms is a collection of songs, most of which are attributed to King David. Many of the Psalms sing God’s praises, many plead for protection and blessings, and a handful are cited by Christians as inspired messianic revelations. I want to take a close look at these messianic verses (here and under future questions) starting with the bomb that is dropped in Psalm 110:1:

A Psalm of David.

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for you.”
~Psalm 110:1

Few words in the Bible have stirred up more controversy than, “The Lord says to my lord.” Who was God speaking to at his right hand? And why was David calling this mysterious person “my lord” (or “my master”)?

For Christians, the obvious answer is the messiah. Surely David wasn’t referring to himself as “my lord,” nor was God referring to himself, and so David and God must’ve been addressing someone else of great importance: the messiah!

And so for Christianity, Psalm 110:1 is an important verse, because it suggests that the messiah is more than just an earthly king in the line of David; he’s someone who existed prior to his own birth, and he comes from a position of authority in heaven. (Fun fact: Psalm 110 is also the most frequently cited Old Testament chapter in the New Testament.)

Jesus also assumes that Psalm 110 was referring to the messiah:

Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
~Luke 20:41-44

And Jesus makes it clear that it is he who sits at God’s right hand:

And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
~ Mark 14:62

Notice that Jesus also describes himself as “I am,” an unmistakable reference to the Godhead:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’
~ Exodus 3:14

Charles Haddon Spurgeon sums up David’s “divine revelation” this way:

Though David was a firm believer in the Unity of the Godhead, he yet spiritually discerns the two persons, distinguishes between them, and perceives that in the second he has a peculiar interest, for he calls him “my Lord.”
~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

If David was indeed referring to a second person in the Godhead, this verse would represent a colossal shift in Jewish thinking. But was this really what David was implying?

Who were the two lords?

The Godhead

There’s no question that the first Lord is God, as it’s the Hebrew world “Yĕhovah.” The second lord is much more ambiguous, and is the Hebrew word “‘adown,” which is usually translated as “lord,” “master,” and occasionally “Lord.”

In the early days of Christianity, Jews were of the mind that this second lord was David. We know this because Peter had to combat such thinking (Acts 2:29-34). According to Peter, since Jesus rose from the dead to sit at God’s right hand, and David was still dead, Psalm 110 must be referring to Jesus. This argument works so long as you accept Peter’s literal interpretation of Psalms 110, and his claim that Jesus rose from the dead, and his claim that Jesus now sits at God’s right hand. In other words, it works as long as you’re already a believer.

While Christians still insist this second lord was Jesus, Jews and critics have suggested a few other possibilities: 

  1. According to Rabbi Tovia Singer, the second word used for lord in Psalm 110:1 “never refers to God anywhere in the Bible” and “is used only to address a person, never God.” Rabbi Singer suggests that David wrote this Psalm so that it could be sung by others at the temple, who would understand it to mean: “The Lord [God] said to my lord [King David] ‘Sit thou at my right hand…’”
  2. Others suggest that this was a Psalm of (or about) David, but not by David (not all Psalms were authored by David), so “my lord” is simply a reference to David. 
  3. Another suggestion is that David was quoting a prophecy that was given to him early in his administration, where the prophet refers to him as “my lord.”
  4. There’s a small chance that David is calling Melchizedek his lord. Melchizedek was once the king of Salem who is described as a “priest of God Most High” in Genesis 14:18. David mentions him in verse four, and his name is held in high regard: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You [presumably David] are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'”
  5. There’s the possibility that we’ve simply misunderstood what David was saying. Perhaps David was putting a poetic spin on this phrase, and the meaning of the expression has been lost to time.
  6. And finally, there’s the possibility that scribes copied this verse incorrectly, or mistakenly labeled it “A Psalm of David,” or that someone retold the story using the words “my lord” in reference to David.

King-David

The Missing Psalm

If David meant what Christians think he meant, I mean, if he really did have a spiritual revelation about a second person next to God who was worthy of being called lord and master, I find it wholly inconceivable that David would not bother to elaborate on this massively important spiritual revelation. Perhaps by writing another Psalm about him, perhaps something like this:

Psalm 110.5 (The Missing Psalm)
A Limerick of David

There once was a God named Yahweh,
who had a son in an odd way;
he was fully Him, yet he was also his kin,
and the son of God was known to say:

“I do as my father pleases,
I even sneeze when my father sneezes,
we walk the same walks, and we think the same thoughts,
but I am not him, I am Jesus!”

“I love you,” said God one to God two,
“Because of you I can get things done faster;
so you go and die, while I watch from the sky,
and they can call me ‘God’ and you ‘Master.'”

So to sum up this song, we Jews have had it all wrong,
there are TWO persons in heaven, not one;
the Lord on the throne is the Lord we’ve always known,
and the lord to his right is His son!

Even a crappy Psalm like this one would’ve helped to clarify this new revelation of the Godhead. But David doesn’t elaborate, which suggests to me he didn’t feel there was any need to, because he didn’t feel he was saying anything revolutionary.

Whose enemies? David’s or the Messiah’s?

Rather than elaborating on this new second person of the Godhead, David spends the remainder of Psalm 110 discussing how God would help this person defeat their enemies.

If you’ve read the Book of Psalms, you know that one of the most prevailing themes is how God helps David deal with his enemies, so it stands to reason that Psalm 110 is an extension of that same theme. It seems less likely that Psalms 110 represents a departure from this common theme into a nearly identical, but spiritual, version of the same theme, about a heretofore unknown second lord in the Godhead who also, incredibly, needs help defeating his enemies.

Whose feet? David’s or the Messiah’s?

God promises to make the enemies of this person “a footstool,” and we find verses elsewhere that suggest it was David whom God delivered from his enemies, placing them under his feet (not a messiah):

You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great
I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
~ Psalms 18:35-38

“You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the Lord his God until the Lord put his enemies under his feet.”
~ 1 Kings 5:3

Is being at the right hand really such a big deal?

The expression “right hand” is used 35 other times in Psalms, without any of the literal or messianic implications that Christianity places upon this single verse. For example:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
~Psalm 16:8

Shall we say that God is now subservient to David? Or that David is a part of the Godhead? Certainly not.

For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.
~Psalm 109:30-31

Now God is at the right hand of the needy! Is this a spiritual insight that teaches us that God is subservient to the needy? Are the needy a part of the Godhead? Certainly not.

And just because a person happens to sit at God’s right hand doesn’t make the expression any more meaningful. The person in Pslam 110:1 is being asked to sit to exaggerate how little effort they will need to expend in order to defeat their enemies. God is not saying, “Sit here, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” He’s saying, “Kick back, relax, put your feet up, and have one of these fruity blue drinks with an tiny umbrella while I deliver your enemies to you.”

Conclusion

While it’s possible that Psalm 110 is a spiritual revelation about the messiah, there are a number of issues that serve to undermine that conclusion.

First and foremost, we’re placing a tremendous amount of importance on a verse that’s very ambiguous.

Second, David’s failure to elaborate about this second person suggests he didn’t believe he was revealing anything that warranted further explanation.

Third, war is an ongoing theme in Psalms, along with David’s defeat of his enemies who are placed under his feet, so there’s little reason to believe that Psalm 110 departs from this theme to introduce a spiritual metaphor about a second god who also needs defending.

Finally, even if David came right out and said, “God has a son, and the two rule together in heaven, and God’s son will one day be born as my human offspring,” all Jesus has to say is, “Okay then, I’m that guy.” In other words, this isn’t a prophetic proof-text, it’s just a description of the messiah, and one that’s easy for anyone to lay claim to. It’s one thing to say, “I existed before I was born at the right hand of God,” it’s another to say, “Did I ever tell you twelve about the ice ages? Or how giant lizards once roamed the earth before they all died off?” Jesus doesn’t express anything that would help us to place him before his time.

I wish I could travel back in time and ask King David: “When you said ‘The Lord says to my lord,’ were you implying that the second lord was a second person in a triune Godhead? And that this second person, while separate from God, was also mysteriously one with him, as to still allow for one God? And that one day this second person would be born as your great-great-grandson, who separates himself from God, but still remains one with him?” I imagine David would give me a puzzled look and ask, “What the Sheol are you talking about?”

Posted in Jesus, Old Testament, Prophecy | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments