Apologetics: March 2006 Archives

In a discussion I was in recently, someone made the common claim that it would be morally abominable for God to have the ability to save all people but only in fact save some. If God has a plan of providence, as Christianity traditionally has said, and that plan includes exactly what will happen down to the level of what sparrows will eat on any given day (as Jesus seems to me to state in the sermon on the mount), what evil kings will do in their pride in order to punish God's people (as the prophets seem to me to state), and which people will be counted among those who believe (as the book of Acts seems to me to state), then if it also includes which people won't believe Christian thinks God is morally abominable, whether that leads to an eternal hell or just annihilation. The claim is something like that, anyway.

There's a lot that could be said about this claim, and I don't have the time to treat it comprehensively, but I find the move to be interesting given another common philosophical claim that I've seen made against the most common Christian view historically on the atonement, i.e. penal substitution. The claim is often made that it would be wrong for God to use Jesus, an innocent, to take the sins of humanity, because then we're not really being atoned for. It's true that someone is dying for our sins, but it's not justice according to this objection, because no one is getting what they deserve. Jesus is wrongly killed, and we're unjustly not getting what we deserve. How could a just God allow that?

What's interesting about these two objections to what I consider to be standard Christian views is that they can't both be right. If it's wrong to allow Jesus to die for people and thus have the people not get what they deserve, then it can't be wrong to allow people to go to hell when they could be saved. If it's wrong to allow people to go to hell when they can be saved, then it can't be wrong to allow Jesus to die in the place of sinners who would otherwise deserve to suffer eternally in hell. Those who find themselves attracted to both objections face a serious inconsistency. I can't even imagine how the same motivational structure could produce both objections unless they stem just from the motivation just to undermine Christianity at whatever cost, even if it's the cost of inconsistency.

Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why has become quite a publishing success since it came out in November. Those who know biblical studies will recognize it as mostly a good popularization of standard textual criticism (comparing the various manuscripts of biblical books to try to reconstruct with the text originally said). Those who don't know the subject will take it as a strong argument against the integrity of the Bible, but any familiarity with text criticism will demolish that impression rather quickly. Ehrman's conclusions on such matter simply don't follow from his arguments. I've not looked too much at the book itself, but I've read several reviews over the last few weeks:

Craig Blomberg in Denver Journal
Daniel Wallace at bible.org
Ben Witherington at his blog (which includes Wallace's comments with his own thoughts surrounding it)

All three scholars conclude that Ehrman's presentation of the actual data is excellent as an introduction at the popular level to a difficult field but that he paints his conclusions to suggest something way beyond what the data show. For instance, he handpicks the very worst cases of textual corruption and then acts as if those are fairly representative, when in reality hardly anything is on that level. I could go on, but I'd rather you just read what the biblical scholars say.

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