Monday, November 13, 2006

Supposed Contradiction Between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 (God or Satan as Cause?)

The atheist and former Christian "S Burgener" thinks that he found a silver bullet of biblical contradiction, and this was a key reason why he started down the path to atheism. As seemingly always, it turned out to be a fallacy and lack of understanding of biblical theology. Here is his argument, followed by my response:

The watershed moment for me was a comparative analysis of 2 Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21, which both record the event of David taking a census and thus bringing a devastating pestilence on the people of Israel. The book of Samuel was written during the Babylonian captivity. The books of Chronicles were written later during the Persian period prior to the rebuilding of the Temple. God's inspiration is claimed by I Timothy 3:16 to be behind both accounts. However, there is a major change between the two accounts.

In the Samuel account, it is God who incites David to do evil by calling for a census as an excuse to punish him. David later realizes that he has sinned in performing the census. But it was God who incited David to commit this sin in the first place. However, one must remember that Israel at the time of writing this document had no concept of a devil. Good and evil were seen at that time as proceeding from God. Thus one is struck by the account in I Chronicles which attribution the evil incitation of a census to Satan.

Why the change? Here one must remember that at this point that Israelite theology had been exposed and influenced by the Persian religion, Zoroasterianism and had incorporated the idea of a satan who opposed the goodness of God. The authors of the Chronicles wanted to clear the God of the barbarous charge that he was directly responsible for David sinning and then punishing him for a sin which he caused him to commit. Thus they interjected the Persian idea of divine adversary which was probably known to their reader to avoid the contradiction presented in II Samuel.

This change is perfectly understandable for the perspective of historical research but presents a nearly insurmountable peak to be climbed by those who want to uphold the verbal inspiration of both of these passages. Can any amount of theological gyrations cogently overcome this problem and maintain divine inspiration with a straight face?


This was a watershed moment which set face down the course toward atheism.

There is no necessary contradiction between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, and this holds even if there was development of theology.

Ancient Israel was, as you know, a pre-philosophical society. It is very complex today, in philosophy, to work out the relationship of God's sovereignty and human freedom and evil. Much more so back then.

Originally, God was thought of as the author of both good and evil, as part and parcel of His sovereignty. To this day, Calvinism approximates that view.

Later, as reflection developed, the notion of God allowing free will, which is the origin of the evil, came to be better grasped.

In any event, the God-Satan relationship vis-a-vis who "caused" sin is not a biblical contradiction as you claim, because it is a common motif in Scripture that both God and Satan can be involved in the same act or sin, for different purposes: God for good and Satan for evil.

The notion of secondary causation of sin and God's use of it for good is actually present as far back as Genesis. After Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and at length he became second to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph reflects on the higher purposes involved:
Genesis 45:4-8 (RSV):

4: So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

5: And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

6: For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.

7: And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

8: So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
This is a rather sophisticated understanding of God's providence, and how He can turn evil intents into a good outcome, and include the same in His providence. A more concise statement of the same notion occurs in Genesis 50:20:
As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
This is a remarkably advanced grasp of complex theology for that early time, hardly different in essence from the developed NT thought of Romans 8:28:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
So this is no necessary contradiction at all. It is simply two different ways of describing the same thing (a rather common biblical motif). If God allows Satan to be involved, that is His permissive will; not His perfect will. But God can turn around Satan's evil designs for His own purposes.

We find the same dynamic in the book of Job (which is usually considered of an earlier date than Samuel and Chronicles). God let Job be in Satan's power (Job 1:12), but it was for His higher purpose. When the text speaks of "the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (42:11), it is in this sense: He permitted Satan to do his thing, which was for a bad purpose, but God had a good purpose in mind.

Now, if your contention is correct, that Hebrew thought had evolved from a simple belief that God was beyond good and evil to a dualistic understanding, whereby Satan did the bad stuff (hence a supposed contradiction), then you have to explain why the same advanced concept was already seen in Genesis, among the patriarchs (some 600-800 years before David).

And you have to explain why it again appears in Job, probably written after the time of David. This isn't contradiction (one belief earlier, and another contradictory one later); it is simply further understanding of the nature of God and how He is sovereign. You are the one who has misunderstood (as is so often the case with atheist biblical "exegesis"), not the Hebrews or the Christians.

I wrote at length about the similar problem of whether God hardened Pharaoh's heart; tied in with the thought in Romans 9. I explained all this in a similar fashion, giving many biblical parallels:

Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart? (Does God Positively Ordain Evil?) (vs. [atheist] "DagoodS")

I later expanded my argument in a discussion with a Calvinist.

There is also the motif of the "serpent" in the Garden of Eden; obviously a counter-force to God, either Satan himself or his agent. Thus, from early on, the Hebrews had such a notion. It didn't come from Persia; nice try.

Similar dynamics occur in 1 Peter. God's purpose in suffering is seen in 4:13-19, but Satan's is described in 5:8.

The crucifixion itself is another example. Judas and Satan had one motivation (e.g., John 13:27), but God had another. In fact, Jesus willfully, willingly laid down His life, knowing what would happen, and what the purpose was (John 10:18).

So there is no contradiction here. It was a clever attempt to find one, though. You simply needed to be more acquainted with Jewish and Christian theology to see that it is no intellectual or logical problem at all for our worldview.

Suffering is a huge problem, and another gigantic discussion altogether, but not this supposed contradiction between God and Satan supposedly not being able to be involved in the same event without contradiction.


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2 comments:

OtterRose said...

I hope I am getting this correct...
Your posted comment says, "...book of Job (which is usually considered of a later date than Samuel and Chronicles)..."

I believe that you meant "of an earlier date"...perhaps similar to the way Job is listed in this link:
http://rosemck1.tripod.com/bible.html

Dave Armstrong said...

Yes, I did! Thanks for informing me about this. :-)