Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Biblical "Contradictions" - Does God Repent?

Skeptics love to allege that there are contradictions between the gospels when the gospels say different things. If one gospel describes God one way, and another gospel describe him another way, this is sometimes alleged to illustrate a contradiction.

One way to handle these claims is, of course, to address the particular alleged contradiction. Another approach - the approach that I have been adopting in this series - is to point out that the methodology of refusing to let the text speak harmoniously is the problem.

In the example I have selected for this post, there is a question of whether God repents or not. There are three verses found in the course of a single passage in 1 Samuel that relate to the issue. The first is at verse 11, then at 29, and finally at 35.

1 Samuel 15:9-35
But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments."

And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night. And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, "Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal."

And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, "Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD."

And Samuel said, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"

And Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed."

Then Samuel said unto Saul, "Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night."

And he said unto him, "Say on."

And Samuel said, "When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel? And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, 'Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.' Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?"

And Saul said unto Samuel, "Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal."

And Samuel said, "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king."

And Saul said unto Samuel, "I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD."

And Samuel said unto Saul, "I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel." And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent. And Samuel said unto him, "The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent."

Then he said, "I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God."

So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD. Then said Samuel, "Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites."
And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death is past."

And Samuel said, "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women." And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Notice that at the beginning and end of the passage it is written that the Lord repented. In the middle it says that the Lord will not repent. If the first and last descriptions of God were in two gospels, and the middle description was in a third, it would doubtless be alleged that the two gospels represent one position and the third gospel represents a different, conflicting, opinion.

In this case, though, the two "Lord repented" verses sandwich the "Lord will not repent" verse. Thus, it is natural to look for a harmonious explanation. And harmonious explanations are readily available.

For example, the expression "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent" may be viewed as contrasting the permanence of the removal of Saul with the transience of Saul's appointment as king. In addition, or alternatively, the expression, "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent," can be seen as referring to the fact that God speaks the truth, even about the future. The expression "the Lord repented," by contrast refers to a change in God's attitude toward Saul. Prior to this, God's attitude toward Saul was favorable, but after this it was favorable. Nevertheless, throughout the events, God kept His word. We can trust God, even though He cannot trust us.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

natamllc said...

I hope this digression is acceptable?

I notice in viewing the Hebrew and the Greek at both places, the first the second and third place in your quotation above, the Hebrew remains the same "Hebrew" word while the Greek differs.

Here's the Greek at 1 Sam. 15:11

μεταμέλλομαι
metamellomai
met-am-el'-lom-ahee
From G3326 and the middle of G3199; to care afterwards, that is, regret: - repent (self).


And here's the Greek at 1 Sam. 15:29

μετανοέω
metanoeō
met-an-o-eh'-o
From G3326 and G3539; to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction): - repent.


It is my unlearned assumption the cause is the Greeks had more sense to work with with their language that the Jews of Samuel's day theirs?

Would that be fair?

In any event, I stand with this conclusion:

TF:
" ... Nevertheless, throughout the events, God kept His word. We can trust God, even though He cannot trust us."

Joe Heschmeyer said...

Nice -- this is a good example. I absolutely agree that if these were found in separate places in Scripture, atheists would point to them as contradictions. Same for John 11:25-26,

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

If those were in separate places we'd hear that v. 25 taught that Christians die but go to Heaven, and that v. 26 taught that Christians don't even die. Of course, when they're next to each other, we see that atheistic legalism leads to absurd results. Pax Christi,

Joe

Craig French said...

Great post.

Perhaps more vexing is the abuse of this passage by Open Theists.

An old roommate in college argued with me from this passage that God changes His mind,changes in His passions, and also can be trusted at His word.

He wanted to have his cake and eat it while not eating it.