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Pages 2-4: spring 1992 IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE? Farrell Till "God cannot lie. For this reason alone, we know that whatever he person- ally has communicated to mankind is true." This is how Editor Tom Fishbeck introduced a pro- inerrancy comment in the April 1991 issue of Bible Answers Newsletters (p. 3). It was a familiar bibliolatry tactic. A Bible passage is quoted and then supported with the claim that God cannot lie. The claim is often "proven" by citing Hebrews 6:18, which says that it is impossible for God to lie, or Titus 1:2, which says that God can not lie. Aside from the obvious circular reasoning taking place here, the tactic is flawed by contradictory statements in the Bible about a much ballyhooed aspect of God's nature. If it is truly impossible for God to lie, then bibliolat- ers are going to have to explain some confusing Bible passages. One of these is the fanciful little yarn attributed to the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:19-23. Ahab and Jehoshaphat were considering an Israelite- Judean joint expedition to go against the Syrians at Ramoth-gilead. Appar- ently leery of the plan, Jehoshaphat asked for "the word of Yahweh" (v:5) on the matter, and Ahab paraded before him 400 prophets who all assured Jehoshaphat that the alliance would succeed. Still unconvinced, Jehoshaphat wanted to consult at least one more prophet. Why the word of one more prophet would mean anything if Jehoshaphat was unconvinced by what the 400 were saying is anyone's guess. At any rate, Jehoshaphat insisted on con- sulting at least one more prophet, so Ahab reluctantly sent for Micaiah, the son of Imlah. "There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of Yahweh," Ahab told Jehoshaphat, "but I hate him, for he does not prophesy good con- cerning me but evil" (v:8). When Micaiah was brought before the kings, the 400 prophets were put- ting on quite a spectacle. "Go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper," they were saying, "for Yah-weh will deliver it into the hand of the king." Asked by Ahab if their armies should go up to Ramoth-gilead or forebear, Micaiah said, "Go up and prosper, and Yahweh will deliver it into the hand of the king" (v:15). Apparently, this was spoken sarcastically, because Ahab then said, "How many times shall I command you that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of Yahweh?" In response to this, Micaiah told a story that implicated Yahweh in a conspiracy to lure Ahab to his death: I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And Yahweh said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner; and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Yahweh, and said, I will entice him. And Yahweh said to him, With what? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, You shall entice him, and shall prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and Yahweh has spoken evil concerning you (Bethel Bible). Yahweh apparently had a penchant for putting lying spirits into people, because a less detailed, but similar, incident is related in Isaiah 37:7 and 2 Kings 19:7. (For reasons known only to Yahweh and Bible inerrantists, the wording of these two chapters, Isaiah 37 and 2 Kings 19, is identical.) Threatened by a message from king Sennacherib of Assyria whose army had laid siege to Jerusalem and other Judean cities, king Hezekiah rent his 1 clothes, put on sackcloth, and went into the house of Yahweh. The prophet Isaiah sent word from Yahweh for the king not to be afraid. "Behold, I will put a spirit in him (Sen- nacherib)," said the message from Yahweh, "and he shall hear tidings, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land." The chapters end with an account of Sennacherib's assassination by his own sons, but that is only incidental to the story. The important thing is that Isaiah, as did Micaiah, depicted Yahweh as a god who dealt with trouble- some men by putting lying spirits into them to deceive them and lure them to their deaths. How can these two stories be reconciled with the claim that it is impossible for God to lie? I asked that question in my debate with Mac Deaver in San Marcos, Texas, and his response was that God did not lie to Ahab; Satan did. His proof was John 8:44 where it was said that there is no truth in the devil and that "when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father thereof." As I have pointed out in many prior articles, the pitting of scripture against scripture is a logically unsound way to protect the iner- rancy doctrine, because it is a tactic that seeks to prove inerrancy by assum- ing inerrancy. "Your passage can't mean what you are saying it means," the argument implies, "because a passage over here very clearly teaches thus-and-so." The inerrantist who reasons like this is saying, "If your pas- sage means what you claim it means and if mine means what I claim it means, then there is a contradiction in the Bible, and that can't be, because the Bible does not contradict itself." As I said, this is circular reasoning or, in this case, proving inerrancy by assuming inerrancy. Why does it never occur to inerrancy defenders that if one writer made statement "A" and another writer made statement "B," which appears to contradict "A," then there just might be a real contradiction in the Bible? If both statements had been made by the same writer, the inerrantist might then have a sensible basis for suggesting how-it-could-have-been scenarios to reconcile the meaning of the two, but when the statements have been made by different writers, the most likely explanation for the apparent discrepancy is that the two writers disagreed on the common subject they were writing about. Obviously, the writers of Hebrews (6:18) and Titus (1:2) thought that God could not lie. This fact, however, does not exclude the possibility that Isaiah (37:7) and the writer of 1 Kings (22:19-23) believed that God did sometimes lie. So to resolve this problem, bibliolaters must explicate the story of the prophet Micaiah and the message of Isaiah to king Hezekiah in a way that will show that no lie or deception on God's part was involved in either case. I don't think they can do that, but until they do the Bible stands indicted for contradiction in the matter of whether God can lie. Another problem passage concerns the intertribal dispute between Israel and the Benjamites. Outraged at the rape and murder of a Levite's concubine at Gibeah by a group of Benjamite homosexuals, the other Israelites demanded that the tribe of Benjamin deliver up to them the "base fellows" who had done this thing so that they could be put to death (Judges 20:12-13). When the Benjamite leaders refused the demand, the Israelites took an army of 400,000 against the Benjamites, who numbered only 26,700. It looked as if it were going to be a complete rout, so the Israelites, apparently seeing no need to send their entire army out to battle, went up to Bethel to ask "counsel of God": Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin? And Yahweh said, Judah shall go up first (20:18). Well, Judah did go up first, and lost 22,000 men in a resounding defeat! So what happened here? The Israelites had asked counsel of Yahweh, and he told them to send Judah out to battle first. Although inerrantists may quib- ble (as I have heard them do) that Yahweh did not specifically say that 2 Judah would be victorious, if the story happened as recorded--and inerran- tists will argue that it did--then deception was certainly involved. One would have to be completely idiotic to think that the Israelites had asked "counsel of Yahweh" to find out which army to deploy in order to be defeated. Obvious- ly, they wanted to know what army would secure a victory for them. So if anything like what is related in this story ever happened, we can conclude only one of two things: (1) Yahweh deceived the Israelites into thinking the forces of Judah could win the battle or (2) Yahweh is not omniscient. Either way the inerrancy doctrine suffers irreparable damage. But this story didn't end with the defeat of the Judean army. In great distress, "the children of Israel went up and wept before Yahweh until evening; and they asked of Yahweh, saying, Shall I again draw near to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?" And what answer did they receive? "And Yahweh said, Go up against him" (v:23). So on this "coun- sel" from Yahweh, the Israelites went to battle the next day, and this time the Benjamites "destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men" (vv:24-25). To believe that this ridiculous tale is part of the verbally inspired, iner- rant word of God is too absurd to deserve comment, but to argue that if it did happen as recorded no deception was involved on Yahweh's part would be even more absurd. In profound anguish, the Israelites had asked their god Yahweh if they should again go to battle against the Benjamites, and he told them to go. If that was not deception, then someone should explain why it wasn't. Usually, when the Israelites experienced military defeat, pestilence, fam- ine, or other calamities, the Bible attributed it to some sin or disobedience. When Joshua's army was routed at Ai, for example, it turned out that Yahweh was punishing his people for the sin of one man who had kept some of the spoils for himself after the battle of Jericho (Josh. 7). David sinned in numbering Israel (2 Sam. 24:1-10), but Yahweh punished all of Israel for it by sending a pestilence that killed 70,000 people (vv:15-16). As unjust as it is to punish someone for the "sins" of another, that was clearly the practice in Old Testament times, and bibliolaters dutifully defend it as justification for Yahweh's having on occasion retracted his promises. There is nothing in Judges 20, however, that even suggests the Israelites were guilty of some offense that would have "justified" Yahweh's retraction of his implied promise of victory. To the contrary, the Benjamites were the offenders. They were harboring a group of men who had committed a despicable crime. Yet the Israelites were losing all the battles--and that after they had asked "counsel of Yahweh" and had been told to go against Benjamin! It had to be either deception or a pathetic lack of foreknowledge on Yahweh's part. After their second defeat, the Israelites went up to Bethel again "and wept, and sat there before Yahweh, and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before Yahweh" (v:26). None other than Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was the priest who stood before the ark of the covenant while all of this counsel- seeking was going on, and for the third time the Israelites asked Yahweh, "Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my broth- er, or shall I cease?" The answer? "And Yahweh said, Go up; for tomor- row I will deliver him into your hand" (v:28). They went to battle the next day, and, by luring the Benjamites into an ambush, finally defeated them, if suffering 40,000 casualties in order to kill 25,000 Benjamites could in any sense be considered a victory. Maybe it was the fasting and offering of sacrifices before the third battle that finally brought victory to the Israelites, or maybe it was just that the third time was charmed. At any rate, the Israelites finally won, according to the story, but at the cost of considerable damage to Yahweh's reputation for honesty. An inerrantist once told me (with a straight face) that Yahweh did not 3 specifically say until the third inquiry was made (v:28) that he would deliver the Benjamites into the hands of Israel. So to his warped way of reasoning, there was no deception in the answers that Yahweh gave to the first two inquiries of the Israelites. He had just told them to go to battle without indicating either way how the battles would go. Can you imagine an inerran- cy defense any lamer than that? If I absolutely knew that John Jones had infallible ability to look into the future and see what was going to happen and, knowing that, I asked him if I should buy stock in company A, would Jones be guilty of deception and lying if he said, "Yes, buy it," and then, after I had bought the stock, the company went bankrupt? To ask the ques- tion is to answer it. There are other stories in the Bible that are inconsistent with the claim that God cannot lie. In "Yahweh's Failed Land Promise" (Winter 1991, pp. 2- 6), for example, I examined the numerous OT passages in which Yahweh had unconditionally promised that he would without fail give all of the land of Canaan to the Israelites but then failed to make good his promise. In the same issue, a fundamentalist writer tried to rebut the central premise of the article and couldn't. In a future issue, we will notice that Yahweh once promised (2 Sam. 7:8-17) that he would establish the throne of David forever and then failed to make good that promise. All such stories as these are devastating to the claim that God cannot lie. In many places, the Bible teach- es that God not only can but does on occasion lie. This is just one more of many contradictions in the verbally inspired "word of God." ******************************** FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical Review can be obtained by writing to P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617. 4


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