XFiles: Some things never change.October 24, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
We continue with Geisler and Turek’s attempt to validate the authority and reliability of the Bible through the testimony of Jesus, whose own authority and reliability is derived from that of the Scriptures. As we saw last time, these attempts actually raise some serious problems for the claim that Jesus is God Incarnate, and the next two points on G&T’s list only dig the hole deeper. According to the good doctors, Jesus taught that the Old Testament is the Word of God (despite being written by men) because it:
2. Is Imperishable—In the Sermon on the Mount, a passage loved by conservatives and liberals alike, Jesus claimed that not even the smallest little mark in the Scriptures—the equivalent of a dot on an “i” or a cross on a “t”—will ever perish: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” he declared. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17, NKJV). Jesus could not express the imperishability of the Scriptures more forcefully.
3. Is Infallible—In John 10, Jesus was about to be stoned for blasphemy. To get himself out of this jam, Jesus cited the Old Testament and declared, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, NKJV). In other words, when his life was on the line, Jesus referred to an infallible authority that cannot be broken—the Scripture. Furthermore, he later affirmed the truth of the Scriptures when he prayed for the disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Let’s start with point 2. According to Jesus, not the smallest little mark in the Scriptures can be nullified or revoked “until all is fulfilled.” Since Christians assure us that there are a number of Scriptural predictions and requirements that have not yet been fulfilled (like the Second Coming, the Last Judgment, and the millennial reign of God over the whole earth), that means that all precepts and commandments of the Law of Moses, plus the Prophets, are still in effect today.
This is the sort of argument that forms the foundation of the claim that all morality comes from God and is absolute. Geisler and Turek and a host of other Christian apologists and preachers make a big show out of denouncing “moral relativism” and situational ethics, and that claim is based, at least partially, on the fact that Jesus taught God’s moral precepts and requirements as laid out in the Old Testament, which cannot be altered or broken, ever, because they are God’s absolute and eternal moral law.
The only trouble is, this sort of teaching flies directly in the face of a very Christian sort of situational ethics and moral relativism, which they use all the time when confronted with the fact that the Old Testament blesses and/or advocates things like genocide (including babies and animals), ritual mutilation of infant genitals (without anesthetics or antiseptics!), selling one’s daughters for sexual purposes, having sex with your brother’s widow, killing babies, and of course animal sacrifice as a means of “soothing” God. It also condemns such things as eating pork, picking up sticks on Saturday, having sex with one’s wife during her period, and homosexuality. What’s more, in most of these cases, the penalty for these “sins” is to be death!
This is the sort of thing that, according to Jesus, cannot be set aside even in the smallest detail (the dot of an “i” or the cross on a “t”, as Geisler and Turek put it), yet how many Christians today are willing to boldly declare that such practices and punishments set a lofty moral standard that our society ought to emulate? Outside of Fred Phelps’s church, not too many, eh? These are brutal, barbaric moral standards, and we’ve done well to outgrow them. Yet these are the kind of commandments and precepts that Jesus assumed were not just good morality, but God’s eternally perfect morality.
Now, honestly, what does that tell us about Jesus, and his worldview? Was he the incarnation of a perfect and morally pure deity, unstained by sin nature or other ethical defect? Was he not rather an ordinary man, the product of his own cultural biases and limitations, appealing to the primitive yet popular worldview of his own society? What could be more thoroughly human than to blithely assume that one’s own values are the epitome of moral perfection, regardless of what they condone and condemn?
And remember, Jesus isn’t just saying that the Old Testament’s precepts and commandments are good “for that culture and at that time.” He’s not preaching moral relativism and situational ethics. He’s saying that these moral standards apply to all of time. They never expire, or at least not until the universe itself does. And even then, if this is what God tells us morality is, it would be highly inconsistent for Him to suddenly decide, at the Last Judgment, to swap in a completely different and incompatible moral standard instead.
As for being an infallible authority for believers, the same thing applies. Jesus may have said that the Old Testament was eternally binding and authoritative, but that really tells us more about Jesus’s biases and limitations than it does about genuine moral and spiritual authority. Even his own disciples and apostles, in the first generation of the Church, quickly sought out loopholes (based on a dream no less) by which the requirements of the entire Old Testament could be set aside for the vast majority of modern Christians. Not one jot or tittle? Ha!
And what happened as a result of this decision to set aside the Old Testament requirements? Did God look down from heaven, notice that His holy apostles were divorcing the Christian faith from the “eternal” requirements of the (OT) Scripture, and punish them? Were the apostles suddenly struck by plagues? Did the Holy Spirit forsake their evangelistic efforts and leave them without a “harvest” of souls?
Ha! again. Church growth among the Gentiles exploded. Freed from these barbaric and nonsensical superstitions, which even the Jewish apostles admitted were an unbearable “yoke,” the Gentile Church experienced what Christians often describe as a great blessing. Why? Because the Father was so happy that they were finally abandoning what the Son called the imperishable and infallible authority of the Old Testament? Or was it rather that the Old Testament had accumulated so many irrational phobias, superstitions, and demands, that even believers were beginning to resent it?
By anyone’s standards, the Church was far better off without being bound to the Law and the Prophets. And again, what does that tell us about Jesus, who expressed such admiration and respect for them? He called them imperishable, and predicted that whoever set aside the least of the commandments would be called least in the Kingdom, yet when his own apostles did set aside the commandments, from the least to the greatest, it did the Church so much good that today the men who did it are revered as saints—literally!
How could Jesus be so out of touch with reality that he would take something the Church was better off without, and treat it like it was the best that could ever be? Sure, we see this sort of thing all the time among ordinary, fallible, biased, and self-centered men. Was Jesus really all that different? Apparently not. This would be surprising if we thought he was some kind of God, but if we realize that he was just an ordinary guy (well, in the sense that televangelists today are just ordinary guys), then it all makes sense.
So rather than establish the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures (which even Geisler and Turek have gladly dispensed with in terms of the dictates of their own lives), Chapter 14 really shows us a human Jesus, a fallible Jesus, a Jesus who was unable to transcend the biases, superstitions, and brutal “morality” of his own environment. G&T have done a great job of linking Jesus’ moral and spiritual authority to that of the Old Testament, and that kind of sucks for poor Jesus. Sorry Jesus!
By the way, did you notice the way Geisler and Turek tap-danced around John 10? In point 2, when referring to the Sermon on the Mount, they gave us the full quotation, so that we could appreciate the full impact of Jesus’ words. In point 3, by contrast, they mention only that he said the words, “the Scripture cannot be broken,” with a very sketchy outline of what was going on at the time. Let’s take a quick look at what they left out, shall we?
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”"We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
So the Scripture that cannot be broken is the Scripture that said it was ok to refer to mortal men as “gods,” and Jesus used this verse as though it were the basis for his own claim to be “god” (in some sense). Kind of complicates the Liar, Lord or Lunatic argument that Geisler and Turek appealed to in Chapter 13, eh? So was Jesus deceiving them when he pretended that this OT passage was relevant to his claims to be God? That means he is dishonest and deceitful, about his own true identity no less! Or is this passage the key to understanding that Jesus did not really think of himself as a literal God, any more than the OT “man/god” types were? But that shoots down all of Chapter 13, and Chapter 14 as well, since it builds on the earlier chapter.
Small wonder that Geisler and Turek tiptoed around this passage, trying to appeal to it without revealing too much about what it actually says. But wait: next week they’re going to explain how Jesus taught that the Old Testament was also inerrant. Should be fun.