Thursday, October 12, 2006

Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart, or Positively Ordain Evil? (vs. "DagoodS")

By Dave Armstrong (10-12-06)

I was responding originally to atheist John Loftus, who mentioned this in passing; then I was challenged by (atheist and fellow former Christian) "Dagoods". His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

When the Bible says that God did this, it is in the particular sense of "God allowed the Pharaoh to become hardened of his own accord, then used it for His purposes, to free the Hebrew slaves." In other words, it is a typically vivid, pungent, dramatic Hebrew way of speech: "God did it [in the sense of it being ultimately used for His purposes, in His providence]."

Because it is pre-philosophical language, all that is bypassed and the writer just says "God hardened Pharaoh." But nevertheless, other passages give the fuller sense of this, so it can be better understood. Thus, the literature teaches by deduction what might be expressed in more logical-type language all in one sentence.

Accordingly, we have in the Bible many passages stating that God hardened Pharaoh (e.g., Exodus 4:21; 7:3,13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8 etc,), and even hardening the Egyptians (14:17), but it also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6).

Furthermore, Scripture states the fact of Pharaoh "hardening" without saying who caused it (Ex 7:14,22; 8:19; 9:7,35) and that one shouldn't harden one's own heart, as a generality (Deut 15:7; Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8,15; 4:7).

The obvious, straightforward way to interpret all this data is as I have done. It is neither internally contradictory nor troublesome with regard to the problem of evil. This is easily understood by means of some familiarity with Hebrew oft-poetic, non-literal manner of speaking. And Scripture interprets Scripture. This is a classic case, but if one reads only one sort of passage to the exclusion of others, then an incorrect meaning will be obtained that seems to cast doubt on God's goodness and moral self-consistency.

* * *

I have noticed, Dave, in your apologetic tactics, on occasion, you resort to this idea that atheists do not understand the Bible "correctly." The implication being that the rejection of your interpretation is based upon incompetence.

Folks either know how to interpret the Bible according to standard hermeneutical principles or not. Atheists seem to often assume they know more about the Bible than Christians who devote their entire lives studying it, do. There is objective data here to deal with. I believe I have shown that atheists (even professors like Ted Drange) are often are out to sea in this regard. I can only appeal to the arguments I have made, backed up at some point by biblical scholarship (just as any ultimately academic discussion proceeds).

If you or anyone else don't like the arguments I make, then by all means attempt to refute them, rather than talk about the entire argument in derogatory terms (as seems to be quite the fashion on this blog, I am learning, but of course this fault is not confined to atheists).

Prior to the plagues, prior to the Exodus, prior to even the first request, YHWH states that He will harden Pharaoh's heart. Ex. 4:21; 7:3. God does not state that Pharaoh will harden his own heart. God does not state that after Pharaoh has hardened his own heart God will be stepping in and "confirming" it. YHWH says he absolutely, positively will be hardening Pharaoh's heart. Period.

So what? You bypass the central aspect of my reply: that this manner of speaking has to be interpreted in conjunction with other similar passages. If it is a function of poetic language, it matters not if the text states 100 times that "God did it", because the meaning still applies, if indeed it is a poetic and not literal expression: and an indication of God's sovereignty without having to be the sole or even primary cause of every bit of human behavior.

YHWH even gives a (partial) reason for it - so that He can display God's power. Ex. 7:3-5.

Yes, of course, but that doesn't overcome a scenario whereby God's providence incorporates the actions of men done with free will, either. It's very common in Scripture.

Further, YHWH has made it clear that He will continue to be enacting Plagues, up to the Plague of the first born. Ex. 4:23 (And for Christianity that holds to the Christ typology of the Passover, it can also be inferred that God must continue the Plagues until the Tenth Plague.)

Those are miracles not involving human decisions, so that is a non sequitur.

So we have God predicting he will harden Pharaoh's heart prior to the events. We have God performing a few miracles that initially Pharaoh rejects, but eventually convinces Pharaoh. We have a God that is not done yet, because enough power has not been displayed, so God steps in and does some hardening of his own.

That is what the story states. Not some "poetic" term that is absolving God of the responsibility of hardening a heart.

If you wish to ignore Hebrew idiom, which is very common, and become hyper-literal, you can do that. But it won't impress anyone who has studied biblical hermeneutics. Sometimes things are literal, of course, but you merely assume this; you haven't shown how it must be the case, or how my interpretation must be incorrect.

Why would a Hebrew writer care to avoid YHWH from doing that? That is simply a Christian viewpoint, attempting to avoid an apparent problem.

If we start arguing about "why would the writer have this motive?" then we get away from the text and go off on a rabbit trail. All we have is the existing texts.

(The Hebrew writers have YHWH ordering and tacitly approving human sacrifice, a YHWH that wipes out the entire world, all but a few, a YHWH that holds family members responsible for others' sins, a YHWH that shows favoritism, and a YHWH that holds nations responsible for their leaders' sins.

Another rabbit trail . . .

It is only when the Tanakh is observed through the Christian concept of individual responsibility that Christians must introduce "poetic" terms and limitation of Hebrew language in an attempt to avoid what they find difficult.)

Again, rather than make an actual argument about the topic at hand, you prefer to delve into supposed unsavory motives of Christians. This is, of course, a species of the ad hominem fallacy.

What kills this interpretation, though, of God not actively being involved in hardening Pharaoh's heart is Rom. 9:14-24. Paul (a Jew. A Christian) interprets the legend of the Plagues in light of God actually hardening Pharaoh's heart. (Otherwise he would not have to be defending the concept that God gets to do what God wants to do. If Pharaoh was solely guilty, God does not need the justification, and the verses no longer make sense.) If Paul reads it that way, why should I reject his interpretation, in light of yours? Is Paul (just like us atheists) guilty of "not properly understanding the Bible and how to sensibly interpret it"?

I believe Paul in Romans 9 can be harmonized with the interpretation I have given. I devoted a long section to this passage (perhaps the very favorite of Calvinists) in a long dialogue on Molinist predestination.

Out of curiosity how many other ways does Paul not properly understand the Tanakh and how to sensibly interpret it?

Since I deny your cynical interpretation whereby you thought I was consciously disagreeing with Paul, this is irrelevant. Besides, Paul has to be interpreted in light of other similar statements he makes, too.

Thus, in 2 Timothy 2:19-22 Paul uses the same analogy to "vessels" that he utilized in Romans 9. But here (precisely as in the case of Pharaoh) he mentions human responsibility:
19: But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
20: In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble.
21: If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.
22: So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. (RSV)
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Never fear. I most certainly do not hold the account of Exodus as recorded in the Tanakh as literal. *wink*

Yes, of course. A common joke in Christian circles is to note that the Egyptian army drowning in the non-miraculous rising of the Red Sea is more difficult to believe than the miraculous event recorded in the Bible.

Here is the concern which I have not seen addressed. You are excusing the language of "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" as being a Hebrew idiom use of poetic language, yet have provided no justification for this. None.

I gave some, but I agree that my reply is in need of significant additional clarification. I didn't make myself sufficiently clear, which is not unusual when dealing with a subject as complex as the paradox of divine sovereignty "vs." human freedom. So I am thankful for this chance to do so.

I would heartily agree with you that if I used a passage from Psalms or Proverbs as being literal, you would have every reason to berate me for improper usage.

One need not take the descriptions of God as "non-literal" in terms of them being entirely metaphorical. That was not what I meant. Rather, I was denying the literal reading which would mean that God initially hardened Pharaoh, in the sense that He actually caused the sin. But there is a sense in which God entered into the latter stages of the thing in terms of judgment. This was the missing element (upon further reflection) that my analysis should have pointed out.

Attempting to fit verses into the wrong genre.

That is Ed Babinski's specialty . . . :-)

[an agnostic on the same blog, who likes to criticize the Bible and show how absurd it supposedly is]

But here we have what is presented as a straightforward story. As if there really WERE boils, and really WERE locusts.

But I haven't denied those. We believe those were literal miraculous events.

We have statements of Pharaoh saying this. God saying that. Moses going here. The people doing that. Items carried to and fro. Actions by advisors, and the Hebrews, and Moses and Aaron, and the Egyptians. The whole piece is laid out in a direct, literal, chronological sense.

I need not deny all or any of that. I'm just talking about the one phrase in question.

And within these tales of people doing, saying and interacting, we have the phrase, specifically stated, "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." Now, in the situation of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, you appear to be taking that as literal as it is laid out. But when it is claimed to be God doing it, we jump to "poetic." Why?

What methodology can you provide for us to make the determination as to what parts of the story are literal, and what parts are poetic? Remember, it is YOUR claim that portions that appear literal are actually poetic.

Very fair and worthy question. I would give several reasons. First of all, it is fundamental to all biblical hermeneutics that Scripture is compared to and with Scripture.

Secondly, we start with the positive assumption that the Bible can be harmonized theologically, and is non-contradictory.

You guys start from the opposite assumption: a hostile one. But that is how we operate, and it is one of our principles, whatever you think of it.

Thirdly, we bring to bear the antecedent notions of systematic theology, which ties into the first two elements.

Fourth, there are linguistic and cultural considerations that we can deduce, utilizing books of biblical scholarship as aids.

So when we approach this matter, we find two statements ostensibly at odds with each other. But they are not, upon close examination. It is, rather, an instance of common Hebrew and biblical paradox. And we know that from cross-referencing (I already provided some of that) and Hebrew idiom (analogies of other instances).

We try to harmonize such passages according to the laws of logic. My interpretation does that. If an interpretation of one passage or set of related passages is analogous to another, then it is plausible to make the same interpretation, assuming the theology is also seen to be consistent with the already built-up systematic theology of the Bible.

Further, you should keep in mind our skepticism when the very passages that (within whatever methodology you provide) cause you trouble just happen to be the "Poetic, non-literal" ones. What if I claimed that the words "Pharaoh hardened his own heart" were poetic, as God is the one that performs all actions, and this is merely a nod to the concept that we think we have free will, whereas we do not. What makes your claim "God hardened Pharaoh's heart is poetic" any more probable than my claim that "Pharaoh hardened his own heart is poetic"?

The principles elucidated above. My interpretation fits in with many other similar instances. Romans 9 was brought up (actually also by two Christians on my blog at the same time). So I offered an explanation that I thought incorporated that data into what I had already surmised, in a non-contradictory fashion. I showed how Paul elsewhere provided the same exact sort of paradox, when both passages were examined conjointly.

In fact, the most plausible scheme, taking in the Hebrew concept of the lack of limitations of YHWH, is that it is a straightforward story.

Indeed it is. We're wrangling over how to interpret one sort of statement about God.

Apparently I need to flesh out the problem with Romans 9 a little more.

O.K. we have two schemes we are working with. Either God became directly involved and hardened Pharaoh's heart, or Pharaoh did it all on his own. Which makes more sense, in light of Paul's argument in Romans 9?

Starting (for simplicity sake) at vs 18 after Paul has just mentioned Pharaoh: "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." (emphasis added)

If God hardened Pharaoh's heart, this verse makes sense. If God did NOT harden Pharaoh's heart, what does Paul mean by "whom he wills he hardens"? God hasn't (according to your scheme) hardened Pharaoh. What is Paul talking about?

Vs. 19: "You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" Why would "fault" be a question for anybody? If Pharaoh hardened his own heart, fault is a non-issue. Pharaoh hardened, Pharaoh is at fault. Only if God is doing the hardening, does fault become an intrigue. If God is doing something we question, then fault of the human becomes an issue. If Pharaoh, there is no issue.

The claim "God didn't harden Pharaoh's heart" is not plausible in light of Paul's defense of God.

Vs. 20: "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Again, if Pharaoh did this on his own, Paul would not need to defend God's actions in this regard with a "Who are you to question God?"

Now, back to vs. 17: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." As I pointed out in my little story. For some reason God had to have Pharaoh say "No." When Pharaoh became inclined to say "Yes" God had to step in. It is the reason God put Pharaoh there in the first place.

I appreciate your concise arguentation. This can all be harmonized by a few observations about biblical paradox and how the Bible habitually treats God's sovereignty in relation to human freedom. Remember, again, this was an agricultural, pre-philosophical society. They didn't have the apparatus or built-up body of logical thought (as the Greeks) to express things as precisely as we do today.

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, 1338, "Harden,":
The "hardening" of men's hearts by God is in the way of punishment, but it is always a consequence of their own self-hardening. In Pharaoh's case we read that "he hardened his heart" against the appeal to free the Israelites; so hardening himself, he became always more confirmed in his obstinacy, till he brought the final doom upon himself . . .

In Hebrew religious thought everything was directly attributed to God, and the hardening is God's work, . . . but it is always the consequence of human action out of harmony therewith.
That explains it completely. Men start hardening themselves, and they reach a point where God gives up on them and starts judging. But it is not God's fault. They brought the judgment upon themselves. Therefore, God didn't have an active part in the evil (which was my original task to deny, since this was a sub-argument in the larger Problem of Evil discussion).

To use a common analogy, we might say, "the police caused John Doe's death to come about." This would be a true statement, but the entire statement, fleshed out, shows that John Doe actually caused his own demise and is primarily responsible for it, since he had taken five children hostage. They were eventually freed through negotiations, but John was obstinate, and (if you will) "hardened his heart." The police then fired a shot into the building as a sort of warning. It happened to hit some flammable materials stored there and the building exploded, killing John.

So the police caused his death, and John caused his death. But John was primarily responsible, and bears the guilt, whereas the police were only secondarily responsible and bear no guilt. Furthermore, they were agents of the state's "wrath" to punish criminals and to protect the innocent harmed by them.

This is a pretty good analogy to Pharaoh and God. He was stubborn. God started sending judgments to make him back down (first persuasion through Moses, then actual miraculous calamities). He would not. So God judged him and his army and people died. Was that God's fault? I say no. Not at all. The Egyptians were given many chances to let the slaves go and they would not.

Er . . . I read your article referring to Romans 9. *cough, cough*

You need to nip that cold in the bud . . .

The only thing I saw in it about Pharaoh being hardened by God was a long quote by you from a Holding article. (I would quote it here, but copy & paste does not work so well on your blog. [note: use Mozilla Firefox: it works there] Wanted to take the whole blooming thing.) In that article, Holding indicates that Paul is referring to a paradox. On the one hand God hardened Pharaoh's heart. And paradoxically, Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh's heart. Even with Holding's . . . interesting . . . interpretation we are still left with God hardening Pharaoh's heart.

In the secondary sense of judgment that I described above, yes.

I did not see how your article supported your position on Romans 9 at all.

Hopefully now you do. If it didn't support my position, I wouldn't have cited it in the other debate or now.

[My older words]: "Folks either know how to interpret the Bible according to standard hermeneutical principles or not."

LOL! And the day we finally all agree on "standard hermeneutical principles" will be most interesting, indeed!

Well, you atheists never will, because you approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. But for the most part, Christian biblical scholars of all stripes agree on this, which is why, among biblical commentators there has been growing agreement for some time on many issues that continue to divide Christians at the denominational level. These principles are what I said were commonly understood. That doesn't mean that the application of them will always yield the same results, because systematic theologies still color this endeavor, too, and thus will cause some difference overall. But even Calvinists, Arminians and Catholics pretty much agree that men have free will and that any judgment they receive is because of their sin, not due to God as the author of sin. Yes (to repeat) that includes Calvinists, excepting those of the most "severe" sort, known as supralapsarians.

Can you break out of the box, Dave? Can you realize there ARE no "standard hermeneutical principles" and that, to a large extent, we can only do the best we can with what we have?

No, because this is clearly untrue.

I know it is nice and convenient to presume that how you interpret the Bible is the "standard" but can you dare to realize others interpret it differently?

I am not using myself as the standard, but rather, standard textbooks and references (almost all Protestant) that we all use in common.

Ask a Jew what the "standard hermeneutical principles" are as to the Messiah in the Tanakh and you will get a much different answer than a Christian.

That goes to prove my point that prior systematic theology affects one's interpretations. That is true in any field. An atheist philosopher who sets out to examine some question will have certain biases he brings to the table from the outset, just as the theist philosopher does.

You, of all people, know that Calvinists hold their way of interpreting the Bible is "standard." Yet you disagree with it.

In this instance there are some differences, but not as great as you may think. Catholics believe in predestination, too, just not of the damned. But even Calvinists will agree that if Esau was indeed damned, it was through his own fault, not because (or even though) God predestined it.

Is it "standard" to read Genesis 1 as literal or allegorical? Is Documentary Hypothesis "standard"? What year of the Exodus is "standard"?

Nice try. I always refuse to get into these sorts of runarounds with skeptics. If you want to discuss one text or aspect of theology, that's fine. I can defend what I believe.

You mention Paul as having written 1 Timothy. Is that part of your "standard hermeneutical principle"? Even some conservative Christian scholars are withdrawing from that claim. A person deliberately copying Paul's style makes an interesting hermeneutical question, eh?

Ditto. So you have a common stock answer everytime we appeal to another Scripture. Yet when Ed Babinski was trying to tear down Scripture he jumped all over the place, and that was fine. So that amounts to a ridiculous scenario whereby atheists and agnostics can freely do systematic theology with no regard to textual criticism considerations, but Christians cannot without being harangued by such nonsense at every turn. Nice double standard there.

If this is your approach "one-size-fits-all" to the Bible, than I am little surprised you believe many atheists interpret it "incorrectly." No, we interpret it differently. So do many of those who hold it divine. I am sure many, if not most you come across (due to its very cryptic nature) you will view as veering from what you believe is a "standard hermeneutical principle."

The main reason they would do that is by ceasing to believe in biblical inspiration. Then we have the butcher-hog method of biblical massacre rather than interpretation.

But to claim it must therefore be "incorrect" appears to be premature. I reserve judgment.

Show me the method. Show me how we can determine what is "poetic" and what is "literal" in Hebrew story-telling. After providing the method - show me how to apply it to Exodus. Show me while Paul did not take God as hardening Pharaoh's heart as literal.

Okay, if you are itching for some more, I'll give it to you.

Isaiah 6:10-11 reads (RSV):
10: Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
11: Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate,"
A lot is going on here. There is anthropomorphism (also very common), sarcasm, judgment motifs, poetic expression (this is in a prophetic book, after all). So did God cause all this, as His will, making Him a "bad guy"? Of course not. Context must be consulted. In the previous chapter (5:20-25) we see that the people had sinned and were ripe for judgment:
20: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
21: Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
22: Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23: who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
24: Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25: Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and smote them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.
You don't like my interpretation? Okay, then I'll refer to C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Jewish converts to Christianity and authors of the widely-used ten-volume Commentary on the Old Testament (this is the hermeneutical aspect of better understanding the culture and the language in which the book was produced). For the first passage, they comment:
God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, . . . in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted.

(Vol. VII, 200)
Isaiah 63:17 offers another example:
17: O LORD, why dost thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear thee not? Return for the sake of thy servants, the tribes of thy heritage.
Once again we see prior and primary human responsibility in context:
10: But they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.
It's always the same. Romans 1:18-32 through to 2:8: the famous passage about judgment, clearly highlights the fact that men are at fault for their sin. God's "wrath" (1:18) only comes after the rebellion and sin. So God "gave them up" (1:24,26,28; cf. Heb 3:8,12-13,15; 4:7).

This expresses exactly, all in one passage, what my argument has been: men sin and rebel and do evil, and then God judges them. In that sense, He can be said to directly intervene later on in the process. But this is not blameworthy; it's perfectly justified and just.