Tuesday, August 24, 2010

353: It's a Dreadful Thing

Hebrews 7-10
"It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." - Hebrews 10:31

Chapter 7 seems to be trying to convince us how great Melchizedek was, and how Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek. Again, whoever this is, is just pandering to the Hebrews. If Jesus was a "priest on the order of Melchizedek" you'd think he, or one of the gospel writers, would have mentioned it. In fact, you'd think he would have used this argument to avoid execution.

Chapter 8 talks about a "new covenant". The writer says that Jesus's new covenant is better than the covenant of the Old Testament. Jesus does speak of a new covenant when he is telling his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Why doesn't the writer of Hebrews mention that you have to cannibalize Jesus to ratify this new covenant?

Chapter 9 starts by telling us all about the old tabernacle. As if I ever wanted to hear about the tabernacle again. The writer explains (needlessly, he is writing to Hebrews) that the priests could only enter the tabernacle once a year, and they had to enter with offerings (animal blood).

The writer goes on to compare this to Jesus. He says that Jesus entered his metaphorical ("Not of this world") tabernacle, and used his own blood instead of the blood of goats and cattle. The writer then asks us if the blood of goats can sanctify someone, how much more will the blood of Jesus sanctify us. Uh, I don't know. It kind of seems like comparing apples to oranges. I thought God didn't like human sacrifices anyway.

The bible then concludes that because we are so sanctified by Jesus, he is the mediator for the new covenant. The chapter ends with the bible saying that Jesus has once and for all sacrificed himself for our sins. However, Jesus will return to "bring salvation" to those who are waiting for him. Didn't he already bring us salvation?

The beginning of chapter 10 just reiterates that Jesus was sacrificed once and for all for all our sins. The end of the chapter, however, says that if we continue sinning after we have heard the knowledge of Jesus's salvation, no sacrifice for sins will be left. The writer says that people were killed for disobeying the laws Moses, and tells us to consider how much more someone would be punished for "trampl[ing] the Son of God under foot". He says that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of God. According to the writer of Hebrews, God is still the same fear inducing being that he's always been.

This is the Christian Post's review of John Loftus's "The Christian Delusion":
Like most of the contributors to The Christian Delusion John sets out fists a flyin’ with a cold slap from Isaac Asimov who barks out:

“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” (181)

It is right there that I got held up. Let’s call this sentence the “Village Atheist Challenge”. In order to analyze it, allow me to present a parallel. I call it the “Tree Hugger Challenge”:

“Properly driven, the Ford GT is the most potent force for horseback riding ever conceived.”
I didn't realize someone could "bark out" things in writing. Nor do I imagine that Isaac Asimov meant his words in spite. This "parallel" is probably the most obvious example of a straw man argument I've ever seen. Let's here more about this Ford GT:
“The proper way to drive the Ford GT is on a narrow, rugged dirt path. But it is horribly inept at doing this. Horses, by contrast, are very adept at doing this. So we ought to be riding horseback instead of driving GTs.”

I dare say, with a rationale like that our tree hugger doesn’t know if he is afoot or horseback. How would you respond to this reasoning? Would you fall off your chair? Hurl a quart of Penzoil at the tree hugger in disgust? Pull out all your bling that sports the Blue Oval and provocatively jangle it in his dreadlock-framed face? Whatever you might do, you certainly would not be satisfied with his explanation.
I'm not even sure what this has to do with the bible any more. First of all, I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what Asimov meant by "properly". I don't think he meant "correctly", I think he meant "thoroughly". I base this assumption (not knowing the context of his quote) by how throughly Asimov read the bible. In fact, he wrote a 1296 page book about it.

Most people read the bible, but they don't give it a proper reading. That is, they quote mine and pick at the good parts, and then conclude that it must only say good things. Anyway, lets pretend for a moment that Asimov thought he had figured out the "proper" way to read the bible. Back to the straw man:
Here’s the obvious problem: his rationale is silly and question-begging. On my view, the GT was meant to be driven on the Nürburgring or Route 66, not on a rutted horse path. And so long as I find it so enormously capable of driving in those conditions I shall continue to do so.
Again, the writer of this article is doing a great job of ripping down his straw man, but he's still not actually talking about the original statement. It's not even a good analogy. The analogy would imply that the bible is only good in some situations, which most Christians would vehemently deny.
Now back to the Village Atheist Challenge. What, according to Isaac Asimov, is the proper way to read the Bible? One that assumes it commends immoral behaviors and actions which are inconsistent with the authorship of a divine being. (You see, Asimov is an atheist to begin with so of course this is how he reads the Bible.)
There's no assumption, the bible does condone (if not commend) immoral behaviors. The bible regulates slavery, I see no way you could honestly read the bible and deny that. But, in fact, it was only after I read the bible that I knew most of the immorality it commanded (killing people for adultery, killing people for being homosexual, subjugating women, and many more). I made no assumption (nor do I think Asimov did) about what the bible contained before I read it (except possibly making some overly positive assumptions about Jesus).


  1. Heb 7:3: "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, and being made like to the Son of God, doth remain a priest continually." Originally Melchizedek lacked a genealogy because none nothing about his background was mentioned in Genesis, but then he became a supernatural, angelic, immortal, redeemer, like Enoch, Enosh, and eventually, Jesus. It's odd that he would be likened to Jesus in this way if the latter's parentage and genealogy were known (as in the Gospels, but not the epistles).

    Heb 7:7: "And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater." The same argument would be made by followers of John the Baptist to show that he was superior to Jesus.

    Heb 7:14. David was of the tribe of Judah, and the fact that it is "clear" that Jesus was of Judah appears to be scripturally derived, as usual. (If Jesus was actually known to be from Judah based on historical memory, this is not how one would normally phrase it.) Note that in 7:16 it says that Jesus is qualified to be a high priest, not on the basis of ancestry but on "the basis of the power of an indestructible life."

    Heb 7:22. The 3rd case where the name Jesus appears in all extant copies in correct grammatical form. However, the name could be removed without affecting the sentence, and indeed it does not appear in similarly constructed sentences such as 8:6.

    Heb 7:24. The name Jesus does not appear in the Greek.

    Heb 7:25. The argument here is that Jesus must work continuously to keep everyone saved. The act of his sacrifice apparently was not sufficient - he must be constantly interceding for everyone. And having one high priest who has died succeeded by another is apparently not good enough either, for reasons the author doesn't explain.

    Heb 7:26. Jesus was "set apart from sinners"?! So much for the Gospel picture of him associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, etc.

    Also, Jesus became "higher than the heavens." Is this a giant Jesus, as in the Gospel of Peter? Or did he ascend to some place above heaven, and if so, where would that be?

    Heb 7:27. If Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient and doesn't need to be repeated, why does he need to keep interceding on everyone's behalf every day?

  2. Verse Heb 8:4 is so startling in its implication, I have to discuss it separately.

    Heb 8:3-4: "Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he [i.e., Christ] were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law."

    First of all, the tense in v. 4 is the subjunctive, that is, the sentence is a counterfactual, and moreover it is technically in the past, so it could be (and in some translations is) translated as "If he had been on earth he would not have been a priest,...."



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