If God told you to sacrifice your child, would you?

Posted on 08/16/12 76 Comments

Jerry Shepherd believes that “The confession that Christ is Lord has to mean something.”

Agreed.

He then goes on to explain:

“And for me, one of the things it means is calling him Lord even when I don’t understand his ways, and, yes, even upon occasion, when my moral sensitivities are taken aback. But if I only call him Lord when he agrees with me, then I might as well just drop the pretenses and start conducting my worship services in front of my mirror.”

 This kind of statement preaches well, that’s for sure. And it’s true, so far as it goes. But in the present discussion over biblical moral atrocities, it doesn’t go far at all.

Here’s a picture of what Jerry is suggesting. You’re mountain climbing with a guide when he advises you to “Let go of the rope!” It doesn’t make sense, because if you let go of the rope you’ll tumble into the swirling mists and no doubt to certain doom on the rocky crags far below. But this is the moment of truth. Do you trust your guide, or not? Trusting your guide, and submitting to his direction, means willingness to accept what he says, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

And so you close your eyes, let go of the rope, and discover that there is a rocky ledge hidden in the mist just two feet below. There, wasn’t that easy?!

Similarly, Jerry is suggesting that if we’re going to trust Jesus as our guide, we have to accept his directions as well, even when they don’t make sense.

But it is precisely here that the analogy breaks down.

Consider another analogy. You have been having trouble raising your kids and so Nanny McPhee has agreed to leave helpful post-it notes around the house providing you with daily advice. If you really trust Nanny McPhee, you’ll follow her advice. After all, she is the most capable nanny around.

So you begin faithfully following her advice. “Be consistent with your rules.” “Establish your authority.” “Apologize when you make a mistake.” “Do not be overbearing.” And gradually you see the advice begin to work its magic.

But occasionally you find interspersed in the advice from Nanny McPhee advice like the following. “Bash your child’s head in with a hammer” and “Feed the baby to the dog.”

Would you follow that advice? Of course not.

Here’s the crucial point. By not following that advice, you wouldn’t be in any way intending to question the capability of Nanny McPhee. Instead, you’d likely be thinking one of two things. Either Nanny McPhee didn’t write those messages at all. Or if she did, she didn’t mean what they say. And so it would be positively perverse to suggest that a person who doesn’t follow that advice is refusing to trust Nanny McPhee. They trust her fully. But based on their knowledge of who Nanny McPhee is, they have excellent reasons to believe she would never command such things.

Jerry Shepherd has claimed that anybody who doesn’t accept biblical reports that God commanded the slaughter and mutilation of infants as devotional sacrifices to himself at face value doesn’t trust God.

That prompts a question for Jerry. If he heard a voice speak to him, identifying itself as God and commanding him to sacrifice one of his children, would he do so? If he wouldn’t even consider whether he ought to start sharpening his knife, then maybe he should just start conducting worship services in front of his mirror.

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  • http://twitter.com/AtheistMission TheAtheistMissionary

    This raises a related more general question for anyone who claims to have received a direct revelation/communication from their chosen deity. How do you discern between your deity, Descartes’ evil demon and a self-generated hallucination?

    • Crude

      How do you discern between anyone you meet on the street, Descartes’ evil demon and a self-generated hallucination?

      • R0c1

        Background knowledge.

        • Crude

          You’ll find it cashes out similarly.

  • Crude

    I’m not sure this is a fair question to Jerry. As near as I can tell, he’s saying “if God gives a command to do this thing, you should do it.” You’re not disputing that – instead you’re disputing whether the command comes from God.

    So let me ask a question of my own. God gives a command to kill. You either A) know this command comes from God, or B) if you’re going to play the skeptical ‘I can never be sure of anything except cogito ergo sum!’ card to A, then in this case assume that you truly believe the command comes from God.

    Do you follow the command?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “I’m not sure this is a fair question to Jerry. As near as I can tell, he’s saying “if God gives a command to do this thing, you should do it.” You’re not disputing that – instead you’re disputing whether the command comes from God.”

      But that’s exactly the problem since Jerry’s position (as you’ve stated it) begs precisely the question of how one knows God has spoken.

      Let’s say I ask: “If God told you to rape and torture a small child, would you do it?” There is such a thing as a bad question, and if ever there was a candidate for it, this is it.

      So then why is “If God told you to kill and mutilate your child as a devotional offering would you do it?” suddenly a good question?

      It is not a moral atrocity to kill another person,. After all, there are morally justified examples of killing. So the content of the demand would not serve as an automatic defeater to the supposition that a morally perfect being had commanded it.

      But the content of other actions is a moral atrocity, including the raping and torturing of a child that I noted above. Such the content of that action would constitute a defeater to the supposition that a morally perfect being had commanded it.

      • Crude

        But that’s exactly the problem since Jerry’s position (as you’ve stated it) begs precisely the question of how one knows God has spoken.

        I’m not sure. What question is Jerry begging? Jerry’s position seems to be that God can command things that strike us as morally appalling, but which actually are not. That response is only question begging depending on the question.

        So then why is “If God told you to kill and mutilate your child as a devotional offering would you do it?” suddenly a good question?

        Because it’s a different question, for one. The fact that you just said that killing is not necessarily a moral atrocity illustrates why that matters. I think people react differently to ‘killing’ and, say… ‘killing and wearing the corpse like it’s an overcoat’.

        And so the content of that action would constitute a defeater to the supposition that a morally perfect being had commanded it.

        It depends on how you’re reasoning to the morally perfect being.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “Because it’s a different question, for one.”

          It describes a different action, yes. But it describes an action which is prima facie just as overwhelming a candidate for moral atrocity.

          Surely you’re able to tell the difference between apparent morally justifiable instances of killing such as a doctor killing an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy, or a sharpshooter killing a criminal in a hostage situation, or a soldier killing his morally wounded friend before he is taken into captivity and tortured mercilessly by the enemy, and obvious cases of moral atrocity such as I’ve described.

          • Crude

            It describes a different action, yes. But it describes an action which is prima facie just as overwhelming a candidate for moral atrocity.
            Surely you’re able to tell the difference between apparent morally justifiable instances of killing such as a doctor killing an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy, or a sharpshooter killing a criminal in a hostage situation, or a soldier killing his morally wounded friend before he is taken into captivity and tortured mercilessly by the enemy, and obvious cases of moral atrocity such as I’ve described.

            See, my worry is that Jerry, right here, can say to you that you’re the one begging the question against him. Especially if your “obvious cases of moral atrocity” would be, say, “God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac”.

            I really question any moral calculus that works anything close to this: “I’d consider it immoral and wrong for average guy X to do Y. Therefore, I consider it immoral and wrong for God to do Y.” I think the logic and reasoning in such a case is terribly flawed, wildly flawed. It’s a little like trying to decide if a given surgical procedure (say, surgically removing a woman’s uterus because of cancer) by asking, “Do you think it’s moral for a man to cut open a woman and take out her uterus?” You’re bracketing out relevant differences or even potential differences in known, power, etc.

            Put another way, I think I could say something like this to you: Surely you’re able to tell the difference between apparent morally justifiable instances of killing such as a doctor killing an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy, or a sharpshooter killing a criminal in a hostage situation, or a soldier killing his morally wounded friend before he is taken into captivity and tortured mercilessly by the enemy, or a man sacrificing his son by the command of God Himself, and obvious cases of moral atrocity.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Your comments completely ignore the argument I presented Crude.

              Consider the case I’ve often referred to when I’ve discussed child sacrifice, viz. Dena Schlosser’s sacrifice of her infant by hewing off the child’s arms with a butcher knife at the behest of Jesus.

              Any reasonable, properly functioning person rightly is maximally skeptical that Schlosser’s actions were in fact either commanded or commended by Jesus.

              • Crude

                Your comments completely ignore the argument I presented Crude.

                Unintentional. I’m trying to get a lock on what you’re saying.

                Any reasonable, properly functioning person rightly is maximally skeptical that Schlosser’s actions were in fact either commanded or commended by Jesus.

                Well, I’d add “properly informed” as well. And my comments in another thread about “proper function” would come back here. I’m tempted to agree, given that, however.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Your comments about proper function in that other thread spoke vaguely about psychiatrists but never provided a defeater for our moral intuitions, so they’re not relevant.

                  • Crude

                    No, my comments about “proper function” spoke specifically about explaining what it even means, which will ultimately come down to grounding the claim. How do you tell what a properly functioning person is? What is the standard? The natural law theorists have one way to explain this. Theistic personalists will have another. Atheist materialists will have still another.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      If you’re interested in seeing what “proper function” means in epistemology (the relevant discipline) there is an abundant literature courtesty of Mr. Plantinga, his sympathizers and his critics.

  • Walter

    I would say that if God wants my child dead, he can do it himself. He doesn’t need my help to kill anyone. And if it is simply a test of faith, then I guess that I am going to have to fail that test.

    • Crude

      What if a scientist, well-respected and well-credentialed, assures you somberly that your child should die for the benefit of humanity?

      • Walter

        I’d tell the scientist what body part of mine he or she can kiss.

        • JD

          Glad to see you are opposed to abortion, Walter.

        • http://www.retheology.net/ Jared Miller

          What if 1000 lives could be saved through that sacrifice? or 1million? 1billion? Every life from here on out? I actually agree with your reaction, but I wonder where the premise comes from? Not having kids myself, is there really something so sublime as the life of kin, and if there is, where does it find its root apart from the (minimal) imago dei?

        • randall.morrison90

          No you wouldn’t.

          • Walter

            You don’t know me or anything about me, so why don’t you go troll somewhere else.

  • Alex Dalton

    Randal – do you think the account of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his child is fictional?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Do you think it is consistent with God’s perfect moral nature to have asked Abraham to torture and mutilate his spouse in such a way that doubly ensures her barrenness as a test of his faith?

      • http://www.retheology.net/ Jared Miller

        *dodge*

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I guess you’d accuse Jesus of a *dodge* in Mark 11:29. Looks like I’m in good company.

  • JD

    If the government told you to abort your child, for the quality of life of other children, would you?

  • Paul D.

    It gets even worse when discussing the genocides and other moral atrocities of the Old Testament. The Israelites weren’t being commanded by the audible voice of God, they were being commanded by Moses or Joshua or Samuel. So the question becomes, if your pastor told you to go slaughter everyone in the next town over, including the children and babies, would you do it?

  • Bryan L

    Randal,
    This is along the lines of something I’ve been thinking about in the last year. I used to believe the Bible was the foundation for knowledge of ethics but I realized that there are certain things we (Christians) would never believe the Bible teaches regardless of whether we found them in the Bible. In fact when we read something in the Bible that seems to support a view or action that is unethical we look for a way to read it differently or to explain it away. Jesus says hate your mother and father and we think he obviously can’t mean that so we find a different way to read that. Paul says women can’t speak in church and we can’t believe he’s a male chauvinist and really doesn’t want women to speak in church so we find another way to read that (assuming it’s not an interpolation). God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son and we think he couldn’t have possibly really wanted Abraham to sacrifice his son or thought child sacrifice is sometimes ok. There’s probably a thousand examples of this where we choose to interpret scripture in the best light, and that light is based on our prior views of right and wrong.

    How can it possibly be the foundation for our knowledge of ethics when we have ethical beliefs that make it impossible to interpret the Bible in certain ways even if it could easily.

    I think William Abraham’s book “Canon and Criteria in Christian Theology” kind of jump started my thinking in this direction. He argues against using Scripture as an epistemic criterion.

    I don’t know if this is what you’re arguing for but I’d appreciate some insight and reading suggestions for how you’ve come to your views. BTW, I’ve asked you for reading suggestions a few times and you’ve never responded, so hook me up man. I need to know what some good books are that have helped you comes to your view of ethics. I’d like to explore these ideas in more detail.
    Thanks.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Sorry for failing you in the past!

      On ethics I’ve really benefited from J. Budziszewski’s writing on the moral law and John Hare on morality, theism and naturalism and Alasdair MacIntyre on moral virtue.

      In “You’re not as Crazy as I Think” I critique “The Truth Project” when it says that only 9% of Christians have a “biblical worldview”. The statistic comes from Barna who uses truly bizarre criteria to define “biblical worldview’, including the stipulation that one believes the Bible is the source of all moral truth. (I can’t remember if that’s the exact wording but it’s close.) That kind of thinking is very common, and completely in need of merciless deconstruction.

      • Bryan L

        Thanks for the book recommendations and I’ll check out your book as well.

  • FroKid04

    Regarding Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, let’s not forget the crucial dimension of the story highlighted by the author of Hebrews in 11:17.

    “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten, to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be named.’ Abraham considered that God is able to raise even from the dead, from which he also received him back in a parable.”

    Abraham did not offer Isaac believing that he would stay dead. Abraham was able to offer Isaac because he believed God would be faithful to His covenant promises to bless the world through Isaac, even if it was necessary to raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill them. So he had more data to work with than just, “What God commands me to do sounds immoral but I know God commands me to do it.” He had God’s specific promises for the world concerning Isaac, and he had faith in God’s resurrection power.

    I’m not sure of all the ways in which this fact changes the nature of the discussion, or if it does at all, but as Christians we can never forget the resurrection.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Consider another story in which a patriarch believes he has been commanded to mutilate his wife’s sexual organs so that she can never bear the child that will become a nation. BUT he believes that after he mutilates her sexual organs God will restore them so that she can bear the child.

      This is a horrifying story, isn’t it? And the patriarch’s belief that God will heal his wife if he is faithful to the command is at best marginal consolation for the unspeakable horror.

      How do things change when the case is the no less horrifying slaughter and mutiliation of one’s son for ritual sacrifice?

      • FroKid04

        Here is where I would introduce my restitution based theory of atonement. No, the action of mutilation is no less horrifying, but in order for someone to merit the right of restitution, or healing, for such destruction, the destruction must be born by an innocent party, because justice only demands restitution for damage done to innocent parties.

        I don’ think that God is justifying the act of killing when He commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, or when He commands any of the Israelites to perform sacrifices. I believe the slaying of the sacrifice is an action that represents sin, so God is in fact acknowledging the horror of sin’s destruction, not justifying it. But God commands that this horrific destruction fall on an innocent party, because only an innocent party can merit the right of restitution for such horrific destruction. That is what God is communicating. Ultimately, God Himself will volunteer to be the innocent party that bears the destruction on the cross, to win the right of restitution on our behalf in the Resurrection. This right of restitution for sin’s destruction, won on behalf of others, could also be called: forgiveness.

        What is so troubling for us is that God, in commanding sacrifices, is in some sense commanding an injustice to take place. He is commanding that sin fall on innocent parties. Why would He do that? Because a sinner who destroys themselves in their own sins has no right of restitution for their destruction. No injustice, on a divine level, is being committed when sinners commit sins against themselves, or even when sinners sin against other sinners. This is the world that Adam plunged us into. A terrifying world of sin, but in which no sin can be credited as an injustice. If God is to be just in achieving restitution for self-destructive sinners whom He loves, someone innocent, must bear their sin, and so win the right of restitution for sin’s destruction on their behalf. We now have a clue for why innocent animals had to die for people to make covenants, from which people based certain covenantal rights of restitution and retribution.

        To your specific story: let’s say there is a community of women who have all been deceived by a cult leader into mutilating their own wombs. According to the town Judge, women guilty of their self-mutilation have no right of restitution for the destruction they have done to themselves, because they are guilty of the harm. But the town Judge says, if mutilation was committed against an innocent party, then the innocent party has the right to be healed of her affliction. So one woman, who is innocent and did not damage herself, approaches the cult leader and calls him a disgusting liar to his face. The cult leader, out of anger, mutilates her womb. She as the innocent party therefore has the right of restitution for this destruction. Well, she decides to bring the rest of the community of women under her insurance policy, or “covenant” and therefore she wins the right of restitution for the whole community of wounded women, and all their wombs are healed.

        I don’t know if this helps us with the Canaanite situation. But I do know this: we only have half the story, and there will be restitution in the resurrection.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Thanks for your atonement thoughts FroKid04. I find myself a bit conflicted about engaging them because the atonement is another whole area of debate, no less contorted and disputed than the debates over moral epistemology that we’ve been occupied with. Nonetheless, I’ll offer some comments.

          “God commands that this horrific destruction fall on an innocent party, because only an innocent party can merit the right of restitution for such horrific destruction”

          This, of course, begs a very large question: why would this be so? Does one have to accept this as an axiomatic starting point, or do you have an independent argument for the truth of this claim?

          “Ultimately, God Himself will volunteer to be the innocent party that bears the destruction on the cross, to win the right of restitution on our behalf in the Resurrection.”

          This statement is complicated by the Trinity. God the Son volunteers and God the Father sends him.

          There’s much else I could say, but let me ask two questions. First, are you saying that an action is morally justifiable so long as it fits somehow into the atonement schema you’ve provided?

          Second, it seems that you’ve provided a justification for infant sacrifice. Isn’t that a problem?

          • FroKid04

            “The atonement is another whole area of debate”

            I admit I am responding to one can of worms by opening another. Thanks for replying anyway.

            “God commands that this horrific destruction fall on an innocent party, because only an innocent party can merit the right of restitution for sin’s destruction”

            The important part of the sentence is “only innocent parties have the right of restitution for such horrific destruction.” The “God commands” part, taken out of context, could be very confusing. Why is it that only innocent parties have the right of restitution for damages done to them? I suppose I could say this is now justice is defined according to God’s covenantal promises. Restitution, the undoing of sin’s destruction, for damages to innocent (or righteous) parties, and retribution, the return of the sin upon the sinner’s own head, for guilty parties. The restitution principle is clearly stated in Numbers 5:6, and the retribution principle is clearly stated in Leviticus 24:17.

            “God the Son volunteers and God the Father sends him.”

            I agree with this clarification. The point remains, God Himself will provide the innocent party who wins the right of restitution for the rest of creation.

            “Are you saying that an action is morally justifiable so long as it fits somehow into the atonement schema you’ve provided?”

            No. I am saying the opposite. For sin to be credited as an injustice, it must be committed against an innocent party. So I am not justifying moral atrocities, I am “unjustifying” them. I order for a moral atrocity to be an unjust moral atrocity, the action must be committed against someone who does not deserve it. Why do morally atrocious people not deserve to have moral atrocities committed against them? Why do sinners not deserve to be sinned against? Would not a righteous Judge look down upon a world in which sinners sin against other sinners and say such a world was just? Terrible, yes, but perfectly just. This is the world Adam plunged us into. But God looks down and says, “I will make a covenant with these people, in which all of sin’s destruction will be restored for damages done to those who are righteous to my covenant. And even though they will fail in being righteous, I Myself will become the righteous man, and bear all of their destruction against Myself on a cross, unto death, and win the right of restitution for all of them, which will be proven when I rise from the dead, remake their world, regenerate their souls, and restore their bodies.”

            So if I sin against you, what right do you have, as a sinner, to complain that I have done anything unjust? An innocent party must bear my sin against you on your behalf in order for my sin against you to be “un-justified.” Once this happens, then you have the rights of restitution and retribution for the wrong I have done you, but only based on the rights that the innocent party has bestowed upon you. So in claiming that I have committed an injustice against you, you are actually making a claim based on borrowed rights, rights that Jesus has won on your behalf by bearing my sin against you upon Himself. To jump ahead a bit, I believe that the Incarnation of God, and His suffering as the innocent party on behalf of man, is the foundation for human rights. Without His undeserved suffering on our behalf, none of us could claim that our sufferings are undeserved. So let’s not assume our human rights too hastily.

            God is not justifying child sacrifice in the case of Isaac. It’s the exact opposite. He is providing the means for child sacrifice to be an injustice, by commanding that an innocent child bear the sin of man. He is saying, “in order for child sacrifice to be credited as an injustice, an innocent child must die.” But remember that ultimately, it is God Himself who provides the innocent child in His Son Jesus Christ.

            “Are you justifying infant sacrifice?”

            Refer to my previous response. Far from justifying infant sacrifice, the principles I am outlining are necessary to make infant sacrifice unjustified.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Randal,

        The very real and very significant problem you have here is that you are arguing that not only the OT but also the author of Hebrews and the Apostle James were wrong when they considered Abraham’s action to be a righteous act of faith. I’m looking forward to reading your sola scriptura discussion.

        Blessings,
        Jerry

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I’ll make some points about Abraham next week. In the interim, it’d be great if you could respond to the mutilation-as-a-test-of-faith example I gave.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Randal,
            Nah, I’ll wait for your stuff first. I’ll deal with hypotheticals after you deal with actualities
            Blessings
            Jerry

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Let’s see. I’ve already presented an argument on the moral equivalency of devotional sacrifice and devotional rape, and you’re refusing to reply until I present another, tangentially related discussion on Abraham? I guess that means I won’t discuss Abraham at all, because if you cannot address the current topic there’s no sense in raising another.

              • Jerry Shepherd

                Hi Randal,

                Your reply here is awfully hard to understand. You refer to the “tangentially related to discussion on Abraham,” and then say that if I “cannot address the current topic there’s no sense in raising another.”

                Let me get this straight. The article currently under discussion is entitled, “If God told you to sacrifice your chlld, would you?” Wow, sounds an awfully lot like the Abraham sacrifice of Isaac story. And let me see, the author of the article is . . . oh, yes, Randal Rauser — not a guest blogger, but Randal Rauser. But, somehow or other, the Aqedah is now only a “tangentially related” discussion, another topic altogether.

                How you could have even written the article without making reference to Abraham is, to say the least, mind-boggling. You see, this is where the true test of sola scriptura, not that misdirection stuff you did with the so-called fidelity critierion the other night. Sola scriptura is not about everyone arriving at the same interrpetation. It is about Scripture alone as the source of the church’s teaching on faith and conduct. That you could write the article without even mentioning Abraham, and then considering it to be another topic — this is what indicates what your stance really is on sola scriptura.

                Blessings,
                Jerry

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Jerry, it’s actually quite easy to understand. I’ve presented you with a very clear question that goes to the heart of my argument and asked for an answer. You’ve declined to provide an answer. As a result I am unable to advance the conversation.

                  • Jerry Shepherd

                    Hi Randal,

                    Ah, a true biblical-theological / philosohical impasse. And I declare biblical-theological the winner!

                    Blessings,
                    Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Too bad, because I have an answer ready at hand when you’re ready to answer my question.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      Oh, so tempting! But, I have been disciplined not to yield.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Since this is the feast day, in the Orthodox calendar, of St. Irenaeus, one of my biblical-theological heroes, I thought I would note this citation from Against Heresies, IV.5.4:
                      “Righteously also the apostles, being of the race of Abraham, left the ship of their father, and followed the Word. Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham, and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood, follow him. For in Abraham man had learned beforehand, and had been accustomed to follow the Word of God. For Abraham, according to his faith, followed the command of the Word of God, and with a ready mind delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only-begotten and beloved son, in order that God might also be pleased to offer up for all his seed his own beloved and and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice of our redemption.”
                      Though I don’t know for sure what he means, it is interesting that Irenaeus actually introduces a note of causality into the analogy, Abraham offered up his son, “in order that,” God might offer up his Son.
                      Note also these quotes from Jon Levenson, a modern-day Jewish biblical-theologian, professor in Harvard Divinity School, from his book, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son:
                      “Radically transformed but never uprooted, the sacrifice of the first-born son constitutes a strange and usually overlooked bond between Judaism and Christianity and thus a major but unexplored focus for Jewish-Christian dialogue.”
                      “Both the Jewish and Christian systems of sacrifice come to be seen as founded upon a father’s willingness to surrender his beloved son and the son’s unstinting acceptance of the sacrificial role he has been assigned in the great drama of redemption.”
                      “Jesus’ gory death was not a negation of God’s love . . . but a manifestation of it, evidence that Jesus was the beloved son first prefigured in Isaac.”
                      “The application to Jesus of the two not dissimilar Jewish traditions of Isaac and the suffering servant sounds an ominous note, easily missed by those who interpret God’s love in sentimental fashion: like Isaac, the paschal lamb, and the suffering servant, Jesus will provide his father in heaven complete pleasure only when he has endured a brutal confrontation with nothing short of death itself.”
                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Let me add a bit more Jerry. On the one hand you could take the position that it is possible God could command the mutilation as described. That, however, is called biting a bullet given that our moral intuitions run strongly counter to that position. Or you could argue that God could not possibly command that kind of act. In that case you must shoulder an evidential burden to explain why this is not possible but an equally heinous action (that of killing and mutilating one’s child) could be commanded by God. And you’d need to provide that explanation to keep your position from being indefensibly ad hoc.

                  You see, you cannot appreciate the strength of a rereading of the Genesis 22 narrative unless you first confront the inherent difficulties with the traditional reading. That’s why it is crucial for you to answer the question I posed before moving forward.

                  • Jerry Shepherd

                    Hi Randal,

                    Thanks for this helpful addition to the question. But I will still demur.

                    You say, “You see, you cannot appreciate the strength of a rereading of the Genesis 22 narrative unless you first confront the inherent difficulties with the traditional reading.” This is not really the case. The “inherent difficulties” in this text have been noted for millennia. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling highlights them very well. There are lots of rereadings; I’m interested in yours. I always do my biblical-theological work first, before getting into the philosophical-hypothetical. The two can still be conversation partners. But the one always get to talk first.

                    Blessings,
                    Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “I always do my biblical-theological work first, before getting into the philosophical-hypothetical.”

                      Good, so since you’ve done your “biblical theological” work already, you should be all set to answer my “philosophical-hypothetical” question.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      Yes, I’ve already pretty much done my stage one. When you share your stage one, we can compare notes. Then we can move on to stage two!

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Fine, I give up. I can’t force you to confront the implications of your own position.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      I graciously accept your concession! :)

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

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  • Jerry Shepherd

    Hi Randal,

    Thankfully for me, since I’m furiously trying to catch up with all the posts and articles while I’m recovering from surgery, there wasn’t anything of any real substance to respond to in this article. Jesus (God), a mountain climbing guide, and Nancy McPhee. Hmmm. Sometimes, an analogy is not an analogy is not an analogy. Phew (as I wipe the sweat from my brow).

    Blessings,
    Jerry

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Did you really not understand the central argument of this article?

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Randal,

        I understood the central argument. It was just completely unpersuasive. Or are you arguing for a descriptive theory of names where everyone has to agree on what the actual content of your article is?

        Blessings,
        Jerry

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I’m just asking you to articulate the reasons why you find the argument unpersuasive. I look forward to considering them closely.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Randal,

            Basically, I just find the whole attempt at a “Jesus, mountain climber guide, Nany McPhee” analogy to be very unhelpful when one of those three members happens to be God, doesn’t give instructions in mountain climbing, and doesn’t look a thing like Emma Thompson.

            If Jesus told you to come to him by stepping ouf of the boat during a storm and walking on water, would you do it?

            Blessings,
            Jerry

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Let’s see, you gave three objections to the argument. Jesus is God, Jesus doesn’t give instructions in mountain climbing, and Jesus doesn’t look like Emma Thompson.

              I am assuming that your second and third points are tongue-in-cheek because the argument obviously doesn’t depend on Jesus giving instructions in mountain climbing or looking like Emma Thompson.

              This leaves me to focus on your first point, namely that Jesus is God. So why do you think that fact is somehow detrimental to the analogy I’m presenting? I must admit your comments have left me very puzzled.

              • Jerry Shepherd

                Hi Randal,

                If a K2 conqueror wannabe tells me to let go of the rope, and if Emma Thomspson tell me to bludgeon my kids, that is light-years away from Jesus telling me to do something.

                Oh, and what that walking on water thing?

                Blessings,
                Jerry

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Yes if Jesus asked me to walk on water I would, or at least I sure hope I would.

                  From your comments it looks like you didn’t understand what the analogy was about. Okay, I’ll explain it. It’s an epistemological analogy. In each the case there is a testifier and the one being testified to and the testimony itself and a prima facie defeater for the source of the testimony.

                  And saying that one of those believed to be testifying is God doesn’t solve anything because Samuel still had to wrestle with the source of the voice, et cetera. In other words, this is simply the question How can I know what God is asking of me? So your claim that the third case is “light-years away” from the first two suggests you didn’t understand the analogy.

                  There, now that we have that out of the way could you please articulate clearly your objections. No pithy, opaque quips please. Just a carefully articulated statement on why the epistemological analogy fails.

                  Thanks in advance

                  • Jerry Shepherd

                    Hi Randal,

                    My apologies, I really didn’t catch the epistemological focus of your analogies. In any case,

                    “The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

                    To slightly alter a quotation from one of my favorite seminary profs, Richard B. Gaffin, “Those who know the voice of the text to be the voice of the Great Shepherd need not and cannot assume the burden of hermeneutical [and philosophical] difficulties created by those who refuse to listen.”

                    Blessings,
                    Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Was John the Baptist one of the sheep of Jesus? What about Martin Luther? Mother Teresa? They all had doubts and questions and struggled with faith. Like countless Christians, they struggled at times to know if Jesus is messiah, what God would have them do, whether they were elect, and even if God exists.

                      Quoting a passage from the Gospel of John doesn’t make those epistemological problems disappear. If it did, then the perennial debates over assurance and discerning the will of God wouldn’t exist.

                      So unfortuately that isn’t a good rebuttal to my article. Any others?

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      You’re (desperately) shifting the locus of the problem. We are not talking about having doubts and struggles born out of experience or the dark night of the soul. We are talking about the stance one ultimately takes toward biblical revelation. Do you recognize the voice of the Great Shepherd in Genesis 22; Heb 11:17; James 2:21?

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “We are not talking about having doubts and struggles born out of experience or the dark night of the soul. We are talking about the stance one ultimately takes toward biblical revelation.”

                      Jerry, can you please explain what you mean by “the stance one ultimately takes toward biblical revelation”? Do you mean that one can doubt proposition p throughout their life but as long as they die accepting it then all doubts of p prior to that point are irrelevant?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Jerry, I hope you’re not talking about that because the argument I present quite obviously is not tied in any way to the propositions one dies accepting.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      No worries.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      “Ultimately,” not in terms of a chronological process that ends at a deathbed conversion(!); but “ultimately,” in terms of the bottom line.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      What do you mean “bottom line”?

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      That the authoritative revelation of God in Holy Scripture trumps.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      What you’ve said doesn’t make sense. I asked you to provide a reason why you rejected the argument I presented. You (eventually) replied by citing a passage from the Gospel of John. I pointed out that the text cannot mean what you were suggesting — i.e. that true disciples of Jesus never have doubts or lack knowledge about who God is (or indeed whether God is) or what he expects of them. You replied by saying that doubts and questions, such as they exist, cannot be the “bottom line” for a true disciple. And when I ask you to define what you mean by bottom line you say “That the authoritative revelation of God in Holy Scripture trumps.” Huh?

                      Okay, once again I give up. You’ve failed to provide any reason to reject the argument I’ve provided.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      Hi Randal, first of all, just to remind you, you changed the nature of the discussion from one that was purely epistemological (as you say is the case in your original examples) to one involving a crisis in a person’s faith born out some horrible experience or the dark night of the soul (John the Baptist, Mother Teresa) — absolutely nothing to do with your original examples with the mountain climber guide or Nancy McPhee. (You really do need to track your own thinking more precisely so you can stay on topic). In any case, I shifted my answer, to accommodate your own shift, to note that people’s basic commitment to the Christian faith and the authenticity of God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture end up trumping the doubts and questions. I really fail to see the problem here in being able to follow this.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Jerry, you’re confusing psychological issues with epistemological issues. Some questions and doubts are more psychologically distressing than others. But that is all quite irrelevant to the epistemological issue that was illumined by my article. You tell me to “stay on topic” when it looks like you are not even clear what the topic is.

                      Listen, I’ve been asking you for a couple days now to articulate some clear and concise criticisms to the argument of the essay. If you don’t want to do so then let’s just leave it at that.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      Hi Randal,

                      You are the one who shifted from epistemological to psychological. And I did provide clear and concise criticisms, primarily to the effect that your analogies were not truly analogical for one who has confessed Christ as Lord.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Incorrect. I cited those examples purely for their epistemological dimensions. The extent to which John or Martin Luther or Mother Teresa experienced psychological distress is irrelevant to my point.

                    • http://twitter.com/AtheistMission TheAtheistMissionary

                      Jerry, thanks for your reference to the Epistle of James. It’s interesting to read that passage in context in the NIV:
                      Faith and Deeds
                      14″ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

                      18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
                      Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.

                      20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”
                      What’s your view on when James was written and by whom? Thx. TAM.

                    • Jerry Shepherd

                      HI TAM,

                      Thanks for this. As far as authorship and date, I’m a traditionalist — James the brother of Jesus, and sometime in the AD 50s-60s.

                      There is also a very interesting theory that when James writes about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, and yet sets it in a context where he discusses hospitality and love of others, he is actually alluding at the same time to Genesis 18 and Abraham’s ready hospitality toward the three visitors, when he did not as yet know who they were. A similar thought can be found in Hebrews 13:2 (entertaining angels unaware), which interestingly, also follows a command concerning brotherly love.

                      Blessings,
                      Jerry