Answering the objection of man-made God

(Steven Croft) #1

Atheists say that just because we read about God interacting in some way in the Old Testament, doesn’t really mean that God invoked the things to happen. For example, just because the Bible says that God gave Moses the law doesn’t prove that He did, but rather, that laws were written down by Moses and said that God gave them. Obviously they don’t believe in God’s existence, so they see it as just man saying, God did this and writing it down.

How can we answer this?

Answering non-Christian religious experiences
(SeanO) #2

I think a few lines of evidence could be helpful, depending on the questioner.

1 - Evidence for the existence of God. The big bang, even if true, did not create the universe. The first vacuum that went bang had to come from somewhere (John Lennox has great stuff on this…).

2 - Evidence for the uniqueness of the Jewish faith - the Jews were completely unique among their surrounding nations - they believed God created everything (aka not local gods or polytheism), they were merciful to captives of war, they did not sacrifice children, they did not practice divination, they did not make idols, love your neighbor is actually from Leviticus - did one dude in a desert come up with all of this?

If you choose this line - you will possibly need to explain why God gave the Jews what appear to be weird dietary laws / laws about not mixing cloth types. God was trying to teach them to be ‘holy’ - separate from surrounding nations (child sacrifice, illicit behavior, idols, etc). Also - could mention three tiers of law - Priestly, Kingly and Moral - only Moral now still holds.

3 - Evidence for the Resurrection

Jesus believed God did those things. Jesus predicted both the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD 40 years after his life (most well recorded prophecy in history) and defeated death. Seems like a good resume.

Josh McDowell has lots of great stuff along this line.

(Steven Croft) #3

All great answers! Thank you so much!

(SeanO) #4

@Steven_Croft Sure thing. Your question actually sparked me to go on a hunt for the differences between the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses. Ended up revisiting epic of gilgamesh. I think one thing that always stands out to me about God’s laws is how pure they are - the pagan stories always involve jealousy, envy and impure content. There is none of that in Genesis 1-3 or in the law. Pagan law codes always favor the free / wealthy over the poor. Not so with God’s law. Fun stuff!

(Steven Croft) #5

At one time when I first discovered the Code of Hammurabi, I really struggled. Further, when I saw that there were some Old Testament verses that were allegedly quoted from the Urgaritic Baal cycle.

May I ask you (or others) to share your knowledge and to speak a little more to these, please?


(SeanO) #6

@Steven_Croft Someone else may be much more qualified to answer that question than me regarding specifics. But similarities between OT law and surrounding law codes do not trouble me at all for the following simple reason:

God met people in their cultural context and then sought to move them towards true religion.

God’s covenant with Israel resembled covenants between kings and their subjects in ancient times. The apostle Paul used quotes from pagan philosophers to help his audience understand what he was saying. The apostle Paul did not abolish slavery - but he nuanced it in such a way that it would inevitably be abolished - slave masters had to treat their subjects as they wanted God to treat them.

And we applaud people who ‘contextualize’ the Gospel - that is part of the job of missionaries. To help the native people understand the Gospel using ideas that are familiar to them.

God is the ultimate missionary. When he spoke to a middle eastern people from two thousand years ago he used ideas and language familiar to them to reach them. That is why we modern Westerners have to study that cultural context before applying it to our lives.

The similarities with other ancient systems / religions are contextualization, the differences are God speaking truth into the culture as the ultimate missionary.

Hope that is helpful.

(Jimmy Sellers) #7

Steve I have put together a few cut and pastes that might help you with your question about OT law and its similarity to neighboring cultures. I too have asked the same questions. FYI all of this information is available from The Lexham Bible Dictionary. .

_The Law in the Ancient World_
Examples exist of law codes from various ancient societies, including:
• Ur-Namma (ca. 2100 BC)
• Lipit-Ishtar (ca. 1900 BC)
• Eshnunna (ca. 1770 BC)
• Hammurabi (1750 BC)
• Middle Assyrian Laws (ca. 1400 BC)
• Neo-Babylonian (ca. 700 BC)
• Hittite (1600–1200 BC)
• The covenant and Deuteronomistic law codes in Hebrew Bible (post 14th century BC)

The Canaanites in the Levant did not have their own legal code, but instead relied on Babylonian forms (Mendenhall, Law and Covenant, 13).

Israel reflected other societies of the ancient Near East in its belief in divine rule. However, Israel was unique in that its legislation came from its deity, Yahweh, whereas elsewhere “the king was the primary source of legislation” (Westbrook, “Character,” 26). Israel’s divinely-imparted law code regulated religious activity as well as peripheral elements like diet, warfare, and national and ethnic identity.

Biblical property, family, and civil laws contain multiple ancient Near Eastern parallels. For example, George Mendenhall described a second-millennium Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty whose form reflects the literary structure of Deuteronomy (Mendenhall, Law and Covenant, 24–48). Albrecht Alt identified two forms of law in the Hebrew tradition (Alt, “Origins,” 81–132):
1. apodictic or unconditional law, which was rooted in the will of Yahweh and was unique to Israel
2. casuistic or case law, which was part of the broader ancient Near Eastern legal convention

However, Israelite legal tradition also contains significant variations from its neighbors. For instance, the Old Testament lacks laws governing adoption, which were common in the region. Similarly, many ancient law codes call for various forms of mutilation as penalties. This type of penalty appears in the Old Testament only once in a safeguard of progeny (Deut 25:11–12).

These texts provide a shared cultural backdrop for Old Testament law and highlight the unique aspects of biblical law.
• Middle Assyrian Laws (ca. 1100 BC)—Laws composed in the cuneiform writing system of ancient Mesopotamia. The documents were written in the Middle Assyrian dialect of Akkadian. The existing copies were apparently edited during the reign of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser I (ca. 1115–1077 BC).
• Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 BC)—Attributed to King Hammurabi of Babylonia and carved onto a stela made of diorite. About half of the code deals with contracts, establishing wages, transaction terms, and liability. About a third of the code addresses household and family issues like inheritance, divorce, and sexual behavior.
• Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1800 BC)—Contains the first exact parallel to any early biblical law. This parallel concerns the division of oxen after a fatal combat between animals (Exod 21:35). This law code is highly structured, with a “If A then B” pattern. The code breaks down into five subcategories (Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna):
• Theft and related offenses
• False distress
• Sexual offenses
• Bodily injuries
• Damages caused by a goring ox and comparable cases

The Old Testament law is similar in subject matter and formulation to the laws of its historical and cultural neighbors because Israel lived in a similar cultural, political, and economic context. For example:
• HL 17, the Sumerian Laws 1–2, LH 209–214, MAL A 21, 50–52, and Exod 21:22–25 all discuss cases of striking pregnant women and causing a miscarriage.
• Laws on slaves and goring oxen are common to both.
• Several ancient Near Eastern laws agree with Biblical law condemning murder, adultery, and incest (LH 1, 129, 157).

The orientation of law toward practical problems is common to both the Bible and the laws of their surrounding culture. As both groups experienced common crises, they understandably share common laws for dealing with those situations. Examples of similarity between biblical law and the laws of the ancient Near East include:
• Exodus 21:24 matches sections 196, 197, and 200 of the Hammurabi code.
• Both Exod 21:28–36 and the Eshnunna code contain similar material about an ox that gores.
• Deuteronomy 22:23–27 and the Hittite code (section 197) are similar in their laws regarding rape.

_While there are similarities between the laws of the ancient Near East and biblical laws, there are also key differences. For example, in the Torah an ox goring a slave differs from an ox goring an ox (Exod 21:28–31; 35–36). In other ancient Near Eastern law codes (LE 53–55), both oxen and slaves are simply property.

Additional differences include:_
• Biblical law imposes limitations on kings (Deut 17:14–20), the laws of the surrounding nations do not—they foster support for the unlimited authority of their kings.
• Biblical laws value human life over property. While surrounding nations might require restitution of thirtyfold for theft (and even execution), biblical law limits restitution to fivefold and spares the thief (Exod 22:1–4).
• Biblical law places a much higher value on women. For example, an unloved wife (even a slave) still had to be given the full rights of a wife.

The main aspects of biblical law that is absent from the laws of other ancient Near Eastern communities are the two underlying themes:
1. Loving God (Deut 6:5)
2. Loving neighbor (Lev 19:18)
This absence is fitting because law in the Hebrew Bible is more than just a law code; it is part of a covenant governing relationships between people and their Creator.

Significance of Ancient Near Eastern Law
The significance of the similarities between the ancient Near Eastern laws and the Old Testament law is debated. Some argue that these similarities indicate that Moses was not inspired—just well read. Others argue that it is fitting that the laws given to Moses would be culturally relevant to his setting (and therefore similar, but not identical, to the laws of the neighboring nations). One value of these other law codes is that they highlight (by way of contrast) the unique covenantal and relational aspects of the biblical law.
Additionally, new studies in ancient Near Eastern law have discredited the 19th century critical view that codes of laws like the Pentateuch must be anachronistic. Since other nations had advanced legal and ethical law codes like these, it is reasonable to assume that Israel might have as well.

Law and Covenant
The Law exists in the context of God’s covenant with Israel; covenant, not law-keeping, is the basis of this relationship. The role of law is to administrate the covenant. The Law provides instruction for things that ruin relationship with God (e.g., idolatry and injustice). It also shows what loving God and others looks like.

Johnson, B. (2016). Law in the Hebrew Bible. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

I think we can agree with:

(Carson Weitnauer) #8

Thanks @Jimmy_Sellers!

I think it is important to distinguish between:

  1. apodictic or unconditional law, which was rooted in the will of Yahweh and was unique to Israel
  2. casuistic or case law, which was part of the broader ancient Near Eastern legal convention

I have heard many times, “God allowed for XYZ! It was part of his theocracy!” But what was really going on is that God was saying, “If XYZ happens, here’s an appropriate response for you.” God wasn’t encouraging or celebrating XYZ; rather, there was an acknowledgment that these behaviors took place and needed legal regulation.

(Steven Croft) #9

Such great information here! And @CarsonWeitnauer, I think one of the most talked about issues when it comes to God’s alleged allowances of XYZ today is polygamy.

I understand and agree with your statement, and if polygamy can be inserted there; I wonder if God never intended for it to happen that way, why He did not strictly command against it as He did with other things?

(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi Steven, as a first pass, I think there are some important indicators that polygamy is a violation of God’s purposes. To mention two:

First, marriage is explicitly defined and celebrated as monogamous in the creation accounts. This is the benchmark. When Jesus comments on the meaning of the created order, he confirms God’s intention that marriage is for two to become one (Matthew 19:4-6). When Paul discusses marriage, he sees a parallel between “Christ and the church” and “husband and wife.” And again, “the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). Monogamy and faithfulness are profoundly linked together throughout the Bible.

Second, the stories of polygamous relationships in the Old Testament are not very encouraging. They end in jealousy, feuding, conflict, murder… the narratives of the Old Testament make it clear that polygamy is not a good idea.

(Steven Croft) #11

Yes, I agree with all of that. From the beginning God intended marriage to be one man and one woman. I guess what boggles me, however, is why we don’t find God openly condemning and punishing the sin of polygamy. God punished David for his adultery with Bathsheba, however God allowed him to keep her as a wife, even though David already had a wife. This is just on example of many in the Old Testament of men that had multiple wives, yet God never spoke out directly about it or punished them for it.

(Carson Weitnauer) #12

Hi Steven, I think if you dig into the narratives about these polygamous relationships, you will find that it led to God’s negative evaluation. For instance,

1 Kings 11:1-8:

King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

There’s an interesting parallel: monogamy and faithfulness to YHWH (or Christ, Ephesians 5). By contrast, polygamy is paired with idolatry.

(Steven Croft) #13

That makes so much sense!

Thank you all for you insightful responses. They have really helped me a lot!

(Dave Kenny) #14

Hi Steven. I am new to the forum, but I wanted to share with you that John Walton is a scholar that I found extremely helpful on the topic of ancient near eastern comparative religions. He explicitly addresses the topics you’ve raised… also… he is a believer…

On the polygamy front, a couple of thoughts:

I completely agree that the testimony of OT scripture demonstrated that polygamy was not beneficial for those that committed it. Moses himself warned against this, specifically for kings (Deut 17:17)

You mentioned David. I interpret that the scripture writers of 1 Samuel 25 (the story of David and Abigail) intended for the reader to connect the Abigail episode with the Bathsheba episode. The Abigail story demonstrates that David was especially guilty in his offense with Bathesheba given that he had a virtually equal opportunity (and excuse given Nabal’s stupidity) yet was able to resist. It was kind of a “here’s the right way” vs “here’s the wrong way” type of contrast between the two stories

1 Samuel 25:43 is an especially interesting verse… it’s abrupt and it doesn’t casually belong with this passage, it almost completely tarnishes the beautiful narrative that we had just finished reading… my reading of it would suggest that this is a moral idictment, setting up trouble for David who is now officially in violation of the Deuteronomic Law against kings… just my POV

Anyways, Walton touches base on polygamy and ancient near eastern traditions as well! He might be an enlightening read for you, he was for me.


(Steven Croft) #15

Thanks very much Dave. Any specific book by him?

(Dave Kenny) #16

hmmmm… too many I’m afraid. here is a list of his writings. You might find his articles the quickest “wins”:

As with most scholars, some of his views are controversial to some aspects of the church, but his expertise is undeniable in his particular field and worth a read.

(Steven Croft) #17

Wonderful. You were right about a quick win! I found this article and it helps a lot.

(SeanO) #18

My missions professor at Moody gave us a scenario to consider theologically that spoke to the issue of polygamy.

There was a missionary who went to a tribe where polygamy was common. The chief had many wives, but he had converted to Christianity. The missionary forced the chief to only keep his first wife. Very soon all of the other wives had become impoverished because in that culture they had no way to survive. They became beggars.

Did the missionary do the right thing?

I think another line to consider is slavery in the New Testament. Many people have the same problem with God’s response to slavery in the NT that they do with polygamy in the OT - why didn’t God condemn it outright? Now - slavery in the NT was obviously not the same as modern day slavery in severity, but still - why did God let it continue?

The argument often goes like this - if God outright condemned slavery in all its forms, Christians would be seen as attempting to overthrow society and no change would occur. But by commanding slaves to obey their masters and, more importantly, masters to treat their slaves as they wanted to be treated, slavery would naturally die out. It takes time and wisdom to change a society.

The following two passages from Acts and Hebrews show that God works in history in a very intentional way:

Acts 17:26-27 - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Hebrews 1:1 - In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Think about the timing of Jesus’ life - during the Pax Romana. God began his mission to the Gentiles at the perfect time in human history for people to receive his message. So while God’s timing is not our timing - He has a very specific purpose in when He chooses to reveal certain aspects of himself.

I often think of how little theology Abraham knew when God called him :slight_smile:

(Dave Kenny) #19

regarding Abraham… no kidding :slight_smile: He worshipped a totally different god at first!

(Carson Weitnauer) #20

Hi Sean, why couldn’t the missionary have had a strong sexual and social ethic? :slight_smile: For instance, the chief could have stayed married to his first wife, led the church to have a strong diaconate ministry for all the other wives, ensured that they were treated with dignity and respect as his sisters in Christ, and given public honor to them as they married and had children.