These are some of the toughest questions that Christians face.
- Why does the Bible allow slavery?
- Why does the Bible allow pedophilia?
- Why does the Bible allow rape?
- Why does the Bible treat women as inferior to men?
- What is the Bible’s view of marriage?
- Why does the Bible treat people with disabilities or handicaps as inferior?
- Why does the Bible allow parents to murder their children?
- Why does the Bible endorse cruel and unusual punishment?
- Why does the Bible praise child murderers?
- Why don’t Christians follow the Bible’s restrictions on diets and clothing?
- Could God create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it?
- Why does God allow pain and suffering?
- Are things inherently good/bad or does God’s personal preference create good/bad?
- Why isn’t God visible?
Tough Question #1 – Why does the Bible allow slavery?
Atheists ask this question in an attempt to make you believe that the slavery in the Bible was the same as the horrific institution of chattel slavery that existed in the United States for 200 years. They also want you to believe that God is a bloodthirsty tyrant who got off on forcing slave owners to torture and mutilate their slaves. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Old Testament, slavery was allowed but not commanded, and it was divided into several stratifications:
- Hebrew bondservant – This category was similar to indentured servitude or an apprenticeship. An Israelite man (Exodus 21:2-6) or woman (Deuteronomy 15:12-18) might become a bondservant by selling himself or herself to pay off creditors (2 Kings 4:1). Or if someone was caught stealing and had no money to pay for the theft, then he or she would have to be sold as a bondservant to make restitution (Exodus 22:3-4). There were two classes of Hebrew bondservants:
- Sabbath bondservant – In the case of a small amount of money, the Sabbath bondservant would only serve for a maximum of six years and then go free in the Sabbath year. Although Sabbath bondservants earned no wages during the six years, the master was responsible for providing their basic necessities. Also, the Sabbath bondservant did not have to pay anything to earn their freedom in the Sabbath year. In addition, the master was prohibited from sending them away empty handed, so the Sabbath bondservant actually had a little something to get them started in their new life after completing their service. If a male Sabbath bondservant entered service with a wife, then both the male Sabbath bondservant and his wife could go free in the Sabbath year, but if the male Sabbath bondservant took one of his master’s female Jubilee bondservants as his wife during his service, then she would remain in the master’s service when the male Sabbath bondservant went free in the Sabbath year. Any Sabbath bondservant that enjoyed his or her situation could choose to remain in the master’s service indefinitely. In that case, the master would be responsible for the welfare of the bondservant for life.
- Jubilee bondservant – In the case of a large amount of money, the Israelite man or woman could sell themselves as a Jubilee bondservant for a period of longer than six years, but not longer than forty-nine years because all bondservants would go free in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:39-43). Note that Israelites could sell themselves as Jubilee bondservants to other Israelites or to foreigners living in Israel (Leviticus 25:47-55). Jubilee bondservants were not to be treated as slaves or ruled over ruthlessly, but instead they were treated as hired workers (i.e. they earned a wage). Skilled Jubilee bondservants could become prosperous enough to redeem themselves before the Year of Jubilee, and also a close relative, known as a guardian-redeemer (Ruth 2:20), could redeem the Jubilee bondservant as well. Any Jubilee bondservant that enjoyed his or her situation could choose to remain in the master’s service indefinitely. In that case, the master would be responsible for the welfare of the bondservant for life.
- Hebrew maidservant – This category refers to women who were sold as brides (Exodus 21:7-11). They were not the same as female bondservants because in this case it was the father of the daughter who made the decision to sell her as a maidservant. Also, a maidservant could not go free in the Sabbath year but would remain in her master’s household for life. The purpose of this arrangement was for the daughter to find a suitable husband to provide for her. The money the father earned could be used to provide for his daughter in the event that her new husband divorced her. If the master reneged on the arrangement and did not choose her for a wife either for himself or for his son, then the master must let the maidservant be redeemed. However, if the maidservant married into the family, then she would be treated as a member of the family rather than a servant. If the maidservant’s husband married another wife, he must still provide for all of the maidservant’s needs or else she would be allowed to go free.
- Foreign slave – This category refers to slaves that were considered property of their masters (Leviticus 25:44-46). God made it clear that no Israelite could be sold as property under this category of slavery, but He did allow Israelites to buy slaves either from surrounding nations or from foreigners residing within Israel. Israelites could also acquire slaves when they conquered a city in a surrounding nation (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). Any foreign slaves that an Israelite acquired were considered his property for life, and they could be bequeathed as an inheritance to his children. The laws governing the ownership of foreign slaves allowed the master to discipline his slaves for disobeying him by beating them with a rod, but the master was to be put to death if the slave died as a direct result of the beating (Exodus 21:20-21). The master would not be executed if the slave recovered after a day or two, however the slave must be set free if the master’s beating destroyed the slave’s eye or tooth (Exodus 21:26-27). Also, kidnapping for the slave trade was a capital offense (Deuteronomy 24:7). Finally, Israel was not allowed to return runaway slaves to their masters in foreign nations. Instead they were required to let the runaway slaves live among the Israelites anywhere they liked. The Israelites were warned not to oppress these runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).
As you can see, even the slaves who were considered property under the Mosaic Covenant were treated far better than American slaves during the antebellum period. Therefore, atheists are intentionally mischaracterizing the Bible when they say that it allows slavery. And just to further distance Biblical slavery from its prewar American counterpart, let’s take a look at some passages where God warned the Israelites not to abuse the disadvantaged:
- Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, and do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless (Exodus 22:21-22).
- Do not oppress a foreigner because you remember what it was like being foreigners in Egypt (Exodus 23:9).
- Show respect for the elderly. Do not mistreat a foreigner residing among you, but instead treat them as one native-born. Love them as yourself because you were once foreigners in Egypt. Use honest standards when measuring length, width, and quantity and honest scales when measuring weight. (Leviticus 19:32-36)
- God Himself defends the cause of the fatherless and the widows and loves the foreigners residing in Israel, giving them food and clothing. Therefore the Israelites are to love those who are foreigners because they were also foreign slaves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
- Do not deny justice to poor people in their lawsuits (Exodus 23:6).
- Do not take advantage of hired workers who are poor and needy, whether they are Israelites or foreigners; pay them their wages each day before sunset or you have committed a sin (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).
- Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of a widow as a pledge for a loan. When you are harvesting your crops, leave some left over for the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widows to survive. Remember how you were foreign slaves in Egypt and God redeemed you. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22)
- Do not defraud your neighbor. Do not withhold wages from a hired worker overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Do not pervert justice by showing partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not spread lies among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:13-18)
Remember that chattel slavery in Israel was restricted exclusively to foreigners, and notice here that God explicitly commanded the Israelites not to mistreat any foreigner. That commandment made no distinction between foreigners who were free and foreigners who were slaves, so clearly it applies to all foreigners regardless of status. God also makes it clear that He loves and provides for foreigners, adding additional weight to His previous commandment not to mistreat any foreigner. Also, notice that God repeatedly reminds the Israelites of how cruelly they were abused as foreign slaves in Egypt, which is a clear warning to the Israelites not to treat their foreign slaves in the same way.
The New Testament verses that discuss slavery are: Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:9, and 1 Peter 2:18. At first glance, these verses seem to support the practice of slavery by commanding slaves to submit to their masters. However, when these verses are read in context, we see that they are just calling for Christians to set a good example to others:
- All Christians, including slaves, masters, husbands, wives, and children, should live godly lives so that nonbelievers will see our good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
- All Christians are called to do good to silence the foolish talk of ignorant people (1 Peter 2:15).
- All Christians are called to do good because we know that God will reward us for whatever good we do, and we will receive an inheritance from God (Ephesians 6:8 and Colossians 3:24).
- All Christians are called to do good so that in every way we will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive and so that God’s name and the teaching of the gospel may not be slandered (1 Timothy 6:2 and Titus 2:10).
In addition, the New Testament includes several verses condemning slave trading, condemning cruelty to slaves, and encouraging love for all people:
- Kidnappers and slave traders are called lawbreakers and rebels, ungodly and sinful, and unholy and irreligious, and they are also compared to murderers (1 Timothy 1:9-10).
- Masters should be kind to their slaves because anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs and because God is master of all, and He does not show favoritism (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and Colossians 4:1).
- In God’s eyes we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, and neither male nor female, but we are all Christians and therefore new creations in Christ Jesus and part of the one united body of Christ (Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11).
Jesus also touched on slavery when He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to sum up the entire Law (Mark 12:28-34). When the Jews tried to find a loophole in the Law by applying a very narrow definition to the term “neighbor”, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to point out that God judges the heart (Luke 10:25-37).
God has always been against abuse of any kind, and His strategy to end slavery was to use the gospel to change people’s hearts. One of the best illustrations of this is in the apostle Paul’s epistle to Philemon. In this letter, Paul did not demand the release of the slave Onesimus, but instead he appealed to Philemon as a follow Christian in the hopes that he would choose to grant Onesimus’ freedom out of a spirit of compassion.
Atheists object to Biblical slavery with the argument that it is never moral for one human being to own another, even for a short duration. However, ownership merely means that you have legal possession of something, so it can be neither moral nor immoral.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, the slave owner had legal possession of his slaves, but his ownership was not absolute because God enforced strict limits on the rights of slave owners. Similarly, parents today have legal possession of their children, but their guardianship is not absolute because the government enforces strict limits against things like abuse and neglect.
Atheists argue that the Bible dehumanizes slaves in the same way that prewar American slave owners did–by referring to them as the property of their masters. However, the Bible simply refers to slaves as property to denote an economic context, similar to how corporations today refer to their employees as assets or human capital. In contrast, the entire system of American chattel slavery had as its foundation the a priori assumption that slaves were subhuman.
We have to remember that the Biblical system of slavery did not have masters running amok without any checks and balances. God was there to provide oversight the entire time.
Beating with a rod
Atheists also object to Biblical slavery with the argument that it is never moral for one human being to beat another, especially not with a rod. Technically an inch-thick iron bar could qualify as a rod, and a single blow from a rod like that would completely shatter bones. However, the Hebrew word for rod in Exodus 21:20 is the same word that is used in Proverbs 25:13-14: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.” Do we really think that God was encouraging parents to club their children with iron bars? No, the meaning in Exodus 21:20 is probably more like a wooden switch, similar to the legal form of caning that is still administered in places like Singapore today.
Atheists might argue that using a wooden switch is no better than an iron bar because several swats on bare skin using a wooden switch could still split skin and lead to an infection. A slow death from infection might be even more painful than a quick death from blunt force trauma, and the master wouldn’t face any penalty as a result, right? Wrong! Exodus 21 isn’t the only chapter dealing with slavery, and cruel and unusual punishment would be in direct violation of the laws that prohibit mistreatment of foreigners. Also, consider the fact that the Israelites didn’t simply pass these laws by majority vote; God Himself delivered them to the Israelites. While Machiavellian masters might succeed in subverting the legal system to protect their abusive behavior, how many of them would be stupid enough to oppose the creator of the universe? Keep in mind that in those days God was dwelling among the Israelites, and He proved His willingness to strike down people who didn’t follow His commandments to the letter (Leviticus 10:1-2 and 1 Chronicles 13:9-10).
Pointing us to Christ
Atheists will say that my attempts to defend the Bible are pointless because any system that allows one human being to own and beat another is immoral. It doesn’t matter whether the slave owner is sadistic or whether he is acting in the slave’s best interest. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator. This is an interesting argument to make for someone with a worldview that doesn’t allow for the existence of moral absolutes, but I digress.
To understand God’s purpose behind allowing slavery, we must keep in mind that the purpose of every verse in the Bible is to point us to God’s eternal plan of salvation through Jesus Christ (See Bible Reading Tip #4). Although God detests the evils of slavery, He allowed a very limited form of it to serve as an allegorical guide for future generations. He wanted us to see that we too are born under bondage to sin and that we must repent and trust in Jesus for our freedom:
- “‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'” (John 8:34-36)
- “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:18)
- “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)
- “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.” (1 Corinthians 7:21-23)
In addition, God was able to use slavery as a means to show mercy to the nations around Israel. These foreign nations all worshipped false idols (Molek, Baal, Ashtoreth/Asherah, Chemosh, Dagon, Bel, Marduk, Milcom, Tammuz, Queen of Heaven, Rephan). Therefore, a foreigner had no chance of learning about the God of Israel or about the need for a savior. Also, the foreigner was at risk of being enslaved to an abusive master who had no concern for God’s commandments.
Now, imagine that this same foreign slave was acquired by a devout Israelite master. The slave’s life in Israel would be much safer and more comfortable than his life would have been under the abusive master. Also, the slave would have a chance to observe Sabbath worship with his master and perhaps eventually receive salvation. In this way, God was able to blend foreign nations in with His chosen people so that they too could learn about Him and ultimately receive salvation. Rahab and Ruth are great examples of this, with their bloodline eventually leading to the birth of Jesus.
Tough Question #2 – Why does the Bible allow pedophilia?
Atheists want you to think that the Bible condones or even commands pedophilia, but the only thing that could possibly be misinterpreted as pedophilia is Numbers 31:17-18: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
To understand what’s going on here, you must refer back to Numbers 22 and Numbers 25. There we learn that the Midianites and the Moabites attempted to bribe an evil prophet named Balaam to curse the Israelites. When that plan failed, the Midianites and Moabites sent their wives to seduce the Israelite men and entice them to worship false idols. This plan was much more successful, and the Israelite men turned away from God and instead worshipped the false god Baal of Peor. In fact, the sin of the Israelites was so flagrant that one of them even brought a Midianite woman right into camp in full view of everyone and began to have sex with her. God’s anger burned against the Israelites, and he sent a plague that killed 24,000 of them. Then, God instructed the Israelites to kill the Midianites for enticing His chosen people into sexual sin and idolatry.
Starting in Numbers 31, God again instructs the Israelites to act as the instrument of God’s holy judgment by taking vengeance upon the Midianites. Typically God’s judgment would entail the complete annihilation of the entire population since we are all sinners who deserve death (Genesis 6:13, Genesis 19:25, Deuteronomy 13:15, and Joshua 11:20), but in this case God was only referring to the subset of Midianites who had conspired with the Moabites, since the Midianite people continued to exist after that (Judges 6:1). However, the Israelites did not destroy all of the Midianites who had led them into idolatry, but only the Midianite men. Moses was angry because the Israelites had not destroyed the very women who had tempted them into sexual sin, so he instructed them to kill the Midianite women and boys also. Regarding Moses’ instruction to kill the Midianite boys, the text doesn’t give us a reason, so my assumption is that the Israelites didn’t want the Midianite boys to grow up into men and seek revenge against Israel.
Now that we have the background in mind, we can defend Israel’s genocide against the Midianites. They were following orders from the creator of the universe, who has the right to judge sin, and there was no question that it was God giving those orders. True Christians understand that this chapter is not instructing Christians to commit murder against sinners, and anyone claiming to hear a voice from God telling them to do so is either lying, schizophrenic, or hearing from demons.
Finally, we are ready to address the accusation that this passage condones or commands pedophilia. Nowhere in the text does it say that either God or Moses commanded the Israelites to have sex with young girls. The phrase “save for yourselves” does not carry any sexual connotation either in the English or the Hebrew. The problem is that atheists’ worldview automatically biases them against the Bible, causing them to read sexual innuendos into the text.
Atheists will claim that they aren’t reading anything into the text because verse 18 specifically refers to them as girls who had never slept with a man. Why would Moses add that unnecessary description unless he was implying that it would be okay for the Israelites to sleep with them since they were virgins? And how were the Israelites supposed to know that the girls were virgins anyway unless they took them into the bedroom? Moses wanted to make it clear that any woman old enough to have slept with a man was to be killed, so there was no chance that the Israelites would be seduced into sexual sin or idolatry again. There was no need for them to take the girls into the bedroom to verify their virginity because they could have just looked at which girls were too young to be sexually active. These girls would have become maidservants in the Israelite households until they were old enough to become wives.
Atheists may attack the fact that the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn pedophilia as an argument that God must be okay with it. However, this is an argument from silence, and it is a logical fallacy. The Bible doesn’t tell us not to eat feces either, but hopefully that’s self-explanatory for most people. The Bible commands us to treat the marriage covenant as a sacred relationship that mirror’s Christ’s relationship with the Church and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, we know that God would not approve of any sexual activity with a young child.
Tough Question #3 – Why does the Bible allow rape?
First, atheists claim that God explicitly endorses rape when giving the instructions for going to war against foreign cities: “As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.” (Deuteronomy 20:14) They argue that the Israelites actually carried out God’s orders by raping young girls after defeating the Midianites: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17-18) Apparently these atheists must have sex on the brain, because they are reading something into the text that isn’t there. There is nothing in the English translation or in the original Hebrew that endorses rape or that even implies a sexual connotation at all.
Second, atheists claim that because the Ten Commandments don’t forbid rape, then it must be allowed. However, both Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 22 include commandments against rape. Let’s begin with Deuteronomy 22:28-29. This passage makes it seem as though an Israelite man could rape a woman who was not married or pledged to be married, and his only punishment would be to pay her father a fine of fifty shekels of silver. Also, the victim would be forced to marry her rapist. However, we have to remember:
- The fine of fifty shekels of silver was not insignificant since it equaled about 7 months’ wages for a typical laborer at the time.
- The rapist would also have to pay the bride-price to the woman’s father, which could be even greater than the fine (Genesis 34:12 and Exodus 22:16).
- The victim’s father could refuse to allow the rapist to marry his daughter, and the rapist would still be required to pay both the fine and the bride-price (Exodus 22:17).
- The victim may want to marry the rapist anyway since she was no longer a virgin and would have a difficult time finding another man to marry her. If she did want to marry the rapist, then he would never be able to divorce her for as long as he lived. That means she would have a guaranteed provider for life.
Now let’s look at Leviticus 19:20-22. This passage makes it seem as though an Israelite man could rape another man’s female slave, and his only punishment would be to give a ram to the priest as a fine. However, we have to remember:
- The female slave here was a Hebrew maidservant, and a free man had paid a bride price to acquire her as a future wife, either for himself or for his son.
- If the victim was not yet engaged to be married, then the rapist must be punished in addition to giving a ram as a guilt offering. Presumably, the punishment would include compensating the free man for the bride price, and then the rules for rape of a virgin would apply:
- Rapist paid a fine of fifty shekels of silver to the victim’s father.
- Victim’s father decided whether to allow his daughter to marry the rapist.
- If the victim agreed to marry the rapist then the rapist would not be able to divorce her for as long as he lived.
- If the victim were married or even betrothed, then the rules for rape of a wife would apply:
- If the rape occurred in the city, then both the man and the women would be executed for adultery since she didn’t cry out for help (Deuteronomy 22:22-24).
- If the the rape occurred in the countryside, then only the man was executed since it was assumed that the woman had cried out for help but no one could hear her (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
Atheists even argue that the Bible condones marital rape by quoting this passage:
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
They argue that since the husband has authority over his wife’s body and since mutual consent is only required not to have sex, then it is implied that the wife is forced to submit to her husband’s demands for sex any time he wants it. However, atheists are ignoring the other passages that instruct husbands to love their wives as we’ll see in the next section. Paul’s instructions are merely a reminder to husbands and wives to remain intimate with each other and to seek to fulfill each other’s needs in all aspects of marriage.
Husbands may not force their wives to have sex against their will, whether they use physical force or non-physical means of manipulation. For example, men may not physically abuse their wives, use guilt as an emotional manipulation technique, or leverage control of finances as a means of reward or punishment in exchange for sexual favors. Furthermore, a wife is not required to entertain any of her husband’s more adventurous or deviant sexual fetishes. Since the Bible doesn’t outline a specific list of sexual practices that are permitted or prohibited, then God has left it up to each individual couple to determine what they feel comfortable with and where they draw the line. Any behaviors that cause physical pain, that make a person feel degraded, or that involve a third party are a clear violation of the sacred marriage covenant.
Tough Question #4 – Why does the Bible treat women as inferior to men?
Atheists argue that the Biblical writers chose to use terms like submission to dominate and control women, but let’s see what happens when we review these passages in context.
A wife should be in submission to her husband
- “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:17-19)
- Atheists are quick to quote verse 18 all by itself, but notice how different it sounds when sandwiched between verses 17 and 19. Clearly this passage doesn’t support the idea of husbands dominating their wives.
- Biblical submission does not mean that a wife must obey illegal or sinful commands from her husband. When Paul wrote the phrase “as is fitting in the Lord,” he was letting wives know that there is a higher authority than her husband.
- Similarly, Christians should submit to the authority of the government (Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:17), except when doing so would break God’s laws (Acts 5:29).
- “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:1-7)
- Ironically, atheists hardly seem to notice the word submit in this passage because they are too ticked off by the description of women as weaker than men. Secular society today seeks to erase any distinctions between male and female, but it is a biological fact that most females, as a result of having lower levels of testosterone, generally have less physical strength than most males.
- If you consider the carefully chosen words in the original Greek, you see that Paul is instructing husbands to seek a deeper level of knowledge and understanding about their wives and to dwell with them in an intimate relationship. Paul deliberately chooses the word for female in this verse rather than the word for wife because he wants to remind husbands to consider the feminine qualities that make women so wonderfully different than men.
- By describing women as weaker, Paul is reminding husbands not to try to overpower or dominate their wives through the strength of their voice or their physical presence as they might interact with another man. This passage is a true celebration of women, and not the insult that atheists take it to mean.
The husband is the head of the wife
- “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-33)
- This passage expands upon the thought in Colossians 3:18, and again it is a favorite target for atheists to quote without the surrounding verses. However, they often overlook the fact that husbands are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. No one can abuse his wife, either physically or verbally, and claim to be loving her as Christ loved the church.
- “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
- Atheists hate that man is described as the head of his wife, because they feel like that implies that men are somehow better than women. However, we know from Galatians 3:28 that men and women are both equal in God’s eyes.
- This passage is just giving a clearer picture of what Biblical submission looks like–it is God’s way of establishing a hierarchical chain of command.
- We know that Jesus Christ is fully God (John 1:1, Colossians 1:19, Colossians 2:9), so although He is in submission to God the Father, it doesn’t make Him any less valuable than the Father.
- Likewise, women are no less valuable than men, but men will be held to a higher level of accountability to God on the day of judgement due to their higher level of authority and responsibility (Luke 12:48).
- Atheists also get upset that women are required to wear a head covering, and that women are required to have longer hair than men, and in this case I actually agree with the atheists. This passage doesn’t teach that Christian men today are required to have short hair while Christian women today are required to have long hair and wear a headscarf.
- In the preceding chapter, Paul wrote that Christians have the right to do anything, but that we should seek the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). He also wrote that we should seek to glorify God in all that we do, and that we should do our best not to offend anyone so that more people might be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). These instructions mirror 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul says that he willingly surrenders some of his freedom as a Christian in order to adhere to cultural norms and win as many people to Christ as possible.
- In chapter 11, Paul is addressing the fact that the cultural norm at that time and place was for men to wear their hair short, for women to wear their hair long, and also for women to wear a veil or headscarf as a sign that they were married. Apparently, some of the Christian wives in the church may have wanted to take their newfound freedom a bit too far by removing their head coverings, and this action was seen by those outside of the Corinthian church as the wives’ rejecting their husbands’ authority.
- Paul was making a point that for men to wear a head covering in that culture would have looked as ridiculous as it would for them to wear long hair, especially since men’s hair is typically thinner than women’s hair. Likewise, Paul argues that for a married woman to forgo her head covering in that culture would have looked as ridiculous as it would for them to shave their head. In fact, a shaved head in that culture may have been the sign of an adulteress or a prostitute.
- Paul wrote that he was not asking the Corinthians to do anything different than what was already being done in all the other churches. Also, he wanted the Christians in Corinth to realize that they weren’t just setting an example for their culture or for other Christians, but also for the angels. Apparently the angels observe us (1 Peter 1:12) and expect us to follow God’s plan for Biblical submission just as they do.
- Atheists hate that man is described as the head of his wife, because they feel like that implies that men are somehow better than women. However, we know from Galatians 3:28 that men and women are both equal in God’s eyes.
Women should not have spiritual authority over men in church
- “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
- At first glance, it might seem like Paul is saying that women should never be allowed to speak or have authority over a man. However, the context of this epistle makes it clear that these rules apply only to church worship services.
- The reason for this restriction is because God has assigned the role of spiritual leadership exclusively to men, and that role applies to husbands in a marriage as well as elders and pastors in a church. God assigned this role to men, not because men are better than women, but partly due to the order of creation and partly as a result of the Curse, since Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:16).
- However, this instruction doesn’t mean that women aren’t allowed to speak at all during a church service. For example, no one objects to women singing or praying in church. This is only a restriction against women having a position of spiritual authority over men in church because it goes against God’s design for the different gender roles.
- Verse 15 is one of the more confusing and contested verses in the Bible, so I will share the two most popular interpretations:
- The interpretation that best fits the context is that although it was a woman who was deceived in the Garden of Eden, a woman also gave birth to our lord and savior Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul just explained why women were not assigned the role of spiritual leaders, but then he immediately jumps to their defense by reminding us that a woman was responsible for bringing the Messiah into the world. This interpretation parallels the description of man’s role in sin and salvation from Romans 5:19: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” This interpretation also draws support from the fact that the original Greek contains a definite article (the)–it is not just any instance of childbearing, but rather it is the childbearing (a specific instance). Note that this is simply a defense of women rather than an instruction to deify Mary as the Catholic Church would have you believe.
- A second interpretation is that because women generally handle more of the childbearing responsibilities, they have more influence in shaping the next generation of men during their formative years. This would seem to provide balance to God’s assigned roles to men and women. Yes, husbands have authority over their wives and men have authority in the Church, however it is often the women who have more influence in shaping their sons into godly men to be better husbands and church elders.
- A third interpretation is that because women can give birth, God has assigned them to the role of homemaker. This interpretation seems to have some support in the fact that women are encouraged to focus on managing their home (1 Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:3-5). However, this is a recommendation rather than a commandment. Notice that it was Adam and not God who named Eve as the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20), and this didn’t happen until after the Curse. Nowhere in the Bible does God require women to stay at home while their husbands work.
- At first glance, it might seem like Paul is saying that women should never be allowed to speak or have authority over a man. However, the context of this epistle makes it clear that these rules apply only to church worship services.
- “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
- While this passage basically says the same thing as 1 Timothy 2, it uses much stronger language, making it even more offensive to atheists. However, the context of chapter 14 makes it clear that Paul is simply instructing the church in Corinth on how to run an orderly worship service:
- First, the early churches did not have access to the complete written word to teach from as we do. At most they would have had some of the Old Testament books and possibly a copy of one of Paul’s letters. Therefore, the spiritual gift of prophecy would have been much more important and prevalent than it is today. There would have been several people within the congregation through whom the Holy Spirit could deliver an inspired word from God. If all of them prophesied at once, then no one could hear what they were teaching, so Paul set up some rules to establish an orderly service (1 Corinthians 14:29-33).
- Second, the early church congregations were growing rapidly, with new Christians being added to their numbers daily (Acts 2:47 and Acts 16:5). Despite what the atheists would have you believe, most of the new converts in early Christianity were women because so few religions at that time were teaching that women are equal to men and worthy of respect. As with any new Christian, these new church members probably had a thirst for knowledge and a lot of questions. Therefore, anyone standing up to prophesy during worship service would have to endure constant interruptions from new members, again mostly women, as they sought to understand what they were hearing.
- Third, the Jewish tradition for Sabbath services in synagogues was that women would remain quiet and ask their husbands questions at home so as to maintain order during worship. Paul had grown up attending Sabbath services in synagogues, so he was quite familiar with this Jewish tradition. However, the church in Corinth would have included many Gentiles who were unfamiliar with it. Therefore, Paul wisely understood that the simplest way to establish order during Christian worship services would be to continue the Jewish tradition. He gave more background on his reasons for continuing this tradition in 1 Timothy 2.
- While this passage basically says the same thing as 1 Timothy 2, it uses much stronger language, making it even more offensive to atheists. However, the context of chapter 14 makes it clear that Paul is simply instructing the church in Corinth on how to run an orderly worship service:
Women may not be church pastors or elders
- “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6-9)
- Paul clearly restricts the office of spiritual leader/teacher in a church congregation to men only, just in case the previous passages forbidding women from having spiritual authority over men in a church worship service weren’t clear enough.
- The office of spiritual leader/teacher in a church is referred to in the original Greek as either elder (presbuteros) or overseer (episkopos). The words are used interchangeably since anyone seeking to hold that position should possess both spiritual maturity and wisdom as well as strong leadership skills.
- At first glance, Ephesians 4:11 seems to refer to another church office described using the Greek word for shepherd (poimén). However, it turns out that shepherding is just one of the duties of church elders/overseers (Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2). It seems that some church elders are particularly strong in the spiritual gift of teaching (1 Corinthians 12:28-29), and today we refer to them using the word pastor, which is the Latin word for shepherd.
- “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.” (1 Timothy 3:2-12)
- Again Paul makes it clear that the office of church elder/overseer is reserved exclusively for men, since women may not be in a position of spiritual authority over a man in a church worship service.
- This passage introduces the church office of deacon using the Greek word for servant/waiter (diakonos). Recall that in Acts 6:1-2 that the apostles appointed men to assist them in the daily distribution of food so that they could focus on spiritual leadership, and they used the same Greek word for deacon. Therefore, it appears that the duty of deacons is to help with the physical needs of the church.
- Verse 12 makes it sound like the office of deacon is also reserved for men only. However, there is a lot of debate around the meaning of verse 11. The Greek word translated as women here could also be translated as wives, depending on the context. Therefore, it’s possible that Paul is referring to the wives of church officers, but it is also possible that he is referring to female deacons, or deaconesses.
- Paul refers to Phoebe as a deacon in Romans 16:1, which could mean that she held the church office of deacon. However, the word can also be translated to mean servant, so perhaps Paul was just praising her willingness to serve the church.
- I believe that women can serve in the church office of deacon, provided that they do not use that church office to assume a position of spiritual authority over a man during a church worship service. However, outside of a church worship service, women are more than welcome to help evangelize and preach the word. For example, Priscilla helped her husband Aquila to explain the gospel to Apollos outside of a church worship service (Acts 18:26).
Tough Question #5 – What is the Bible’s view of marriage?
Atheists often accuse Christians of being homophobic for saying that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman. They may ask about the Bible’s stance on things such as polygamy and incest in an attempt to make Christians look hypocritical when we speak out against redefining marriage. So it is important that we understand the Bible’s stance on marriage.
Why do we even have marriage in the first place?
The Bible teaches that God created the first woman out of the side of the first man, and “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Thus, God created marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and He did this as a symbol of the relationship between Jesus, who is the bridegroom, and the body of Christ, who is the bride (Mark 2:19-20, Matthew 25:1-13, and 2 Corinthians 11:2).
The Old Testament uses the same symbolism. For example, in speaking to the holy city of Zion, which represents God’s elect (the chosen of Israel and the chosen Gentiles from other nations), God says, “For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5) Again He says, “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5) These prophecies will be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus (Revelation 19:7).
Once we understand that marriage represents our relationship with Jesus under the New Covenant, it makes sense why God wants us to treat marriage as a sacred covenant bond.
How does the Bible view divorce?
Jesus said that divorce is contrary to God’s original plan for marriage, and that Moses only permitted divorce because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts (Matthew 19:8). Jesus also said that anyone who gets divorced except for sexual immorality is guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32).
Considering what marriage represents, the breakup of a marriage is comparable to a born-again Christian losing his or her salvation, something that is impossible (see Gospel Objection #17). Similarly, if a wife divorces her husband, marries and divorces another husband, and then remarries her first husband, then God would consider that an abomination (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) because it would be comparable to a born-again Christian “backsliding” and then being born-again again, which is impossible.
How does the Bible view adultery?
The Bible makes it very clear that God considers adultery to be a serious offense, one worthy of the death penalty under the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:18, and Deuteronomy 22:22-27). Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” The entire chapter of Proverbs 7 is one long warning to avoid the adulterous woman. Jesus considers looking with lust to be the same thing as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), and He considers adultery in the same category as murder (Mark 7:20-23).
Considering what marriage represents, adultery is comparable to worshipping false idols, which is why God hates it so much. The prophet Hosea makes this symbolism clear: “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.'” (Hosea 1:2) Therefore, it makes sense that Jesus doesn’t even want us to look with lust, because that represents us looking at false gods with desire.
If you commit adultery, then your spouse is permitted to divorce you because it shows that you never took your marital vows seriously to begin with. Similarly, you cannot claim to be a Christian and then follow after false idols or else it proves that you were never truly born again to begin with. However, God does not desire divorce because His desire is for reconciliation between husband and wife. Similarly, God does not want anyone to go to Hell because His desire is for all sinners to be reconciled to Him.
How does the Bible view premarital sex?
According to the Bible, there really is no such thing as premarital sex because once a man and woman have engaged in sexual intercourse, then they have become one flesh, meaning that God considers them to be married. For example, under the Mosaic Covenant a man who seduced a woman who was not already engaged had to pay her father the bride price (Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29). This was true even if the father refused to let them marry. In other words, the man had to pay the bride price because he had married the woman the moment he had sex with her, but then they were considered divorced because the father refused to allow them to stay married.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 describes a slightly different scenario in which a couple is married but then the husband finds out on the wedding night that his wife had not been a virgin. In this case, the wife is executed for committing adultery on her wedding night because God considered her first marriage to have begun the moment that she engaged in premarital sex.
Paul denounced all forms of illicit or abnormal sexual behavior in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 with the use of the Greek word for sexual immorality (porneia), and Ephesians 5:3 tells us that we should avoid even a hint of sexual immorality. That definitely rules out second and third base, and possibly first base as well.
The bottom line is that it is impossible to have sex without entering into the covenant of marriage, just as it is impossible to be born again without entering into a covenant relationship with Jesus. Therefore, we should have respect for Jesus and for our future spouse by not entering into a one-flesh relationship casually or without commitment.
How does the Bible view prostitution?
The Bible denounces prostitution just as clearly as it denounces adultery (Leviticus 19:29, Leviticus 21:9, and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). And just like adultery, God uses prostitution as a symbol of following false gods (Leviticus 20:1-6 and Deuteronomy 31:16). In Ezekiel 16, God compares the nation of Israel’s idolatry to both adultery and prostitution. The apostle Paul makes this symbolism very clear:
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)
However, Jesus also makes it clear that none of our sins, not even sexual sins like prostitution, are unforgivable if we will repent and put our faith in Him: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31-32) In fact, the prostitute Rahab in Judges 2 actually repents of her sins and receives salvation (Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25), and Matthew 1:5 tells us that Rahab became part of the genealogy of Jesus.
How does the Bible view homosexuality?
In the past, atheists used to make the argument that people are born homosexuals and cannot change who they are any more than people can change their skin color. But with the recent push for transgender rights, that same old argument no longer sounds politically correct. After all, no one wants to say to transgender people that they are “born that way” (either male or female) and therefore cannot change who they are. Also, scientists have yet to find the “gay gene” or any other common cause for homosexuality, so atheists have been forced to reframe their argument. Today, many atheists argue that gender and sexuality are just labels that society attempts to impose upon people. They argue that there is a broad spectrum of genders and sexualities and that these are fluid characteristics that can change throughout a person’s lifetime.
I think it’s highly probable that a person’s sexuality is shaped by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors, and I would agree to a certain extent that people are “born that way” and cannot deny or change who they are. The Bible makes it clear that we are all born sinners (Psalm 51:5), that we are slaves to sin (Romans 6:6), and that we cannot save ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet God will hold unbelievers accountable for the sins they commit (Isaiah 13:11), and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit strengthens Christians in our struggle against sin (Colossians 1:9-12). Clearly God doesn’t accept the excuse that we are “born that way.”
Atheists claim that it’s wrong to ask people to deny who they are, but this is a hypocritical argument. What about kleptomaniacs, pyromaniacs, pedophiles, rapists, and serial killers–are we wrong to ask them to deny who they are? We can’t compare those types of violent and destructive behaviors to homosexuality, the atheists will say. After all, two consenting adults engaging in a loving relationship doesn’t hurt anyone. Alright, what about alcoholics, addicts, gluttons, hoarders, compulsive gamblers, nymphomaniacs, hypochondriacs, and masochists–if they aren’t hurting anyone else but themselves should we still encourage them to be who they are? Again, that’s not a fair comparison, the atheists will say, because those are self-destructive psychological disorders while homosexuality is a natural behavior common among many animal species. Okay, what about people who are judgmental, inconsiderate, impolite, conceited, irritable, impatient, demanding, apathetic, or stingy–they may be obnoxious, but they aren’t really hurting anyone. Should we encourage them to develop a more congenial personality, or should we encourage them to be who they are? Without an absolute moral standard, how do atheists draw the line between allowing people to be themselves and expecting people to curb their natural impulses? Thankfully, we have the Bible to point us to God’s standard for morality.
According to Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13, homosexual behavior was a capital crime under the Mosaic Covenant, the same as adultery. Although Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant, the New Testament makes it clear that God has always considered homosexual behavior to be a sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11). In fact, God allows homosexual behavior to proliferate as a judgement against those who reject Him (Romans 1:26-27).
What about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t like to use that example when discussing the Bible’s stance on homosexuality because people on both sides of the conversation tend to either underemphasize or overemphasize the role of homosexuality in that account. Liberal theologians argue that showing good hospitality to travelers was a hugely important part of the culture in ancient times, so the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah was invented to teach the importance of being kind to visitors. Or they say that the story was only condemning gang rape. Meanwhile, hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church argue that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah solely because they embraced homosexuality and that He will visit similar destruction on any nation that embraces homosexuality.
The truth is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were extremely wicked and were sinning so greatly against God (Genesis 13:13) that there weren’t even ten righteous people living there (Genesis 18:32). It’s true that the word sodomy has its origins in the name of Sodom, and Jude 1:7 makes it clear that homosexual behavior was one of their chief sins. However, Ezekiel 16:49-50 also lists pride, gluttony, greed, and selfishness as sins that led to their destruction. I would imagine that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of breaking every one of the Ten Commandments, just as we all are, but God would have been equally justified in destroying them if all they had done was tell one white lie. Notice that a very similar situation occurred in Gibeah (Judges 19:22), but God did not obliterate the city as He did to Sodom and Gomorrah. See the article on the Nephilim for my theory on why Sodom and Gomorrah were singled out.
Atheists argue that the Bible only condemns sexual promiscuity but is supportive of loving, committed relationships such as gay marriage. However, they cannot point to a single verse to back up this claim. As I’ve already pointed out, God designed marriage to be a symbol of Christ’s relationship with the Church, and it has always consisted of one man and one woman. Considering what marriage represents, gay marriage is comparable either to Jesus redeeming Himself from sin, which is blasphemy, or to the Church redeeming itself from sin, which is impossible.
Speaking of Jesus, atheists argue that He never explicitly condemned homosexual behavior, which makes it okay. However, Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 when He reiterated that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). Also, atheists are forgetting that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are one and that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, when God condemned homosexual behavior in the Old Testament, it was Jesus who said it, and when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to condemn homosexual behavior in the New Testament, it was Jesus who inspired him.
The good news is that God’s offer of salvation is available to anyone who comes to Him in penitent faith, regardless of what sins they may have committed. No sin is unpardonable except for persistent unbelief (Mark 3:28-30), and anyone who repents of their sins and puts their trust in Jesus to save them will be completely forgiven. If someone experiencing same-sex attraction becomes a born-again Christian, God will make them a new creation with the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. He will give them a new heart with new desires so that they seek righteousness and hate sin. They will still sin of course, but they will no longer do it deliberately or enjoy it as they once did. Instead they will war against sin and grow in holiness as the Holy Spirit works within them to sanctify them.
Unfortunately, this means that many former practicing homosexuals will probably still experience same-sex attraction for the rest of their lives. It’s true that some Christians will no longer experience same-sex attraction after being born again, just as some former addicts are able to kick a drug abuse habit after being saved. Yet the Bible does not promise to keep us free from temptation, but only to provide a way out so that we can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Notice that this does not mean that a Christian may continue living in a lifestyle of unrepentant homosexuality (Romans 6:1-2 and 1 John 3:9). It is impossible to be both a practicing homosexual and a Christian, just as it is impossible to be both a practicing adulterer and a Christian.
How does the Bible view bestiality or zoophilia?
It’s a shame to have to even mention something as repugnant as this, but unfortunately mankind’s depravity has no limits. According to Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21, bestiality was a capital crime under the Mosaic Covenant. Atheists like to make fun of the fact that the animal involved would also be put to death. They claim that this shows how silly the Bible is because the animal was just an innocent victim in the situation. However, the commandment to kill the animal just shows how detestable this sin was in God’s eyes. Also, it wouldn’t be the first time that God punished nature for mankind’s sins–look at how God destroyed the entire planet in Noah’s flood due to mankind’s wickedness.
Although the New Testament doesn’t explicitly prohibit bestiality, it does seem like something that would fall under the catch-all term for sexual immorality (porneia), which we are repeatedly warned to avoid. Besides, we have to remember when we have sex, we are consummating a marriage and becoming one flesh with our partner. Considering what marriage represents, bestiality is comparable to Jesus dying to save animals from Hell. That is blasphemous because only humans are made in God’s image, and Jesus became a human to redeem us from our sins.
How does the Bible view incest?
Atheists argue that the Bible supports incest because it occurs several times in the Bible, but that is a ridiculous argument. That would be like accusing someone of supporting slavery for writing a biography about George Washington and mentioning that he was a slave owner. The fact that the Bible doesn’t omit any negative details just proves the accuracy and reliability of the historical accounts.
According to Leviticus 18:6-17,Leviticus 20:11-21, Deuteronomy 22:30, Deuteronomy 27:20-23, the Mosaic Covenant prohibited sex (and therefore marriage) with any close relative including parents, stepparents, siblings, half-siblings, stepsiblings, grandchildren (either by blood or by marriage), aunts and uncles (either by blood or by marriage), children, stepchildren, and in-laws (daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters). The only exception would be in the case of levirate marriage where a man was expected to marry his brother’s widow to provide her with an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
Paul mentions incest in 1 Corinthians 5:1 where a member of the church in Corinth, someone claiming to be a Christian, was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul describes this situation using the blanket term for sexual immorality (porneia), and he instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate the man from their congregation for his unrepentant sin. In fact, he says that they are not to associate or even eat with that man until he repents and turns from his sinful lifestyle.
So why didn’t God punish Abraham for marrying his half-sister (Genesis 20:12)? First, Abraham lived before God delivered the Mosaic Covenant to the Israelites. Second, God didn’t prohibit incest until the frequency of genetic mutations had increased to the point where it would have resulted in a much higher rate of birth defects.
When God created Adam and Eve as the first humans, He declared everything to be very good (Genesis 1:31). In other words, God’s original creation was perfect, and therefore Adam and Eve would have had perfect DNA without any mutations in their genetic code. However, Adam’s sin resulted in God withdrawing some of His sustaining power over creation, allowing genetic mutations to occur. Each successive generation since then has been born with less and less of that perfect original genetic code while at the same time suffering from an increasing frequency of harmful mutations. That’s why Adam and Eve’s son Cain would have been able to marry his sister (Genesis 4:17 and Genesis 5:4) without any problems whereas today that would result in children with serious birth defects.
We see the same thing occur in dog breeding. Humans bred dogs for particular traits, but after many generations the gene pool for purebreds was so small that it led many breeds to develop particular defects as well, such as hip dysplasia in German Shepherds and deafness in Dalmations. Another example occurred in royal families where inbreeding was commonly practiced for political purposes. As a result of a smaller gene pool, many royal dynasties were characterized by pronounced features (the Habsburg jaw) or genetic diseases (hemophilia).
I will point out that sex between parents and children seems to be an exceptional case of incest which was never permitted at any time. Notice how marriage is defined in Genesis 2:24 as a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife. Also, notice that under the Mosaic Covenant sex between a parent and a child was a capital crime while sex between siblings was not. Considering what marriage represents, incest between a parent and a child is comparable to Jesus redeeming God the Father from sin, which is blasphemy.
How does the Bible view polygamy?
According to Genesis 2:24, God’s original plan for marriage was one man and one woman, but already in Genesis 4:19 we see Lamech taking two wives. After that we read that Abraham had two wives, Jacob had four wives, King David had at least ten wives, and King Solomon had 1,000 wives and concubines. Although God never approves of any of these plural marriages, He never denounces them either. In fact, verses like Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17 seem to condone polygamy.
Doesn’t Deuteronomy 17:17 prohibit polygamy? Not really. This passage is a prophecy that the Israelites will one day desire a king to rule over them, and verse 17 is warning that kings who pursue earthly pleasures will end up turning away from God, just as Solomon does in 1 Kings 11:4.
The New Testament has a little more to say on the subject. The list of qualifications for elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) includes the phrase “the husband of one wife.” If the elders and deacons are supposed to be spiritual leaders who are above reproach, then all Christians should follow their example of monogamy. In addition, Paul consistently uses singular nouns rather than plural nouns in his generic instructions for all marriages (Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 7:2) except when addressing a group of husbands and wives as a whole.
If you think about it, polygamy is essentially the same thing as adultery anyway, since it means that you are establishing a one-flesh covenant relationship with multiple people, and therefore breaking your previous one-flesh covenant relationships. It’s hard to imagine God being in favor of something like that.
Since God’s desire for marriage is clearly monogamy, that casts Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17 in a different light. It appears that God was willing to tolerate a less than ideal situation with polygamy in order to provide for the welfare of women in a patriarchal society. This is very similar to how God tolerated a limited form of slavery in the Old Testament to show mercy to foreigners. God’s tolerance for polygamy also resembles his tolerance for divorce, which was not part of His original plan for marriage. Once Jesus came to establish the New Covenant, God’s plan was to end slavery, promote monogamy, and discourage divorce by changing people’s hearts through the gospel.
Tough Question #6 – Why does the Bible treat people with disabilities or handicaps as inferior?
Let’s review the verses that atheists quote to imply that the Bible treats people with disabilities or handicaps as inferior. Leviticus 21:17-23 describes the restrictions for priests who would be serving within the tabernacle, which was an extremely holy place. There’s a lot of symbolism at work here, so let’s unpack it:
- The back of the tabernacle, referred to as the Holy of Holies, was the place where the presence of God would dwell upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22 and Exodus 26:33-34).
- The back section of the tabernacle was so holy that only the High Priest could enter, and even he could only enter once per year after performing a special purification ceremony (Leviticus 16).
- God gave very precise instructions for building the tabernacle and the sanctuary because it was a copy and a shadow of what exists in Heaven (Hebrews 8:5). Jesus became our High Priest and through the blood of His perfect sacrifice He removed the veil so that born-again Christians can now enter the Most Holy Place, which is God’s presence (Hebrews 9).
God’s holiness refers to His purity, perfection, and righteous justice, and this holy nature is why God must punish sin (Psalm 51:4 and Isaiah 13:11). One of God’s punishments for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden was to withdraw some of His sustaining power from creation (Genesis 3:17-19). As a result, human DNA began to suffer mutations after many generations, and birth defects began to affect the population. Therefore, any type of defect is a result of Adam’s sin, and anyone who approached God’s holy presence in the tabernacle with such an obvious sign of Adam’s sin upon their body is symbolic of God allowing sin to enter His presence, which is impossible. So God was actually being merciful to those with disabilities by warning them not to approach instead of just frying them as He did to Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Deuteronomy 23:1 describes God’s prohibition against anyone who has been emasculated from entering the assembly of the Lord. The assembly of the Lord seems to refer to those times when the people of Israel presented themselves before God, such as during God’s appointed festivals (Leviticus 23). These assemblies held great symbolism about our need for a savior to cleanse us from our sins, so God made it clear that these assemblies must be kept holy (Leviticus 19:1). Again, the fact that someone was a eunuch was a clear sign of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, so God was being merciful in warning them not to come near His holy presence. Also, many eunuchs were made so as part of pagan rituals to false gods, which would have been another affront to God’s holy nature. Finally, all of the prophecies about the Messiah referred to Him as the seed (Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:7, and Genesis 35:12), so being emasculated would have represented Satan’s attempt to crush the Messiah. God would not allow such a sign against His son to enter the sacred assembly. However, God did make it clear that eunuchs were not excluded from the mercy of eternal salvation (Isaiah 56:3-5).
Deuteronomy 25:11-12 shows what appears to be an overly harsh punishment for a wife doing whatever is necessary to save the life of her husband. However, this passage is similar to the previous one in that it shows how God detests anything that symbolizes Satan’s attempt to prevent the birth of the Messiah. Also, God had promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars, so God wanted to prohibit anything that would keep an Israelite from fathering children.
Tough Question #7 – Why does the Bible allow parents to murder their children?
According to Leviticus 20:9, anyone who cursed their father or mother was to be put to death, and according to Deuteronomy 21:18-21 a stubborn and rebellious son was to be executed as well. The punishment appears excessive, so let’s peel back the layers to understand.
First, one of the purposes of the Law was to bring about knowledge of sin (Romans 7:13), so most of the commandments in the Old Testament carried a harsh punishment to demonstrate God’s wrath. Also, the Law was given to the nation of Israel to preserve them from falling into sin, so it makes sense that God would put a more severe penalty on anything that would contribute to apostasy in the younger generation.
Second, atheists like to mischaracterize these passages by claiming that God was allowing abusive parents to murder six-year-olds for talking back, but that makes no sense. Why would any parent even consider taking the life of a young child? These verses are referring to a son or daughter who had grown to the point where they were beyond the parents’ ability to discipline. If they were violent, abusive, unruly, and prone to drunkenness at that age, and if they refused correction, then the parents’ only recourse would have been to bring them before the elders of the city to be tried and executed.
The process for capital punishment wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction either; it required a trial with multiple judges and the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a witness was found to be giving false testimony, then they would be executed instead of the defendant. If the defendant were ultimately found guilty, then the witnesses must be the first ones to participate in the execution (Deuteronomy 17:6-7 and Deuteronomy 19:15-21). What parent would conspire with another Israelite, risk death by lying, and then cast the first stone to murder their child?
Although Christians today are not under the Mosaic Covenant, we can follow the principle behind these commandments: God’s desire is for parents to be Christians and to raise up their children in the faith so that generation after generation will follow Jesus (Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4). For things to work as God intended, parents must use loving discipline to bring about knowledge of God’s holy nature (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 19:18, Proverbs 22:15, Proverbs 23:13, and Hebrews 12:7), and children must submit to their parents’ authority in the Lord (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Proverbs 15:5, Ephesians 6:1-2, Colossians 3:20, and 1 Peter 5:5). When this system breaks down, it can have a devastating effect for many generations.
Tough Question #8 – Why does the Bible endorse cruel and unusual punishment?
“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” (2 Kings 2:23-24)
This passage sounds extremely cruel when quoted out of context, but it makes more sense when we understand the circumstances. For example, these were not six-year-olds jeering Elisha, but most likely teenagers or even twenty-somethings. The Hebrew word for boys here is a broad term that can also mean lad, youth, or young man. The same word is applied to Joseph when he is thirty years old (Genesis 41:12 and Genesis 41:46) and also to Absalom (2 Samuel 14:21) when he is a grown man. Nor was this a small group, but rather a large crowd considering the fact that forty-two were mauled. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a crowd of at least forty-two teenagers shouting insults?
Also, this was a particularly dark period in Israel’s history when the vast majority of the nation was worshipping pagan deities. In fact, there were only seven thousand godly men and women left in the entire nation of Israel–less than one percent of the population (1 Kings 19:18). In the midst of this godless nation, the city of Bethel had been a hotbed of idolatry ever since King Jeroboam had installed a golden calf shrine there and instituted his own festivals and sacrificial rites (1 Kings 12:32). No doubt these rowdy teens were attempting to intimidate Elisha into staying out of Bethel so that they would not have to hear him denounce their very comfortable form of pagan worship.
Finally, Elisha had just inherited the mantle of prophet from his predecessor Elijah, a mighty man of faith whom God had enabled to perform miracles to authenticate his prophecies. It seemed common knowledge that Elijah’s ministry was coming to an end (2 Kings 2:3 and 2 Kings 2:5), so when Elisha’s ministry began, perhaps some of the godless people of Bethel were hopeful that he would be more meek and accommodating than Elijah had been. Perhaps the elders of Bethel had sent out the teens to test Elisha to see whether there was any strength behind his words. The words “get out of here” are more correctly translated as “go up”, which alludes to the way that Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Also, the cloak of Elijah was a hairy garment (2 Kings 1:8), which was apparently common attire for prophets (Isaiah 20:2, Zechariah 13:4, and Matthew 3:4). Therefore, the teens were mocking not only Elisha’s premature baldness, but also implying that he wasn’t a true prophet of God and didn’t deserve to inherit Elijah’s hairy mantle. By mocking Elisha’s ministry, the unruly teens were mocking God Himself. In response, God answered Elisha’s prayer to authenticate his ministry and to send a message that God will not be mocked.
Tough Question #9 – Why does the Bible praise child murderers?
Psalm 137:9 says, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Atheists quote this verse to claim that the Biblical writers were sadistic baby killers, even though most atheists have no problem with abortion. However, this passage is not encouraging people to go out and kill children.
After the nation of Israel disobeyed God for many years, He allowed the Babylonians to conquer and enslave the Israelites as punishment. But the Babylonians did far more than punish Israel; they ruthlessly assaulted the city of Jerusalem and God’s holy temple. They laid siege to the city for over a year (2 Kings 25:1-3), leading to a famine that was so dire that parents were literally cooking and eating their own children to survive (Jeremiah 19:9, Lamentations 4:10, and Ezekiel 5:10). Once the city was finally conquered, the Babylonians razed it completely, including Solomon’s magnificent temple.
In return, God prophesied against the Babylonians that they would suffer the same sort of fate (Isaiah 13:16). The writer of Psalm 137 must have been an Israelite living in captivity in Babylon who was clearly familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writer declared that God would bless the one who punished Babylon, and sure enough, the conquering Persian Empire dominated the world for about 200 years.
This verse is not a command to kill children, but rather a fulfilled prophecy against Babylon. Furthermore, this verse uses the same Hebrew word for Rock as was used in Numbers 20:10 when Moses was getting water from a rock in the desert. Therefore, the Psalm could also carry a second meaning by referring to Jesus, who is our Rock, conquering Babylon for the final time before establishing his millennial kingdom (Revelation 18).
Tough Question #10 – Why don’t Christians follow the Bible’s restrictions on diets and clothing?
Atheists accuse Christians of being hypocrites because we use the Bible to condemn certain sins but then ignore the Bible’s clear instructions on dietary and clothing restrictions. For example, Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 prohibit eating of any foods that are considered unclean while Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11 prohibit wearing clothing made of two different types of material.
The answer is that these laws are part of the Mosaic Covenant, which God made exclusively with the nation of Israel. Christians are not under the Law (Romans 6:14). Therefore, 21st-century Christians do not have to obey any Old Testament commandments UNLESS they were reiterated to Christians in the New Testament. For example, it’s pretty clear that the Mosaic Covenant prohibited the Israelites from practicing any form of magic (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:26, Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Although Christians are not required to follow the Mosaic Covenant, the New Testament makes it very clear that God still expects Christians to avoid practicing magic (Revelation 21:8 and Revelation 22:15).
As an aside, I would like to point out that Christians should handle the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) a bit differently than the rest of the New Testament. Jesus was born as a Jew under the Law so that He could fulfill the Law by living a perfect, sinless life (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Jesus obeying Old Testament commandments such as the requirement to travel to Jerusalem each year for the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 23:14-15, Luke 2:41-42, and John 2:23). Thankfully Christians today aren’t required to copy Jesus by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the three annual festival gatherings, especially since we no longer have the temple in which to offer sacrifices as required by the Law (Deuteronomy 12:13-14). I point this out because inevitably someone will quote Jesus’ words to the Pharisees to argue that Christians are required to tithe (Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42). Again, Jesus, who was a Jew, was addressing a group of Jewish religious leaders about the requirements of the Law. Jesus was not saying that 21st-century Christians are required to give the first ten percent of their gross income to their local church congregation.
Getting back to the topic at hand, atheists will ask why would God create silly laws about clothing and diet just for the Jews and no one else? The Law served several purposes:
- To explain God’s moral standards and expose our sinfulness.
- To point us to the need for a savior to cleanse us from our sinfulness.
- To point us to the Messiah, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
- To set the nation of Israel apart from the pagan nations around them.
- To provide a set of laws for governing the nation state of Israel.
- Moral Laws – These laws, including the Ten Commandments, represented God’s eternal and unchanging moral character. Therefore, we see many of these same commandments reiterated to Christians in the New Testament. See article on the Ten Commandments.
- Ceremonial Laws – These laws, including the sacrificial system, were primarily designed as symbolism and typology pointing us to Jesus. Once Jesus revealed Himself, there was no longer a need for these symbols to continue. However, the ceremonial laws also included regulations designed to give the Israelites a unique identity which would preserve their distinct culture even during the many years of captivity. Even today the Jewish culture still remains intact in countries around the world thanks to this unique identity, and I believe God planned it that way since He will resume working with Israel during the End Times (Revelation 7:4-8).
- Civil Laws – These laws established the judicial system as well as penalties for breaking God’s commandments. Therefore, there was some overlap with the Moral and Ceremonial Laws. The important thing to keep in mind that God intended these laws only for the nation-state of Israel, which was a theocracy with God as king. Even the current State of Israel was established under a democratically elected, secular government. Therefore, these laws don’t even apply to them, let alone Christians living in other countries.
In conclusion, the dietary and clothing restrictions were part of the Ceremonial Laws and served several purposes:
- God wanted to make sure that the Israelites didn’t copy any of the pagan practices from the nations around them, which would lead them down the path to idolatry.
- By drawing a distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned food, God was reminding the Israelites of the original sin that Adam committed by eating the forbidden fruit.
- We all eat to sustain our flesh, but we ought to be more concerned with our eternal life. Therefore, God was alluding to our need for the bread of life (John 6:35 and John 6:53-58) and the water of life (John 4:13-14, Revelation 21:6, and Revelation 22:1), also known as the life-saving blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:26-28).
- By prohibiting clothes made of two types of material, God was reminding Israel not to be unequally yoked to pagan practices (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Tough Question #11 – Could God create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it?
No matter whether you answer yes or no, the conclusion is that God is not all-powerful and therefore either He doesn’t exist or He isn’t worthy of worship. Before we address this argument, let’s review some of the attributes that God has revealed to us about Himself:
- God is not a God of confusion, but of order (1 Corinthians 14:33). This attribute is also evident in things like the fixed laws of physics, the existence of the laws of logic, and the obvious design and purpose behind all things.
- God cannot deny His own nature (2 Timothy 2:13). This makes sense because at some point there has to be an unmoved mover and an uncaused cause in order for everything else to exist.
- God is omniscient (Psalm 147:5). This makes sense because God invented everything.
- God has always existed (Psalm 90:2, Psalm 93:2, John 17:24, and 2 Timothy 1:9). This makes sense because God had to exist outside of time in order to create time.
- God is infinite in size (Psalm 139:7-8 and Isaiah 40:12). This makes sense because God had to exist outside of the universe in order to create the universe.
- God is omnipotent (Job 42:2). This makes sense because God created the laws of the universe, so He can suspend those laws.
Therefore, if it were possible for God to create a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it, He would know how to do it since He is omniscient. And if it were possible to create such a rock, He could do it since He is omnipotent. However, such a rock could never exist because only God is infinite and eternal, and nothing has ever been created that is greater than the one who created it. Furthermore, it is impossible for God to deny His own nature, so He wouldn’t be able to create a nonsensical situation contrary to His own nature of order.
This question is similar to other silly questions like, “How can you make a circle that is not perfectly round?” If perfectly round is the defining characteristic of a circle, then anything that is not perfectly round would not be a circle. Since infinite is a defining characteristic of God then He cannot possibly create a rock that is larger than Himself or else He would not be infinite.
Tough Question #12 – Why does God allow pain and suffering?
Atheists believe that the existence of pain and suffering disproves the existence of the God of the Bible because He is either unable or unwilling to eliminate it. This argument originated with ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, and it carries an implicit accusation that God is is evil for not saving good people from harm.
However, the Bible makes it clear that there are no good people (Mark 10:18) because there is no one who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46). Therefore, God is entirely justified in visiting any punishment upon us that He desires. The real question to ask is, “Why does God save any of us sinners from eternal pain and suffering?” None of us deserves mercy from God, which is why it was such a great act of love that while we were still dead in our sins, Jesus suffered and died to save us (Romans 5:8).
In addition, the Bible gives us some general explanations for why God allows pain and suffering to exist in this life.
Punishment for Adam’s sin
God created the universe in a state of perfection, and if it weren’t for Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden our universe would still be free from all pain and suffering. Therefore, we cannot blame God for the existence of pain and suffering. Here are a couple of atheist counterarguments and my rebuttals:
- God shouldn’t have allowed Adam and Eve to sin. Why did He tempt them by putting the tree of knowledge in the Garden? Why didn’t He warn them that the serpent would attempt to deceive them?
- God wanted to give Adam and Eve free will, and free will wouldn’t have been possible without a choice.
- In order for God to make His relative attributes of grace and mercy known, He created humanity, knowing that we would sin, so that He could save us and thus glorify His name. God wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate His grace and mercy toward us unless He had given us the choice of whether to obey Him.
- It’s not fair that the rest of us must suffer for Adam and Eve’s sin. Why doesn’t God just give each person their own choice to follow Him and then punish only those who disobey Him?
- Adam, being the first human created, became a representative for all mankind. Thus, his choice became our choice. This is no different than when a diplomat or elected official makes decisions on behalf of his people.
- Since all of us existed within Adam’s loins when he sinned, then in a sense we all sinned as well (1 Corinthians 15:22 and Hebrews 7:9-10).
- Humans inherit all of our genetic characteristics from our parents, such as eye and hair color, so why shouldn’t we inherit spiritual characteristics such as Adam’s original sin as well? (Psalm 51:5)
- During our infancy, when we have not yet developed the physical or mental capacity to sin, it’s possible that God doesn’t hold us responsible for Adam’s sin. After all, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV) However, we certainly bear full responsibility for Adam’s sin when we endorse it by committing sins of our own.
- God’s punishment is too extreme. Why did He inflict genocide, torture, disease, and natural disasters on the entire planet just because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit?
- It wasn’t just that Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. They disobeyed a direct commandment from their creator. Eating the fruit wasn’t an inherently sinful action, but a holy and righteous God must punish the sin of disobedience.
- If you think pain and suffering is too extreme on earth, how do you feel about Hell? (See Gospel Objection #7) No matter how bad things are in this life, the pain and suffering cannot possibly compare to eternal separation from God, and that is where all atheists are headed unless they repent and put their faith in Jesus to cleanse them from their sins.
Temporal punishment for our own personal sins
Jesus died on the cross to save born-again Christians from the eternal punishment for our sins. However, He did not promise to save us from the temporal punishment from our sins. For example, a man’s wife may divorce him, and he may contract HIV as a result of a having an affair. If that man repents of his sins and puts his faith in Jesus to save him, he will be saved from Hell. However, his ex-wife may still never speak to him again, and he may still die of AIDS.
To bring us closer to Him
Sometimes God uses our earthly suffering to bring us closer to him. Often times those who experience the fewest setbacks in life will not seek God because they don’t think that they need Him. On the other hand, someone who has hit rock bottom will cry out to God because they have no other hope and they need a miracle. For example, Louie Zamperini experienced profound pain and suffering in life, and he turned to God as a result. As James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” C.S. Lewis phrases it this way:
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
In addition, God will subject those of us who are already Christians to various trials and tribulations to mature us spiritually.
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
- “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
- “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Also, we sometimes suffer so God can test our faith. This test is not for His benefit since He already knows all things, but for our benefit so that we can be more assured of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). For example, the apostles all believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but their faith was tested when He was arrested and crucified. Once Jesus appeared to them in His resurrected body, they became so strong in their faith that they were willing to die for it. After we have survived a trial with our faith intact, we will know that our faith is the genuine kind that leads to salvation.
For His glory
God sometimes allows pain and suffering for His glory. For example, when God visited the ten plagues upon Egypt in the Book of Exodus, He did it to demonstrate His power and glory for the benefit of His chosen people (Exodus 10:1-2 and Psalm 106:8). The atheist will say, “That was mean of God to punish those poor, innocent Egyptians just to impress the Israelites.” Remember though that none of us is innocent “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, it was perfectly just for God to punish the disobedient Egyptians. It’s not like He was picking out people at random to bully.
Free will vs. God’s sovereign will
Atheists sometimes argue that a benevolent God should intercede and limit the free will of a rapist to minimize the pain and suffering that he can inflict on others. The free will argument says that pain and suffering exists because God will not do anything to affect the free will of humans.
I don’t really like the free will argument because it elevates humans and diminishes God’s sovereignty. The fact is that humans don’t have libertarian free will, but instead we can only act within the confines of God’s sovereign will. In other words, God allows us to make choices, but God will use those choices to accomplish His will. As God says in Isaiah 46:10, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
For example, God could have acted to prevent Joseph’s brothers from selling him into slavery in Egypt. However, God took a situation that had been intended for evil and instead turned it into something good by saving the lives of thousands of people from famine (Genesis 50:20). Or God may allow a person to suffer through a terrible tragedy so that He can use them to minister to others who experience the same sort of tragedy.
Although we cannot see the big picture the way that God can, we can take comfort in the fact that God promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Tough Question #13 – Are things inherently good/bad or does God’s personal preference create good/bad?
Atheists like to quote the dilemma from Plato’s “Euthyphro” in an attempt to disprove the God of the Bible: “Is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?” In other words, they employ the logical fallacy of creating a false dilemma in which they argue that there are only two possible explanations, both of which disprove God:
- Option 1 – When the God of the Bible declares that something is good, He does so because He recognizes its inherent goodness.
- Under this option, there is an absolute moral standard of good and evil which exists outside of God, so therefore God is appealing to a higher authority than Himself and therefore disproving His own existence.
- Atheists like this option because their worldview cannot account for the existence of good and evil, and this argument allows them to appeal to absolute good and evil without God.
- Option 2 – When the God of the Bible declares that something is good, it therefore becomes good because God has made it so by divine fiat.
- Under this option, there is no such thing as absolute good and evil because God can redefine what is good and evil on a whim.
- Atheists like this option because it reduces God to the level of fallible humans and proves that God is nothing more than an idea invented by racist, chauvinistic, homophobic bigots to exert control over the masses.
Euthyphro’s dilemma is a false dilemma because there is a third option, which is the correct one:
- Option 3 – When the God of the Bible declares that something is good, He does so because it reflects His own holy nature. God is the absolute moral standard of good (Habakkuk 1:13, Luke 18:19, 1 John 1:5, and 1 John 4:8), so anything that is contrary to His holy nature is automatically evil. Also, God doesn’t change His definition of what is good and evil because He does not change (Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17) and cannot deny his own holy nature (2 Timothy 2:13).
Tough Question #14 – Why isn’t God visible?
More than two-thirds of the world is non-Christian, so why doesn’t the God of the Bible just show up and prove to everyone that He exists?
God Is Visible
God has already revealed Himself through general revelation, in other words His creation (Psalm 8:3, Psalm 19:1, and Romans 1:19-20). No one can consider all the wonders of the universe and claim that there wasn’t an intelligent being behind it all. Admittedly, we cannot fully know God based on studying His creation alone, but it can give us some basic ideas about what kind of being He is:
- We know that He wants to be known since He left evidence and gave us intelligence and curiosity to study things.
- We know that He prefers order since He established and upholds the laws of physics.
- We know that He is maximally powerful and intelligent to be able to create everything.
- We know that He is eternal since He created time.
- We know that He wants to be worshipped and glorified because He created us to exist in an infinitesimally small region within an amazingly vast expanse of space.
God has also revealed Himself through the human conscience, which God gave us to demonstrate that He is just (Romans 2:14-15). We can see that all societies around the world and throughout history have established similar sets of moral codes and laws to live by. All humans are born with an intrinsic knowledge of justice, fairness, right and wrong, and good and evil. Even a young child understands when he or she has been treated wrongly, and they seek to retaliate with vengeance to set things right.
God has also revealed Himself through special revelation using His written Word, the Bible (Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Atheists are correct that general revelation alone is insufficient to lead us to the God of the Bible rather than a false god. However, the Bible gives us that indisputable proof that there is no other god besides the one true God.
No doubt there are plenty of plenty of atheists who point to the universe as evidence that there is no god (see my article on Young Earth Creationism), and they also refuse to accept the Bible as evidence for anything. However, the Bible makes it clear that they are not in fact atheists at all since they know the truth but choose to suppress it in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible refers to them as fools rather than atheists (Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1).
Seeing Isn’t Believing
God has already appeared visibly on the Earth, but people still refused to worship Him:
- God appeared visibly when He rescued the Israelites out of Egypt. While everyone acknowledged God’s existence, almost no one worshipped Him. Apparently the many signs and wonders were only enough to scare people but not to convince them to repent and glorify God.
- Jesus appeared in Jerusalem in the first century A.D., and He was executed. The Jews had been told all along to expect the Messiah, and God even gave them several signs to look for. Jesus performed many miracles and clearly claimed divinity, but for the most part it was the people who didn’t see Him who ended up worshipping Him.
- When Jesus comes again to set up his Millennial Kingdom on Earth, He will rule visibly from Jerusalem for a thousand years. Yet when the thousand years are over, Satan will have no problem gathering an army of people from all nations to march against Jesus (Revelation 20:7-8).
It’s hard to imagine that people would still refuse to worship God after He had revealed Himself so plainly. However, it’s not that far-fetched considering how many atheists today talk. Try asking an atheist, “If the God of the Bible showed up right now to prove His existence, would you worship Him?” Most likely their reply will sound similar to this: “No I wouldn’t worship Him because I think He’s a jerk.”
Besides, even if God appeared visibly on the Earth right now, many atheists would still not accept His appearance as sufficient evidence for theism. They would merely claim that either they had experienced a hallucination or that the vision was a result of technology so advanced that it appeared supernatural. In the words of author Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
How can God fully reveal Himself?
One of the problems with expecting God to appear visibly on the Earth is the fact that God is infinite while we are finite. How can finite beings conceive of or comprehend the infinite? How can an infinite being reveal Himself to finite beings without condescending to our level? The novel “Flatland” provides a good analogy of this conundrum when three-dimensional beings attempt to reveal themselves to two-dimensional beings. Since the two-dimensional beings have no concept of a third dimension, the two-dimensional beings only see two of the three-dimensional being’s dimensions.
Another problem is the fact that if God were to fully reveal Himself to us, we would not be able to withstand the full force of His glory. He is too holy and we are too sinful.
- When Moses asked God to reveal His glory to him, God replied, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)
- When Isaiah, Daniel, Job, and John saw visions of God, they were terrified and completely drained of all their strength (Isaiah 6:5, Job 42:5-6, Daniel 10:7-8, and Revelation 1:17).
God Prefers Faith
God’s main reason for not appearing visibly is that He prefers to be worshipped through faith rather than forcing Himself upon us. Certainly on the Day of Judgement every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:9-11). No one will be able to deny His existence at that point, but in the meantime God is patiently enduring the scoffers as He waits for the fullness of the church to come in (2 Peter 3:9).
He prefers to have a relationship that is based on faith because that makes for a genuine relationship built on trust. This is why Jesus said to the apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) How annoying would it be if your friends and family were to question your love constantly? What if they asked you all the time to prove your feelings through elaborate demonstrations of love? Wouldn’t it make you wonder whether they had any love for you? After all, how can you love someone that you don’t trust?
Here’s what the Bible says about faith:
- “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
- “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
- “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
- “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
Biblical faith is not an everyday thing, such as having faith that your car won’t break down on the highway. It means trust in Jesus for our eternal salvation based on the promises He has made. If we doubt those promises, then we are calling Him a liar. Thankfully, He doesn’t require us to develop this faith by ourselves, but instead He grants it to us as a free gift. The way to share that gift with others is to share the gospel with them.
Biblical faith does not mean we should do something foolish and then expect God to bail us out without consequences. That would be putting God to the test, which Jesus said not to do (Matthew 4:7). Instead, Biblical faith means that we are able to endure our current circumstances because we are “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” (Hebrews 11:10) which is our eternal afterlife in Heaven.
Biblical faith is not a blind faith, such as believing in something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Christians aren’t choosing to ignore sound scientific evidence when we say that we have faith in God. We have solid evidence from general revelation, special revelation, and personal experience. Our belief is in the firm foundation of God’s promises, and there is nothing more certain than that. For example, Joshua could have listened to the experts who knew that it was impossible to bring down the walls of Jericho by marching around the city, but instead He had faith in God’s promise to bring them into the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:30).