Previous installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 4
Thom’s animus towards the Scriptures as a source of truth fully blossoms in this the fifth chapter: Making Yahweh Happy: Human Sacrifice in Ancient Israel.
Thom’s goal throughout the book has been to destroy the Bible’s reputation for truth among a broader public. It seems to bother Thom greatly that the Bible has a reputation for representing the truth of God. Every aspect of his considerable intellect is brought to service in his goal of making that reputation appear completely undeserved. With each chapter of his book, Thom’s view of God becomes clearer and clearer to us – and it is a dim one. I pray for him.
Thom seeks to get his readers to believe that child sacrifice was a normative part of ancient Israel’s worship of God. Underlying Thom’s analysis of the subject is his unwavering acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis (also called J-E-P-D theory). Because he believes there are clandestine authors and editors of the Old Testament, and because he believes Jewish law evolved rather than being handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai, he manages to read a progression in Israel’s view of child sacrifice from favorable to unfavorable over centuries’ time. That is to say, Thom is offering this as another “example” of how the Bible contradicts itself.
As is Thom’s practice, he employs data that favors the conclusion he wants (that is, you can’t trust the Bible) and omits evidence that doesn’t. For example, in his discussion of Abraham’s uncompleted sacrifice of Isaac he neglects to mention that Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham believed that had the sacrifice been completed, God would have raised Isaac from the dead. In other words, Abraham only followed through on the sacrifice because he believed it would not result in the death of Isaac. Thom also fails to explain why, according to Thom’s theory that child sacrifice was prevalent and approved, Abraham wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to sacrifice a child. Where’s the dilemma for Abraham if sacrifice of children is considered a good thing?
Of course, we know now that God orchestrated the entire Abraham-Isaac event to foreshadow the sacrifice of His own Son. The willingness of the son, the wood, the third day, are points in the outline of that shadow. Thom is not intent that his readers see Christ, however; he’s intent that his readers see the Scriptures as an altogether human document – with no divine hand involved.
Next, Thom discusses Jephthah’s daughter, but he fails to mention that scholars disagree about the outcome of that sacrifice. That is, some scholars believe that the virgin was killed and others believe that she was denied the privilege of marriage (hence, “And she had no relations with a man”). Even if she were actually killed by Jephthah, there is nothing in the text that indicates God approved – and there were many actions in the book of Judges of which He did not approve.
We have the outright condemnations of child sacrifice in the prophets, but Thom manages to find a way to reinterpret even these. The ones that he can’t reinterpret are assigned a later date so that it fits his theory that what God used to enjoy, He later frowned upon. A God who changes his mind – that’s the kind of God Thom’s book portrays. Or, perhaps, to put it more accurately, Thom’s book portrays a Bible produced by people whose conception of God changes over time – as if God Himself wasn’t even involved.
Am I being too hard on Thom? I hope not. But I do hope I’m being very hard on his book because I believe it is toxic to sincere and humble faith – even to his own, if he has any left. This book constantly attacks faith in a good and loving God. Or as Thom himself put it, he’s against “someone who believes that everything the Bible affirms is true, and good, and that it comes from the mind of a kind, loving, merciful, and just God.”
Thom did not invent the doctrine he teaches. He is simply passing on warmed-over anti-biblical academic dogma – though his presentation is stylishly geared for a popular audience. Greater condemnation belongs to those who originated so much of this kind of disinformation about the Bible that is published and cataloged in academia. There is nothing wrong with honest historical inquiry, but when that inquiry is systematically used to destroy faith in our Creator and Redeemer then it deserves strong condemnation.
Thom is not writing a scholarly book, he is writing a popular book that presents a certain scholarly view. Were he writing a scholarly book, he’d be forced to deal more honestly with those who oppose his position. He’d have to put forth their best arguments and then show how his were superior. Instead, Thom puts forth only the weakest of his opponents’ arguments – if any at all.
I don’t mind that Thom takes a position and seeks to have his reader accept it. I do the same thing myself in my blogs. The difference is that I am trying to build something (faith in Christ) while Thom is trying to destroy it. I do not ascribe evil motives to Thom in this regard. He is attempting to destroy belief that the Bible is the word of God because he thinks such a belief is bad for you. Therefore, both he and I are trying to do what we believe is in your best interest. You, however, will have to decide between our views. I am making the choice clear. I am saying that the Bible is a true and completely reliable witness to the reality of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer. Further, I am saying that Jesus Christ Himself is the truth – the “pearl of great price” – to which the Bible testifies.
Thom has promised that in the final two chapters of his book he will provide “reading strategies” for the Bible. I look forward to hearing what he has to say in that regard, because so far I can’t see why anyone would want to read a book that he has described as unreliable, which portrays a God he describes as reprehensible (promoting child sacrifice in this chapter, genocide in the next).
Before I close this post I should mention how Thom deals with the outright denunciation of child sacrifice made by Jeremiah on behalf of God in Jeremiah 19:5-6. Here’s an excerpt:
“…Jeremiah has Yahweh saying that he ‘did not command or decree’ the practice of sacrificing children to Baal, that such a thing ‘never entered my mind.’ But this strains against credulity.”
It may “strain against credulity” for Thom, but not for anyone who has more faith in Christ than Thom does – or for anyone who has more faith in Christ than they do in Thom. Thom clearly does not accept this passage as a message from God through Jeremiah to Israel. Since Thom rejects that explanation, everything else he writes is an attempt to impose naturalistic explanations of how this text came to be. And I would suppose Thom would say that all those messages in the Bible which are preceded with “Thus saith the Lord” are really just “Thus saith some (lying or deluded) human being.”
If God is not involved in the production of the Bible, then I’m just not interested in it. And if God is interested in child sacrifice and genocide, then I’m not interested in Him.
There is, however, a kind of sacrifice that God is interested in – and I am, too. It is the willing sacrifice of every human life to His purpose and glory. Such a sacrifice is not a matter of giving your body to be burned, but it is living every moment of human existence not for ourselves but in service to others in Jesus’ name.
This sacrifice means denying our lusts and doing the will of God. It means looking out not for our own interests, but for the interests of others. It means loving God above all, our neighbors with our lives, and ourselves not at all. At times this will actually lead to death. It did for Jesus. It did for Stephen. It did for Peter, and Paul, and others. It still does today wherever faith in Christ encounters the most virulent strains of persecution. But whether we face death, or hostility far less, we do well to nonetheless live out our lives sacrificially for Christ. What was written about sacrifice in the Old Testament was intended to point to the more perfect sacrifice which we are privileged to live today: living sacrifice.
May we be living sacrifices in Jesus’ name. May we never consider life in this world so dear that we are willing to compromise integrity before God in order to preserve that life. For we have a greater and much longer life to come (Everyone is going to heaven). ”And they did not love their lives, even when faced with death.” That is the epitaph of all who love Christ with a love incorruptible. And may we be among them.
Next installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 6