An absolutely devastating article for the perfect-harmony Bible theorists. From The Skeptical Review, 1995:
by Farrell Till
by Farrell Till
The Bible is so perfectly harmonious from cover to cover that only divine inspiration can explain its unity. You don't believe it? Well, just ask any Bible fundamentalist, and he will assure you that it's true.
Critical works of the past two centuries have shot the perfect-harmony theory so full of holes that by now it should be lying rusted out at the bottom of an ocean of biblical scholarship. Instead, Christian fundamentalists continue to proclaim to gullible pulpit audiences that there are no contradictions or inconsistencies in the Bible. As we have shown repeatedly in past issues of The Skeptical Review, this claim is patently false. Let's take as an example the fact that the Bible plainly teaches that God is no respecter of persons: "(F)or there is no respect of persons with God" (Romans 2:11, KJV). Acts 10:34, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and 1 Peter 1:17 all claim that God judges all men fairly without respect of person. In boasting of having stood his ground against the pillars of the Jerusalem church who wanted to force Titus to submit to circumcision, the apostle Paul said that the positions of prominence held by his opponents in the dispute didn't matter to him, because "God shows personal favoritism to no man..." (Gal. 2:6, NKJV). There is no doubt, then, that the Bible teaches that God is impartial toward all men.
Well, okay, let's see how consistent the Bible is in presenting God as an impartial deity. We could begin by pointing out that God at one time favored an entire nation, because he selected the Israelites to be his chosen people "above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth" (Dt. 7:6). That certainly sounds like favoritism to me. If a teacher should select Bobby to be her chosen student above all students that are in the class and even proclaim to the world that she had done so, who would argue that she was not showing favoritism?
Inerrantists are fond of arguing that God had a plan of redemption for mankind that required him to select a special people. Bible fundamentalists constantly use this marvelous "plan of redemption" to cover a multitude of divine shortcomings, and they apparently can't see that an omniscient, omnipotent deity would not have been required to select a plan of redemption that necessitated racial favoritism, because such a deity could have redeemed mankind in any one of several ways that would not have entailed racial favoritism and the various atrocities committed against the non-Hebraic people of biblical times. To argue otherwise is to argue that God is not omniscient and omnipotent. At any rate, this is the quibble that inerrancy defenders resort to in this matter, so I'll just let the readers evaluate the merits of it so that we can go on to other examples of divine favoritism that will give the inerrantists plenty more to cavil about.
We could cite the case of Aaron's sons being ordained as priests of Israel (Num. 3:2-3) when God's law specifically banned bastards and their descendants from entering the assembly of Yahweh for at least ten generations (Dt. 23:2). Aaron's wife, as noted in an earlier article, "No Bastards Allowed", TSR 1994, was a fourth-generation descendant of the bastard son of Judah, so her sons would have been fifth-generation descendants. Nevertheless, they were ordained as priests (so says the inerrant Bible) by specific instructions from Yahweh himself (Num. 3:5-10). Bastards and their descendants for at least ten generations were to be excluded from Yahweh's assembly, yet the fifth-generation bastard sons of an important Hebrew official were not only made exceptions but were appointed to important positions of leadership in the assembly. This certainly seems like favoritism.
At the Portland, Texas, debate last May, Marion Fox, Jerry Moffitt's moderator, announced to the audience that he was going to write an article to show that Deuteronomy 23:2 is not inconsistent with the appointment of Aaron's sons to the priesthood. I'm still waiting for that article. Fox made a smart play to the gallery to get Moffitt out of a jam, but now it's time for him to make good his promise. In Numbers 12:1, Miriam and Aaron spoke out in public opposition to their brother Moses, who had married a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. They had every right to make this complaint, because Yahweh had forbidden the Hebrews to marry foreigners (Ex. 34:15-16; Dt. 7:3). However, rather than taking Moses to task for breaking this command, Yahweh made Miriam and Aaron the heavies, and especially Miriam. Yahweh came down in a "pillar of cloud" and stood in the door of the tabernacle (that must have been a sight to behold) to announce in no uncertain terms that Moses was his prophet to whom he spoke face to face, so how dare they speak against his servant Moses (Numbers 12:4-8 NKJV). Yahweh's anger had been so aroused that when he departed, Miriam was left standing white as snow, stricken with leprosy (v.10).
Well, okay, if Miriam had challenged the leadership of Yahweh's prophet whom he spoke with face to face, then by all means teach her a good lesson; go ahead and afflict her with leprosy. But why not afflict Aaron too? He was in on the rebellion as much as Miriam was. Read the passage and see for yourself that both of them had complained about Moses' marriage to the Cushite woman. So why wasn't Aaron afflicted with leprosy too? Whatever happened to this wonderful impartiality that the Bible attributed to Yahweh, the god of gods? For that matter, whatever happened to the wonderful harmony and unity that is supposed to permeate the Bible?
Well, in the matter of Yahweh's alleged impartiality, there is no unity at all in the Bible. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were so notoriously wicked that their names have become synonyms for evil. When Jezebel conspired to have Naboth murdered so that Ahab could have his vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-16), Yahweh was so outraged when Ahab took possession of the vineyard that he sent the prophet Elijah to denounce the deed and pronounce a sentence of death and destruction upon the whole house of Ahab (vv:17-24). When Ahab heard the curse, he rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted (v:27), after which Yahweh said to Elijah, "See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house" (vv:28-29).
Whoa, wait a minute! Ahab was the culprit here, but because he put on sackcloth and fasted, Yahweh decided not to destroy his family but to wait until Ahab was dead and then do it "in the days of his son." Where's the fairness in that? Is this Yahweh's idea of impartiality? If Yahweh had rewarded Ahab's repentance by simply forgetting the whole matter, that would have been commendable and quite compatible with the character of an omnibenevolent god, but to let the guilty live and later punish his son, that's downright tacky. We might also mention that it flagrantly contradicts Yahweh's decree that said the son would not bear the iniquity of the father (Ezek. 18:20). One just doesn't have to look very hard at all to find holes in the perfect-harmony theory.
Yahweh's law decreed death for the sin of adultery: "The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 20:10). Now that's plain enough that anyone should understand it. Certainly, an omniscient deity should have no difficulty understanding what he had meant when he "verbally" inspired the writing of this law, yet we learn that Yahweh apparently did have problems understanding it when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:2-5). No sentence of death was executed against David, not even after he had murdered Bathsheba's husband Uriah (vv:21), another offense for which Yahweh's divine law demanded the death penalty: "But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die" (Ex. 21:14). In cases of murder by treachery, then, one could not even seek sanctuary in the tabernacle by clinging to the altar (see 2 Kings 1:50-51), but if ever there was a case of "murder by treachery," David was guilty of it. He sent written orders for his commanding general to put Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) in "the forefront of the hottest battle" and then to withdraw the other soldiers and leave Uriah to die (vv:14-17). So if adultery was a capital offense, surely David had deserved to die far more than some poor sap who in a moment of ardent indiscretion had had the misfortune to be caught in a compromising position with his neighbor's wife. We can well imagine that such as this had happened many times in the primitive eye-for-an-eye society of the ancient Hebrews, yet no death sentence was pronounced on King David for a far more flagrant case of adultery. According to the story, while walking on the palace roof, he saw Bathsheba bathing, inquired about her, and sent messengers to bring her to him, so this was no moment-of-weakness indiscretion. It was a flagrant, premeditated case of adultery, but, for reasons presumably known only to the inscrutable Yahweh, the death penalty was waived for David--and for Bathsheba too, whom David added to his harem after her husband had been put out of the picture.
To those who might try to argue that Yahweh was not to blame for waiving the penalty demanded by the law in this case but the religious leaders who lacked the courage to apply the law to their king, I will simply urge them to read the story again. After Bathsheba's mourning was over (and it was downright decent of her to go through a proper period of mourning), David sent for her, brought her to his house, and married her. When all of this was done, Yahweh "sent Nathan [the prophet] to David" (2 Sam. 12:1). Why? To tell David that he had broken divine law and so now he would have to pay with his life? Hardly. "Why have you despised the commandment of Yahweh to do evil in His sight?" Nathan asked. "You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon." There is no doubt that Yahweh considered David guilty of murder, because the prophet that he sent to David plainly said, "You have killed Uriah the Hittite." So why wasn't David sentenced to death as the law of Yahweh had commanded? According to that law, David and Bathsheba both should have been executed. Instead, Yahweh let them both off and, in clear violation of his decree that "the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezek. 18:20; Dt. 24:16), proceeded to pronounce punishment upon innocent parties for the sin of David and Bathsheba. The divine message that Nathan delivered to David contained this curious provision:
Thus saith Yahweh: "Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall be with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun (2 Sam. 12:11-12).
Now besides this not being the punishment that Yahweh's perfect law had decreed for adultery, it was a punishment directed against others rather than David and Bathsheba, who were the guilty parties. In other words, Yahweh was saying to David, "You committed adultery, and now I am going to subject your wives to the humiliation of rape." Admittedly, David would have suffered embarrassment and humiliation if this decree had been executed, but that would not have compared to the humiliation that his wives would have experienced. How could the mind of a fair and impartial god "who shows personal favoritism to no man" have conceived of such a scheme as this?
The rape of David's wives never occurred, of course, because David repented. "I have sinned against Yahweh," he said in response to Nathan's message (v:13), and apparently that was all it took to get him off the hook. "Yahweh also has put away your sin," Nathan said. "You shall not die." Here is the only suggestion in the story that Yahweh had at any time considered imposing the full penalty of his law for David's offense, and all that it had taken to obtain divine pardon were five little words: "I have sinned against Yahweh." We can only wonder how many adulterers before David had also said, "I have sinned against Yahweh," before the stones had started pelting them. If repentence had not earned them Yahweh's mercy, then by what twist of logic can anyone argue that sparing David's life for the same offense was not a flagrant case of Yahwistic favoritism?
This story didn't end with Nathan's telling David that Yahweh had put away his sin, because it just didn't seem to be in the nature of Yahweh to let a thing like this pass without showing his temper in some way. However, instead of punishing the offenders, he chose instead to punish the child conceived during their adulterous relationship. "(B)ecause by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of Yahweh to blaspheme," Nathan said to David, "the child also who is born to you shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:14). So David and Bathsheba had violated a divine law that decreed death, but rather than killing either David or Bathsheba, Yahweh chose instead to kill their child. We will admit that such a punishment would have inflicted considerable grief on David and Bathsheba, but that is beside the point. They were the ones who had violated Yahweh's law, but an innocent baby was the one who paid with his life for an offense committed by others. It's so... well, so typically Yahwistic.
We see the appalling partiality in Yahweh's character when we compare the ease with which he forgave David and Ahab to the harsh judgment that he pronounced on others, who were far more deserving of mercy. All David and Ahab had to do was say, "I have sinned," and Yahweh immediately forgave them and then later punished their offspring. As we saw earlier in "Another Flaw in the Perfect-Harmony Theory", TSR 1994, such was not the case when Josiah repented and instituted a religious reformation that was unparalleled in Israel's history. Like Ahab, Josiah "rent his clothes" in a gesture of penitence (2 Kings 21:11), but unlike the generosity that Yahweh showed to Ahab, he did not show mercy to Josiah. Even after Josiah had eradicated idolatry in the kingdom, destroyed all the pagan altars, and celebrated a Passover the likes of which "surely had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah" (vv:21-22), Yahweh still "did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah" (2 Kings 23:26). One would have to be completely devoid of intellectual objectivity to argue that these are not inconsistencies in the biblical depiction of Yahweh's character.
David, of course, was no stranger to the appalling unfairness that Yahweh often demonstrated in the treatment of his "chosen people." In 2 Samuel 24:1-9, David ordered a census of Israel that for some reason greatly offended Yahweh. In this case, Yahweh sent the prophet Gad to give David his choice of three punishments: (1) seven years of famine, (2) three months of flight while his enemies pursued him, or (3) three days of plague in the land (vv:11-13). A parallel account of this story in Yahweh's perfectly harmonious word (1 Chron. 21:12) has Gad offering David three years of famine rather than seven, but we will let this inconsistency pass for the moment to make a point about Yahweh's idea of impartiality.
Eventually Yahweh settled on three days of plague in the land as a way of punishing David for presuming to number Israel (for whatever reason this was so horribly sinful). As biblical plagues go, it was typically Yahwistic in its scope. "From Dan to Beersheba, seventy thousand men of the people died" (v:15). Now let's try to put this story into perspective. For some reason known only to the inscrutable Yahweh, David sinned by ordering a census of Israel, and as punishment for the sin, Yahweh sent a plague that killed seventy thousand men. Meanwhile, not a hair on David's head was touched. Is this what inerrantists call impartiality? Apparently so, because in the face of passages like this, they will still argue that the Bible is perfectly harmonious from cover to cover. Don't try to figure it out, because you won't.
The absurdity of their position is underscored by the fact that not even David would agree with them, for after Yahweh had finally relented just short of allowing his death angel to destroy Jerusalem (v:16), David, who had watched the angel striking the people, spoke to Yahweh and said, "Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?" (v:17).
That's a good question, and inerrantists should give it some serious thought. David was the one who had sinned in this matter, but Yahweh killed 70,000 others for something they had not done. What is the fairness of that? By what stretch of imagination, can anyone say that a silly yarn like this is perfectly harmonious with the biblical passages that say "God shows personal favoritism to no man"?
This story obviously conflicts with Yahweh's law that decreed individual responsibility and punishment for one's own sins (Ezek. 18:20; Dt. 24:16), and even David was apparently able to see the injustice of it. After asking Yahweh, "What have these sheep done?" he went on to say, "Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house" (v:17).
Well, it seems that even David's understanding of justice was a little tarnished too, for even he thought that it would have been proper to punish his father's house for the sin he had committed. Nevertheless, the point is crystal clear: the Bible teaches an abysmally inconsistent concept of fairness and impartiality in the character of the Hebrew god Yahweh. This character flaw was effectively verbalized in a question that Genesis 18:25 attributes to the patriarch Abraham. According to the story, Yahweh had informed Abraham that he was going to destroy Sodom, upon which Abraham asked, "Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" In other words, Abraham recognized the truth that we are focusing on in this article: it is inherently unfair to punish innocent people.
As the story continued, Abraham attempted to bargain with Yahweh in an effort to save the city. He asked Yahweh if he would spare Sodom if 50 righteous people could be found in it. "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this," Abraham said, "so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You!" Obviously, then, Abraham recognized that it would be fundamentally unjust to kill everyone in the city, the righteous along with the unrighteous. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" he asked Yahweh. Today, Bible fundamentalists lack the basic common sense that Abraham demonstrated in this story (which, needless to say, is undoubtedly fictional), because they continue to defend the appalling moral conduct that the Bible attributes to the god Yahweh. They do so, of course, because they have to. Numerous biblical stories attribute utter moral depravity to their god Yahweh, so they are stuck with the embarrassing task of having to defend them with the same old tired arguments that have failed over and over again to explain the problem: "If God can give life, then he has the right to take life." "Those heathen children and babies went to heaven instead of growing up to be evil like their parents."
Is there any hope for mankind as long as presumably intelligent people sit in pews and gullibly swallow such drivel as this?