Tough Questions Answered

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  • Why Was Hume Wrong about Miracles? Part 4

    Posted By on August 31, 2015

    David Hume’s epistemology of strict empiricism is unworkable, unlivable, and unbelievable. Craig Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, continues his discussion of Hume’s theory of knowledge:

    As a more general methodological consideration, Hume’s unduly strict form of empiricism values experience above testimony, yet the vast majority of our general knowledge depends on testimony (the report of others’ experiences) rather than our own more limited personal experience. Granted that all eyewitness testimony is conditioned by observers’ interpretations, jurors are expected to be able to infer significant aspects of events behind such testimony; without this assumption, the modern court system would collapse.

    Hume’s sword is so sharp that it cuts away at all knowledge of the past, not just miracle claims.

    Virtually all historical claims depend on interpreted testimony and other interpretations of evidence; most of us would not for that reason discard any possibility of inferring information about some past events based on our extant sources. While this observation about testimony’s value is most obviously true and relevant regarding history, it applies even to most of our knowledge of science. . . .

    The approach Hume applies to miracles would, if applied equally strictly elsewhere, rule out any newly observed event incompatible with or challenging current scientific understanding of nature. Hume’s skeptical approach would thus make scientific progress impossible.

    How would the reigning king of the sciences, physics, fare if we adopted Hume’s skepticism of testimony?

    As one scholar points out, particle physicists have never verified a proton’s decay, but this deficiency does not stultify investigation to detect proton decay. A physicist suggests that, even in its merely epistemic form, Hume’s “argument can be used to prevent a scientist from believing another scientist who announces a major discovery” that violates earlier understandings.

    Physicists do not follow Hume’s approach; they were surprised by the announcement of “high temperature superconductivity,” impossible as it appeared by current understandings, but they did not reject the claims. They investigated the claims to confirm or disconfirm them; although anomalies face stricter interrogation, they are frequently recognized “even before the advent of rival theories which can accommodate them.”

    Do historians and legal experts, both of whom heavily rely on testimony, accept Hume’s views? Hardly.

    Moreover, whatever may be said of Hume’s relationship to physics, his epistemological arguments privileging norms over testimony do not allow the normal practice of historiography and legal testimony in their own spheres (as I shall note below). Yet these are the sorts of disciplines most often relevant to evaluating testimony, and are therefore more experienced in evaluating testimony than Hume is.

    For example, even when we mistrust ancient historical sources on other points, we normally accept eyewitness testimony in them (though not always their interpretation), unless we have compelling reason not to do so. Is the existence of some fictitious information, usually outside eyewitness material, compelling reason to exclude all claims that do not fit our worldview? Historical events may be evaluated by analogy with kinds of historical events, but one can use this analogy to deny the miraculous only by presupposing that all historical testimony to miracles is invalid.

    Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that Hume didn’t apply his skepticism to his own historiography.

    Indeed, Hume does not follow this stringent approach to testimony in his own historiography. (It was Hume’s historiography that made him famous in his own day, though the rise of critical historiography ultimately made his approach to historiography obsolete. Hume’s epistemological approach, if followed to its logical conclusion, undercuts normal reasoning, including his own. One scholar explains that Hume’s epistemology excludes all beliefs as irrational and unjustifiable, but notes that Hume explained that he himself lived by that perspective, itself no more than a belief, only when doing his philosophic work. Hume may have helpfully pinpointed the question of what factors could tip scales to allow belief in events that would normally not be believed, but in his polemic against uncritical credulity he uncritically rejected the sufficiency of any evidence.

    As Keener observes, “the evidence of testimony must be given ways to surmount prior improbabilities; otherwise ‘there is no way to underwrite the sorts of inferences made in everyday life and science,’ such as a newspaper report of a winning lottery ticket.”

    In the end, Hume so stacks the deck against testimony of miracles that he cuts us off from most knowledge of the past. Thus he is of little help in the investigation of miracle claims, unless, of course, your goal is to do no investigating.

    Why Was Hume Wrong about Miracles? Part 3

    Posted By on August 26, 2015

    David Hume’s criteria for believing the eyewitnesses of miracles sets the bar so high that it is doubtful that we should believe anything anyone says about events that occurred in the past.

    Craig Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, discusses the consequences of applying Hume’s criteria to other disciplines. First, here is a review of this criteria as it applies to miracle testimony:

    For this sort of case (eyewitness testimony for miracle claims), Hume thinks it unreasonable for people to depend on testimonial evidence, requiring instead direct experience. The fairness of this criterion should be questioned, however; those with such direct experience are in this case (but not in most others) considered unable to be trusted by others. Presumably Hume himself lacked this personal experience, but his uniformity argument generalizes from this lack in his immediate circle to that of all humanity.

    On Hume’s epistemology, “uniform experience” involved passive recollection of a sequence of events known to oneself and possibly one’s colleagues, and no more. Such a generalization rests on too small a sample size to be legitimate (as his own epistemology warned); while he may speak authoritatively about his own experience, how can he speak in this way for the entire human race? His own “uniform experience” can hardly be used to exclude the experience about which another person testifies.

    Is it reasonable to demand direct experience of something before we will believe that it has occurred?

    Hume’s insistence on rejecting others’ testimony without personal knowledge, following the egocentric approach of Cartesian rationalists and Pyrrhonian skeptics, stood in bold opposition to contemporary English science, which stressed communal research and knowledge. Not surprisingly, moderate empiricists generally viewed Hume’s rejection of testimony as irrational. Few today follow Hume’s fairly thoroughgoing epistemological skepticism on other fronts; its survival with respect to the question of miracles may suggest the readiness of many to treat claims offered in religious contexts as a special category of lesser value than other sorts of claims.

    In fact, many modern-day miracle skeptics reject Hume’s skepticism on every topic except for religion. Religious claims are singled out in a completely ad hoc manner.

    Further, one critic rightly objects, “If Hume’s criteria for accepting testimony as true were employed outside of miracle claims, we would probably have to dismiss the vast majority of what we believe we presently know about the past,” since much of it depends on a single, untested source. This observation seems damaging to Hume’s argument; he advances the argument in terms of “general principles about evidence, reasonable credibility, and the like,” yet we clearly do not employ his approach outside of religion.

    Where events are not explained spiritually, even when they are otherwise unbelievable, historians normally accept or check them if witnesses are credible, rather than simply rejecting the testimony. Granted, this might not be the case for an isolated testimony if the events in question were particularly unusual, but it would certainly apply to multiple, independent ones.

    In part 4 , Keener continues to draw out the consequences of Hume’s epistemology.

     

    Why Was Hume Wrong about Miracles? Part 2

    Posted By on August 24, 2015

    Continuing from part 1, we’ll look at Craig Keener’s analysis of Scottish philosopher David Hume’s views on the testimony required to make a miracle claim credible.

    Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, writes:

    Further, some of Hume’s criteria for witnesses’ acceptability are too vague to quantifiably support his case: he insists that witnesses be highly reputable, with much to lose by lying. One may assent to these demands in principle, but Hume appears to implement them in a tendentious way. How highly reputable is highly reputable? How much to lose is too much to lose? If one adopts his criteria for witnesses to the maximal possible extent, one might choose to rule out any historical testimony to any event.

    As I shall observe, Hume does in fact rule out highly reputable witnesses with much to lose, as defined by normal standards used in court, suggesting that he applies these criteria tendentiously. Moreover, Hume requires witnesses to be of “unquestioned good sense,” but this standard proves impossible to meet, since Hume appears to question the good sense of anyone who claims to have witnessed miracles. By contrast, if we employ such criteria in the ordinary sense of their everyday usage, we end up with plenty of witnesses that we might consider reputable and sensible, but whom he dismisses as unsatisfactory. If he simply will not deem anyone’s testimony satisfactory, it seems somewhat disingenuous to expect his critics to go to the trouble of evaluating witnesses before he informs them of this caveat.

    I, myself, can understand Hume demanding that witnesses be reputable with good sense. If there were only a handful of miracle reports available to us, or even 100 or 1000 such reports, and each time we investigated these reports we found that the individuals involved were gullible fools who would believe anything, then I think Hume would have a case against miracles. But that simply isn’t the situation. As Keener documents, there are literally millions of miracle reports, and a great number of them are reported by people who are not gullible fools.

    Keener again explains that Hume and his followers simply argue in a circle:

    Again, he seems to employ an a priori definition to exclude the need for examination: defining a miracle as the sort of event “that has never been observed,” he simply dismisses or ignores the perspective of all those who claim to have seen, or believe the claims of others to have seen, such events. Analogously, as noted above, he excludes from being a miracle anything that can be observed to occur in the ordinary course of nature, yet he excludes the possibility of anything that does not occur in the ordinary course of nature. This sort of reasoning simply restates his presupposition rather than offers an argument. This mere reformulation of his own presuppositions is not, as one scientist and theologian points out, the open-minded posture normally appreciated in scientific endeavor.

    How does Hume so easily dismiss the eyewitnesses of miracles?

    Hume must assume the error or lack of integrity of many eyewitnesses to maintain his theory, yet he lacks grounds independent of his theory to accuse eyewitnesses of deception. (This concern is important in view of the significant number of testimonies collected later in this book and elsewhere.) Hume essentially dismisses all witnesses as “fools or liars,” as one scholar puts it. Yet this suspicion of witnesses is arbitrary, dependent entirely on Hume’s theory and increasingly implausible as the number of normally reliable witnesses increases. His warning that people are prone to credulity and deception does not apply equally to all individuals, so one cannot dismiss all claims without evaluating them on a case-by-case basis. Using this standard, and a priori suspicion of any antecedently improbable information, would undermine ordinary communication.

    In fact, Hume’s criteria for witnesses would effectively rule out almost all the testimony we have about our past. More on this in part 3.

    Why Was Hume Wrong about Miracles? Part 1

    Posted By on August 21, 2015

    The 18th century philosopher David Hume claimed that there had never been credible testimony offered by anyone claiming they witnessed a miracle. Numerous skeptics who have commented on this blog have basically said the same thing. There is no need, they claim, to investigate the claims of New Testament miracles because there has never been any evidence of reliable and credible testimonies about miracles.

    This is, by far, the easiest position to take if you are too lazy to actually do the work of investigating miracle claims. By fiat, the skeptic asserts that there has never been credible testimony of a miracle, so it is a waste of time for them to look into it themselves.

    Craig Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, takes on Hume and the skeptics who follow him. Are Hume’s views on testimony convincing?

    Hume, seeking to make his case, quickly denies that sufficient credible witnesses exist to substantiate miracles. By contrast, my subsequent chapters on miracle claims will emphasize that we have an overwhelmingly greater number of witnesses today than were available to Hume, an observation that should make his case far more tenuous for interpreters today than it appeared in his day. But let us consider his argument in more detail: Are the witnesses and their miraculous interpretations potentially reliable?

    According to a common reading of Hume (which I think most probable), he rejects in practice the possibility of any witnesses reliable enough to challenge the unlikelihood of miracles. He circularly bases this denial on the assumed uniformity of human experience against such miracles, a uniformity that would deconstruct if there were any adequately clear instances of such miracles.

    How can Hume claim uniform experience against miracles? How could he possibly know that?

    Claiming uniform experience against miracles is not really an argument, scholars often note, because it “begs the question at issue, which is whether anyone has experienced a miracle.” Or as one critic puts it, “Hume used the unproved conclusion (that miracles are not possible) and made it a datum of his argument (miracles do not happen).” Some supporters of miracles articulate this logical problem even more bluntly: “It amounts to saying ‘miracles violate the principle that miracles never happen.’” . . .

    Claims about nature and miracles both rest on experience, so claimed experience of the former cannot cancel out claimed experience of the latter. If experience is reliable in knowing that water is normally not turned to wine, why would it not be reliable in recognizing when water is turned to wine?

    What would it take for Hume to accept testimony about a miracle?

    Hume avers “that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle,” unless the authentic miracle would be less extraordinary than the inaccuracy or deceptiveness of its reporter. Far from maintaining openness to this possibility that a reporter could be sufficiently reliable to establish such a claim, however, Hume essentially excludes it in practice.

    He grants in principle that one might accept witnesses who were unquestionably reliable, claiming public events, and would have much to lose by lying; yet scholars note that in practice he rejects individual testimonies that, so far as anyone can discern by normal means of inquiry, would meet this very criterion.

    Hume’s denial of any historical eyewitnesses qualified to testify about miracles is no more than a bare assertion offered on his own authority; by contrast, one of his early detractors offered more than one hundred pages of argument in response to such claims, which one might hope could count for more than bare assertions.

    There are more problems with Hume’s skepticism about miracle claims. We’ll continue in part 2.

    Why Did Israel Still Want a King after Samuel’s Warning?

    Posted By on August 19, 2015

    In 1 Samuel 8, the prophet Samuel warns the elders of Israel that they will be miserable under the rule of a human king who is like the kings of “all the other nations.” Instead of listening to Samuel, they demand a king anyway. Why would they do this when Samuel, a man they trusted and a man who spoke to God, educated them about the facts of life under a monarchy?

    My seminary professor used to tell me that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Facts alone often do not change a person’s choices or behavior. Dale Ralph Davis, in 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Focus on the Bible Commentaries), puts it this way:

    Israel’s muleheadedness should instruct us. It teaches us, for example, that knowledge or information or truth does not in itself change or empower. (Our society has not learned this. Watch television news clips that discuss some contemporary social or moral problem. Interviewers ask an expert what needs to be done. Usually the answer is that we must get or use funds to educate people about the harmful effects of the current villain. It is the education fallacy, and the fallacy assumes that if people only know that something will destroy them they will leave it alone. It never reckons with intrinsic stupidity.) Education may clarify; it cannot transform.

    Human persons are composed of intellect, emotions, and will. You have to win over all three to get a person to change his behavior.  I can tell you what the consequences of committing a certain sin are, and I can have all my facts documented, but if you are emotionally bought into that sin, and if you desire that sin with all your heart, then my facts will simply bounce off you.

    Davis concludes,

    Israel then hears God’s wisdom but does not submit to it; God gives her instruction but she is not teachable. Which should lead God’s current people to cry out for a soft heart, for a teachable spirit, for preservation from the arrogance of our own stupidity. ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice’ (Prov. 12:15, RSV).

    Commentary on 1 Samuel 7-8 (Israel Asks for a King)

    Posted By on August 17, 2015

    First and 2 Samuel were originally a single work that was separated into two books centuries after composition. These books continue the historical narrative where Judges and Ruth end. Since the books of 1 and 2 Samuel cover a period in Israel’s history of about 150 years (1120 to 970 BC), it seems that several sources were used to put together the books in their final form. Scholars aren’t sure when 1 and 2 Samuel were finally composed, but a date between 800 and 700 BC seems likely.

    The events in 1 and 2 Samuel center around three main figures—Samuel, Saul, and David. First Samuel opens with the narrative of Samuel’s birth, an event which occurred about 1120 BC, and 2 Samuel concludes with David on his deathbed, which is dated at 971 BC.

    Robert Bergen writes in the Apologetics Study Bible,

    The books of Samuel are especially valuable for Christians because they lay the foundation for the all-important doctrine of the Messiah, the ultimate descendant of David who would sit on an everlasting throne ruling over God’s people and bring deliverance and justice. The promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7 created hopes and expectations that the NT writers understood to have been fulfilled by Jesus.

    The book of 1 Samuel starts with the birth of Samuel, the greatest judge and prophet since Moses and Joshua lived. During the first six chapters of the book, while Samuel is growing up, Israel suffers defeat at the hands of the Philistines, and even loses the Ark of the Covenant to them.

    God punishes the Philistines by bringing plagues against them until they finally return the ark to the Israelites 7 months later. The Israelites keep the ark at a place called Kiriath Jearim, a settlement 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem, since the place the ark had been kept during previous centuries, Shiloh, had been destroyed by the Philistines. The ark would reside there for 20 years before Samuel’s public ministry would begin in chapter 7, verse 2.

    In verses 2-6, we learn that after 20 years of mourning and repentance (roughly 1084 BC), the Israelites have reached a point where they are truly seeking God. We can only surmise that those 20 years of “repentance” were not genuine in the eyes of God. The Israelites were likely calling out to God for rescue from the Philistines, while at the same time still worshiping the false gods of Canaan.

    But, after 20 years, Samuel senses that Israel is ready to sincerely turn back to God and he instructs them to stop worshiping the gods of Canaan and only worship the one true God. They agree to do so, and to memorialize this new commitment to God, Samuel calls for an assembly at a place called Mizpah. At Mizpah Israel gathers to admit their sin before God and ask for his forgiveness. Samuel also becomes the official leader of Israel at this time.

    In verses 7-11, the Philistines decide to attack the Israelites during their assembly at Mizpah. The people of Israel ask Samuel to cry out to God for protection, and God answers his prayers with loud thunderclaps which frighten the Philistines and cause them to turn around and flee. Israel chases after the Philistines and wins a significant military victory.

    Samuel commemorates their victory with a stone monument, and the Philistines do not attack Israel again during the rule of Samuel (approximately 30 years).

    Chapter 8 resumes the narrative some 30 years later when Samuel has become an old man. Samuel has appointed his two sons to be judges, but they are both corrupt and not servants of God, like their father. The leaders of Israel come to Samuel and demand that he appoint a king “such as all the other nations have.”

    Samuel, knowing this request from the elders of Israel is misguided, prays to God about it. God reveals to Samuel that Israel is rejecting God’s leadership over them, not Samuel’s. Nevertheless, he commands Samuel to accede to their demand for a king, but he wants Samuel to first warn them what will happen when their new king takes charge.

    In verses 10-18, Samuel describes to Israel exactly how a monarchy will work. The king will take the people’s sons to build up his military, he will take their daughters to serve him and the officials in his government, he will take their choicest land, their servants, and their livestock to give to his officials, and he will demand a tithe of 10% from everyone to build his treasury. They will effectively become slaves to the king.

    After hearing Samuel’s warning, the leaders of Israel respond, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

    God grants their wish and promises them a human king. How sad for Israel. It is God who promised throughout the Torah (Pentateuch) to fight their battles for them, to drive out the Canaanites, to defeat their enemies. And that is exactly what God did for Israel when the people were worshiping and obeying Him. Recall the victories under Moses and Joshua. Recall the defeat of the Philistines under Samuel. In every battle, God was leading the army of Israel to victory, not a human king.

    The fundamental problem with Israel is that they want to be “like all the other nations” instead of the holy nation that God had called them to be.

    Was it wrong for Israel to ever ask for a king? No, because Deuteronomy 17 makes provision for a human king to rule over Israel. But, Deuteronomy 17 also commands Israel to only accept a king who God chooses. This king will be different from the kings of all the other nations, as he will be completely dedicated to serving God. He will not multiply his wealth, he will not multiply his wives, he will not build a bloated military, and he will study God’s word every day of his life. But Israel did not care about finding a king who loved God. They wanted to rush the process and find someone ahead of God’s timing.

    Israel will have to suffer through a king not of God’s choosing to get to a king of God’s choosing. This king of God’s choosing would then become the ancestor of the King of kings, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus will embody all the attributes that a king should have, ruling with perfect justice and mercy. All believers await the day when his reign begins!

    How Are Western Academics Prejudiced Against Miracle Claims?

    Posted By on August 10, 2015


    Many western scholars take the position that miracles don’t occur because they’ve never experienced one and they don’t know anybody credible who has either (this was David Hume’s position as well). But there’s a serious problem with this assertion: they are discounting the testimonies of millions of people they don’t know and to whom they’ve never listened.

    Craig Keener, in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, brings this point home with the following analysis:

    If even a handful of miracle claims prove more probable than not, Hume’s argument fails, removing the initial default setting against miracles. Without a special burden of proof against miracle claims, they can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by normal laws of evidence like any other claims.

    To reject all eyewitness claims in support of miracles (when we would accept in court eyewitness claims of similar quality for other events) simply presupposes against miracles from the start, rigging the debate so as to exclude in advance any supportive testimony as reflecting misunderstanding or deception. At present, however, the primary issue is whether witnesses can claim firsthand knowledge of what they believe are miracles, and here the evidence is overwhelming from the outset.

    How is the evidence overwhelming? Surely western scholars would know about this overwhelming evidence. Keener continues:

    Even if outside the experience of most Western scholars, today’s world is full of firsthand claims to have witnessed miracles, and there is no reason to suppose that the ancient world was any different. Western scholars may readily dispute the explanations for such phenomena, which may vary from one claim to another, but when some scholars deny that such phenomena ever belong to the eyewitness level of historical sources, they are not reckoning with the social reality of a sizable proportion of the world’s population.

    Indeed, millions of intelligent but culturally different people will be compelled by what they believe to be their own experience or that of others close to them to dismiss such scholarship as an experientially narrow cultural imperialism. In the face of far less information about other cultures than is available today, in fact, Hume and the thinkers he followed unashamedly assumed cultural superiority over supernaturalist cultures . . . .

    Bad news for western skeptics of miracles. It turns out you will actually have to get up off your couches and go look at the evidence for miracle claims. Your ignorance of the data is embarrassing and you need to so something about it, but that’s going to mean some work. You can get started by reading Keener’s book.

    Commentary on the Book of Ruth

    Posted By on August 7, 2015

    The Book of Ruth is placed right after Judges in the Christian Old Testament, as part of the Historical Books section. As with most other books in the OT, the author is not known for sure, although Jewish and Christian tradition point to the prophet Samuel. If it was Samuel, it would have been written before the year 1000 BC, which is about the latest date for Samuel’s death.

    The main purpose of the Book of Ruth is to communicate the ancestry of King David, the greatest king of Israel, who would rule from 1010 to 970 BC. The events in Ruth likely take place around 1100 BC, or toward the end of the rule of the judges. The period of the judges would end when Saul was anointed as the first king of Israel in 1050 BC.

    The story of Ruth is also a sharp contrast to the depressing history of the period of the judges. In contrast to the Canaanized judges (e.g., Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the characters in Ruth are, for the most part, faithful to God, kind in their dealings with each other, and otherwise exemplary individuals.

    The story of Ruth is meant to tell the story of the bloodline of King David, the greatest king Israel would ever have. Ruth is David’s great-grandmother, but the writer of the Book of Ruth wants to chronicle how exactly it came to be that the great grandmother of David could be a foreign woman from Moab.

    The story begins in chapter 1 with a husband, wife, and two sons leaving Bethlehem, a small town in the territory of Judah, to go to Moab, a neighboring nation that had been unfriendly to Israel in the past (recall that King Balak from the Book of Numbers was from Moab). The reason given is that there was a famine in Bethlehem.

    Why was there a famine? Remember that the books of Leviticus (26:18-20) and Deuteronomy (28:23-24) both recorded God’s commitment to cursing Israel with famine if they chased after foreign gods, and we know from the Book of Judges that they certainly did.

    The two sons married Moabite wives, but after 10 years, the father, Elimelech, and the two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, had died. Naomi, the widow of Elimelech, decided to travel back to Bethlehem because she heard that God had brought an end to the famine.

    Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law that they should abandon her and go back to their Moabite families so that they could remarry. In the ancient world, an unmarried woman was in a very precarious position, as she had to rely on her relatives to support her. Naomi knew that the girls would be better off going back to their own families and finding new husbands than coming with her to Bethlehem in a foreign land where remarriage was unlikely.

    One of the daughters-in-law, however, refuses to abandon Naomi, and pledges not only to accompany her, but to adopt Naomi’s people as her own, and Naomi’s God as her own. Her name is Ruth.

    In chapter 2, after Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem, they are faced with the difficulty of getting food for themselves. Ruth volunteers to go to a local farmer’s field and gather the leftover grain from the harvesting that was going on at the time. Daniel Block, in Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), explains:

    The Mosaic law displayed particular compassion for the alien, the orphan, and the widow by prescribing that harvesters deliberately leave the grain in the corners of their fields for these economically vulnerable classes and not go back to gather (liqqēṭ) ears of grain they might have dropped (Lev 19:9, 10; 23:22; Deut 24:19). As a Moabite and a widow Ruth qualified to glean on two counts. But for these same two reasons she could not count on the goodwill of the locals, hence her concern to glean behind someone who would look upon her with favor.

    Ruth happens to choose the fields of a man named Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s former husband Elimelech. Boaz arrives to find Ruth working hard in his fields to pick up the scraps of grain left over by his harvesters. After finding out that Ruth has forsaken her own people and country to help her poor widowed mother-in-law, he rewards Ruth’s efforts by 1) telling her to continue working in his fields, 2) promising her safety, 3) offering her water whenever she needs it, 4) feeding her a meal of bread, wine vinegar, and roasted grain, 5) and instructing his workers to leave behind extra grain for Ruth to gather.

    Ruth returns home that evening with a large amount of grain and explains to Naomi Boaz’s generosity. Naomi thanks God for Boaz and tells Ruth to continue going to Boaz’s fields until the grain harvest is over. A young, widowed woman like Ruth would be in great danger from being raped, and so not only was Ruth able to gather plenty of food at Boaz’s fields, she would not have to worry about her safety.

    In chapter 3, Naomi instructs Ruth to seek the hand of Boaz in marriage. Her reasoning is that Boaz is a close relative of her late husband, and that he is therefore obligated to buy the property that Elimelech and his sons left behind, but also obligated to marry the widow of Elimelech’s son, Mahlon, so that she can bear children which will grow up to claim that property.

    Land was passed on from father to son, and since Naomi’s sons were dead, there was nobody to whom Elimelech’s land could pass. Naomi herself was too old to conceive any more children, but her daughter-in-law, Ruth, was young and able to conceive and bear children. If Ruth had children, those children would grow up and inherit the land owned by their grandfather. Otherwise, Elimelech’s descendants would lose the land forever.

    Ruth was to go to a public threshing floor where Boaz would be working, and wait for him to go to sleep. The threshing floor was being used by Boaz to thresh and winnow the grain he had harvested. John Reed, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, provides the setting:

    The people of Bethlehem took turns using the threshing floor. The floor was a flat hard area on a slightly raised platform or hill. In threshing, the grain was beaten out from the stalks with flails (cf. 2:17) or was trodden over by oxen. Then in winnowing the grain was thrown in the air and the wind carried the chaff away. The grain was then removed from the threshing floor and placed in heaps to be sold or stored in granaries.

    Threshing and winnowing were a time of great festivity and rejoicing. Naomi knew that Boaz was threshing his grain on the day that she had chosen for her plan. She also knew that Boaz would be sleeping near his grain that night, to protect it.

    When Boaz went to sleep, Ruth was to lay down at his feet, uncover his feet, and wait. This was a customary way for a woman to signal that she was asking a man for marriage.

    When Boaz awakes, he is stunned to find Ruth asking him for marriage. He is surprised because he is much older than her, and she chose him over other younger men. We can assume that Ruth was a very attractive young lady!

    There is, however, a catch. Boaz tells Ruth that there is a closer relative than he who must be given the first chance to buy Elimelech’s land and marry Ruth. If this other man decides not to take the opportunity, Boaz will.

    In chapter 4, Boaz gathers the elders of the town and offers the closer relative the land and Ruth in marriage. The man declines and lets Boaz buy the land and take Ruth as his wife instead. Why might the other man have declined? The text doesn’t tell us explicitly, but it seems that he is without sons and he is afraid that if he has children with Ruth, then his lands will pass to her sons in the names of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Kilion.

    At the end of chapter 4, we learn that Ruth and Boaz do have a son named Obed. Obed becomes the father of Jesse, and Jesse becomes the father of David, the greatest king of Israel.

    God’s hand can be seen throughout this narrative. First, God causes the famine which drove Elimelech and his family to Moab. Second, the clear implication is that God was at work when Ruth “happened” to end up in the fields of Boaz. Of all the fields she could have chosen, it was clearly providential that she chose Boaz’s fields.

    Third, Block points out that Naomi’s plan for Ruth to petition Boaz for marriage was fraught with danger:

    Ruth’s preparations and the choice of location for the encounter suggest the actions of a prostitute. Under normal circumstances, if a self-respecting and morally noble man like Boaz, sleeping at the threshing floor, should wake up in the middle of the night and discover a woman beside him, he would surely have shooed her off, protesting that he had nothing to do with women like her. But if Ruth’s actions are questionable ethically, her demand that Boaz marry her are highly irregular from the perspective of custom: a foreigner propositioning an Israelite; a woman propositioning a man; a young person propositioning an older person; a destitute field worker propositioning the landowner. But instead of taking offense at Ruth’s forwardness, Boaz blesses her, praises her for her ḥesed, calls her ‘my daughter,’ reassures her by telling her not to fear, promises to do whatever she asks, and pronounces her a noble woman (ʾēšet ḥayil). This extraordinary reaction is best attributed to the hand of God controlling his heart and his tongue when he awakes.

    Fourth, God ensures that it is Boaz who marries Ruth, not the other relative. Fifth, and finally, God sees to it that Ruth bears a child, Obed, who will be the grandfather of King David. Why does David matter so much? Because God promised to bring the Messiah through David’s descendants. Reed writes,

    “Jesus Christ’s lineage, through Mary, is traced to David (Matt. 1:1–16; cf. Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16). Christ is therefore called “the Son of David” (Matt. 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; 22:42). Christ will someday return to earth and will sit on the throne of David as the millennial King (2 Sam. 7:12–16; Rev. 20:4–6).”

    God fulfills his promises of a Messiah and a future redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, through the faithful actions of Ruth and Boaz, two godly people who lived 1000 years before He was born.

    Why Did God Bless Samson When He Acted So Badly?

    Posted By on August 5, 2015

    We learn from Judges 13-16 that Samson is anything but a godly man. He lies, he has illicit sexual relations with multiple women, he kills indiscriminately at times, and he is impulsive and self-centered. How could this man be blessed by God with supernatural physical strength when he acted so badly? Was God rewarding Samson’s bad behavior?

    The answer to this question is that nobody deserves God’s blessings as we are all sinners. Maybe we don’t sin as badly as Samson, but we still sin. God bestows His blessings because of His grace, which means God gives us good things that we do not deserve.

    God’s purpose in blessing Samson was to raise up a leader of Israel who would drive the Philistines out of the land that Israel was given by God, to complete the settlement of the Promised Land that had begun centuries earlier. The Philistines had been allowed to subjugate the Israelites for 40 years because of Israel’s worship of Canaanite gods, and God was ready to extend grace to Israel.

    Samson was the man God chose to get this done. Throughout the Bible, God chooses deeply flawed human beings to accomplish His work. All of Israel’s prophets, judges and kings failed to live perfect, godly lives. Israel had to wait until the birth of Jesus Christ to finally see what a perfect follower of God would look like, a man in whom no sin could be found.

    A Review of ‘God’s Crime Scene’

    Posted By on August 3, 2015


    Normally, I don’t review books in the traditional sense. Instead I prefer to excerpt portions from the books I read and highlight them to you, my audience (I’ll probably still do that later on with this book). However, Jim Wallace was kind enough to send me a pre-publication copy of his new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universeand I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it over my summer vacation, so here goes!

    Jim is a translator. He takes the sometimes complex arguments of academics and he translates them into a simpler form for his audience. This a crucial task for the Christian church, because without translators the vast majority of people will never understand what academics are saying about the Christian worldview. We need to know what the academics are saying because they are doing the research that either corroborates or rebuts the claims of Christianity.

    There are two things, I think, that make Jim an especially effective translator. First, he has a knack for developing analogies and illustrations that communicate the complex ideas of Christian apologetics. Second, Jim is masterful at bringing his cold-case detective experience to bear on apologetics arguments. He demonstrated both of these talents in his first book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, which analyzed the historical reliability of the New Testament documents.

    The idea behind his second book, God’s Crime Scene, is that we are investigating the “crime scene” of the observable universe and we are trying to determine if the cause of the observable universe operated from inside of it or from outside of it. Wallace compares this investigation to that of a detective who arrives at a death scene where a dead body has been discovered. The detective must figure out whether the death was caused by the elements inside the death scene (e.g., disease, accident) or whether the cause of death was outside the death scene (e.g., murderer).

    Wallace takes the reader through eight different pieces of evidence that must be analyzed at the “crime scene.” These evidences are : 1) the origin of the universe, 2) the fine tuning of the universe, 3) the origin of life, 4) the apparent design of life, 5) consciousness, 6) objective morality, 7) free will, and 8) evil. A chapter is dedicated to each of these.

    Wallace not only steps the reader through the evidence in each chapter, but he teaches us how to think about the evidence, using his decades of experience as a detective and as a participant in numerous criminal trials. The task of any jury is to listen to the evidence and arguments made by both the prosecution and defense, to weigh what each side has presented, and then to render a decision about which side has presented the truth about what really happened.

    In the same way, we are called to sit on a jury where the prosecution argues that the eight pieces of evidence lead to a theistic creator-God who exists outside the observable universe, and the defense argues that the eight pieces of evidence can be explained by the forces of nature contained inside the observable universe.

    As an apologist who has been studying the evidences for Christianity for over a decade, all eight evidences that Wallace presents are familiar territory to me. He has certainly done his homework (extensive citations of scholars on both sides) and updated bits and pieces of the evidences and arguments, but this book is not primarily intended for someone like me.

    Just as Lee Strobel brought the evidences for Christianity to a generation of people who had never heard of apologetics (yours truly included) using his background as a journalist, J. Warner Wallace is bringing the evidences for Christianity to yet another generation using his background as a cold-case detective.

    Here’s to J. Warner Wallace and all the other translators. You’re doing essential work for the kingdom!

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