Thursday, November 29, 2012

Was Ishmael Sent from Abraham to Arabia as an Infant?

In his recent debate with David Wood, Zakir Hussain asked whether Ishmael was sent to Arabia when he was an infant and before Isaac was born. The answer to that is no, for at least two reasons.

First, the whole reason that Ishmael was sent away was because he was making fun of Isaac on the day Isaac was weaned.
Genesis 21:8-21
And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac."
And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.
And God said unto Abraham, "Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed."
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, "What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation."
And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
As for the question of how old Ishmael was at that time, the Bible does not say precisely. We know that Abraham had Ishmael when Abraham was 86 (Genesis 16:16), and that Abraham had Isaac when he was 100 (Genesis 21:5). Thus, Ishmael was at least 14 when Isaac was weaned, and perhaps older (maybe 17 or 20). We know that Sarah died at 127 (Genesis 23:1), and that she had Isaac when she was 90 (Genesis 17:17), which gives a maximum age of 51 for Ishmael.

The text, however, makes clear that Ishmael had not yet married and repeatedly refers to him as a child, suggesting that he was at the younger end of the spectrum (from age 14-17 or so).

Zakir seems to think that the text says that the child Ishmael was placed on Hagar's shoulder. In the Authorized Version, what is on her shoulder is a water container (presumably an animal skin full of water), called a "bottle of water." In the NASB, it is both the water and bread on her shoulder.

This was the way that women of that time carried water, as can be seen in Rebekah doing the same thing (Genesis 24:15 and 45 and 24:46).

By contrast, nowhere in the books of Moses are women described as carrying young children on their shoulders (to my knowledge). Indeed, given that Hagar is already carrying water on one of her shoulders (and perhaps bread also?), it would be a little odd for her to try to simultaneously carry a child on the other shoulder.

In short, there is no good reason to suppose that Ishmael was a mere infant carried on Hagar's shoulders, when she was sent away.

Second, Hagar was not sent to Arabia. She was just sent away. For her, that "away" was toward her homeland of Egypt. The wilderness of Paran is somewhere between Israel and Egypt. More particularly it seems to be between Midian and Egypt (see 1 Kings 11:18), probably on the Sinai peninsula. It was somewhat close to Egypt, which is where Hagar found Ishmael's wife (see this map as one example of the approximate location of Paran).

Thus, contrary to Zakir's assertions, there is no contradiction in the text.  Ishmael was a young boy, but not an infant, when he was sent away.  He almost died of thirst in the wilderness when the water ran dry, but God miraculously saved him and his mother and made a great nation of him.


How is Jesus the Seed of Abraham, if Jesus had no Human Father?

Zakir Hussain in his recent debate with David Wood repeatedly asked the question, "How is Jesus the Seed of Abraham if he had no father?"

The answer is two-fold.

First, Jesus was adopted by Joseph, the husband of Jesus' mother, Mary.  So, while Jesus was not conceived by Joseph, he was the son of Joseph.  Joseph was a descendant of Abraham (see Matthew 1:1-16).

Second, Jesus was a physical descendant of Abraham because he was conceived of Mary.  Mary, whose father was Eli, was a descendant of Abraham (Luke 3:23-38).

Zakir's assumption that Abraham can only have descendants through males is simply mistaken.

We see that descent was also traced through daughters. This can be seen in the case of Zelophehad:

Numbers 26:33 And Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters: and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

Numbers 27:1-11
Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, "Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father."
And Moses brought their cause before the Lord.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying,
- If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.
- And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.
- And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren.
- And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses.
So, daughters as well as sons are the descendants of Abraham, and it is sufficient for Jesus that he was a son of Mary.

Of course, it is enough for us that the Scriptures describe Jesus this way:

Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

Even if we could not explain how this is so, we would accept it. But, as I've shown above, we can explain how.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Robert Gagnon on Divorce

I found it interesting to peruse Robert Gagnon's article on divorce, "Divorce and Remarriage-After-Divorce in Jesus and Paul" (available here), which was a response to an article by David Instone-Brewer.  Among Gagnon's comments:
Whether Jesus would have adopted an exception for adultery as Matthew thought, I do not know. I doubt that he would have permitted separation for anything less than adultery that was both persistent and unrepentant, given his teaching on forgiveness (Matt 6:14; 18:15-35) and the message of the six antitheses in Matt 5:21-48 (including the antitheses about not being angry, keeping one‟s vows, turning the other cheek, and loving one‟s enemy). He did not address the question of physical abuse but, consistent with the approach of later rabbis, I suspect that he would have regarded this as a criminal matter. One might reasonably guess that, as a safety precaution, he would have allowed separation if staying in the same domicile posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm. If he would have allowed remarriage for anything, undoubtedly it would have been for a divorce that occurred on the grounds of persistent and unrepentant adultery and extreme physical endangerment, and perhaps too for abandonment. Yet I think the evidence suggests that he would not have permitted remarriage for anything less than the death of one‟s spouse (and it wouldn‟t count if the spouse who did the divorcing was the killer). For anything else separation might be necessary but the remarriage remains intact. There can never be a real “divorce” apart from death of one of the spouses.
I don't endorse his comments. For example, Gagnon's acceptance of the idea of a primitive pre-gospel source document (Q) and specifically Gagnon's suggestion that Matthew does not reflect the historical Jesus where Matthew departs from the purely speculative Q, is something I utterly anathematize.

More directly interesting to my discussion with Steve, Gagnon states:
Jesus could have said that he preferred a strict interpretation of the phrase ‘ervath davar in Deut 24:1 (“a nakedness of a thing,” “an indecency of some sort” understood as adultery—the Shammaite interpretation) over a loose interpretation (understood as anything that the husband might find objectionable about his wife—the Hillelite interpretation). In other words, he could have kept the debate within the law of Moses. But he didn‟t. Instead, even in Matthew‟s version (which Instone-Brewer favors over Mark‟s), Jesus contrasted what Moses permitted with what God implicitly disallowed in Gen 1:27 and 2:24: “Moses, with a view to your hardness of heart, permitted you to release [i.e. divorce] your wives; but from the beginning it has not happened in this way [or: it was not so]” (Matt 19:8). [Fn8] “So they [i.e., the man and woman joined in marriage in Gen 2:24] are no longer two but one flesh. What then God yoked together a human must not separate. . . . Whoever releases [i.e. divorces] his wife—not for sexual immorality [adds Matthew]—and marries another commits adultery” (Matt 19:6, 9; cf. Mark 10:8b-9, 11). For Jesus, God‟s will in creation trumped subsequent relaxations of that will, including deviations in Scripture found in the law of Moses.
While Gagnon obviously disagrees, Gagnon is highlighting the issue I raised. Jesus is correcting an overly broad liberal view of Deuteronomy 24:1 that permitted divorce for any reason, by explaining (in the Matthew account) that it was only for adultery. It might be interesting to explore the Shammaite vs. Hillelite distinction he mentions (and the documentary basis for it).

Gagnon's conclusion is natural, given his rejection of the adultery exception as Jesuit (i.e. of Jesus), but given my acceptance of it, the opposite conclusion derives.

I would also agree, incidentally, with Gagnon's observation that it is male hardness of heart (not female hardness of heart) that is mind in Jesus' comment about the reason that divorce was permitted at all.

In any event, it made for some interesting reading. Thanks to my unnamed reader who pointed it out to me.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rights of Women and Slaves in the Old Testament Law

Turretinfan asks “What makes you think that a wife has greater rights than a slave?” I found myself quoted that way in the comment box of a blog. Unfortunately, the question was taken out of context, and some of the readers naturally arrived at some odd conclusions. For example, a woman going ironically by the handle "Mara" (Hebrew for bitterness, see Ruth 1:20) wrote:
What compels Turrentinfan to decide to believe that a wife is on the level of a slave. I smell a bitter man looking to gain control over (a female) someone else and trying to use the Bible as his club to beat that someone back into his control, er I mean under submission to him.
And so many want to believe that deep bitterness is mostly a female problem.
And again:
Yes, fortunately Steve is able to give a good answer. I’d just be like, “Dude, are you going through an ugly divorce? Or was your mother some sort of psycho? Why are you hating on women so much that you gotta use God and the Bible to reduce them down to slavehood?”
The question was clearly read as meaning that I place women and slaves on the same level, which I don't. Since this confusion is natural given the acontextual quotation, perhaps some clarification is in order.


First, the context of the question was what was the status of a wife under the law of Moses (not what is the status of a wife in general or what is the status of a wife in western societies or in any other particular situation). Steve's argument depended on a theory that wives had greater rights under the law of Moses than slaves did. I was asking Steve to demonstrate that. I don't think Steve has, not that it matters for the purposes of this post.

Problem of Anachronism

The idea of "rights" as such is somewhat anachronistic. That's not how the Mosaic law operated. When we analyze the Mosaic law in terms of "rights," we need to be aware of the fact that we are analyzing it through a foreign paradigm.

Lack of Uniformity - Vagueness of Rights-based Analysis

One problem with the question (and with Steve's claim) is that the bundle of "rights" is not easily defined. Rights are not like money in the bank. Moreover, the legal protections provided to wives and slaves do not line up. For example, the Torah itself does not usually say, "For a slave do this, but for a wife do that." But we can consider some examples.

Right to Contract

Wives in the Torah had a limited right to contract, and the same rule applied to unmarried women/girls living with their fathers. Numbers 30 provides the details:
And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded.
If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her youth; and her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.
And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; and her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her.
But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.
And if she vowed in her husband's house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath; and her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. but if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and the Lord shall forgive her.
Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void. but if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.
But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.
These are the statutes, which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father's house.
Notice that males generally were permitted to contract (make binding vows) but females could only do this if they were widowed or divorced. Unmarried women were under their fathers and married women were under their husbands. They could make binding vows, but those binding vows were conditional on the non-opposition of their husbands/fathers.
Notice that this principle makes no distinction between bond and free. Thus, with respect to the issue of making binding vows, a male slave had more "rights" than a wife had (although female slaves were treated the same as free women with respect to this provision).
Indeed, you may recall that one of the binding vows that a slave could make was the vow of perpetual servitude. As Exodus 21:1-6 explains:
Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
(By the way, note that male Hebrew slaves by default were only subject to their masters for a maximum of six years, whereas wives were married for life, assuming no divorce.)
Female slaves received a different treatment (Exodus 21:7):
And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
On the other hand, wives obtained freedom on the death of their husband. Paul explains (Romans 7:3):
So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
We also saw above how divorced and widowed women were free to make binding vows.

Right of Expectation

On the other hand, a wife generally had a right to expect certain things from her husband. For example, the first wife to bear a son was entitled to have her son treated as her husband's firstborn, whether or not she was his most favored wife (Deuteronomy 21:15-17):
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
There was no corresponding right that slaves had of their masters to expect anything from them. There is an exception for slaves who were also wives. Slaves who were also wives actually had either equal or greater protections of their expectations than ordinary wives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14):
When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, and seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
This was also similarly true of Hebrew slave wives (Exodus 21:7-11):
And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
As a result, you may recall that Samuel's mother, Hannah, received more favorable treatment than her rival wife, Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:4-5):
And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: but unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.


Wives and slaves are not on "the same level" in the Torah. Indeed, they are overlapping categories, such a slave could also be a wife. Even if, in some senses, a male slave may have had more "rights" than a wife, that may be misleading. For example, a husband has a greater moral obligation to his wife than a master has to his slave. A husband is called to sacrifice himself for his wife, as Christ did for the church. While masters are also called to a love of their slaves, it's not the same love. Thus, even if legally a male slave had more "rights," morally a wife has more "rights."
More importantly, it would be foolishness for a man who hated women to seize on the legal inferiority of women as an excuse or weapon for his hatred. That would be very similar to an adult picking on the legal inferiority of children and using that as an excuse for hating them. I'll add as well that the rules about slaves can be misused by people who hate other races. None of that misuse of Scripture is warranted.
I don't blame "Mara" for misunderstanding, but I do think it is worth clarifying. Hopefully this post does help to clarify both the legal status and the difference between moral and legal status. Male and female are both in the image of God. Bond and free are both in the image of God. Even within the church men and women are not equals. Yet the clear-thinking reader will distinguish between the moral and legal statuses.


What Does Norm Geisler Mean by Predetermination?

One major objection to Norman Geisler's "Chosen But Free" was Geisler's odd treatment of the relationship between God's eternal decree of providence and God's knowledge of the future. Calvinists (and even Molinists) handle this kind of issue in a relatively straightforward way.

By contrast, Geisler skirts around the issue in his book. He mentions the term "providence" a few times, but does not explain his own position using that term. Instead, he summarizes his own position in terms of the relationship between "predetermination" and "foreknowledge."

For example, Geisler claims that it is right to speak of God "knowingly determining and determinately knowing" (CBF, 3rd ed. p. 145). Dr. James White's discussion can be found here (link).

Geisler refuses to provide any logical order to knowledge and determination. One feasible explanation for this is that Geisler views them as one and the same thing.

Geisler even states:

"But if God is simply (absolutely one), then both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in Him. That is, whatever God knows, He determines. And whatever He determines, He knows. ... whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what He foreknows. Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He fore-chose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God." (pp. 145-46) (my emphasis)

Moreover, Geisler makes a similar equation in several other places:

  • "The future (including free choices) is determined from the standpoint of God's foreknowledge but free from the vantage of our free will." (p. 20)
  • "The story is predetermined from the standpoint of God's omniscience ..." (p. 151)
  • "God knows for certain (=predetermined) precisely how we will use our freedom (= freely determined)." (p. 154)
  • "there is no contradiction in claiming that God knew for sure (i.e., predetermined) ..." (p. 155)
  • "Whatever God foreknows must come to pass (i.e., is predetermined)." (p. 156)
  • "God's foreknowledge and foredetermination cannot be separated." (p. 159)
  • "from the vantage point of His omniscience, the act is totally determined." (p. 225)

Moreover, Geisler's equation seems to be apparent in Geisler's use of distinctions from alternative views. For example, Geisler refers to "strong determinism" in this way:

"Fourth, this view is a form of strong determinism, which alleges that our moral actions are determined (caused) by another rather than self-determined (caused by ourselves)." (p. 41)

But Geisler refers to his own position this way:

"By determined here we do not mean that the act is directly caused by God. It was caused by human free choice (a self-determined act). By determined is meant that the event's inevitability was fixed in advance since God knew infallibly it would come to pass. Of course, God predetermined that it would be a self-determined action; He was the remote and primary cause. Human freedom was the immediate and secondary cause." (p. 156, n. 34)

In other words, Geisler resolves what he sees as an apparent contradiction between predetermination and freedom by effectively converting predetermination into certain foreknowledge.

For example, at pp. 156-57, Geisler uses the example of a taped football game to illustrate an example of something being both free and predetermined. In response to the objection that this is only both free and predetermined because the game happened in the past, Geisler responds (p. 157):
In response, we need only point out that if God is all-knowing (omniscient), from the standpoint of his foreknowledge the game was predetermined. He knew exactly how it was going to turn out in time, though we did not. Therefore, if God has infallible foreknowledge of the future, including our free acts, then everything that will happen in the future is predetermined, even our free acts. This does not mean these actions are not free; it simply means God knows for sure how we are going to use our freedom.
Then, only one page later (p. 158), Geisler writes: "It is determined in the one sense that God foresaw it."

A similar analysis can be made of Geisler's marriage proposal scenario at pages 146-47.

Possibly there is another explanation, but for all the world it looks like Geisler is equating (he even uses the equals sign) predetermination and certain advance knowledge. While such an approach may resolve any conflict between "predetermination" and human freedom, it doesn't resolve the apparent difficulty that Geisler himself raises against what he calls "Extreme Arminianism," at page 143.

On that page, in criticizing "Extreme" Arminianism, Geisler appears to endorse the idea that God does not simply foreknow what happens, but that God is actually in control of all that happens. But when it comes to Geisler's description of "the balanced view," the idea of "control" seems to disappear. Geisler seems to rely instead on knowledge rather than control.

If any of Geisler's fans would care to clarify things for me from Geisler's book, I'd appreciate it. But until I see a better explanation, it appears that Geisler simply is unable to escape the problem he poses for so-called "Extreme Arminians."  He's stuck basically reducing God to the position of a person who knows the future but does not control it any more than the guy watching a taped football game.  Indeed, as noted above, Geisler specifically states: "By determined is meant that the event's inevitability was fixed in advance since God knew infallibly it would come to pass."  But that does make determination logically subsequent to knowledge, despite Geisler's protests to the contrary.