Christian Speaker and Blogger Rachel Held Evans
This is what this blog tries to accomplish—it’s not about atheism being right or wrong, it’s about the conversation. Biblical literalists tend to use the Bible as a conversation-ender and this blog hopes to open the conversation back up. The conversation is an important one (perhaps the most important one, especially for believers) and must be discussed in a dynamic way.
Scriptural Evidence for Predestination VS Free Will
I wasn’t completely sure how to present this, so I figured I would just give you the verses and have you come to your own conclusions. If I have forgotten or left any verses out which you feel should be included, please let me know and I will continue updating as I get more information.
As you will see, the Bible seems contradictory at best on the subject of predestination…
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.’” —Exodus 4:21
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” —Psalm 139:16
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew [chose] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” —Jeremiah 1:5
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” —Matthew 22:14
“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” —Mark 4:11&12 (Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9&10)
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” —Acts 4:27&28
“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” —Acts 13:48
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” —Romans 8:28-30
“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Romans 9:16-18 (This is referring to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart back in Exodus)
“No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” –1 Corinthians 2:7
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” —Ephesians 1:4&5
Support Free Will:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” —Deuteronomy 30:19
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” —Joshua 24:15
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” —Jeremiah 18:7-10
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” —I Timothy 2: 3&4
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” —II Peter 3:9
There are a few other verses which people often times use as evidence that humans have a choice in the matter. I have not given them completely as I have the other verses because I do not think that they really address choice. They simply state that those who believe will go to Heaven. There is no mention of choice about whether or not one believes. You can check these out for yourself: Matthew 9:29, Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Romans 10:9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Overall, I would say that there is a much better case to be made for predestination than for human free will. Not just scripturally, but rationally as well.
bjdoureaux asked: I do see your point about a Christian arguing over moral beliefs with non-Christians by pointing to the Bible. Of course, the non-Christian will see it as foolish. However, as Christians, the Bible is our main authority, so we have no choice but to point to it to show why we believe what we believe. I do disagree with your examples here, but I will run out of characters so I will continue with another entry.
Of course, I wasn’t trying to say that Christians shouldn’t use the Bible as their own main authority. Christians can use the Bible to explain why they believe what they believe, but they can’t use it as evidence for why the rest of us should believe and act in accordance to it as well.
The United States is not a Christian theocracy, it is a secular nation. There are people of all different religions and beliefs who live here (I’m arrogantly assuming that you are American like me). What I was saying was that religious anti-choice activists can’t say that abortion should be made illegal because their religion and their Bible says that it is wrong. They are free to believe that it is wrong because they think the Bible says it is wrong, but that isn’t a legitimate argument for or against the legalization of abortion in a secular nation. If you personally believe that abortion is morally wrong, don’t get one. But you have no authority to tell another person that they can’t get an abortion because you think it is morally wrong. If you want to fight for the criminalization of abortion, you have to use arguments that would be universally accepted (i.e. ones that don’t hinge on your personal religious convictions).
1) The passage from Exodus states that the fine is to be paid if there is no serious injury. You are assuming this means to the mother, but a baby can be born prematurely and live a normal life. It’s in this case that a fine would be paid. However, if serious injury befalls mother or child, a life would be demanded in return.
You’re right. The word that is often translated “miscarries” is the Hebrew word “yatsa” and actually means “to depart” or “to go out”. I’m not entirely sure why it is sometimes translated “miscarries”. It is possible that the fetus survives and lives a normal life.
This passage is not entirely clear under any translation. I presented this passage because I thought that it was the passage that the anon may have been asking about. I acknowledged that neither verse was explicitly about abortion.
2) I think the dedication of a life under one month is not mentioned because Lev 12 talks about a time of purification for a woman after childbirth… it lasts at least one month. In that time she is not allowed to touch anything holy. Anything given to dedicate someone to the Lord would be considered holy, and a mother would most definitely want to take part in this ceremony. I will be following your blog, because I do appreciate the thought and effort of your argument and look forward to more.
We covered the sin of motherhood not too long ago. That’s an interesting understanding that I hadn’t considered, but atonement is a pretty important thing so I would think that God wouldn’t really be so concerned about the mother maybe missing it because she is unclean.
But, again, neither verse explicitly addresses abortion nor whether or not a fetus is considered ‘living’. No other verses in the Bible clearly address these issues either. This is why I mentioned that it is better to look for evidence of what the Bible actually considers ‘life’ to be. For example, the story of the creation of Adam seems to suggest that life is to breathe through your nostrils (something that only happens upon birth). Maybe there are other examples, but I can’t think of any.
Favorite Posts on AtheistBibleStudy
- What/Who is God? A: Love
- A Legitimate Concern
- The Bible on Women
- Contradicting Moral Commands
- The Bible on Homosexuality
Picture posts (created by yours truly):
Anonymous asked: I was wondering if you happen to know the passage where God in some way condones abortion?
There are actually a few different passages in which it is clear that God places little to no value on the developing fetus. In Exodus, when laying down the law, God says that if a pregnant woman is hit and she miscarries, there is only a fine to be paid.
“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life.” —Exodus 21:22-23
The fine wasn’t because killing the fetus was inherently wrong, it was just because the husband and wife wanted to have the baby and it’s not fair that they can’t now. And if the woman was seriously injured by the attack, the attacker would receive eye-for-eye life-for-life punishment.
There is also a verse in Leviticus which gives monetary values for people to be atoned and there is no value given to anyone younger than a month old:
“If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate a person to the LORD by giving the equivalent value, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; for a female, set her value at thirty shekels; for a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels; for a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver; for a person sixty years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels.” —Leviticus 27:2-7
But neither of these verses specifically condones abortion. Many religious anti-choice activists appeal to all the verses in which God says that He knew us even before we were in our mothers womb. These verses are on equally shaky grounds for claiming that God condemns abortion because clearly the verses are talking about the omniscience of God and the eternal soul.
Really, the best way to find evidence for or against abortion in the Bible is to look at what the Bible claims to be ‘life’. In Genesis 2:7, God breathes the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. So maybe that is where the line was to be drawn: life is breathing through the nostrils.
But, this is all pure conjecture and has no actual evidential bearing. The Bible really doesn’t say anything about abortion and, even if it did, it wouldn’t matter in the current debate. What the Bible says about it doesn’t matter to those who aren’t Christians so anti-choice activists need to make an argument that can be accepted universally.
Bible Scholars in Israel are Working on Fixing the Bible
Scholars in this out-of-the-way corner of the Hebrew University campus have been quietly at work for 53 years on one of the most ambitious projects attempted in biblical studies — publishing the authoritative edition of the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, and tracking every single evolution of the text over centuries and millennia.
A small group of scholars (most of which are Orthodox Jews) have been working on publishing a ‘fixed’ version of the Hebrew scripture. They are looking through every ancient copy of the text and trying to find what the Hebrew Bible was actually meant to say. Their work is so painstakingly meticulous that, in the past 50 years, they have only published three out of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (a different number from the Christian Old Testament’s 39 books). All of the original members of the project have died and, at this rate, the project could take over 200 years to finish.
But for the huge deal that it is, very few people are even aware that the project exists:
“What we’re doing here must be of interest for anyone interested in the Bible,” said Michael Segal, the scholar who heads the project.
The sheer volume of information makes the Bible Project’s version “the most comprehensive critical edition of the Hebrew Bible in existence at the present time,” said David Marcus, a Bible scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who is not involved with the project.
But Segal and his colleagues toil in relative anonymity. Their undertaking is nearly unknown outside a circle of Bible experts numbering several hundred people at most, and a visitor asking directions to the Bible Project’s office on the university campus will find that many members of the university’s own staff have never heard of it.
Most of the mistakes that they are rectifying are simply scribal errors like a verse that says “to you” instead of “to us”. But there are bigger mistakes as well; it appears that prophecies about the capture and return of the Temple were added to the manuscript after the events had already happened.
I would love to get a copy of this ‘fixed’ version.
Anonymous asked: You speak of the Bible as if God actually wrote it. i.e. "You will notice that God says that He is the Lord three different times in this passage." Why not be accurate and say, "The people who wrote the bible said that the Lord was Lord three different times in this passage."
Well, it’s like I’m talking about Pride and Prejudice and I mention when Mr. Darcy said to Miss Bingley “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” Of course, there is no real person Mr. Darcy who actually said that same thing, Jane Austen simply attributed it to him. Jane Austen is actually the person who said that. But it doesn’t change anything about my referencing that part of the book, and I am quite capable of judging Mr. Darcy’s intentions even though there are no real intentions of Mr. Darcy.
This is exactly what I do with the Bible. Whoever wrote Leviticus attributed these saying to God: “The Lord said to Moses…” Everything within the following lines is attributed to God. I can talk about God saying these things to Moses and His intentions behind saying these things even though there is no God and He has never said these things.
Regardless of how many Christians still accept that God worked through the writers of the Bible so that the Bible is, in fact, written by God or how many Christians believe that the writers were writing in a completely fallible way about a completely true god, my talking about that passage as if God said those things is not wrong.
God Tells the Israelites Who Not to Have Sex With
I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for a while: God’s rules about sex! This section is pretty straight forward and not too much commentary is needed (but the commentary that is, is quite interesting), so I’ll mostly just be translating into plain-old English what God is saying. Make sure you read it all; you wouldn’t want to be doing something detestable to the Lord!
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.’’” –Leviticus 18:1-5
You will notice that God says that He is the Lord three different times in this passage. This is to emphasize His authority in giving these orders.
As we have seen throughout the previous books, God is really really interested in making sure His People stand out from the people around them. This could be because He is unable to recognize those who are His People without some sort of signal… Of course, I’m being facetious, but it really is important that the holy people not be behaving like their pagan neighbors.
“’No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.’” –Leviticus 18:6
This will be the general theme of the whole chapter: don’t have sex with your family members.
“’Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have sexual relations with her.’” –Leviticus 18:7
Don’t have sex with your mom. This law applied even after the father had died.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.’” –Leviticus 18:8
Because the ancient Israelites practiced polygamy (which was a-okay with God), your father would have another wife who wasn’t your mother—you weren’t allowed to have sex with her either. This law also applied after the death of your father.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.’” –Leviticus 18:9
Don’t have sex with your sister—whether she is your blood sister or merely your sister by law.
“’Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you.’” –Leviticus 18:10
Don’t have sex with your granddaughter.
“’Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife born to your father; she is your sister.’” –Leviticus 18:11
We already covered this one (v. 18), but it bears repeating again—God really doesn’t want you to have sex with your sister. Interestingly, it seems that exceptions could be made. In 2 Samuel 13, one of King David’s sons was in love with his half sister. He was so frustrated that he couldn’t have sex with her that he raped her. Before she was raped, his sister begged him not to do it and told him that their father (King David) would let them be married.
Anonymous asked: I remember hearing somewhere that they mistranslated "maid" as "maiden" for Mary. Maidenhood is generally associated with having your virginity intact, and maid as being a young girl or woman. Now I can't help feeling this whole virgin birth thing was just a translation error.
This question has no clear answer, I’m afraid. It is true that the Hebrew word used in the verse from Isaiah, “almah,” does not explicitly mean ‘virgin’ nor does it really even imply virginity. But 300 years before Jesus was even born, a group of Jewish rabbis gathered and began to translate the Hebrew scripture into Greek. In doing this, they chose to translate “almah” to the Greek word for virgin, “parthenos.”
Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty over whether the prophecy was even about the Messiah. Isaiah 7:1-17 is all about Isaiah telling King Ahaz that the nations who were attacking him would not succeed. King Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign and Isaiah tells King Ahaz that the sign will be a virgin/young woman who gives birth… yaddayaddayadda. It doesn’t really make sense that this would be a prophecy about the Messiah. But, since Matthew cited it, it must be true, right?
Update: “Suws” or “Avvah” and Response to TheBeeble
Some of you may remember that yesterday I received a message from thestarsarelaughing saying that he or she read the Deuteronomy 28:63 verse’s use of “pleasure” as “willingness to”. I responded pointing out that the Hebrew word used in the verse is actually “suws” which very clearly means “to rejoice or display joy”. Following my response, thebeeble messaged me claiming that the Hebrew word was actually “avvah” which does mean”to will or to desire”. After some confusion, thebeeble responded again to me with the following:
I actually hadn’t consulted a concordance, I simply read the verse in a lexicon (the original Hebrew), and thought I saw the word “‘avvah” or “chavvah” as reflexive, indicating that the “saws” as a noun (for pleasure) is dependent on the verb (to do or will to do). I just cross checked my work with a concordance, and it is as you say. Sorry for the confusion. Feel free to post this retraction on your site if you wish. I was mistaken in my reading, as the word I read is not “‘avvah” but rather “rabah ken”—dealing with to make and increase above and over. I read it too quickly, and made a simple translation error.
As a side note, however, grammatically, the verse follows a very common Hebrew parallelism that is a distinct poetic style. It is not meant to be read as a statement of praxis (i.e. God enjoys destroying) but of prescription (i.e. God who is consistent is pleased in fulfilling what is covenentally acceptable). Of course, this only makes sense when read in the historico-grammatical context of suzerain-vassal covenants.
Basically, God says, “I, as the greater will bless you and take you out of slavery, if you will become covenentally indebted to me as your Lord. The condition however is that I will “leave you” (the word used for “destroy, or bring to naught” is actually a word of abandonment or “put away” like sending away a person you wish to not be around you).
So in essence, the Hebrew literally says “I will be with you and bless you, and it will please me if you follow me. But, I will be pleased to leave you if you refuse to obey me.” And the implication is that of abandoning a child—if God puts you away, you will be destroyed.
In short: the Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 28:63 is “suws” and does mean “to rejoice or display joy”. But the way we are actually supposed to read the passage is as God telling the Israelites: “If you obey me and keep the covenant, you will be blessed. If you don’t, I will leave you (and you know how that will turn out…).”
I don’t know much about how you are really supposed to read the passage, but this kind of interpretation seems to be a bit at odds with what is written. The chapter says over and over again that the Lord would be actively doing things against the Israelites. He doesn’t seem to simply be abandoning them, He is actually cursing them:
- “The LORD will send on you curses…” (v. 20, 59)
- “The LORD will plague you…” (v. 21)
- “The LORD will strike you…” (v. 22)
- “The LORD will turn…” (v. 24)
- “The LORD will cause you…” (v. 25)
- “The LORD will afflict you…” (v. 27, 28, 35)
- “The LORD will drive you…” (v. 36)
- “…you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you…” (v. 48)
- “The LORD will bring a nation against you…” (v. 49)
- “…the LORD will scatter you…” (v. 64)
A few other questions arise with this sort of interpretation: why does God not being with the Israelites=their destruction? God isn’t with all the other nations and they are doing just fine. Is God supposedly with those other nations to some smaller extent (this does happen to be hinted at in the passage—though it is only when He is not with the Israelites)? And related to this first point: it is an awfully long and detailed list of the things that will happen to the Israelites if they don’t keep their promise to God. God doesn’t do any of these things (presumably) to other nations who lack His presence/support. Why would the absence of God’s help automatically lead to all these bad things for Israel and not for all the other people groups?
Now, I don’t claim to know whether the interpretation thebeeble presented is, in fact, the correct way to read the passage, but even if we assume that it is, I still find numerous things wrong with the way God is presented: God is still acting like a big baby. Maybe He isn’t actively working against the Israelites in order to harm them because they disobeyed Him, but He is still threatening them. If God really loved His People, He wouldn’t threaten them and He wouldn’t abandon them just because they were disobedient. Most good parents wouldn’t abandon their kid just because he or she disobeyed them. And most good parents don’t threaten their kids with such violent suffering (though they may threaten to ground them or something).