Originally Published February 26, 2013
As a Christian among communities of philosophers and scientists, I’ve encountered a number of challenges to my beliefs over the years. Seeing also many Christian classmates and colleagues fall under these challenges, I’ve come to realize that the Christian community might be able to benefit from the answers I’ve found to these challenges. So I will attempt in this blog series to pose some of the common challenges, along with the answers I’ve found for them. Some will contain Scriptural justification, but since those who have challenged me do not recognize Scripture as a credible authority, most of my answers are from logic. I believe they all correspond to Scripture nonetheless.
1. If God is so moral, why is the Bible full of violence and killing at His orders?
True enough, the Bible tells of many circumstances in which God killed men, either directly or by orders. Most notably, the Old Testament tells of entire cities and civilizations being destroyed before Israel in their exodus to the Promised Land. Death at the hand of God is not restricted to the Old Testament. Ananias and Sapphira fell dead at the feet of Peter for deceit, as recorded in the New Testament (see Acts 5.1-11). Just as true, God the Father demanded the death of the Christ for the remission of sins. So the fact is true. The question is really this: If God is so moral, and if killing is immoral, how can He kill without being in contradiction to Himself?
Thus comes the real question of the morality of killing. This challenge assumes that killing is wrong, which is a common belief in modern society. But truly, the topics of killing and death (apart from deliberate murder) have been an unresolved debate among philosophers and ethicists since ancient Greece, and neither side has ever won the debate. So the argument presupposes a “fact” that has yet to be established, which makes it a very weak argument.
My answer to this challenge is this: Prove to me that killing is wrong, or show to me the circumstances in which killing is or is not wrong.
This casts the burden of proof upon the challenger to make his case rather than tear down mine, which is impossible with this topic. As a defendant, I need not prove the “rightness” of my case to a challenger. Simply addressing the challenge is sufficient.
2. The Bible teaches things that are immoral even by today’s standards.
This challenge is usually followed by references such as to King David’s adultery with Bathsheba (II Sam. 11), Lot’s offering of his two virgin daughters to the rapists in Sodom and his subsequent incest with his daughters as they fled the city (Gen. 19), the rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine by the Benjamites and the Levite’s subsequent mutilation of her body (Judges 19), and Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter (Judges 11) to name a few. The challenge that uses these stories comes from the false assumption that the Bible is actually condoning these actions. Simply put, any Bible scholar knows that these events, while being recorded in Scripture, are not at all presented as righteous. Each of these events led to serious downfalls of the people responsible. David’s adultery resulted in the death of the resulting baby, and ultimately led to a divided house and kingdom. Lot lived a life of defeat, and his daughters (who were responsible for the incest by intoxicating their father) gave birth to patriarchs of tribes which would plague Israel for generations. The Levite’s actions with his concubine resulted in a bloody siege that all but destroyed the tribe of Benjamin, and only by God’s mercy did they survive at all. Jephthah’s murder of his daughter was a result of his own pride, as he demanded she take his penalty for an oath made because of distrusting God. His reign as Judge ended with his death shortly thereafter.
My answer to this challenge is this: The Bible records these atrocities, but they were shown as the mistakes they were which had devastating consequences.
Any Bible scholar should not have trouble answering this challenge. Still, I include it here for those how are new to the Faith.
3. Who says the Bible is right? Just because the Bible says so?
This is the classic circular argument for discrediting the Bible. I have to say that, as a young philosophy student, this challenge caused me a great deal of distress, and it took me a number of weeks of thought, reflection, and study before I was able to find a suitable answer.
The strength of this argument is in another unspoken assumption – this time, an assumption that the Bible is a book. It is not, but nearly all Christians (including my younger self) do not understand that fact. It is a compilation, an anthology of sorts, that was written over the span of nearly two millennia by numerous penmen. As such, it is more like a database for the Christian Faith, a source from which our studies and beliefs are researched. By contrast, modern science is represented by research performed only over the past five hundred years, a mere 25% of the time span of the Bible’s composition. Granted, the volume of material in the Bible is far less than that of science due to the limitations of publication during early history. But it remains that the Bible is certainly not a single book. In it’s original form, it is many centuries worth and many volumes of handwritten scrolls. It was bound into a single “book” in the 15th century simply for convenience.
This argument is really a philosophical “hit below the belt” in that it uses a false assumption to disarm the Christian of his information resources. It would be similar to ask a linguist to define a word without the use of a dictionary, or to ask a scientist to explain a phenomenon without the use of research databases.
My answer to this challenge is this: The Bible is not merely a book, but rather an anthology. One part of the Bible may be used to justify another part simply because the two parts may be separated by hundreds of years of theological “research,” experience, and record.
Since I wish to keep each blog entry short enough to be quickly and easily read, I will conclude this section of this series. More will follow within this category tag. Thanks for reading!