***This is part of an ongoing debate I am engaging in with Trevor Blake. The terms can be found here, Blake’s opening here, my opening here, and Blake’s response here. If you are enjoying the debate, please consider donating to Samaritin’s Purse.***
Trevor has started by outlining what Christianity is and is not. He does this by pointing out there are two heads to the two first churches, many denominations, many interpretations, and many heresies and false religions with the obvious, but unstated, implication they can’t all be right and therefore are all wrong. Of course, any truth will be interpreted differently and incorrectly. Just because men can only see the platonic shadows on the wall does not mean that the object whose shadow is being cast doesn’t exist. Assuming there is no Truth because man can not fully and perfectly comprehend the Truth is to put far too much faith in a people who can not even fully understand their own minds.
I will ignore his jab at Martin Luther as even he admits that it is invalid.
In his strongest argument he implies that because the Biblical canon was not settled until the fourth or fifth century and because the Catholics and Orthodox have a few historical and wisdom books in their canon that Protestants do not accept, the Bible can not be trusted. As one would expect there to be disagreement on canon as those who can only see the shadows may disagree. Despite this disagreement, the canon was fixed and there is a remarkable agreement among Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox as what constitutes the New Testament, ie. Jesus’ life and teachings and the early church. Those Old Testament works upon which we disagree do not alter the Christian message. Also, note that a claim of non-canonicity is not the same as a claim of untruthfulness, only a claim that the book is undeserving of inclusion in the New Testament.
But, it could be argued that despite the churches agree on the NT canon, the majority of the OT canon, and that those works not fully accepted do not change the fundamental Christian message, how can we know this canon is correct, given the many debates over what should be included? Trevor implies that because of historical disagreement the canon may be wrong. For this, we simply have to check our presuppositions. If one believes God exists and sent His message to the world, would it not be reasonable to deduct that he ensured that the correct message reached the world? If one believes in the Christian God, then believing that He would make sure His word was triumphant in His church only makes sense.
He then mentions a few ‘contradictions’ in the Bible. Some of them only need a passing mention as interpreting poetic language like ‘the four corners of the earth’ as a scientific thesis or condemning a non-mathematical text for rounding diameter and circumference to significant numbers is just silly in a way that shouldn’t even need explaining. Although, it is possible that Blake believes newspapers are lying whenever they print stories about $3-billion government programs.
Trevor stands on better legs when he condemns historical texts for inaccurate historical counts. Given that 5≠8 is the example he states in his opening, I’ll examine that. He uses the KJV, so I’ll use that too here.
And the sons of Pedaiah were, Zerubbabel, and Shimei: and the sons of Zerubbabel; Meshullam, and Hananiah, and Shelomith their sister: and Hashubah, and Ohel, and Berechiah, and Hasadiah, Jushabhesed, five. – 1 Chronicles 3:19-20
There are obviously 8 names there, not five, but the objection misses one key thing: “:”. A colon is used to start an enumeration. After the colon there are five sons. Before the colon there are two sons followed by a daughter. There are two different lists of the sons of Zerubbabel seperated by a listing of a daughter and a colon. The list being counted as five has five. Why there are two lists, I’m not sure, although I’d guess it would have to do with Zerubbabel having sons by different wives, but there is no innumeracy here. Trevor just missed the colon.
As to the first on the list, where 36≠29 from Joshua 15:32, Wesley’s commentary explains succinctly:
Twenty nine — Here are thirty seven or thirty eight cities named before; how then are they only reckoned twenty nine? There were only twenty nine of them, which either, 1. properly belonged to Judah; the rest fell to Simeon’s lot; or 2. Were cities properly so called, that is, walled cities, or such as had villages under them, as it here follows; the rest being great, but unwalled towns, or such as had no villages under them.”
As for the second, where 15≠14, John Gill explains:
Either one of them was no city strictly called; or
Gederah and Gederothaim is put for Gederah or Gederothaim, so called, possibly, because the city was double, as there want not instances of one city divided into two parts, called the old and the new city. So the conjunction and is put for the disjunctive or, whereof examples have been given before.
I believe that is sufficient for my point, when one is listing names and the count does not match the number of names correctly, which is the more likely explanation, someone writing the history of their people can’t do basic counting and nobody reading his accounts corrected him, or either one city had two names or a named place was not a city proper?
We visited three cities: Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, Manhattan, New York, and Boston. 3≠5
Trevor then makes the common (among atheists) mistake of judging morality by his own human moral compass. By what right does he decide slavery is immoral? How can someone who believes man is literally the accidental arrangement of carbon, water, and electricity (to grossly oversimplify) by chaotic forces impute any moral value to the actions of said sacks of carbon?
This is the center of the fallacies of his argument: he rejects absolute truth, implicitly imputes truth to his own morality, uses this morality to condemn Christianity and Christian morality, then criticizes Christianity because “It means what the believer wants it to mean”. The argument is flawed, and these flaws are easy to see when they are stripped to their essence, not (just) because his specific points are wrong, but because he has not checked his basic beliefs.
Either God is and His word is Law, or God isn’t and there is no Law.
We can move on to Trevor’s second statement.
He mentions the Gospel of Thomas; I have already dealt with the canon above.
He calls God a liar as He supposedly says prophecies will fail, yet, when we review the verse, we see only incomplete gifts or the doctrine of cessationism.* He brings forth the charge again, in one case calling the Lord a liar when the Lord hands an evil man over to the lying spirits of false prophets and the other where a charge of deceit is brought against the Lord due to the lies of false prophets. The lesson from these verses is not ‘God lies’, but rather God will deliver you to false prophets should you refuse to heed His words. If you reject the Truth, why wouldn’t He hand you over to lies?
Here Trevor once again condemns God as monstrous by his own standards of morality. Does not God have the right to harden the heart of His own creation when His own creation rejects Him? By what right does Trevor deny God this right?
As for those unreached by the Gospel, the Bible is mostly silent and not very explicit. The Bible is clear: Man is a sinner and damns himself to the punishment he rightly deserves. None enter hell undeserved. As well, Christ is the only way to heaven, and only through His unjust mercy can man be with God.
Yet Paul does write:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16 ESV)
As well, Peter stated, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…” and Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Even among those who may not have heard of Christ by name, if they seek Him and follow the natural law written in their heart, they will find Him.
As for babes, have they followed the natural law written into their own hearts, and is not God a God of mercy?
Trevor then rips a verse out of its immediate context to call Him a liar once again. When not sundered from the following verses it is clear Paul is not referring to a physical, temporary resurrection, but an eternal ressurection. Christ was the first to be eternally resurrected, come the judgment we shall be so as well. The resurrection of Lazarus and the others were but temporary, they still died. They were still under the curse of Adam.
Trevor then enters into Trinitarianism, where he argues that God does not exist because we can’t understand Him. I guess he would argue that man does not exist as Mr. Escherichia Coli does not understand man. If man could fully understand the the fullness of an infinite God when man does not even fully understand his own mind, we could scarcely call the being God, now could we?
He then argues that because God demanded man not change His laws, that God Incarnate is not allowed to change said laws. This is self-refuting. As for fulfilling the Law, the Law was a tool so man could know God, now man can know God directly; the Law is not destroyed, only added to.
Trevor then argues that because Christians are given the use of Christ’s power from Christ that Christ is not special because Christians using Christ’s power can do as Christ does. Strip away the rhetoric and the argument is once again self-refuting.
Trevor then argues that because 72 apostles were given extraordinary instructions, protections, and powers, that God is a liar because these protections do not apply to Trevor as well. I wonder if Trevor also refuses to wear footwear or greet people on the road?
This is why it is important to read verses in their immediate context and in the context of scripture as a whole.
In his penultimate paragraph, Trevor mentions failed prophecies which are only failed in his mind. The kingdom of God did come to the disciples in the disciples’ lifetime in the form of Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. As for the prophecies of the end times, they only fail if you define such phrases ‘shortly’ and ‘at hand’ in a particular manner**. Peter warns against taking just such an approach:
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:1-10 ESV)
Finally, Trevor criticizes my opening statement because I did not go into the specifics of theology. The specifics aren’t needed for salvation or to be a Christian, only the basics do. Christianity is not an intellectually elite club excluding all but those gifted with the ability to understand deep theology, it is the good news of salvation for the perishing.
By discussing matters of theology Christian intellectuals can gain greater knowledge of and insight into the nature of God and His works, but the illiterate cobbler needs this not. The humble cobbler doesn’t need to understand the differences between limited and unlimited atonement or grapple with the particularities of the ransom, Christus Victor, and satisfaction theories of atonement to be saved, all the cobbler needs is to repent and throw himself on the mercy of Christ. Thank God for His mercy that we only need see the outlines of the shadows on the wall to be saved and not the perfect forms themselves, or we’d all be damned.
And if Christ does not require specific theological knowledge and views to save, who am I to demand that a Christian hold to such particular views?
So, to all my readers trust in Christ, repent your sins, and be baptized, for the kingdom of the Lord is at hand, and He will be faithful and just and cleanse of your unrighteousness.
* Once again, I am not entering into a debate over the finer theological points of cessationism.
** Not dipping into eschatology here either.