Ask Christian Hofreiter (November 11-15, 2019)

Happy Friday, @interested_in_ask_rzim friendssssss!

New week, new speaker in the hot seat. :fire: This week we are privileged to have The Reverend Dr. Christian Hofreiter joining us from the lovely city of Vienna (Austria, not Virginia).

Christian is the Director of RZIM Austria, Germany, and Switzerland (the Zacharias Institut für Wissenschaft, Kultur und Glaube), a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and, most recently, the author of Making Sense of Old Testament Genocide: Christian Interpretations of Herem Passages which was published by Oxford University Press last year. (Helloooo, Christmas stocking-stuffer idea.:christmas_tree:)

Christian studied theology at Oxford University, earning three degrees (MA, MSt, DPhil), winning several prizes and scholarships, and gaining the top first-class award in 2008. His doctoral research focused on the Christian interpretation of “genocide texts” in the Old Testament. Before arriving in Oxford, Christian worked in a government relations firm in Washington, DC, which represented the interests of foreign governments and other clients to the United States Congress and Administration, and also served as deacon at the Church of the Resurrection on Capitol Hill.

Prior to that, Christian worked in Austria as a freelance interpreter and as a lecturer in translation at the University of Innsbruck, where he had previously completed master’s degrees in translation and interpreting. He also studied intercultural communication at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and wrote his translation master’s thesis under the supervision of biblical translation theorist Eugene A. Nida.

Oh, and he’s also an ordained Anglican minister.

All that to say, academically and pastorally, you’re in good hands, so don’t be shy. Happy asking! :smile:

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Hello Christian Hofreiter, one question I had about the Old Testament was were the Midianite Virgins (Numbers 31:17-18) women or young girls?

I’ve heard it said by some atheists and Muslims that the virgins were female children in an attempt to say that they were sex slaves or to say that they were married off to grown men. I would like a better understanding of this passage if possible. Thank you.

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Hello, Christian. Thank you for being our guest to question this week.

I have an observation that I’m not sure what category to place it under, so thought I’d share it with you for your consideration.
I am currently taking the “Why Suffering” class in the RZIM Academy. I’ve heard several theories or explanations to date as to why God allows suffering… the latest one being Vince Vitale’s “Non-Identity Theodicy”.

As I was studying a different topic a few days ago, I stumbled upon a verse in Genesis 15:16 that said, " …for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (KJV) God was promising that Abram’s descendants would return to Canaan, where Abram currently was dwelling. I have no Hebrew language training, so looked up a Hebrew lexicon to see what I could learn about the usage in this case of the word “iniquity”, or “avon”. To my understanding, it basically referred to a time of guilt to be punished which the Amorites were living out in their sin of enticing the other tribes of Canaan to worship idols. God was going to judge them when they would be driven out and destroyed by the Israelites who would inherit Canaan. I also looked up “full”, which is “shalem”, or “complete” in this usage. So, the Amorites’ guilt was not yet complete.
Next, I remembered how God punished all the Israelites who did not believe Joshua’s and Caleb’s report when they came back from spying on the land. God did not allow the next generation to cross the Jordan until the previous generation had all died. So, that generation’s guilt was not complete until they all had died, except for Joshua and Caleb.

When Jesus gave His prophecies regarding the last days in Matthew 24, He indicated that times were going to get worse before the world was judged.

So, what I’m hypothesizing, in terms of a possible explanation for why God allows suffering, is that the guilt of Adam’s sin has not been completed, and that times will get worse before God intervenes. Although the OT stories of the Amorites and the Israelites is on a much shorter timeline, Adam’s guilt is continuing to this day.
The Israelites were promised Canaan when the current inhabitants were judged. But the irony was that the generation of the exodus was judged, themselves. Both had a time of punishment that needed to be completed.

God is not willing that any should perish, (2 Tim. 3:9) and is the reason He is delaying the redemption of the saints and the judgment of the unbelievers. We are seeing increased evil and apostasy occurring in our generation, such as what Jesus foretold. Could God be waiting for Adam’s iniquity to be full before He intervenes by taking the saints to be with Him in heaven (as the Israelites were promised Canaan-the land flowing with milk and honey) and judging those left behind? Is the increased suffering and indifference indication that Adam’s iniquity will soon be judged?

I’m wondering if this could be a valid explanation for suffering and evil in the world? Of course, any explanation could be valid, but since I haven’t heard something similar to date, would the apologetics community accept it as plausible?

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Hi Christian, thank you for answering the question in advanced!

In your opinion, what’s the most important piece of knowledge to be prepared with in order to share the Gospel in the current ‘dominant’ worldview in your sphere of influence? (I mean beyond the usual. Jesus is our Lord and Saviour comes to mind.

Do you mind sharing how you came to that conclusion too?)

Or maybe a better question could be.

What are some good habits that you’d recommend to an Emerging Evangelist? (Top 3 is fine. More is welcomed.)

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Hello Everyone,
Thank you for sending in your questions, which are all excellent and fascinating! It’s great to be with you at RZIM Connect this week!
My pattern will be to answer at least one question per day, and to see how far we get in the course of the week!
Greetings from Vienna,
Christian

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Dear Adriel,
Thank you for your terrific question!
My sense is that in many Western cultures people today often do not get to the point of asking whether Christianity is true. Why?
I can see two reasons:
First, secularization has shaped many of our contemporaries to the point where they think that Christianity is not at all plausible, and therefore also not relevant to them. Naturally, claims that appear entirely implausible to us, are usually also seen to be irrelevant. And so we typically don’t bother to try and find out whether they are true or not.
Second, many people in Western cultures today do not only think that Christianity is almost certainly not true. Worse, they think that if it were true, it would not be good news, but bad. Bad news for minorities, bad news for women, bad news for the weak and vulnerable, bad news for our planet, etc., etc.
So what is an evangelist to do?
The seventeenth century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal faced a context that was not too dissimilar. We can learn much from his advice, published in his famous Pensées:
“Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.”
So, Pascal’s step one would be to address the plausibility question. I think this can best be done by demonstrating to others in what way knowing God in Jesus makes a practical difference to our own personal lives. And also by explaining why our faith is a matter not only of the heart but also of the mind, how it satisfies our intellectual questions as well as the deepest longings of our heart.
Step two would be to show what terrific, joyful, wonderful, good news it would be, if the gospel were actually true. Great news for the person we are talking to. Great news for minorities, great news for women, great news for the weak and vulnerable, great news for our planet, etc., etc. To do this well requires deep thinking about the questions of our day and the answers of the biblical gospel of Jesus.
Finally, once people have seen that the gospel is beautiful and good, we would move to show them that it is, in fact, true. Here, classical apologetics would come in, from scientific evidence pointing to a creator to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
I think this three-step pattern makes a lot of sense in Western cultures today.

Finally, three tips for emerging evangelists:

  1. Take Jesus as your example: become known for your love, your humility, your kindness, your meekness, your welcome of outsiders.
  2. Take Jesus as your example: ask lots of questions; listen; discern; pray (a lot); live in step with the Spirit; know your Bible inside out; be diligent in your preparation; and don’t be frustrated when the time of preparation seems to take too long (Jesus prepared some 30 years for some 3 years of ministry)
  3. Take Jesus as your example: learn to discern when you need to be bold, and when to be gentle; depend on the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life; surrender your will to the will of God; expect great things of him.

I hope there’s enough in there for you to chew on for a while :slight_smile:

All the best from Vienna,

Christian

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Thanks so much for your perspective. I will keep it in mind moving forward.

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Hi Christian! Thanks so much for answering our questions. Here’s mine:

I was struck by the diversity of your background. Could you share about how you sought the Lord for direction about your calling and how he has directed your path?

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Dear Luna,
You raise an important, difficult question! I’ll try and answer it, and, at the same time, tell you how I went about finding an answer. None of this is rocket science, you can do it, too!
Frist, I looked up the precise wording of the verse in your question: the original Hebrew expression that both the NIV and the NASB translate as “girl” is composed of two Hebrew words, which mean “female” and “child”. Girl is of course the obvious and correct translation for that! The Hebrew expression does not by itself allow us to specify how old these girls might have been. However, the text itself adds one more qualifier, i.e. that the girls ought to be virgins. This of course raises the question of why this should be so.

What I did next is turn to my preferred guide to Old Testament commentaries, i.e. Tremper Longmann III’s Old Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic, 2013). There, I had a look which commentaries on Numbers he recommends. I found that I already owned one for his “five star” rated commentaries, viz. R.D. Cole’s commentary on Numbers in the New American Commentary series (Broadmann, 2001). Turning to his commentary on the section to which your question relates, I found the following:

“Holy war had as its purpose the eradication of all impure elements from the geographical region or ethnic territory placed under the ban. Coming on the heels of an idolatrous and adulterous affair at Baal Peor involving Israelite and non-Israelite participants, a cleansing of the camp was in order so that the sanctity and purity of the community might be maintained (5:1–4). The violence of war brings death in its most heinous and comprehensive forms, rendering the combatants in a state of ritual impurity. Therefore anyone who comes in contact with the dead in an open field of battle, or within the tent of one’s enemies in the pursuit of fleeing armies, must endure the process of ritual purification for the dead as outlined in 19:11–19. The impurity of death was a serious issue in ancient Israel, for anyone who failed to be cleansed was subject to the penalty of death, that of being totally cut off from the community of faith (19:11, 20). Such impurity made it necessary for Moses, Eleazar, and those clean persons who were dwelling within the holy camp to exit the encampment and meet the warriors and officers outside the camp so that any contaminants they might have been exposed to during the campaign would not be brought into the camp.
Deuteronomy 20:13–14 prescribed the killing of all the males in an attack on a city but allowed women, children, livestock, and various commodities to be plundered by the warriors. Moses, however, was angry with his military leaders and dismayed that the Israelite warriors returned with so many women among the spoils of war. He protested their actions, decrying the fact that it was primarily the Midianite women who had followed Balaam’s counsel by leading the Israelite men into idolatry and adultery, both of which were punishable by death. So he gave orders to slay all of the males, even the young boys, and any of the women who had engaged in sexual relations with a man. Ashley suggested that God ordered the young men to be executed “in order to destroy the means of future rebellion in Midian, and that all the women who were capable of sexual intercourse be killed in order to cut off the future population and to emphasize the nature of the sin of Baal-Peor.” Women who had known men sexually, whether Midianite or sinful Israelite men, were to be considered unclean, since they were the main instrument of Israel’s demise at Baal Peor. Only the young girls would be allowed to live so that they may be taken as wives or slaves by the Israelite men, according to the principles of holy war (Deut 20:13–14; 21:10–14). By this they could be brought under the umbrella of the covenant community of faith.”

There’s a lot in Cole’s commentary to chew on and mull over. It doesn’t answer all the questions which we might bring to the text, but it is a very helpful start.

To your specific question about alleged “sex slaves”: Israelite men were expressly forbidden to take women of conquered peoples as sex slaves. If they developed feelings for such a woman, they had to give her time to mourn her family, and then they could marry her, i.e. take her as a wife with all rights and responsibilities. If they should later want to divorce the woman, she had the same rights as any Israelite woman, i.e. she could be divorced but not sold as a slave, she had to be given freedom (Deut 21:10-14).

Now, we know from Jesus that Moses’ commands about divorce do not reflect the loving, good and perfect will of God, but are a concession to the hardness of human hearts (Matthew 19:8). So, while it’s correct to point out that the practice here described in the Old Testament was not a case of sex slavery equal to, say, the way ISIS has been treating Yesidi girls, we also should not defend the regulation and practice as reflecting the perfect will of God.

The standards that Jesus lived by, and calls us to live by as his followers, are much higher than that: love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you!

Does that give you a little food for thought and prayer?

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Christian_Hofreiter
Thanks a lot for this deep insight.
The organization of your thoughts and the clarity of your ideas will further enhance my preparation for an upcoming talk. I’m scheduled to address a group of young people in Nigeria sometime next month on the topic “The Urgency of the Gospel”.

The credibility of the gospel and its relevance is equally undergoing great scrutiny in most urban communities in Africa. The Christian faith seems not to have adequately proffered concrete solutions to the perceived realities most people are wrestling with. Poverty, corruption and injustice are glaring to the point of hushing the gospel to silence. In some quarters the contextual struggles are used as a basis the ridicule the gospel. A lot of young people lack the confidence and courage to carry their faith to the public space. I have been praying and trusting God for the wisdom to make my presentation simple, straightforward and impactful.
Once again, thanks.

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Yes that helps, Thank you. :slight_smile:

Dear Sharon,
What a fascinating way of thinking about the problem of evil!
I can see both strengths and weaknesses in the approach you suggest. A strength is that you begin with a verse of Scripture (Gen 15:16) and reflect to see whether there is a general principle that is expressed in the verse, and how this principle might be applied to other situations.
What I see as a weakness is that there aren’t many texts in the bible that state this as a general principle and explain how it applies, or that apply the pattern to the question of suffering. I myself would therefore be reluctant to deduce a general principle from the verse in Genesis.
In terms of the problem of pain more generally, I love what Ravi and Vince say and write about it. My own approach, in a nutshell, is as follows:
(1) It is certainly possible that an omniscient Being might have perfectly good reasons for allowing evil and suffering at the present moment, even though I, or other humans, cannot at present think of what these reasons might be. So, even if I cannot give a reason that convinces you or me or a professor of philosophy, it is not at all irrational for me to believe that a God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, has good reasons for setting the world up in the way he did. (“reformed epistemology”)
(2) It seems to me that without the freedom to say no and turn away, love is impossible. If God is indeed love (as the Bible says), and if he wanted to make us capable of loving him and one another (as the Bible teaches), he needed to give us free will. We, and other free beings, have abused this free will to say no to him. This has consequences: saying no to him means saying no to light, no to love, no to life – which, naturally, results in darkness, hatred or apathy, and death. It leads to all kinds of evil. (“free will defence”)
(3) Many times God brings forth good even out of injustice and suffering, shaping our souls through them. (“soul making”)
(4) You and I could not exist in a radically different world. So God certainly did not harm us by creating this world, rather than another, perhaps better one. In fact, if he wanted you and me to exist (which he did, according to the Bible – what a glorious thought!), this world is just the (kind of) world required for us to exist.
(5) Finally, I believe that God is not only just but also good not, primarily, because of these philosophical arguments but because the God I believe in as a Christian became one of us: in Jesus Christ God took on human nature. And he suffered not only for us, but also with us, he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. He knows what it is to feel that God is not there when we need him most. On the cross he cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” So the God I believe in knows suffering from the inside out.
But… Good Friday is not the last word. It is followed by Easter Sunday: death is defeated, suffering vanquished, Jesus is raised from the dead, vindicated. And then, Pentecost follows: the Holy Spirit is given to us as a down payment, a foretaste of heaven. We have hope. Our God heals the broken-hearted!
In other words, for me there is no deeper, fuller, more important, more Christian answer than to look at God made man, dying for us on the cross. And being raised to life again, offering to all humankind reconciliation with God, healing the wounds of our hearts and bodies, and giving us life eternal.
Every blessing,
Christian

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