Monday, October 28, 2013

Impossible for God to Lie?

The following article is from TSR, Spring 1992:
 
by  Farrell Till

"God cannot lie. For this reason alone, we know that whatever he person-
ally has communicated to mankind is true."  This is how Editor Tom Fishbeck
introduced a pro-inerrancy comment in the April 1991 issue of Bible Answers
Newsletters (p. 3). It was a familiar bibliolatry tactic. A Bible passage is
quoted and then supported with the claim that God cannot lie.  The claim is
often "proven" by citing Hebrews 6:18, which says that it is impossible for
God to lie, or Titus 1:2, which says that God cannot lie.

Aside from the obvious circular reasoning taking place here, the tactic is
flawed by contradictory statements in the Bible about a much ballyhooed
aspect of God's nature. If it is truly impossible for God to lie, then bibliolat-
ers are going to have to explain some confusing Bible passages.

One of these is the fanciful little yarn attributed to the prophet Micaiah in
1 Kings 22:19-23.  Ahab and Jehoshaphat were considering an Israelite-
Judean joint expedition to go against the Syrians at Ramoth-gilead.  Appar-
ently leery of the plan, Jehoshaphat asked for "the word of Yahweh" (v:5)
on the matter, and Ahab paraded before him 400 prophets who all assured
Jehoshaphat that the alliance would succeed.  Still unconvinced,
Jehoshaphat wanted to consult at least one more prophet.  Why the word
of one more prophet would mean anything if Jehoshaphat was unconvinced
by what the 400 were saying is anyone's guess.  At any rate, Jehoshaphat
insisted on consulting at least one more prophet, so Ahab reluctantly sent
for Micaiah, the son of Imlah.  "There is yet one man by whom we may
inquire of Yahweh," Ahab told Jehoshaphat, "but I hate him, for he does
not prophesy good concerning me but evil" (v:8).

When Micaiah was brought before the kings, the 400 prophets were put-
ting on quite a spectacle. "Go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper," they were
saying, "for Yah-weh will  deliver it  into the  hand of  the king."  Asked
by Ahab if their armies should go up to Ramoth-gilead or forebear, Micaiah
said, "Go up and prosper, and Yahweh will deliver it into the hand of the
king" (v:15). Apparently, this was spoken sarcastically, because Ahab then
said, "How many times shall I command you that you speak to me nothing but
the truth in the name of Yahweh?" In response to this, Micaiah told a story
that implicated Yahweh in a conspiracy to lure Ahab to his death:

     I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven
     standing by him on his right hand and on his left.  And
     Yahweh said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall
     at Ramoth-gilead?  And one said on this manner; and another said
     on that manner.  And there came forth a spirit, and stood before
     Yahweh, and said, I will entice him.  And Yahweh said to him,
     With what? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit
     in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, You shall entice
     him, and shall prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore,
     behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these
     your prophets; and Yahweh has spoken evil concerning you
     (Bethel Bible).

Yahweh apparently had a penchant for putting lying spirits into people,
because a less detailed, but similar, incident is related in Isaiah 37:7 and 2
Kings 19:7.  (For reasons known only to Yahweh and Bible inerrantists, the
wording of these two chapters, Isaiah 37 and 2 Kings 19, is identical.)
Threatened by a message from king Sennacherib of Assyria whose army had
laid siege to Jerusalem and other Judean cities, king Hezekiah rent his
clothes, put on sackcloth, and went into the house of Yahweh.  The prophet
Isaiah sent word from Yahweh for the king not to be afraid.  "Behold,  I
will put a  spirit in him  (Sennacherib)," said the message from Yahweh,
"and he shall hear tidings, and shall return to his own land; and I
will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land."
The chapters end with an account of Sennacherib's assassination by his
own sons, but that is only incidental to the story.  The important thing is
that Isaiah, as did Micaiah, depicted Yahweh as a god who dealt with trouble-
some men by putting lying spirits into them to deceive them and lure them to
their deaths.  How can these two stories be reconciled with the claim that it
is impossible for God to lie?

I asked that question in my debate with Mac Deaver in San Marcos,
Texas, and his response was that God did not lie to Ahab; Satan did.  His
proof was John 8:44 where it was said that there is no truth in the devil and
that "when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and
the father thereof."  As I have pointed out in many prior articles, the pitting
of scripture against scripture is a logically unsound way to protect the iner-
rancy doctrine, because it is a tactic that seeks to prove inerrancy by assum-
ing inerrancy.  "Your passage can't mean what you are saying it means," the
argument implies, "because a passage over here very clearly teaches
thus-and-so."  The inerrantist who reasons like this is saying, "If your pas-
sage means what you claim it means and if mine means what I claim it
means, then there is a contradiction in the Bible, and that can't be, because
the Bible does not contradict itself."  As I said, this is circular reasoning or,
in this case, proving inerrancy by assuming inerrancy.

Why does it never occur to inerrancy defenders that if one writer made
statement "A" and another writer made statement "B," which appears to
contradict "A," then there just might be a real contradiction in the Bible?  If
both statements had been made by the same writer, the inerrantist might then
have a sensible basis for suggesting how-it-could-have-been scenarios to
reconcile the meaning of the two, but when the statements have been made
by different writers, the most likely explanation for the apparent discrepancy
is that the two writers disagreed on the common subject they were writing
about. Obviously, the writers of Hebrews (6:18) and Titus (1:2) thought that
God  could not lie. This fact, however, does not exclude the possibility
that Isaiah (37:7) and the writer of 1 Kings (22:19-23) believed that God did
sometimes lie.  So to resolve this problem, bibliolaters must explicate the
story of the prophet Micaiah and the message of Isaiah to king Hezekiah in a
way that will show that no lie or deception on God's part was involved in
either case.  I don't think they can do that, but until they do the Bible
stands indicted for contradiction in the matter of whether God can lie.

Another problem passage concerns the intertribal dispute between Israel
and the Benjamites. Outraged at the rape and murder of a Levite's
concubine at Gibeah by a group of Benjamite homosexuals, the other
Israelites demanded that the tribe of Benjamin deliver up to them the
"base fellows" who had done this thing so that they could be put to
death (Judges 20:12-13). When the Benjamite leaders refused the
demand, the Israelites took an army of 400,000 against the Benjamites,
who numbered only 26,700.  It looked as if it were going to be a
complete rout, so the Israelites, apparently seeing no need to send
their entire army out to battle, went up to Bethel to ask "counsel of
God":

     Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of
     Benjamin? And Yahweh said, Judah shall go up first (20:18).

Well, Judah did go up first, and lost 22,000 men in a resounding defeat! So
what happened here?  The Israelites had asked counsel of Yahweh, and he
told them to send Judah out to battle first.  Although inerrantists may quib-
ble (as I have heard them do) that Yahweh did not specifically say that
Judah would be victorious, if the story happened as recorded--and inerran-
tists will argue that it did--then deception was certainly involved.  One would
have to be completely idiotic to think that the Israelites had asked "counsel of
Yahweh" to find out which army to deploy in order to be defeated.  Obvious-
ly, they wanted to know what army would secure a victory for them.  So if
anything like what is related in this story ever happened, we can conclude
only one of two things: (1) Yahweh deceived the Israelites into thinking the
forces of Judah could win the battle or (2) Yahweh is not omniscient.  Either
way the inerrancy doctrine suffers irreparable damage.

But this story didn't end with the defeat of the Judean army.  In great distress,
"the children of Israel went up and wept before Yahweh until evening; and
they asked of Yahweh, saying, Shall I again draw near to battle against the
children of Benjamin my brother?" And what answer did they receive? 
"And Yahweh said, Go up against him" (v:23).  So on this "counsel" from
Yahweh, the Israelites went to  battle the next day, and this time the
Benjamites "destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again
eighteen thousand men" (vv:24-25).

To believe that this ridiculous tale is part of the verbally inspired, iner-
rant word of God is too absurd to deserve comment, but to argue that if it
did happen as recorded no deception was involved on Yahweh's part
would be even more absurd.  In profound anguish, the Israelites had asked
their god Yahweh if they should again go to battle against the Benjamites,
and he told them to go. If that was not deception, then someone should
explain why it wasn't.

Usually, when the Israelites experienced military defeat, pestilence, fam-
ine, or other calamities, the Bible attributed it to some sin or disobedience.
When Joshua's army was routed at Ai, for example, it turned out that Yahweh
was punishing his people for the sin of one man who had kept some of the
spoils for himself after the battle of Jericho (Josh. 7). David sinned in
numbering Israel (2 Sam. 24:1-10), but Yahweh punished all of Israel for it
by sending a pestilence that killed 70,000 people (vv:15-16).  As unjust as it
is to punish someone for the "sins" of another, that was clearly the practice
in Old Testament times, and bibliolaters dutifully defend it as justification for
Yahweh's having on occasion retracted his promises.  There is nothing in
Judges 20, however, that even suggests the Israelites were guilty of some
offense that would have "justified" Yahweh's retraction of his implied promise
of victory.  To the contrary, the Benjamites were the offenders. They were
harboring a group of men who had committed a despicable crime.  Yet the
Israelites were losing all the battles--and that after they had asked "counsel
of Yahweh" and had been told to go against Benjamin!  It had to be either
deception or a pathetic lack of foreknowledge on Yahweh's part.

After their second defeat, the Israelites went up to Bethel again "and
wept, and sat there before Yahweh, and fasted that day until evening; and
they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before Yahweh" (v:26).
None other than Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was the
priest who stood before the ark of the covenant while all of this counsel-
seeking was going on, and for the third time the Israelites asked Yahweh,
"Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my broth-
er,  or shall I cease?"  The answer?  "And Yahweh said, Go up; for tomor-
row I will deliver him into your hand" (v:28). They went to battle the next
day, and, by luring the Benjamites into an ambush, finally defeated them, if
suffering 40,000 casualties in order to kill 25,000 Benjamites could in any
sense be considered a victory.  Maybe it was the fasting and offering of
sacrifices before the third battle that finally brought victory to the Israelites,
or maybe it was just that the third time was charmed.  At any rate, the
Israelites finally won, according to the story, but at the cost of considerable
damage to Yahweh's reputation for honesty.

An inerrantist once told me (with a straight face) that Yahweh did not 
specifically say until the third inquiry was made (v:28) that he would deliver
the Benjamites into the hands of Israel.  So to his warped way of reasoning,
there was no deception in the answers that Yahweh gave to the first two
inquiries of the Israelites.  He had just told them to go to battle without
indicating either way how the battles would go.  Can you imagine an inerran-
cy defense any lamer than that?  If I absolutely knew that John Jones had
infallible ability to look into the future and see what was going to happen
and, knowing that, I asked him if I should buy stock in company A, would
Jones be guilty of deception and lying if he said, "Yes, buy it," and then,
after I had bought the stock, the company went bankrupt?  To ask the ques-
tion is to answer it.

There are other stories in the Bible that are inconsistent with the claim that
God cannot lie.  In "Yahweh's Failed Land Promise" (Winter 1991, pp. 2-
6),  for example, I examined the numerous OT passages in which Yahweh
had unconditionally promised that he would without fail give all of the
land of Canaan to the Israelites but then failed to make good his promise.
In the same issue, a fundamentalist writer tried to rebut the central premise
of the article and couldn't. In a future issue, we will notice that Yahweh once
promised (2 Sam. 7:8-17) that he would establish the throne of David forever
and then failed to make good that promise. All such stories as these are
devastating to the claim that God cannot lie. In many places, the Bible teach-
es that God not only can but does on occasion lie.  This is just one more of
many contradictions in the verbally inspired "word of God."                          

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