It’s What He Doesn’t Say
If there’s one philosophy book I wish I’d written it’s The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz by William Craig. I’m writing this because he is arguably the most philosophically adept defender of Christianity and there’s something wrong about his fundamental approach. And not only his. This is standard apologetics. This is Mere Christianity 101. Something explicitly denied in the Torah is presupposed: that a sufficiently grand miracle nullifies an “everlasting covenant” “for all generations.”
In Craig’s debates, he begins with a mesmerizing presentation of the Cosmological argument. Bravo. Then we broad-jump to what a majority of New Testament scholars think about an empty tomb. In Part II of On Guard he goes straight to Jesus’ radical self-concept and the historicity of his resurrection. On page 204 Craig cites Matthew 11:27, where Jesus “thought of Himself as the exclusive Son of God and the only revelation of God the Father to mankind! Think of it!”
He skipped something. The only revelation?
But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children, the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people for Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children. And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and opaque darkness. The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of the words, but saw no image, just a voice. (Deuteronomy 4:9-12)
The exclusive Son of God?
And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘So said the Lord, “My firstborn son is Israel.” (Exodus 4:22)
For, when Israel was young, I loved him, and from Egypt I called My son. (Hosea 11:1)
In Deuteronomy, the death penalty is commanded for miracle-workers advocating the worship of gods “which neither you, nor your forefathers have known.” Did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Moses worship a tripartite god or a divine man? Did God indicate to Moses that He would, in some mysterious fashion, become a man? All worship and prayer must be directed to the Being that appeared at Sinai, where “you heard the sound of the words, but saw no image, just a voice.”
While ignoring Sinai, Craig cites the non-biblical Testament of Job, the Similitudes of Enoch, 4 Ezra 13, and the Dead Sea Scrolls to score different points. In a 300 page book about God, why doesn’t an honest seeker of truth mention a national revelation and what it contained? Craig’s theological career is based on something it rejects: if someone can perform sufficiently great miracles then everything he says is true and we have to listen. Deuteronomy says no, not even if 75% of scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb, including two Jews (page 230).
Moses, the humblest man who ever lived, made the ultimate Boswell. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were written by God. They alone contain the criteria for future revelations and what constitutes idolatry. Christians seem astonished the Pharisees weren’t persuaded, forgetting they were ordained by God to be fanatically meticulous in the observance of the Torah. It’s the very purpose of the Jews being set aside as a distinct race of man.
Craig sees Jesus’ subtracting from the Torah as evidence for his divinity (page 211). Jesus “adjusts” Deut 24:1-4 on divorce. Where does the Torah cite any such criterion? The Messiah will lead Jews back to Torah observance, not overhaul it. Study the character outlined on that link. He is as different from Jesus as a Jedi Knight!
Craig acknowledges that Jesus didn’t reestablish David’s throne, but since he performed miracles cited “in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Jewish sect that lived at Qumran at the time of Jesus” we’re good to go (page 199). I’m confused. The Messiah has to be anointed the King of Israel, rebuild the temple, gather all Jews back to Israel, and usher in world peace and universal recognition of God. If he doesn’t, he’s not the Messiah. Case closed. What other standard are you using and where does it come from?
Here a man is struggling with “what to make of the Old Testament.” Craig assures him thus: “What about the Levitical laws and penalties you mention? Here a couple of things should be kept in mind. First, these regulations are not intended to be optimal. They are provisional and temporary, suited to Israel’s circumstances at that time.”
That’s quite the exegesis. I feel better already about the radical discontinuity between the scary “Old Testament”and what my ancestors believed about the New Testament. It’s been haunting me since grade school. Christian philosophers have a way of assuaging cognitive dissonance. But what does Leviticus actually say? Highlights include:
[This is] an eternal statute for all your generations, in all your dwelling places: You shall not eat any blood or fat. (3:17) [Yom Kippur] is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves. It is an eternal statute. (16:31) [All] this shall be as an eternal statute for you, to effect atonement upon the children of Israel, for all their sins, once each year. And he did as the Lord had commanded Moses. (16:34) And it shall belong to Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, for it is holy of holies for him, among the fire offerings of the Lord, an eternal statute. (24:9)
Where is the expiration date or declaration that we’re reading a work in progress? It says the exact opposite over and over and over: “The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah.” (Deut 29:28)
And [Passover] shall be for you as a memorial, and you shall celebrate it as a festival for the Lord; throughout your generations, you shall celebrate it as an everlasting statute. (Exodus 12:14)
Thus shall the children of Israel observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel, it is forever a sign that [in] six days The Lord created the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased and rested.” (Exodus 31:16-17) It’s on Saturday, BTW.
What else does God need to do to establish that these are ETERNAL? Clash cymbals? Fill out a permission slip in triplicate and send Craig a copy? If these don’t mean “permanently true” WHAT DOES? (When Jesus says it, right?)
There are thousands of “religions.” How do we know which subsequent claim of legitimacy has the authority to reinterpret and usurp the first one?
There is NOT ONE SINGLE COMMANDMENT out of 613 to be on the lookout for God’s son or the Messiah or the son of man — much less to worship them. The death penalty is commanded for anyone advocating the worship of anything unknown to Abraham. Miracle workers aren’t excluded from the prohibition; they’re singled out as the most likely suspects.
Here Craig acknowledges that Jesus did not fulfill the Messianic prophecies:
“When you look at the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, they give virtually no clue that Messiah isn’t going to be this triumphant warrior king that was expected. This is what was supposed to happen.”
Jesus did not meet the standards revealed by God in the Tanakh. “This is what was supposed to happen.” And it didn’t. So we ignore it and keep hoping. That’s what a standard is: a selection algorithm. X doesn’t meet standard S, therefore we reject X.
“[T]here wasn’t any clear concept in the Old Testament that Messiah would come and be humiliatingly executed as a common criminal rather than establishing the throne of David in Jerusalem and throwing off the enemies of Israel and the Gentiles and the Jews would be in submission to this great warrior king, who would be like a new David. That was what I was saying you don’t find in the Old Testament.”
Right. You most certainly see nothing like that. Therefore we rule it out. X did not meet standard S therefore we reject it, per an algorithm specified by God. It’s nothing personal to Jesus or Christians. Nor do Guru Nanak, John Smith, Mohammed, Buddha, or Chuang Tzu have the Right Stuff. The concept Messiah means what the Tanakh says it does and nothing else, however interesting, singular, and inspiring contenders may seem.
“Josephus certainly does talk about Messianic movements, but he doesn’t reflect on them in light of the event of Jesus’ coming and death. He does talk a lot about these Messiahs that would come, and he says they were plentiful. There were lots of them, he said, who would claim to be the king of Israel, would generate a following, and then they would all meet the same fate. The Romans would kill them, and the movements would dissipate. So Josephus is helpful in seeing what the normal course of events were for these failed Messianic pretenders, which is what Jesus would have been. As N. T. Wright says, in no case across the first century before Jesus or the first century after Jesus do we have any of the followers of these failed Messianic movements claiming that their would-be king really was the Messiah after all or that he had been raised from the dead. He says when your favorite Messiah got himself killed, you basically had two choices: either you went home or you got yourself a new Messiah! But what happened in the case of Jesus is unique – it is extraordinary. And that calls out for some explanation.”
One standard explanation is “that Jesus was, in fact, the person referred to in Deuteronomy 13 or intended by God to appear as such. (It is not, after all, theologically impossible that, in the hands of the Divine, Jesus could have served more than one purpose.)” J.H.H. Weiler
Maimonides is more nuanced if less optimistic.
Saddoq ben Avraham Avinu: Do the Hebrews and Christians worship the same god? Many Jews and Christians believe so. If you are a Jew that believes this, I ask you to consider Deuteronomy 13:6-8: “If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you or your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him nor listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him . . .”
Answer these questions:
- Did the Children of Israel believe that their God had a “junior” partner in establishing the Creation?
- Did your fathers believe that God would disavow the Torah that He gave to Israel?
- Did your fathers worship a God who consisted of 3 persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
- Was the idea of God becoming a man and dying for the sins of all held by the Children of Israel?
- Did your fathers ever seal a prayer in the name of an intercessor who advocated on your behalf in heaven?
The concepts in these 5 questions are characteristics of the god that the Christians worship. The God of your fathers, dear Hebrew, displayed none of these attributes. Any Hebrew who taught the worship of a deity that was not HaShem of the Hebrews was to be executed! Christians may use the same names as us, they may have originally practiced the same Torah we did, but their god was not worshipped by the Hebrews. This is a god your forefathers did not know. (His book is highly recommended, though I am not a Qaraite.)
Craig doubles down:
“It gets worse: according to Jewish law, Jesus’ execution as a criminal exposed him as a heretic, a man who was literally under the curse of God. In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 21:23, it says that God’s curse is upon anyone who is executed by hanging on a tree. The Jews applied this to crucifixion as well because the person was hung, as it were, on the wood of the cross. Therefore, he fell under this malediction of Deuteronomy 21:23. So the crucifixion, in a sense, showed that the chief priests had been right all along; that for three years these disciples had been following a heretic, a man who was literally accursed by God.”
Jewish law? It’s the eternal Law revealed by God in the Torah, which never says a peep about canceling this awful curse by doing miracles. Craig’s theological career (not including his noble defense of God’s existence) is a denial of God’s Torah ’cause a miracle-worker said so (and I had a religious experience). If miracles are the standard, how do we know Sabbatai Tzvi wasn’t the Messiah? He, too, edited the Torah and performed miracles:
“Rumors reached Europe about the appearance of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, said to be marching under the command of a prophetic and saintly man about whom all sorts of miraculous stories were told.”
Those narrow-minded Pharisees tried to suppress him too: “In Palestine, messianic news traveled like wildfire, encountering strong opposition from outstanding rabbis of Jerusalem, who banished Shabbetai Tzvi from the city.”
You think a crucified Messiah is a stone of stumbling? How about one who converts to Islam! Theological necessity is the mother of invention: “For the faithful, however, a new, mystical theosophical interpretation emerged to legitimate Shabbetai Tzvi’s apostasy. Shabbetai Tzvi’s task as a Muslim was to gather the ‘holy sparks’ that were dispersed among the gentiles – a necessary step toward redemption. Only the messiah could fulfill this mission, so the explanation went, and to do so he must hide his identity and act within the heart of the enemy. This explanation appeared plausible to those who still believed in the messianic mission of Shabbetai Tzvi because it fit into the prevalent Lurianic view of kabbalah.”
And he still has followers! Craig should debate them. If he rejects those stodgy OT prophecies about a “triumphant warrior king,” how will he determine who’s more like the true Messiah? According to what, miracles & Rube Goldberg theologies? Paul had nothing on Nathan of Gaza. (BTW, what Objective standard grants Paul the authority to reinterpret a book written by God 1,300 years earlier, to pronounce the futility of “eternal statutes”? Where does the Torah say that anyone will have the authority to do this?) The Rabbis knew Tzvi was a fraud because he declared the dietary laws nullified and didn’t fulfill the prophecies. Game over. Total fail, regardless of miracles or passionate followers.
I admire William Craig and have enormous respect for him as a philosopher. If we judge men by the opposition they generate he’s one of the most important philosopher of the last fifty years. My beef is that he’s overlooking the historicity of Sinai and presupposing the transitory nature of Judaism. From an interview:
“The most distinctive claim about Christianity in relation to other world religions is that Christianity says that God has revealed himself in history.
Q: Do other religions have a similar interest in history?
A: Yes, but only in a relative sense. Other religions certainly have an historical component. One thinks of Judaism, for example, where at least among orthodox Jews, God’s acts in history like the Exodus are very important. God’s rescue of the Israelites from Egypt is the central miracle of the Old Testament. …
We can actually investigate history to see whether Jesus of Nazareth lived, died and rose again and made the claims that we find in the New Testament. So the Christian faith provides a touchstone for the assessment of its claims that isn’t present in most other religions of the world.”
What about this? What about the Revelation given to a nation, which contains the absolute unconditional prohibition of worshiping gods “which neither you, nor your forefathers have known,” which not only has no expiration date but it declares itself eternal? No other religion or philosophy has this evidence, though many appropriate it as a basis or foundation to their unauthorized addendums.
If the Kuzari doesn’t establish the historicity of the Sinai Revelation then no revelation arguments work. It’s the Gold Standard, an audacious singularity of evidence, bragging that no other group has a story like this, or ever will. God appointed a specific race of man to stubbornly persist in the denial of sequels or annulments.
Here’s why Jews have misgivings about new & improved stuff. It’s not because of any veil over their hearts:
And you shall not turn right or left from all of the words I am commanding you this day, to follow other deities to worship them. And it will be, if you do not obey the Lord, your God, to observe to fulfill all His commandments and statutes which I am commanding you this day, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. … The Lord will send the curse of shortages, confusion, and turmoil upon you, in every one of your endeavors which you undertake, until it destroys you and until you quickly vanish, because of your evil deeds in forsaking Me. … The Lord will make pestilence cleave to you, until it has exterminated you from upon the land, to which you are coming, to possess it. The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever, illnesses with burning fevers, a disease which causes unquenchable thirst, with the sword, with blast, and with yellowing, and they will pursue you until you perish. … The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with hemorrhoids, with oozing sores, and with dry lesions, from which you will be unable to be cured. The Lord will strike you with insanity, with blindness, and with bewilderment. You will grope at midday, as the blind man gropes in the dark, and you will be unsuccessful in your ways. You will be only oppressed and robbed all the days, and no one will save [you]. … You will go insane from the vision before your eyes that you will behold. The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with a terrible skin eruption from which you will be unable to be cured; [it will eventually cover you] from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. … You will bear sons and daughters, but you will not have them, because they will go into captivity. … All these curses will befall you, pursuing you and overtaking you to destroy you because you did not obey the Lord, your God, to observe His commandments and statutes which He commanded you. (Selections from Deut 28:15-45)
Do you blame them for sticking to the “Old Testament”? Note well how NONE of the curses says anything about being replaced by a new, different group of “predestined elect” or Gentile followers of My son. In fact, two chapters later it says all Jews will eventually return to Israel and observe the commandments taught by Moses. We’re currently experiencing technical difficulties, but the final picture is a done deal. This chapter is about the Messianic era. This is his template.
One of the most enlightening descriptions of HaShem’s mysterious relationship with the Jewish People comes from Rabbi Meir Kahane. Read him. On two occasions Moses saves the people from Divine destruction by an appeal to HaShem’s honor. Their destiny is all about His honor. Paging James Bowman.
Here we go again: “If a person believes that God exists and raised Jesus from the dead in vindication of his allegedly blasphemous personal clams, then one ought to be a Christian, and the rest is details, a matter of in-house debate among Christians. Questions about the historical reliability of these ancient Jewish texts just has no direct bearing on whether God exists or Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.”
The idea that the Torah = “ancient Jewish texts” that take a back seat to “blasphemous personal claims” of a prophet performing signs & wonders is the problem. Christians should have stuck with Marcion.
The Torah of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul (Psalm 19:7) David’s Hebrew says the Torah is temimah, an adjective that means faultless, whole, complete. Temimut is the state of being tam: unblemished, free of defects.
Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, ecstatically expands on this theme: Praiseworthy are those whose way is perfect, who walk with the law of the Lord (119:1). The perfect way is defined as following the Torah.
And I shall keep Your Torah constantly, forever and ever (verse 44). Your righteousness is perpetual righteousness, and Your Torah is true (verse 142). I yearned for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your Torah is my occupation (verse 174). David yearned for salvation. To attain it he follows the Torah. An equivalence is drawn between the Torah and perpetual righteousness.
A revelation that is temimah, faultless, whole, and complete, precludes additions. Just as God, a perfect being, is a being than which none greater can be imagined, the Torah is a perfect revelation: complete unto itself. If it admits of epilogues or sequels it wouldn’t be perfect.
Christians and Muslims maintain that God’s law was temimah when David was writing, that it was the path of salvation and perpetual righteousness, to be kept forever and ever, but not faultless, whole, complete, unblemished, and free of defects enough to preclude major sequels and revocations. This is not the only incompatibility: Psalm 119 vs. Christianity.
Maimonides’ ninth principle of Judaism is the completeness of the Torah: “And this is that the Torah is from God and is not lacking. That to it you can’t add or take away from. Not from the written Torah or from the oral Torah, as it says, ‘Do not add to it and do not take away from it.’ (Deuteronomy 13:1).”
John MacArthur describes the exegetical hunt for Jesus in the OT as Where’s Waldo. He concedes that you’ll never find Waldo unless you already know who you’re looking for (start at 12:40), thereby begging the Big Question against Judaism before treating the OT like a Rorschach. (And if for any reason I don’t understand this I’m predestined for ECT — not the fun kind.) Those “prophecies” are affirmations of the consequent.