Countering Dawkins & the Atheists: the ‘clarification question’

I’ve just finished reading a good article in last week’s (1st Apr.) English ‘Church Times’ by Rupert Shortt (religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement) in which he responds to what I might call 10 ‘classic Dawkinsisms’ – ie 10 typically polemical anti-theism statements. All of his responses are worthy and well thought out.

But I was struck by the thought that many who read the 10 statements, or who encounter many such statements or provocative questions, might feel uneasy or lack confidence in how they, themselves, would tackle them. So supplementing Shortt’s responses I wanted to make one general point –

There is an underlying (and usually hidden) presumption behind nearly every Atheist assertion and question.

Very often an excellent alternative to bearing the burden of trying to answer the challenge yourself is to pause and simply ask yourself one simple question instead:

‘what is the presumption that my interlocutor is looking to smuggle in here?’

Then simply go after that presumption by calling it out with your own counter, ‘clarification question’!

Rather than you being in the hot-seat, this then immediately passes the buck straight back to the asserter / questioner, and the discussion instantly becomes one where they, first, have to justify their own presumption(s) and so their own Atheism is in the spotlight and in need of defending equally as much as (if not even more than!) your own Theism, that they were previously intent on attacking.

To try and give you a flavour of what I mean, below I have re-posted the 10 ‘Dawkinsisms’ from Shortt’s article, followed by both the (hidden) Presumption and (example) clarification Question(s) –

1.  “We are all Atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us go one god further.”
Presumption – There’s no more reason to believe in the Christian God than any of the others ever purported.
Clarification Question – Are you suggesting there’s no more reason to believe in God than there is, say, Zeus or Thor? – (Most Atheists are then immediately on the back foot because they won’t want to feel like they are conceding any ground, so will feel obligated to say ‘yes.’ Even some of the most basic Christian apologetics here can quickly expose the fallacy of such a position).

2.  “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Presumptions – i) The God of the OT is ‘fictional’.
ii) My Study of the Bible qualifies me to make these judgements.
iii) There exists objective standards of virtue, ethics and morality that substantiate and ratify my condemning judgements.
Clarification Questions – i) What makes you think the god of the OT is ‘fictional’?
ii) How much and what type of study of the OT have you actually done?
iii) By whose or what standard are you measuring the moral and ethical standards from which you can make such condemning declarations of another?
iv) Isn’t this objection really just an objection against the inerrancy of the Old Testament? How does it negate the logical, metaphysical, and scientific evidence for the existence of God or the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus?

3.  “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full, and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
Presumption – Meaning, Value and Purpose are grounded in the attitude of the individual.
Clarification Questions – i) What makes you think that true meaning, value or purpose is something that is just found in one’s attitude?
ii) Doesn’t that relegate any notion of meaning, value or purpose entirely to the subjective? iii) You make it sound like one can just invent meaning, value or purpose as one so wishes. Doesn’t that mean that any sort of self-delusion will do? Where can one find any objective meaning, value and purpose?

4.  “More generally, one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”
Presumptions – i) All ‘religion’ is the same.
ii) ‘religion’ espouses ignorance!
Clarification Questions – i) Do you really think that all ‘religion’ is the same and teaches the same thing?
ii) Which ‘religions’ do you think teach that not understanding is a virtue?
iii) Being a Christian, I’d want to ask you why you think Christianity teaches that it’s a virtue to not understand? Where have you come across such a ‘teaching’?
iv) Why do you think so many millions of Christians read their Bibles? What is it they’re hoping to not understand by reading it?
v) Wasn’t it Christians, like Galileo and Newton, who founded the scientific method?
vi) Why do you think there have been so many Christian scientists, like Galileo, Newton, Kepler and Faraday, who spent their lives intent on understanding this world and universe – if Christianity taught them to do the opposite?
vii) Doesn’t the Bible seem to teach us to do science? (See Psalm 19:1-2).

5.  “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents. This latter nomenclature, by the way, would be an excellent piece of consciousness-raising for the children themselves. A child who is told that she is a ‘child of Muslim parents’ will immediately realise that religion is something for her to choose – or reject – when she becomes old enough to do so.”
Presumption – A child’s sense of identity is indoctrinated upon them by their parents. Unless they are referred to in a certain way, a child will not realize that they have a choice as to what to believe in, and what not to.
Clarification Questions – i) Do you really believe that most Christians remain Christians because they didn’t realize they had a choice?
ii) How does what you say not also apply to children raised by Atheists?

6.  “Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether they are ‘valid’, let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.”
Presumptions – i) Atheism is the only ‘compatible’ world-view.
ii) It is the ‘incompatibility’ of different faiths that leads to directly to (unwanted, evil etc.) consequences.
Clarification Questions – i) when you say ‘faiths’, I assume you mean ‘world-view’? And that would include Atheism within what you say?
ii) What do you mean by ‘incompatibility’?
iii) Since when did mere ‘incompatibility’ alone lead to the ‘consequences’ that you allude to?
iv) Isn’t ‘incompatibility’ to miss the point? Isn’t the common theme a lot more to do with humanity’s propensity to do evil in the name of a particular world-view…including Atheism?!

7.  “I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.”
Presumption – Rational thought and human understanding can only be achieved through science.
Clarification Question – Yes, I agree, it is thrilling that humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding! Did you know that some of history’s most prominent and influential scientists who pushed the boundaries of our understanding were Christians? (Like Galileo, Kepler, Faraday, Newton etc.) For them, rational enquiry and the pursuit of God went hand-in-hand.

8.  “The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.”
Presumption – This is just a brute presumption of Atheism!
Clarification Questions – i) How do the laws of physics make anything by themselves?
ii) Don’t forces and laws just govern how processes and mechanisms work rather than actually make anything themselves? You also need an intelligent agent or pre-existent matter or energy, too, don’t you?
iii) Do you think something really can come from literally nothing?
iv) Aren’t the laws of physics quite complex and yet ordered and utterly reliable? How do you think such laws permeate from random, mindless, chaos if there is no ‘God’ behind them?
v) If the only ‘watchmaker’ was physics and chemistry, then how do we account for rationality and knowledge? (See – ‘The FreeThinking Argument’ Here)

9.  “Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction).”
Presumption – i) Belief in God is delusional. ii) Atheists are not delusional
Clarification Questions
– i) In your experience are most Paranoid Schizophrenics Christian then? (It’s curious, I’ve never met any!)
ii) Didn’t the Atheist Friedrich Nietszche end up going insane?

10.  Isaac Asimov’s remark about the infantilism of pseudoscience is just as applicable to religion: ‘Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.’ It is astonishing, moreover, how many people are unable to understand that ‘X is comforting’ does not imply ‘X is true.’”
Presumption – Belief in God is just wishful thinking akin to a ‘comfort blanket’.
Clarification Question –
i) In what way does Asimov’s comment not also apply to Atheists? ii) Do you think the Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel understood that ‘X is comforting’ does not imply ‘X is true’ when he wrote – “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that”? – (Nagel, Thomas, The Last Word, pp. 130–131, Oxford University Press, 1997)

Now many will quite rightly think, as a Christian witness my aim is to help ‘win the soul rather than win an argument’. Correct. But it seems to me that, particularly in the privileged secular West, many folk need first-and-foremost to be challenged. They need cajoling by someone to ‘think about what they think they think,’ because in so many ways they haven’t thought things through and have just lived by socio/culturally driven presumptions.

If we as Christian witnesses can be surfacing & challenging these hidden presumptions, that so many Atheists and secular folk just instinctively hold to, then these may well be crucial seeds or ‘stone-in-shoes’ that can, inch-by-inch, dust away the misconceptions that intrude in hearts and minds that leave them closed to Christ and the salvific work of the Holy Spirit.

So, next time you manage to strike up a discussion about your faith and you’re promptly faced with a testing objection, and many of these can come in the form of a question, try thinking, firstly:

what is the presumption that is being smuggled in here?

For more on the importance and use of questions in our apologetic and evangelistic engagements I heartily recommend ‘Tactics’ by Greg Koukl –

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Did Jesus Experience a ‘Divine Abandonment’ at the Cross?



According to the 6th line of Stuart Townend’s popular modern hymn ‘How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,’ “The Father turns His Away.” This lyric depicts Jesus of Nazareth, having been almost universally abandoned by people on Earth, finally, and gut-wrenchingly, abandoned by His father in heaven. Hans Von Balthasar[1], Jurgen Moltmann[2] and William Lane[3] are three influential modern proponents of this ‘divinely abandoned’ view.                                                                                                                                          However, this view appears rooted, almost entirely, in Mark 15:34: ‘Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabatchthani’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’ Our reading of this verse matters more than many others. An entire depiction of Jesus can be heavily influenced through our understanding of it. Assuming he said it, why? And precisely what did he mean by it?
For Moltmann, ‘every theology which claims to be Christian must come to terms with Jesus’ cry on the cross.’ [4] But he is working on the presumption that Jesus is indeed asking a forlornly desperate, though genuine, question. From this presumption Moltmann concludes that it is not just a cry of despair and dereliction, but it indicated that Christ ‘was not merely assailed by fear and suffering in his human nature, as scholastic tradition would have it. He was assailed in his person, his very essence, in his relationship to the Father—in his divine sonship.’[5]                                                                                                                               In this post, I shall briefly discuss some of the problems associated with such a ‘divinely abandoned’ view, before sketching an alternative take on the verse that addresses these problems and thereby brings greater explanatory power and scope to our Christological and historical understanding of Jesus.

Problems with the Existing Interpretation: Theology and Metaphysics

 If we are to maintain a theology that posits God as the being of ‘maximal greatness,’[6] then the notion that in His perfect love He has ‘turned-away’ from His uniquely begotten Son remains problematic. How do we reconcile God’s perfect love with this?                                            Moreover, thinking both metaphysically and theologically, how does one person within the triune Godhead ‘turn away’ from another person within the triune Godhead, whilst maintaining a perfect, ontological Trinity? For orthodox Christian Theology dictates that Jesus is a consubstantial, co-existent person within a divinely aseitic Trinity, that permeates, necessarily, in perfect, immutable, harmonious unity. But for Moltmann, God, while still being God, turns away from God and in so doing undergoes suffering in some way and, therefore, has properties capable of change.                                                                                        Such conundrums impact our perceptions, and very understanding, of the Trinity and ‘God.’ From a theological perspective, the above orthodox Christian doctrines have been formulated after careful exegesis of the entire Biblical narrative. Moltmann’s Trinitarian view, meanwhile, relies heavily on an interpretation formulated predominantly from Mk.15:34 and speculative eisegesis of one documented event.

Exploring an Alternative Interpretation: Psalm 22

Exploring an alternative interpretation to Moltmann’s ‘divine abandonment’ theory begins with the recognition that Jesus was not just addressing God (The Father). For if he were we should almost certainly expect to see Jesus refer to God (The Father) as ‘My Father’ or even ‘Abba’ rather than ‘My God,’ an idiom that he just does not use anywhere else in the Gospels. This strongly suggests that he is quoting or referencing something.                     Moreover, Mark makes it even clearer that Jesus is specifically quoting Ps.22:1 and indeed Jesus is ‘appropriating it,’[7] as Mark gives the phrase in its original Aramaic, which indicates that Jesus recounted it in this language (his own) rather than just reciting it in its original Hebrew.
Therefore, we can be assured: it’s not a mere phrase that Jesus is using, he is clearly quoting the first line of Psalm 22, which is ultimately a Psalm of steadfast faith, of hope, deliverance and glory. It is a messianic psalm that vividly describes the desolate agony of an enduring suffering servant (V1-18); The strength of faith in God: ‘The Lord,’ that this servant draws on (V19-24); before heralding an ultimate victory in which a new universal and unending dominion of God is inaugurated (V25-31).                                                                 So if Jesus were looking to draw people’s attention to the whole Psalm rather than just its opening line then ‘the verse would be the ultimate expression of Jesus’ commitment to the Lord despite the causes for despair that surround him.’[8]                                                                            But are there reasonable grounds to think so? Well, if I sang, “God save our gracious Queen,” or said, “Our Father who art in heaven,” most people could either finish the verses or prayer, or at least have an awareness of how they continue because certain quotations in our culture, whether secular or religious, are known and even memorized because of their importance. According to Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm this was especially true of the psalms in Jesus’ time. He needed only say the first line, and most Jews would have known the rest:

“In the Jewish tradition up to this day, the books of the Pentateuch, or weekly portions of it, or some prayers, are cited by the first major word or sentence. Some psalms are also still cited by the first words or sen­tence. For instance Ashrei (Psalm 1), or Al naharot Bavel (Psalm 137). It is likely that at the time of the first Gospels, Psalm 22, in analogy to this usage, was also cited by its first major sentence. In other words, the Gospel tells us that Jesus, when he was dying, recited Psalm 22. This being so, there is no problem to be solved. As we have seen, the psalm begins in despair, but it ends in an enthusiastic mood of faith and hope.”[9]

As our social, cultural and anthropological knowledge has increased, so contemporary scholarship has continued to corroborate Fromm’s view and uncover further cultural ‘recital’ and ‘memorization’ norms. According to Dan Wallace: ‘These Middle-Eastern cultures and the Ancient cultures and especially the Ancient Jewish culture, learned how to memorize and lived by memorization extensively.’[10] Craig Keener’s research into the practice of ancient memorization has uncovered the same thing, and he argues that such practices were universal regardless of education and background.[11] Richard Bauckham notes that, ‘Memorization was universal in education in the ancient world. Learning meant, to a significant degree, memorizing…Books existed not so much to be read as to be heard and their contents to be held in the memory and transmitted orally.’[12] He adds, ‘In a Jewish context Scripture would certainly be memorized verbatim.”[13] Indeed, this practice is ‘still very much alive in the Middle East’ today.[14] All of this strongly corroborates Fromm’s proposition that Jesus was, indeed, referencing Psalm 22 in its entirety.

 Biography and Historiography

Modern scholarship now accepts that the Gospel’s belong to the genre of ancient Greco-Roman biography.[15] As such, they should be no more overlooked as historical sources than any other such works from the period, from writers like Plutarch, Tacitus or Lucian. Bauckham insists that the Gospel’s go back via carefully passed on oral traditions to sources of direct eye-witness testimony.[16] In treating them as such we can explore the collective contextual narrative that they portray in the way that any historian or investigator would do in reconstructing an event or scene. One might find this an all too ‘Tatian’ approach. However, just as there was one resurrection, and one assassination of Julius Caesar, so there was one event of ‘the cross.’                                                                                            When examined, the gospel accounts reveal a plethora of overlapping corroboration. And not just the ‘lifting’ of a Markan account by Matthew. Rather, much that is mentioned in one testimony is either expanded upon or ‘compressed’ by another.[17] This is exactly what we should expect to find in ancient biographical accounts, and even eye-witness accounts today.
The latter gospels: Luke and John, primarily seem to be supplementing the earlier Markan passion narrative (see Lk.1:1-2) and leaving certain details out that were already well known from that existing account. Every gospel references time (Mk.15:25, 33-34; Mt.27:1, 45; Lk.23:44; Jn.19:14). This is a signature detail of something that is demanding to be received as (evidential) testimony. Luke states that he has conducted his own thorough investigation (Lk.1:3) and John insists that he was an eye-witness to the event himself (Jn.19:26, 35). So they would have been read as additional testimonies to the one event.

Jesus: Context of the Cross

              In a gospel reconstruction of the cross we see that Jesus was crucified alongside two others (Mk.15:25-27). This is corroborated by both Matthew (27:38) and John (19:18) and Jesus’ interaction with these 2 men is expanded by Luke (Lk.23:32, 39-43) which concludes with Jesus telling one that on that day they will be with him in paradise (Lk.23:43). All three Synoptics mention the soldiers drawing lots and dividing up his clothes (Mk.15:24, Mt.27:35, Lk.23:34) which is then expanded upon by John (19:23-24). This echoes Psalm 22:18. Onlookers then mock and insult him (Mk.15:29-31 Mt.27:39-41, Lk.23:35-36) which echoes Psalm 22:6-7. And the mocking sentiment of Psalm 22:8 foreshadows Mk.15:31-32, 36, Mt.27:43, Lk. 23:35). Before noon Jesus both asks His Father to forgive his enemies who are having him crucified (Lk.23:34) and lovingly declares to his mother and John that they are now as mother and son (Jn.1926-27).
The Synoptics then recount a ‘darkness’ (Mk.15:33, Mt.27:45, 23:44) coming over the land at noon, which remained until Jesus’ death at 3pm. At this point (3pm) Mark and Matthew record Jesus’ Psalm 22:1 ‘cry.’ But, by this time, much of the content of the whole Psalm had already unfolded: including (historically) verses 3-5 and concurrently, V6-8 and 12-18.                                                                                                                                                                                    Therefore, two immediate possibilities spring to mind: Either all the gospel accounts were written with Psalm 22 in mind, or Jesus was fully aware that Psalm 22 was unfolding prophetically and he vocally declared it. The latter possibility clearly coheres with our ‘alternative’ interpretation.

Moreover, Jesus neither appears to be suffering perplexed, anguished abandonment prior to 3pm – as we can surmise from his praying to his Father for his enemies; his loving exchange with Mary and John; and his promise of impending paradise to a crucified man alongside him. Nor does he seem to be in such a helpless mental state immediately after offering this Psalm 22:1 ‘cry’ either. For Luke’s crucifixion account concludes with Jesus praying again to His Father: from another Psalm, this time Psalm 31:5 (Lk.23:46), also notably a Psalm of faith, hope and redemption rather than despair. This hardly seems to cohere with the idea that Jesus is ‘cut-off’ from His Father at this point. And John’s account concludes with Jesus, at the point of death, declaring ‘tetelestai’: a declaration of triumphant accomplishment (Jn.19:30). And either of these could well be what Matthew had condensed in 27:50. John 19:30, in particular, is a remarkably similar exclamation to the ‘he has done it!’ exhortation at very end of Psalm 22 (and Is.44:22-3).

Thus, the idea that Jesus is merely crying out in hopeless anguish and questioning despair on the cross just doesn’t fit an overall context for the Jesus that is portrayed around it. We can legitimately ask why, in the face of these clear portraits, not only of Christ’s suffering on the cross, but also his display of strength, grace and resolve, does Moltmann insist on bracketing Mk.15:34 as a ‘cry of despair’?[18] For even he recognizes that Christ’s other sayings on the cross convey a sense of ‘comfort and triumph.’[19]

Jesus: In His Broader Context

On this ‘divine abandonment’ view, the ever present self-understanding and autonomy that Jesus has of Himself and His mission, that is consistently portrayed throughout Mark (and all other Gospels), suddenly seems turned on its head at Mk.15:34. From chapter 8 onwards Mark portrays a Jesus who knows and embraces his mission and destiny: the cross and resurrection, alongside his forlorn attempts to explain this intentional destiny to his disciples, who do not understand. (See Mk.8:31-38, 9:12, 9:31-32, 10:33-34 and 10:45)
In Mk.14:21 and Jn.5:39 Jesus declares that the OT Scriptures were written about him and the gospels clearly reveal a Jesus who is intimately acquainted with them. He cites Isaiah a multitude of times. It is therefore highly likely that Jesus identified himself as the suffering servant of Isaiah 52/3. Jesus also identifies himself as the Son of Man figure prophesied in Daniel 7, as he associates himself to it in Mk.8:38, 13:26 and, finally when interrogated by Caiaphas in Mk.14:62. Dunn argues that Daniel 7 implies a suffering servant, as the representative of the suffering and oppressed ‘Saints of the most high.’[20] According to George Eldon Ladd, “Jesus poured the content of the Suffering Servant into the SoM concept.’[21]

Similarly, in the same response to Caiaphas, Jesus also refers to Himself as ‘the Lord’ depicted in Psalm 110. For the Psalms are another genre of OT Scripture in which Jesus saw himself and his destined mission. In the parable of the tenants, for example, Jesus self-identifies as being the ‘rejected cornerstone’ of Psalm 118. For Jesus believed his sacrificial mission and destiny lay in his fulfilling prophetic scriptures (see Matthew 5:17, 26:52-54; Mark 14:21, 14:49; Luke 18:31, 24:7, 25-27, Luke 4:17-21). According to Casey, ‘Jesus saw his own fate in the scriptures.’[22]

Indeed, the Last Supper (Mt.26:17-30, Mk.14:12-26, Lk.22:7-39) brings the Isaiah prophecies and Jesus’ intention to, Himself, be the Passover Lamb sharply into focus.             This portrayal is not just confined to the Synoptics. Jn.3:14-15 and 12:32-33 present a Jesus who fully intended to be crucified. John begins his Gospel by directing His readers to this intention (Jn.1:36). John 10, similarly, depicts Jesus alluding back to Ezekiel 34 but, in perceiving himself as the shepherd, he clearly and unequivocally announces his intention to sacrifice his life for his sheep (Jn.10:11) and, strikingly, Jesus declares that this intended sacrificial death is the ‘reason his Father loves him’ as ‘commanded’ by The Father. (Jn.10:17-18).

Jesus then declares that ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn.10:30). Whether Jesus means in homoousios, or merely, in will is a matter for debate. John indicates that his onlookers took this to be a claim to be God (V33) a theme that echoes back to Jn.5:18. However, even if Jesus meant in terms of mission and will, as against full-blown ontology, such divinely missional self-awareness is all a far cry from an interpretation of Jesus crying out in perplexed, anguished abandonment on the cross. As Torrance insists, “there is a oneness of mind between the Father and the Son, revealed supremely in the cross.”[23]
The dual themes of mutual Father/Son glorification, in both ontology and in the mission of the cross, is also distinctive in Jn.12:23, 28, 29; 13:1, 3; 13:31-32; 14:10-11, 13. The latter is certainly a major juxtaposition to the theological ideas of Moltmann et al. of a cosmic, Trinitarian rip at the cross and postulating a divine Son abandoned by His Father.[24]

Furthermore, John 12:28-33 strongly juxtaposes such a view on its own. For this is the third occasion in the Gospels where we are given an account of the literal voice of God (The Father) being heard. The first is at Jesus’ baptism (Mk.1:11) and the second at the Transfiguration (Mk.9:7). On both occasions the Father affirms and declares His love for ‘His Son.’ But, on this third occasion in John 12, as the impending ‘hour’ of his crucifixion approaches, both the Son and the Father cry out in glorification for one another and this hour of crucifixion. Moreover, Jn.12:30 echoes back to the previous chapter at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn.11:41-42) where Jesus says something that was ‘for the benefit of the people,’ just as God’s voice was at Jn.12:30. But in the previous chapter Jesus had gone on to declare that ‘I knew that you always hear me.’ (Jn.11:42)

Thus, it has deeply troubling ramifications if, following this public, vocal affirmation of the Father and Son in a mutual, mission of glorification via the cross, Jesus, just hours later cries out in perplexed, anguished abandonment during the ‘glorious’ event itself. At most, we might hypothesize that, in penning his gospel, John (and perhaps Luke too) was seeking to re-dress this idea already in circulation: that Jesus had died in weakness and despair that a certain interpretation of Mark’s gospel had wrought. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus praying that the cup may be taken from him in Gethsemane (Mk.14:36) and then crying out in (supposed) abandonment on the cross (Mk.15:34) is strikingly replaced by Jesus praying resolutely for His disciples (Jn.17) and then with final words of triumphant accomplishment at the cross in John (Jn.19:30).

Moreover, Luke’s gospel (Lk. 24:25-27), post-cross, spells out how the ‘Messiah’s suffering’ was an integral part of the prophetic mission. So in all the Gospel accounts we see a pre and post-cross Jesus who is of one missional mind. Positing, then, a mid-cross Jesus who is utterly perplexed and abandoned just does not seem to fit.

Most historians and theologians would agree with E.P Sanders that, as far as escaping his execution, Jesus ‘seems not to have tried.’[25] For his self-understanding and mission was far further reaching than his earthly life.[26] Rather, at the will of God, (See Isaiah 53:10; John 3:16, 18:11; Acts 2:23; 1 Corinthians 2:7-9) Jesus intended to die.[27] Should we really, then, regard it as pure coincidence, that Psalm 22 uniquely seems to allude to Jesus’ own self-understanding as the (Isaian) suffering servant, including the nature and finer details of his mission, and his ultimate victory?

On a ‘divine abandonment’ view some troubling questions remain: Are we to believe that Jesus is actually asking ‘why?’ Because he’s crying out in anguished bewilderment and is seeking divine answers? Is it a genuine question: ‘why have I been abandoned, because I don’t know?’ Given the effort it would have required to say this (whilst in agony he would have had to muster the energy to push himself upwards on the cross and expel invaluable amounts of the precariously little oxygen he had left in order to say this) why would he bother? For if he knew this was all coming (including divine abandonment) then why go through this pain of publicly exclaiming it? Or, is it that he did know, but he’s announcing his abandonment for some other reason? On this view the victorious content of the suffering one contained in the second half of Psalm 22 remains curiously coincidental if Jesus were not looking to draw people’s attention to the whole Psalm.

Or did Jesus not realize he was to be abandoned by His Father? If so, this has problematic repercussions for our understanding of the Trinity & even Christ’s divinity, if this ‘oneness’ that he has proclaimed all-along, wasn’t in fact the case at the cross, to Jesus’ despairing surprise. If Jesus was in such a state doesn’t this, in at least some sense, suggest the Father is a deceiver or manipulator, if Jesus experienced this abandonment in a way that he was not expecting? Cue Steve Chalke…

A Contextual Interpretation

With our contextual understanding in mind, if Jesus was referencing (all of) Psalm 22: then our reasons for concluding God-The-Father has completely abandoned His Son in his Son’s suffering quickly dissipate.
In fact, other possibilities immediately present themselves: Jesus may well have been praying the Psalm to His Father, but in hope and assurance rather than abject despair of abandonment. This view is taken by Joachim Jeremias[28] and William Lane Craig.[29] And although R.T. France insists that Jeremias ‘does not support’ it,[30] I would suggest that our developing contemporary understanding of memorization customs, recital patterns and the oral culture of Judaism and the middle East, does.
Alternatively, by quoting this psalm, Jesus might have been announcing himself to be the fulfilment of prophecy, that he would be vindicated and victorious, which is evident in the psalm’s triumphant ending.

Or, perhaps even, Jesus was principally announcing this Psalm to his immediate hearers (see Jn.11:42), which included the Chief Priests and teachers of the law, in all probability, the very same people that were present at his ‘trial,’ including Caiaphas. This possibility presents us with the same Jesus that was stood before Caiaphas defying him just hours earlier during his trial (Mk 14.62). Perhaps, even on the cross, Jesus remained defiant to all those that did not understand and believed they were having him killed. For in Mk.14:62, Jesus, in one verse, had declared himself to be the embodiment of the eschatological Son of Man figure depicted in Daniel 7, and the embodiment of ‘the Lord,’ sitting at God’s right hand, depicted throughout Psalm 110. Then, just hours later on the cross, Jesus, in similar fashion, in one verse, declared himself to be the embodiment of the suffering, yet victorious saviour depicted in (the whole of) Psalm 22. As if he’s still telling them, just as he did during his trial: ‘I know what I am doing, I am fulfilling my mission!’

It could, in fact, be the same ‘and you will see…’ (Mk.14:62) Jesus that was stood before Caiaphas just hours previously. That with some of his final words, he was again citing Scripture to inform his gathered conspirators and persecutors (Mk.15:31) that he was far from cursed (Deut.21:23) and defeated, but was, in fact, in the throes of victory. And this interpretation coheres with an overall picture that the cross narratives paint of Jesus collectively: Not of a man emotionally desperate, destroyed, broken and utterly abandoned. But one who died victorious and duly declaring it (Jn.19:30 / Ps.22:31)

For if Jesus were merely crying out in perplexed, anguished abandonment then why did he cry out Psalm 22:1? Why this verse from this Psalm and not, say, a verse from a Psalm that only speaks of abandonment or desperation, like Psalm 142 for instance? Or, moreover, Psalm 88 where many of the verses, particularly v14 (‘why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?’), would seem to be immensely more appropriate if that is what he was feeling or wanted to convey? But, on the contrary, Jesus cites Psalm 22 which is ultimately a Psalm of hope and victory through a time of great suffering and darkness. And 22:24 (‘he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help’) says the complete opposite to Psalm 88:14 and, indeed, this ‘tradition’ that says God ‘hid his face’ from Jesus on the cross!



                Lest I be misunderstood, this essay does not seek to downplay the excruciating physical agony of the cross, which Jesus took upon himself. What it does seek to argue is that this physical torment did not lead to, or include, a ‘spiritual abandonment’ or ‘cutting off’ of the Son from The Father, within the ontological interconnection of The Trinity.
The problem with the ‘divine abandonment’ hermeneutic is its conflation of the stark depictions of Mark and Matthew’s gospels of Jesus’ rejection, suffering and abandonment by man, and far too swiftly superimposing this rejection and abandonment onto Jesus by God Himself at the cross.

Indeed, that Jesus would cite this Psalm because of its depiction of both his suffering and final victory, entirely coheres with the considerable insight into his extensive self-understanding and sense of mission portrayed by every gospel. This, and the overarching narrative of the cross that we have, when all of the Gospel testimonies are examined side by side, present us with a very different Jesus than a man wretchedly toiling in hopeless, Spiritless abandonment.

We should therefore be extremely cautious about interpreting Mk.15:34 as Jesus declaring his complete and total abandonment by His Father, and then constructing ad-hoc Trinitarian theologies around it, as perhaps, Moltmann and others have done. On the contrary, far from utterly abandoned by God-The-Father, he may never have lost sight of their impending goal. It may even be this that he was declaring more than anything else.



Anselm, Proslogion
Bailey, K.E. ‘Informed Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels’ in Asia Journal of Theology 5 (1991)
Bauckham, R. Jesus A Very Short Introduction  (Oxford: OUP, 2011)
— — (Personal Interview)
— — Jesus and the Eye Witnesses (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 2008)
Burridge, Richard A Four Gospels, One Jesus 2nd edn (London: SPK, 2005)
Carey, H. Jesus’ Cry From the Cross: Towards a First-century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark’s Gospel (London: T&T Clark 2009)
Casey, M. The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem (Bloomsbury: London 2009)
Craig, W.L. ‘Do the Gospels Support a Muslim View of Jesus?
Crossley, J. The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (T&T Clark: London 2004)
Dunn, J.D.G. ‘The Son of Man in Mark’ in Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift D. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth eds.(T&T Clark: London 2013)
France R.T. The Gospel of Mark: The New international Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2014)
Fromm, E. You shall be as gods: A radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967)
Goodacre, M. Scripturalization in Mark‘s Crucifixion Narrative in Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006): 33-47
Gundry, R.H. Commentary on Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker 2010)
Hooker, M. The Son of Man in Mark (SPCK: London 1967)
Hurtado, L.  ‘A New Take on Jesus’ Cry from the Cross’
Jeremias, J. New Testament Theology (Norwich: SCM 2012)
Jesus of Testimony (documentary)
Keith, C. ‘Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross (according to Mark and Matthew)?’
Ladd, G.E.  A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1974)
Lane, W.L. The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1974)
Marcus, J. Mark 8-16 The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary (Yale University 2009)
— — The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster 1992)
— –‘The Role of Scripture in the Gospel Passion Narratives’, in John T. Carroll and Joel B. Green (eds.), The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendricksons, 1995)
Moltmann, J. The Crucified God (tr. John Bowden & R.A. Wilson; London: SCM, 1974),
— — The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (tr. Margaret Kohl; London: SCM, 1981)
Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus (Allen Lane 1993)
Stanton, G. The Gospels and Jesus  2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 2002)
Torrance, J. B. ‘Worship – Unitarian Or Trinitarian?’ In: Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. (Carlisle: Paternoster 1996)
Von Balthazar, H.U.  Mysterium Paschale (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990 second edition)
Wenham, D. and Walton, S. Exploring the NT (vol1) 2nd edn (London: SPCK, 2011)
Wilmhurst, S. Mark: A ransom For Many (Darlington: EP Books 2011)
[1] See Von Balthazar, H. Mysterium Paschale

[2] See Moltmann, J. The Crucified God

[3] Lane, W.L. The Gospel of Mark,pp.572-3

[4] Ibid,p.152

[5] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God,p.77

[6] See Anselm, Proslogion

[7] Bauckham R.,(personal interview 38mins-38.33mins)

[8] Keith, C. ‘Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross (according to Mark and Matthew)?’(Blog)

[9] Fromm, E You shall be as gods: A radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition,p.232

[10] Wallace, D. Jesus of Testimony(40.17mins-40.27mins)

[11] Keener, C. ibid,(40.27mins-41.52mins)

[12] Bauckham, R. Jesus and the Eye Witnesses,p.280

[13] Ibid,p.281;

[14] Bailey, K.E. ‘Informed Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels’,pp.5-6

[15] Burridge R. Four Gospels, One Jesus,p.8;cf. Stanton G. The Gospels and Jesus,p.17

[16] Bauckham R. The Jesus of Testimony(1.13mins-1.22mins)

[17] Such literary devices were commonplace within the genre of Greco-Roman biography. For example, see Plutarch:Life Of Antony Chapter 12 to Plutarch:Life of Caesar Chapters 60 and 61.

[18] Moltmann, Trinity,p.77

[19] Moltmann, Crucified God,p.146

[20] Dunn,J.D.G.‘Mark’,pp.24-5

[21] Ladd,G.E. A Theology of the NT,p.157

[22] Casey,M. The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem,p.129

[23] Torrance, J.B. Worship – Unitarian Or Trinitarian?P.12

[24] See Moltmann-‘the first person of the Trinity casts out and annihilates the second’ The Crucified God,p.241

[25] Sanders E.P.The Historical Figure of Jesus,p.267

[26] Ibid,p.248;cf. Wenham & Walton Exploring the NT,p.165

[27] Wenham & Walton Exploring the NT,p.170;cf. Bauckham,(personal interview 38mins-38.33mins)

[28] Jeremias J. New Testament Theology,p.189

[29] Craig, W.L. ‘Do the Gospels Support a Muslim View of Jesus?

[30] France R.T. The Gospel of Mark,p.652

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The First Recorded Words of Jesus Inform Us of His Divinity

I want to suggest that there’s another point that we can make in our apologetic efforts with Jehovahs Witnesses, Muslims and anybody else that doesn’t believe that Jesus’ divinity is implied by the Gospels: The first recorded words of Jesus inform us of His Divinity!

Today, when we refer to or talk about praying to, ‘the Father’ or ‘our Father,’ we  think no more of such phraseology than the fact that we are just referring to God: our creator and sustainer.
It is from such a backdrop that I think we can sometimes miss the power and importance of Jesus’ very first recorded words, as recorded by Luke –

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. – (Luke 2:46-51 NIV)

Commentators have long-since seen V49 as the central verse here. But, for me, what’s really significant is not whether the verse should be read: ‘in My Father’s house’ or ‘about My Father’s business.’
What is significant are the two little words ‘My Father’s.’ (Greek – patros mou)

Today, our instinct might be to give scarcely more weight or significance to Jesus using that phrase than if you or I say were to say, ‘Our Father.’ But He really is saying much more than that! To see why we need to look at John’s Gospel  –

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

According to the UBS Greek NT it is the same 2 words that Jesus uses in both the Temple courts in Luke 2 and before the Jewish leaders in John 5:- ‘patros mou’ – ‘My Father’.

The phraseology does not have to be as such. Either / or account could have said, for example,  tou patros (The Father) or simply Ho Theos (God), but they don’t.

And John 5:18 spells out the enormous significance of the phrase in first century Judaism: It was an outrageous blasphemy – ‘making Himself equal with God‘.

It seems to me this is exactly what Jesus is doing in Luke 2 – our very first recorded words of Jesus!
His divinity was not invented at Nicaea!! From His very first recorded words, and from then on throughout His life, Jesus was declaring His divinity and mission!

This understanding also helps us make sense of Luke 2:51 too. Because, ‘Mary treasured this in her heart,’  looks odd at first. We go from her lamenting: ‘son, why have you treated us like this,’ to her not understanding his response, to then ‘treasuring these things in her heart,’ as they went back to Nazareth.

It is worth noting that the same phrase: she ‘treasured all these things in heart,’ was used earlier in Luke 2, in verse 19. But there the context is clear that she had been ‘treasuring’ what she had heard from the shepherds: that her newborn son would be the Saviour and Messiah.

At first glance in verse 51 it’s not quite so clear. But I think she has just realized what Jesus meant: Just as the later Jewish authorities (in John 5) would know what He meant, and just as the shepherds had previously told her at his birth:-

Jesus, Himself, has now told her and confirmed the same thing: That He is ‘The Unique Son of God!’ This is what she treasures in her heart!

We can treasure it in ours too!!

For much more on the Divinity of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels I strongly recommend ‘Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ’ by Rob Bowman & Ed Komoszewski –


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The misnomer of the ‘God of the Gaps’ claim.

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Why the Discovery of the Kepler-452b (‘Earth 2’) Is NOT Bad news for God

The recent discovery of the Kepler 452b planet has had several commentators drooling with excitement as they further speculate that we may not be alone in the universe after all.

Others, such as Jeff Schweitzer have seen it as cause to make ignorant claims about the Bible and attempt to use it as ammunition against Christianity, as he does here in this Huffington Post article –

My intention is not to get into the plethora of fallacies, arguments from silence and woefully bad Biblical exegesis that his article relies on to indulge his hyperbole. And I don’t wish to pick on one article when several have been written in response to this discovery.

But let me just mention 3 things very briefly:
1) St. Augustine, back in the 4th century, pointed out that a wooden and literal reading of Genesis was folly.
2) Nowhere does Jesus, nor the Bible in fact, insist that we are alone in the universe.
3) There is a passage from the NT that might even be Jesus referring to other forms of life not from this planet – “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” – John 10:16

Rather, I’d like to just mention what this finding DOES impact upon: morality.

The form of the moral argument I would normally cite is William lane Craig’s. It simply runs as follows –

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Read more:

Now, in his book On Guard, regarding Darwinism, Craig notes “If the film of evolutionary history were rewound and shot anew, very different species with a very different set of values might well have evolved.”

Now his point was confirmed and corroborated by Darwin himself when he said in the Descent of Man –
“If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it their sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

Therefore, the claim against premise 1 above: that evolution can somehow command notions of objectivity when it comes to our engagement with morality and ethics, is simply wishful thinking. Yet this is exactly what many contemporary philosophers, like Kai Nielson, Tim Maudlin, Thomas Nagel, Michael Martin, Louise Antony and Sam Harris espouse. Broadly speaking they would argue on the bases of ‘greater good’ (consequentialism) and ‘social contract’ models for grounding the existence of objective moral values and duties. However, these proposals are deeply flawed.
For, firstly, on naturalism, we are merely the products of socio-biological conditioning, our ideas of morality and ethics included! To claim that our human notions of moral values and duties have somehow ‘evolved’ to objective status would be, as Craig would say, just an appeal to ‘specieism.’

But, secondly, and this is where planets like Kepler-452b come in, if we hypothesize that we are not alone in the universe then just how do our notions of ethics and morality impose themselves as ontologically objective to anyone else?

If Kepler-452b had 10 billion inhabitants and though they were more advanced than us, they had used up their planets resources and were starving and so began eating our planet’s 7 billion inhabitants and harvesting Earth’s resources would we think that objectively ok, on account of it being for ‘the greater good’? If not why not? (other than just a special appeal to ‘specieism.’)

If Kepler-452b decided that it wanted to slowly exterminate all human beings on Earth over a sustained 10 yr period for 10 seasons of its new entertainment show, then just what reaction would Maudlin, Nagel, Harris et al. get when they claimed that this was objectively wrong? When the game-show host stopped laughing and just asked ‘says who?’ what could they say?

The bottom line is that the more we suspect that there may well be other life in the universe, the more obvious it will become that we must look to something / someone beyond this universe if we hope to reasonably and rationally affirm the existence of objective moral values and duties.

The only other escape from the moral argument is to bite the bullet and embrace nihilism: something that is so counter intuitive and so contrary to experience for almost all of us, that it would make life unbearable, highlighting the meaninglessness, purposelessness and valuelessness of life the universe and everything in it!

Ergo, the more our understanding of this universe suggests life, the more our ‘moral compasses’ must point us to God.

The moral argument –

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What did Paul think about the role of women in the Church?


In this essay I will engage with Paul as he has traditionally been handed down to us, paying attention to only the most relevant texts to our question.

The Cultural and Societal Context

In Paul’s day, ‘women nowhere enjoyed the social freedom recognized as their right today.’[1]  Keener cites various sources’ depictions of women, including: Jewish teachers branding them ‘evil;’ Josephus insisting that they should be subordinate for their own good and dismissing the trustworthiness of their witness; and Philo declaring that they have little sense.[2]                                                                                                                                              Under Roman law only the ‘paterfamilias,’ (male heads of household) were recognized as a full person in Roman law and society. [3] Accountability for family members came with this.[4] Moreover, teaching roles ‘were, with rare exceptions, limited to men.’[5]

1 Corinthians

This letter addresses certain specific issues. Paul addresses husbands & wives on equal terms,[6] preaching reciprocity (1Cor.7:2-5) and advocating female head-covering (1 Cor.11:2-16), as to have it uncovered was often a sign of being sexually available.[7]                               This could easily have flared into a major controversy. Therefore, Paul’s purpose was undoubtedly church unity. [8] However, ‘Paul nowhere in this text subordinates the woman.’[9] Regarding 1Tim.14:34-35 perhaps Paul was addressing Corinthian women who were abusing the gifts of the Spirit or who had problems discerning prophesies;[10] or more likely, addressing the problem of ignorant questioning during teaching. Interrupting with a question was culturally acceptable in the ancient world, but it was considered rude if the question was ignorant. As women were seldom educated they could have been the ones predominantly guilty of this. Thus Paul suggests that they should remain quiet during services whilst also promoting improved female education.[11]                                                                      Furthermore female head-coverings ‘indicated commitment to her husband but also respected the Jewish obligation for a man to divorce a woman who appeared in the street with head uncovered (m. Ketub.7:6)’ [12] and, like Jesus, divorce was something Paul held strong views against.                                                                                                            Moreover,  Paul is not telling women to remain silent altogether in church, for he has already mentioned that he expects them to pray and prophesy publicly along with men (1 Cor.11:4-5), nor is he clearly referring to the teaching of scripture.

1 Timothy

Paul was asking Timothy to deal with the growing problem of false teaching (1 Tim.1:3). For Paul ‘they must be stopped, and Timothy was left in Ephesus to do it,’[13] it was his ‘overriding concern.’[14]                                                                                                                                      1 Tim.2:8-15 remains the most contentious passage to our question. Regarding v9 Winter reaffirms that ostentatious dress often sent seductive signals.[15] Moo confirms this.[16]                                                                                                                                                                    Paul then prohibits women to teach (didasko) in such a way as to take authority (authenteo) over men. If Paul is using authenteo in its strongest sense, he may merely be objecting to the practice of women attempting to seize authority from men. This is Belleville’s view and she suggests that the Ephesian Artemis cult may provide the key backdrop to understanding this verse. For in the Artemis cult ‘the female was exalted and considered superior to the male.’[17] Acts 19:28-37 corroborates the impact and significance of the cult to Ephesus, which indeed held the temple to her, in its time one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.                                                                                                               Winter agrees that ‘here the term carries not only the connotation of authority but also an inappropriate misuse of it.’[18]                                                                                                           Many of the oldest translations understood the Greek in this way. (eg The Old Latin, Vulgate and KJV).[19]  Belleville observes that Lexicographers Louw and Nida record twelve entries for ‘rule’ and forty-seven for ‘govern.’ If Paul had this in mind he could have made this clear. Instead he chooses a phrase unique to the entire New Testament. The most obvious reason being that he intended the word to be heard in its strongest sense.                                                                                                                                                          Indeed, Belleville outlines the extensive tradition within ancient Greek culture that saw the word often used in very sinister (often murderous) contexts.[20] She concludes: ‘there is no first century warrant for translating authentein as to exercise authority…rather the sense is the Koine ‘to dominate, to get one’s way.’[21]

1Tim.1:4-7, 1:20, 6:3-5, Tim 2:17; suggest that, for Paul, as women ‘were most susceptible’ to the false teachers they might provide a ‘network’ for their worrying expansion.[22] Thus Paul offers both a ‘short-range’ and ‘long-range’ solution: women should not be ruling the teaching; and they need to be actively learning. [23] Paul, in addressing the women, is no less simply being governed by the social situation, than his prior address to the men to stop quarrelling.[24]                                                                                                                                             Furthermore, Payne has made a crucial observation regarding verse 12: “the verb here is ‘I am not (now) permitting’. There is not a single instance of the use of this verb in Greek literature where this form means ‘I am permanently banning women from teaching etc.’”[25] On the contrary, it implies a temporary restriction because of an immediate problem. Paul could have said ‘I will never permit women to teach… but he did not, and for a good reason. He is correcting a problem.’[26]                                                                                        Therefore, Paul is probably being a lot less misogynistic and a great deal more Christ-like than perhaps many today realize, exploring these passages in isolation, through a contemporary lens.

Paul’s Affirmations of Women

Paul refers to Phoebe as a ‘servant,’ (Rom. 16:1-2) possibly in the sense of being a deacon and a minister of God’s word like himself, and also a ‘helper of many.’ Paul does not grant this title (prostatis) to anyone else in his correspondence, indicating: ‘that he holds this woman in high esteem.’[27] For Macdonald, ‘Phoebe’s activities offer perhaps the most important evidence for women’s leadership in the Pauline churches.’[28]

In the proceeding list (Rom 16:3-16), although Paul lists about twice as many men as women, he commends twice as many women as men! This may indicate his sensitivity to ‘opposition women undoubtedly faced.’[29] Here he also mentions Priscilla, naming her before Aquila, something most unconventional. Her significance is also corroborated by Luke (Acts 18:26). Keener declares that, ‘These passages alone establish Paul among the more progressive writers of his culture.’[30]

Paul also mentions ‘Junia,’ a common feminine name and as Keener[31] and Macdonald[32] argue: the proposal that Junia is not a woman rests on the assumption that a woman could not be an apostle, rather than on any evidence inherent in the text itself.

As well as Prisca (Priscilla) the Pauline epistles include references to Nympha, who hosts an ekklesia (church gathering) in her house (Col 4:15). Meanwhile, Acts suggests that the house of Mary (12:12-17) and that of Lydia (16:14-15,40) also ‘served as bases for the movement.’[33] Paul also refers to Euodia and Syntyche, women who ‘struggled beside me in the work of the gospel’ (Phil 4:2-3) which is very apostolic language!

Evaluating the conservative position

Moo (clearly also representing the views of Piper and Grudem) acknowledges that women have been endowed with spiritual gifts;[34] and that Ephesus was beset by false teaching, something that gave rise to Paul’s instructions in 2:9-16;[35] and he accepts that the educating of females ‘was not generally encouraged by the Jews.’[36] Yet he concludes:  ‘For any woman in any culture to engage in these activities (teach or have authority) with respect to men means that she is violating the Biblical principle of submission.’[37]                                                                                                                                                                                    He maintains that this would be Paul’s ‘position in any church.’[38] But this stance isn’t supported, for Moo simply feels that the burden is upon others to show that this wouldn’t be Paul’s instructions to every church in any context.[39] Witherington disagrees and supports his argument that, ‘Paul is not laying down first principles here, he is correcting an existing problem’[40]                                                                                                                                    Moo’s interpretation of quiet submission, teaching and Paul’s citing of God’s ordering of Adam and Eve in creation and Eve‘s falling into sin (1 Tim 2:13-14),[41] drive him to this conclusion.
However, the context of the prior use of the Greek word (hesuchia) indicates that we should interpret 1 Tim 2:11 in the same way as 2:2 – that we have a quiet peace and serenity about us as we seek to learn.[42] Indeed, 1Peter 3:4 reveals the virtuosity of ‘quietness,’ in contrast to outward ostentatiousness. It articulates the beauty of the quiet and humble-hearted, something ‘precious’ to God.                                                                                        Secondly, Paul’s use of hupotasso (v11 submission) elsewhere, strongly suggests that he viewed this as an innately Christian virtue, and not just confined to females within a gender-role directive. For in 1st Corinthians he implores them to submit to the visiting household of Stephanas. (1Cor16:15-16) Paul also points out how all things are under submission to Christ and then God Himself. (1Cor15:27-28)
Moreover, in his previous letter to the Ephesian church he uses hupotasso to describe how slaves should submit to their masters and, astonishingly, vice-versa; (Eph 6:5-9) and how all within the household should submit to one another (Eph5:21) and how a wife should submit to a husband just as the church should submit to Christ (Eph5:24). Kroeger notes:

As Christ the head brought growth and empowerment to the body of believers (Eph 4:15; Col 2:10), so the husband should be the enabler of the wife for personal growth and empowerment in a society that afforded her few opportunities.[43]

                These examples illustrate how Paul’s view of hupotasso is not about submitting meekly to a domineering autocrat, something that we might associate with ‘submission’ today. No, it’s about a harmonious sense of belonging. This sharply deviated from the common household code,[44] and was altogether more radical. ‘Householders were sometimes called to be sensitive to their wives, children and slaves, but they were never told to submit to them.’[45]
                Thirdly, Moo defines teaching as: ‘the careful transmission of the tradition concerning Jesus Christ and the authoritative proclamation of God’s will to believers in light of that tradition.’ [46] Should we believe that Phoebe, Priscilla or Junia weren’t involved in any of this? They clearly sound like servants of the Gospel!                                                      Moo argues that it is ‘manifestly not true’ that if local or temporary circumstances are identified against which a passage is written then one can conclude that it has only limited application. Again, he offers nothing to substantiate this dismissal,[47] Keener[48] and Fee[49] disagree entirely!                                                                                                          Regarding 2:12 Moo bemoans that the lack of educated women ‘isn’t stated, or even hinted at, in the text.’[50] He argues, ‘is it not a dangerous procedure to import such factors without clear warrant in the text?’[51] Well, this would be to ignore the social and cultural context, through which we ascertain those things that simply weren’t necessary to say. That women were not as well educated as men is clearly one such example. To confine our hermeneutic to literally only that which is explicitly stated directly by a text should leave us wondering whether Paul actually believed the sky is blue or not. After all, nowhere does he comment on this!
Finally, though verses 13-14 do seem to push us towards thinking more universally than particularly, when we view them in tandem with v 5:15 we get a sense that Paul is not citing Eve’s deception by Satan to highlight some innate idea of female foolishness or inadequacy, but more acutely to point out that history was repeating itself. Satan was at it again in Ephesus!                                                                                                                        Moreover, Paul had given the exact same warning to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:3). Taken together we see that Paul’s motive is the latter (fear of Satanic deception) rather than the former (subjugation of women within the church). And Rom. 5:12 compounds this point, for there Paul identifies Adam as the originator of sin!                                                               Context and intended audience is the key to understanding Paul and his focus. In Rome it was primarily concerning men. In his letter to Timothy his concern is regards women. Indeed, he doesn’t then go on to condemn women, (1 Tim 2:15) but points to the Christ-like virtues that are the way to redemption and salvation. In mentioning child-bearing, he may even be alluding to Mary as the great example (Gal 4:4).[52]  Additionally, 1Tim 4:3 may go ‘a long way towards explaining the comment,’[53] Paul is citing the virtuosity of childbirth because of, and in response to, the false teaching being propagated against marriage.


In both 1Cor14:34 and 1Tim2 Paul may just be saying: ‘everyone in worship should be silent in the presence of those who are speaking the Word of God…The Lord is in his holy temple and will speak.’[54] For both just talk about “silence and submission in the presence of authoritative teaching and teachers.”[55] Moreover, Fee warns that a literal, instructive reading of Timothy, ‘would do the Pharisees proud.’[56]                                                          If we don’t consider 1Tim in isolation, then we see that Paul is dealing with a particular problem and is not talking universally. For Paul declares (1Cor12:28) that teachers are third on the list of importance, behind apostles and prophets, both of whom included females with Paul’s expressed blessing and gratitude. (1Cor.11:5) Thus, it’s hard to believe that Paul had an intrinsic stance against female teachers while affirming them as apostles and prophets!                                                                                                                                           Witherington asks: ‘Paul a misogynist? On the contrary…(He is) someone that supported by implication, the new freedom and roles women may assume in Christ.’[57] Keener is equally convinced that Pauline texts ‘addressing the roles of women in both church and home suggest that Paul be ranked among the most progressive of ancient writers.’[58] For it was Paul that declared emphatically: ‘There is no longer male and female.’(Gal.3:28)

What contribution can his perspective make to the life of the Church today?

Moo maintains that a woman’s submission is violated if she ‘teaches doctrine or exercises authority over a man.’ Even having sought to challenge and expose the deficiencies of this view in this essay, still other problems and questions arise: When does a boy become a ‘man?’And when should his doctrinal education begin? Is that not culturally relative? Has God not gifted mothers naturally to be maternal guardians and ‘teachers’ of their children?                                                                                                                                                                Fee reflects, ‘It is hard to imagine under any circumstances how the denial of one half of the human race to minister to the other half brings glory to the gospel.’[59] He concludes that believing that God has never gifted women to teach would be to have ‘your head in the sand.’[60]

Regarding roles of ‘authority’ within the Church episcope, are those positions really about dominating over others, or even just exercising authority? Or are they not as much about shepherding and leading by humble example as anything else. There was no example of domineering or being authoritarian towards others by our true leader. He washed feet, sacrificed Himself completely and preached that the first should be last. In short, there simply was no authentein about His leadership and His is obviously the model that the Church should aspire to.


Works Cited:

Belleville, L. ‘Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15.’ In Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, ed. R. W. Pierce and R. M. Groothuis. 2nd ed. (IVP/Apollos, 2005)

Fee, G. ‘The Great Watershed—Intentionality and Particularity/Eternality: 1 Timothy 2:8-15 as a Test Case.’ In Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1981) Online at

Keener, C. S. ‘Man and Woman’ In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds G. F. Hawthorne and R. P. Martin. (Leicester: IVP, 1993)

Kroeger, C. C. ‘Head’ in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds G. F. Hawthorne and R. P. Martin (Leicester: IVP, 1993)

MacDonald, Margaret Y. ‘Women in the Pauline Churches’ In The Blackwell Companion to Paul, ed S. Westerholm (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

Moo, D. ‘What Does it Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?’ In Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, eds Piper & Grudem (Wheaton: Crossways, 1991)

Winter, B. W. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)

Witherington III, B. Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge: CUP, 1988)

— — ‘Literal Renderings of Texts of Contention– 1 Tim. 2.8-15’ (Blog-February 25th 2006)

< > [accessed October 20 2014]

Works Consulted:

Kroeger, R. & Kroeger ,C. I Suffer Not a Woman. Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in the Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001)

Perriman, A. Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul (Leicester: Apollos, 1998)

[1] Keener, C.,‘Man and Woman’P.587

[2] Ibid,p.589

[3] Ibid,p.587

[4] Kroeger, C.,‘Head’p.376

[5] Keener,‘Man and Woman’,p.589

[6] ibid,p.584

[7] ibid,p.585

[8] ibid

[9] ibid,p.586

[10] ibid,p.590

[11] ibid

[12] Kroeger,‘Head’p.376

[13] Fee, G.,‘The Great Watershed’p.55

[14]Belleville,L.,‘Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15’P.206

[15] Winter,B.W.,Roman Wives, Roman Widows,p.121

[16] Moo,D.‘What Does it Mean Not to Teach or Have Authority Over Men?’p.182

[17] Belleville,’Teaching’p.219

[18] Winter,‘Roman Wives, Roman Widows’p.119

[19] Belleville,‘Teaching…’p.209

[20] ibid,pp.212-216

[21] ibid,p.216

[22] Keener, ‘Man and Woman’p.591

[23] ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Witherington,B.,‘Literal Renderings..’(Blog)

[26] ibid

[27] MacDonald,M.,‘Women in the Pauline Churches’p.269

[28] Ibid,p.275

[29] Keener,’Man and Woman’p.590

[30] ibid

[31] ibid,p.589

[32] MacDonald,’Women’p.271

[33] ibid,p.278

[34] Moo,D.‘What Does it Mean?’p.183

[35] ibid p.180

[36] ibid p.179

[37] ibid p.191

[38] ibid p.189

[39] ibid

[40] Witherington,’Literal Renderings’(blog)

[41] Moo,’What Does it Mean’p.179

[42] Witherington,’Literal Renderings’(blog)

[43] Kroeger,‘Head’p.377

[44] Keener,’Man and Woman’p.588

[45] ibid

[46] Moo,‘What Does it Mean’p.186

[47] Ibid,p.188

[48] Keener,‘Man and Woman’p.591

[49] Fee,‘The Great Watershed’p.61

[50] Moo,’What Does it Mean’p.193

[51] ibid

[52] Witherington,’Literal Renderings’(blog)

[53] Belleville,’Teaching’p.207

[54] Witherington,’Literal Renderings’(blog)

[55] ibid

[56] Fee,’The Great Watershed’p.63

[57] Witherington,Women in the Earliest Churches p.218

[58] Keener,‘Man and Woman’ pp.591-2

[59] Fee,’The Great Watershed’pp.64-5

[60] Ibid,p65

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Reflections on the Craig /Carroll debate part 3:- From Teleology to Morality

3) In this part I want to see if its possible to slide seemlessly from teleology to morality.

The second major facet of the debate concerned the phenomena of cosmic fine-tuning. This time Carroll began with a concession: “This is the best argument that the theists have when it comes to cosmology.” However, in the very next sentence he maintained: “It is still a terrible argument, that is not at all convincing.” So what are his main complaints about the argument, an argument which relies solely on the data that the vast majority of the scientific fraternity agree exists, and from which very reasonable philosophical and theological inferences can be drawn?

Well, his first objection is to dispute the very existence of fine-tuning, on the premise that it is still really only speculation as to what constitutes life and what doesn’t. He says: “I am by no means convinced that there is a fine-tuning problem… I do not grant that therefore life could not exist… What is the definition of life…? There’s a huge panoply of possibilities. They sound very science fiction-ee… the results are gonna sound like they come from a science fiction novel.” Well, firstly, I’ll return to science fiction in a little while. But, secondly, this complaint is not new and has been considered many times before. Which is why WLC could refer to an article by the Australian physicist Luke Barnes who cites a vast array of world class cosmologists who acknowledge the phenomena. Among them is Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees who has explained:

“Any universe hospitable to life – what we might call a biophilic universe – has to be ‘adjusted’ in a particular way. The prerequisites for any life of the kind we know about — long-lived stable stars, stable atoms such as carbon, oxygen and silicon, able to combine into complex molecules, etc — are sensitive to the physical laws and to the size, expansion rate and contents of the universe. Indeed, even for the most open-minded science fiction writer, ‘life’ or ‘intelligence’ requires the emergence of some generic complex structures: It cant exist in a homogeneous universe, Not in a universe containing only a few dozen particles. Many recipes would lead to stillborn universes with no atoms, no chemistry, and no planets; or to universes too short-lived or too empty to allow anything to evolve beyond sterile uniformity.”

Goodness, even Richard Dawkins, in the God Delusion, accepted the reality of cosmic fine-tuning and the late Christopher Hitchens, like Carroll, believed it to be the best argument for theism. As WLC himself has previously noted:

“If these constants or quantities are altered even a little, what happens is you wouldn’t even have chemistry or matter, much less planets and stars that could serve as places for life to evolve. That kind of response (we don’t know what other forms of life might have evolved) simply doesn’t understand the catastrophic consequences of altering these constants and quantities… By life, scientists just mean something like this: the ability of an organism to take in energy, metabolize it, and reproduce after its own kind. Anything that can do that is called life. It doesn’t have to be anything of a form familiar to us. It just has to fill that very generic definition of being able to do something of that sort.” (Read more:

Carroll’s other major complaint is that he doesn’t believe that an initial low entropy condition is necessary for our existence and he questioned why God would make the entropy of the universe so unnecessarily low in order to create us. In response, Craig made 3 very reasonable philosophical reflections to this qualm, but before referring to them we should first pause and reflect on the science itself. Carroll’s argument here is an extension of the one he made in ‘The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity’, where he wrote:

“The entropy didn’t need to be nearly that low in order for life to come into existence. One way of thinking about this is to note that we certainly don’t need a hundred billion other galaxies in the universe in order for life to arise here on earth; our single galaxy would have been fine, or for that matter a single solar system.”

With this in mind we can see that, again, Carroll was in fact making a highly contentious scientific claim, while espousing his own authority to ram it home as if it were recognized science fact.  It’s not! Renowned Cosmologists, John Barrow, John Wheeler and Martin Rees all independently contradict Carroll’s view, as a great many other cosmologists similarly would:- (My thanks to ‘Philosophical Theist’ for the references)

“Chemical complexity requires basic atomic building blocks which are heavier than the elements of hydrogen and helium which emerge from the hot early stages of the universe. Heavier elements, like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, are made in the stars, as a result of nuclear reactions that take billions of years to complete. Then, they are dispersed through space by supernovae after which they find their way into grains, planets, and ultimately, into people. This process takes billions of years to complete and allows the expansion to produce a universe that is billions of light years in size. Thus we see why it is inevitable that the universe is seen to be so large. A universe that is billions of years old and hence billions of light years in size is a necessary pre-requisite for observers based upon chemical complexity.” (John D. Barrow, Cosmology and The Origin of Life)

“A Universe that contained just one galaxy like our own Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars, each perhaps surrounded by planetary systems, might seem a reasonable economy if one were in the universal construction business. But such a universe, with more than a 100 billion fewer galaxies than our own, could have expanded for little more than a few months. It could have produced neither stars nor biological elements. It could contain no astronomers.” (John Wheeler, The World Within The World)

“The very hugeness of our universe, which seems at first to signify how unimportant we are in the cosmic scheme, is actually entailed by our existence! This is not to say that there couldn’t have been a smaller universe, only that we could not have existed in it.” (Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers)

Moreover, Craig is quite right to point out that the fine-tuning argument is based on empirical observations alone. The relevance of these observations is not dependent on postulating, a priori, that the purpose of the universe is ‘us.’ He remarked, on the one hand, that there may well be other intelligent life scattered about our universe. (As an aside, if this were the case does it not present another intriguing interpretation of John 10:16..?) While on the other, as Robin Collins would later expound  in his paper, it could be that the initial low entropy conditions were necessary to facilitate the ‘discoverability’ of our universe. As Craig himself put it:

“God has given us a world that is susceptible to rational exploration and discovery. If God wanted to make a universe discoverable by embodied, conscious agents he might well make it in such a low entropy condition.”

And this brings me back to Carroll’s reference to science fiction and what I see as the second potential dichotomy for the naturalist :-

At the conclusion of his opening speech Carroll showed a photograph of  several hundred galaxies apparently taken from the Hubble telescope, before imposing the idea that theists believe the universe “is like that because we were going to be here.” He continued, “but there’s nothing in our experience of the universe that justifies the kind of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves.”

Now either Carroll is right, in which case he should find the Craig response that we may not be alone in the universe as perfectly acceptable; or he is wrong. If so, and we are alone, then the Craig/Collins point about the ‘discoverability’ of the universe becomes more potent: because we would be left with some justification into thinking, as the apex of all creation, we are of central significance.

But this is not the potential dichotomy. This comes once we bring morality into the equation. If we recall, Carroll himself mentioned the possibility of other life forms being possible under different fine-tuning conditions. And he appealed to science fiction. So let’s run with this:-

Did you ever see that dreadful movie, ‘Flash Gordon’? Max Von Sydow is its only saving grace. Anyhow, Ming (Sydow) is about to destroy the Earth & Dr. Hans Zarkov implores him “But why, why…??” Ming merely replies, “why not?” Or did you ever read, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’? At the beginning the ‘Vogons’ (I think!) are going to destroy the Earth for the ‘good’ of the rest of the universe as they want to place an intergalactic ‘by-pass’ straight through us.

The question is, in both of the above examples how can any ‘human social contract’ of morality be objectively binding? The point is that if we are not alone in the universe how does our system of morality and ethics impose itself as ontologically objective to anyone else? After all, we already know that our system of moral values and duties do not impose themselves upon any other species within just our own planet. So, if we are not alone in the universe on just what basis can we claim that our moral values and duties are any more ontologically objective than anyone else’s? Therefore, in the search for a foundation for objective morality we would need to look for something that is transcendent of this universe, would we not? So if the naturalist wants to affirm (as I believe Carroll and certainly his cohort Tim Mauldlin do) any ontologically objective truth about moral values and duties then, if we are not alone, that must surely either entail a transcendent grounding for them, or if we are alone, at the very least provide us with the justification that affords us believing, “the kind of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves.”

(When time permits!) In the concluding part I’d just like to make some final general remarks as well as referring to some things that Carroll has now himself said in his own now uploaded post debate reflections.

Postscript:- When Ming or the ‘Vogons’ do turn up on Tim Maudlin’s doorstep, does he really think that his personal exposition of Moral Platonism will save him…  ;-)

God Bless:-)

link to the debate –

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