Isaiah Scroll
Apologetics Faith Theology
R. L. Solberg  

Isaiah 53: The Forbidden Chapter

Often called the “Forbidden Chapter,” Isaiah 53 is a significant source of controversy. Not just between Judaism and Christianity, but even within Judaism itself. Up until Christ came, the Jewish sages and rabbis roundly agreed that Isaiah 53 was a prophecy about the Messiah. But once the Christian Gospel started to spread, this chapter in Isaiah began to cause problems within Judaism because of its overt resemblance to the life and work of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah. According to Eitan Bar, a native Jewish-Israeli scholar:

The 17th-century Jewish historian, Raphael Levi, admitted that long ago the rabbis used to read Isaiah 53 in synagogues, but after the chapter caused “arguments and great confusion” the rabbis decided that the simplest thing would be to just take that prophecy out of the Haftarah1 readings in synagogues. That’s why today when we read Isaiah 52, we stop in the middle of the chapter, and the week after, we jump straight to Isaiah 54.2

—Eitan Bar

(You can watch the video version of this article here)

It’s no wonder that when dialoguing with my Jewish friends, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is a common topic. In a recent chat with one friend who converted from Christianity to Judaism, he shared a meme with me that he felt summed up the Jewish position on Isaiah chapter 53:

He then listed 12 reasons that Isaiah 53 could not be referring to Jesus.3 I read through the list and felt I had to weigh in. I’m not sure where the claims originated, but I wanted to correct the record about them. Not only to defend the Christian position on Isaiah 53 but also as a favor to my Jewish friends who want to strengthen their position and not rely on weak arguments.

When reading Isaiah 53, it’s important to keep in mind the genre and language of prophetic literature. Much of the language of the prophets is properly interpreted symbolically or figuratively and not literally. Where these 12 claims sometimes go astray is by pressing for a literal correspondence between the prophecy and its fulfillment.

Responding to the 12 Reasons

Following are the list of 12 reasons I was given that Isaiah 53 could not be referring to Jesus. Each reason is listed as it was given to me, followed by a brief response:

Reason 1

When was Jesus sick? 53:3 reads “ish makavot” which refers to a man who is habitually or chronically ill. Nothing in the New Testament says Jesus was ever ill even once.

Response: The Hebrew phrase “ish makavot” can refer to a man in habitual pain or suffering as well as sickness. It depends on context, and even the Orthodox Jewish Bible translates the phrase in Isaiah 53:3 as “acquainted with suffering,” not “habitually sick.” There is a wealth of scriptural support for Jesus’ fulfillment of a man acquainted with suffering (Matt 27:27-44, Mark 15:16-32, Luke 23:26-39, 2 Cor 1:5, etc.)

Reason 2

When did Jesus suffer from leprosy? Vs. 4 reads “nagua,” which is a word in the Hebrew Bible that refers to one who is stricken with leprosy, as we see in 2 Kings 15:5 and Levi 13:3, 9, and 20. Jesus never was.

Response: נָג֛וּעַ (na·gu·a’) means “to touch, reach, strike.” The word for leprosy is צָרַ֖עַת (tza·ra·’at), and to be struck with leprosy, or to be leprous is מְצֹרָע֙ (me·tzo·ra).

Reason 3

When was Jesus “without form or comeliness,” undesired so that everyone despised and rejected him? (vs. 3) On the contrary, the gospels insist Jesus was greatly admired everywhere he went by every segment of society (Luke 4:14-15) and even to regions he never visited (Matt 4:24, 25).

Response: If Jesus was “greatly admired everywhere he went by every segment of society” He never would have been crucified. Isaiah 53:3 reads, “He was despised and rejected by mankind,” and the examples of this in the life of Yeshua are manifold. Not only was He betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, spit upon, mocked, and crucified, He was despised and rejected in other ways as well:

  • “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:28-29)
  • “But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18)
  • “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)
  • “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me.” (John 5:43)

Reason 4

Why wasn’t Jesus humble, as the servant (in vs. 7) was? The gospels record several haughty words coming from his lips. See Luke 19:27, John 6:47, 14:9. All these verses and many more, especially in John’s gospel, show that, far from being humble, Jesus thought very highly of himself.

Response: Yeshua epitomized true humility in that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). Some of the things He said could undoubtedly be considered “haughty” if they were uttered by a mere mortal. But Yeshua was divine. He did not think overly highly of Himself; he thought soberly of Himself.

Perhaps His most humble act of all was leaving Heaven to come to earth as a human. Yeshua “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8)

Reason 5

Why didn’t Jesus remain silent as the servant (vs. 7) did? ALL of the gospels, without exception, say Jesus had quite a lot to say during his arrest, trial and crucifixion. John 18:19-23, 33-37 relates quite a long defense of himself, intimating he was being railroaded and that he was being kidnapped in the dark rather than in the day when his followers might have defended him.

Response: The prophecy in Isaiah doesn’t say that Yeshua never spoke at all. It says, “. . . he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Is there evidence Jesus fulfilled this passage? Lots:

  • “But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’” (Matthew 26:63)
  • “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.” (Matthew 27:12)
  • “But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” (Matthew 27:14)
  • “But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61)
  • “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” (Mark 15:5)
  • “He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.” (Luke 23:9)
  • “and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.” (John 19:9)

Reason 6

Why did Jesus do violence and speak violence, whereas the servant (vs. 9) “had done no violence”? See Luke 19:27, where Jesus takes the time to fashion a whip with which he beat the money changers and sacrificial animal vendors. (Did you know that striking an animal fit for sacrifice would cause a great loss in value of the animal, so every animal Jesus struck was a separate instance of THEFT!? There goes the claim Jesus never committed any sins!) In Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Think not that I come to bring peace but a sword.”

Response: There are a few things we need to address here. First, Luke 19:27 is part of the parable of the ten minas and has nothing to do with Jesus fashioning a whip. Whoever wrote the claim above must have meant Luke 19:45 which says, “When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling.”

Second, none of the passages that tell of Jesus clearing the Temple courts (Luke 19, John 2, and Mark 1) say He struck or beat the money changers or the animals. They all say he “drove them from the Temple courts.” The Greek word used is ἐκβάλλειν (ekballein), which means “to expel, to drive, cast or send out.” Thus, third, Jesus did no violence, as Isaiah 53:9 prophesied. He never beat, attacked, injured, or physically harmed anyone during His ministry on Earth.

And if we take a broader look at this verse, we find even more compelling evidence that Isaiah 53 is about Jesus. The phrase in 53:9, “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” is figurative language that describes an innocent person. Isaiah prophesied that the suffering servant’s execution would be wholly undeserved, which was exactly the case with Jesus. In fact, the apostle Peter quotes directly from Isaiah 53:9, showing us that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy (1 Peter 2:22).

The aspect of innocence in Isaiah’s prophecy is also compelling evidence that Israel could not be the “suffering servant” about whom Isaiah was writing. Israel is not an innocent, unblemished lamb that was killed for the unrighteous. Yeshua was.

Reason 7

Why did Jesus deceive people, while the servant does not? (vs. 9) Jesus was not only a false prophet, but also deceived his disciples by saying he would return in their lifetime. But they all died before Jesus got around to fulfilling his “prophecy.” One would think that if he really was the son of God, he could have convinced his dad to let his prophecy come true.

Response: The author of the claim is likely referring to Matthew 16:28, where Yeshua says, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” The author seems to be suggesting that, in this passage, Yeshua was referring to His final return. But the Scriptural data suggests He was instead referring to His Transfiguration.

This promise from Yeshua is described in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Luke, and Mark), and in each case, it is immediately followed by Yeshua’s Transfiguration. This is where, as Matthew describes it, Yeshua led them up a high mountain, and “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:2-3).

As theologian John MacArthur notes, “The word for ‘kingdom’ can be translated ‘royal splendor.’ Therefore, it seems most natural to interpret this promise as a reference to the Transfiguration, which ‘some’ of the disciples—Peter, James, and John—would witness only six days later.” 4

Reasons 8 and 9

8. Why was Jesus not buried with the wicked as according to vs. 9? The gospels tell us Jesus died with some wicked people.
9. Why were there no rich people who died with Jesus? (vs. 9) The gospels tell us he was buried in the tomb of a rich man, a tomb that had never been used before.

Response: These two claims can be answered together. They both refer to the first part of Isaiah 53:9, which says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…” Keeping in mind the genre of prophecy with its use of symbolism and figurative language, this prophecy can be seen as fulfilled by the fact that Jesus was to be executed and buried with criminals until a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, stepped in and offered his tomb (Matt 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:51, John 19:38). MacArthur notes:

Because of His disgraceful execution alongside criminals, the Jewish leaders intended Jesus to have a disgraceful burial (cf. John 19:31), but instead He was buried with “the rich” in an honorable burial through the donated tomb of rich Joseph of Arimathea.5

John MacArthur

This passage is more evidence that the servant referred to in chapter 53 does not seem to be Israel, since Israel has not been (a.) assigned a grave with the wicked, (b.) put to death, or (c.) buried with the rich. Though it must be granted that these could conceivably be interpreted as prophecies of still-future events for the nation.

Reasons 10, 11 and 12

10. Why didn’t Jesus have children? (vs. 10)
11. When were his days lengthened? (vs. 10) On the contrary, Jesus died in the midst of his days. The Bible says that a righteous man can live to 70, but Jesus died only half that age (33 or so years).
12. And we’re told Jesus was the son of God, but how can God’s days be lengthened?

Response: These final three claims can be answered together as well. They all refer to the second half of Isaiah 53:10 which says, “he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” 

First, the author of this claim is interpreting the passage above as referring to literal offspring. However, given the genre of prophecy with its use of symbolism and figurative language, a literal interpretation is not required. Especially in light of the totality of the prophecies about the Messiah found throughout the book of Isaiah. Christians see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the idea that offspring refers to the Servant’s spiritual progeny, the generations who would become children of God through faith in Yeshua. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). 

Second, the phrase prolong his days finds fulfillment in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It speaks to His time on earth which ended with His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand. God’s days weren’t literally lengthened, of course, because He is eternal. This, again, is the figurative language of prophecy.

In A Nutshell

The “suffering servant” poem of Isaiah 53 technically runs from Isa 52:13 through 53:12. In it, we read about God’s servant (as established in earlier chapters) and how God is going to allow him to be rejected and beaten and ultimately exalted.  Theologian Timothy Mackie does a fantastic job of breaking down this poem and providing an overview of what it teaches:

The center of the poem is put in the mouths of a group called “we,” who tell the story of the servant. They say he at first appeared to them as an insignificant low-life, god-forsaken and rejected by people. There was nothing about the servant that looked impressive or important (Isa 53:1-3). However, they now acknowledge that they couldn’t have been more wrong (Isa 53:4-6). In reality, the servant was suffering and dying on behalf of Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness. It was Israel who rejected God’s servant, and they led him to his death and killed him (Isa 53:7-9).

But just like Joseph and his brothers who planned evil to destroy him, God orchestrated their evil to result in good (remember Gen 50:20). It was actually God’s mysterious purpose that the servant would die at the hands of Israel, because of their sin and on behalf of their sin (Isa 53:10). His death would play the role of a sacrificial guilt offering (remember Lev 5-6?), providing atonement for their evil.

Thankfully, this isn’t the end of the servant’s story. After his rejection and death, we all of a sudden read that the servant will “look upon descendants and live long days” and “see the light and be satisfied” (Isa 53:10-11). We hear that his death was actually the opposite of failure. It was his way of “bearing the sins” of his people so that the guilty “can be pronounced righteous” before God (53:11b). Guilty Israel, who not only ended up in exile for their sins, but also killed God’s servant sent to them, is pronounced “righteous,” not for anything they have done, but because of what the servant did on their behalf . . .

There’s a reason why the poem of Isaiah 53 is introduced with the phrase “good news,” and there’s also a good reason why all four stories of Jesus in the New Testament were eventually called “The Good News” or “The Gospel.” It’s the strangest good news you will ever hear, but also the best news. It’s the story of God’s defeat of evil so that you and I can be rescued from the human condition, the death we see all around us, and that which we find inside ourselves. In this story of the servant’s death and resurrection, we discover the love of God that leads to true life.6

—Timothy Mackie

Summary

I don’t claim to be an expert on the interpretation of biblical prophecy, but the application of sound hermeneutical principles helps to give us a way into the true meaning of Isaiah 53. The fact that this chapter of the Tanakh is not included in the Haftarah readings in the synagogue (it is the “forbidden chapter”) tells us there is something significant about it that modern rabbis seem to find threatening. If you are truly interested in what Isaiah 53 teaches, I hope you will consider some of the responses above. But please don’t believe me! Instead, look them up yourself and test them and see if they hold true.


Cover image courtesy of Israel Museum [Public domain]
1 The Haftarah reading follows the Torah reading on each Sabbath and on Jewish festivals and fast days. Typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the parasha (Torah Portion) that precedes it. The haftarah is sung in a chant (known as “trope” in Yiddish or “Cantillation” in English). From Wikipedia.com
2 Isaiah 53 – The Forbidden Chapter, by One for Israel
3 He did not mention the original source, but these arguments seem to have come from Hugh Fogelman’s book Christianity Uncovered: Viewed Through Open Eyes
4 Matthew 16:28, MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV)
5 Isaiah 53:9, MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV)
6 Isaiah and the Suffering Servant King, by Timothy Mackie

28 thoughts on “Isaiah 53: The Forbidden Chapter

  1. Josh Adkison

    This post contains a massive issue that is present in many Christian explanations of “prophecy” or views on the Old Testament. You have consistently smashed the four gospels together in your answers and refused to consider what each author saw as the correct view of Jesus. I see no way to explain away the contradictions of the gospels, so smashing them together to create your own gospel does a disservice to the writers of the gospels. The complete transformation of Jesus in the gospel John from apocalyptic rabbi to equality with God shows how “John” viewed Jesus in an antithetical way than “Mark” did. “Mark’s” Jesus didn’t do “signs” so people would believe in his divinity; he did miracles to help people and specifically went out of his way not to reveal who he was—his temptation from Satan to jump off the mountain. These are two completely different characters. Because Mark was written far earlier and contains much fewer supernatural explanations, so it’s safe to say Mark contains more historically accurate events and descriptions of Jesus. One last issue with your description is the most significant for your interpretation of Isaiah is the incorrect view you have that it is a prophecy of a coming Jesus who would be the messiah. The book of Isaiah CLEARLY indicates in previous sections that the whole of Israel is the servant being described. If you only read the 53rd chapter, then I understand viewing Jesus as being described. This isn’t the correct way to read any book though. Israel is the servant, and this is in no way a prophecy of a coming messiah.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks for taking the time to share your comments, Josh. I agree that in the full book of Isaiah we cannot simply say that the suffering servant always equals Yeshua. Prophetic literature is a difficult genre, for sure. There are passages where Isaiah clearly refers to the nation of Israel, and other times he is clearly referring to an individual, HaMashiach.

      For example, in ch 40-48, Israel is referred to as God’s servant several times. But they were a failing servant, having fallen into idolatry. Then we see Cyrus (Persian King) anointed as God’s instrument for the destruction of Babylon (the great source of idolatry). And then, in 42:1-4 the Mashiach is introduced as God’s perfect Servant. He is the one who, in the time to come, will make a full end of idolatry (which Cyrus did not) and in whose Name the Gentiles will trust. These verses are quoted in Matt 12:18-21 where they present the meekness and gentleness of Yeshua.

      While ch 40-48 make no explicit reference to the rejection of Mashiach by Israel, this is clearly the primary subject of ch 49-57. Yeshua is the Servant who “labored in vain” and was “abhorred by the nation.” He was an obedient and faithful servant who suffered at men’s hands as a consequence (50:4-9). His mistreatment was extreme (52:14).

      In ch 53, the Suffering Servant is consistently presented as an individual and not as a plurality or collective noun, like a people group. For instance, 53:8 says, “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” The phrase “my people” refers to the people of Israel, so Israel cannot be the Suffering Servant. If the people of Israel were the Servant here, who would be “my people”? Also, the Servant suffers willingly and without objection. The people of Israel have never suffered willingly! According to the Torah, Israel suffered as a result of sin, not because of her righteousness. Yet the Servant in Isa 53 suffered as a righteous person, not because he had sinned. The Isa 53 Servant was guiltless, but according to the Torah, the people of Israel were punished and suffered because of their sin. And the gentiles weren’t healed because Israel was persecuted (53:5). Also, 53:8-9 says the Servant died in our place as a sacrifice for our sin. The people of Israel, on the other hand, didn’t suffer for the gentiles but because of their wickedness. And Israel was never “cut off” completely and so could not “rise from the dead” (53:8).

      Shalom! Rob

  2. Levi Fleischer

    Most of my friends are Jewish and some of them have said these claims to me. I was not sure how to reply so when I found this post I was relieved. I find it very helpful. Thank you. Shalom.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      I’m glad to hear that, Levi. Baruch HaShem!

  3. Gino Elsea

    This is a great article on Isaiah 53. I find your characterizations, particularly as it relates to the Hebrew text, helpful. If I reference you as the author, can some of the content be used in my academic work? Let me know my brother.

    In Him,
    Gino

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks, Gino! I’d be honored if you want to cite my work.
      Shalom,
      Rob

  4. Barry Jones

    The NAU of Isaiah 53 translates the Hebrew words “zerah” and “tseetsa” as “offspring” and in the immediate context of each, only “biological” offspring is meant. You are thus forced to argue that the meaning of zerah in Isaiah 53:10 is an exception to the rule.

    What would be unreasonable in the skeptic who says “offspring” in Isaiah 53:10 means only naturalistic biological offspring, so because Jesus didn’t have any naturalistic biological children, he is not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53?

    How do you know the canonical gospel authors weren’t simply creating fictions about Jesus to make him sound more like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 than he really was? Of course you will tout the historical reliability of the gospels, but I would provide scholarly resistance to that conclusion every step of the way. The question is not whether YOU can be reasonable to see Jesus as the Isaiah 53 servant but whether skeptics can be reasonable to deny this allegation.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks, Barry. I appreciate your thoughts. If one takes the New Testament to be the inspired Word of God (which I do), then one can certainly rely on the interpretations of the NT authors to properly understand Isaiah 53. (Since the NT is essentially an inspired commentary on the OT.) Viewed in that context—and considering that Isaiah 52:13-53:15 is prophetic poetry—it seems most accurate to interpret זֶ֖רַע (ze-ra, “offspring”) in 53:10 metaphorically. Shalom! RLS

      1. Barry Jones

        “If one takes the New Testament to be the inspired Word of God (which I do)”
        ——-Suppose a skeptic denies the NT is the inspired word of God. In that case, can the skeptic be reasonable to ignore the NT references to Isaiah 53, and instead interpret Isaiah 53:10 solely within its own immediate context (using only the grammatico-historical method) and thus conclude that it is requiring the servant to sire children?

        If no, what’s unreasonable about denying the divine inspiration of the NT?

        1. R. L. Solberg

          Of course. If a skeptic takes the NT off the table as inspired Scripture, their conclusion that the servant will one day sire physical children could certainly be considered a reasonable interpretation. That is, in fact, the interpretation favored by many Jews, who, like the skeptic, also reject the NT.

          1. Barry Jones

            Then how do you reconcile the Servant’s having biological kids (Isaiah 53:10), with your belief that Jesus never had any biological kids?

          2. R. L. Solberg

            I believe the New Testament is the inspired Word of God and, therefore, the interpretation that the Servant had (or will have) biological children is an error. It may be a reasonable option in your hypothetical scenario in which the NT is not Scripture. In reality, however, the NT is Scripture, and therefore that interpretation is false. Because of my belief in the NT—and considering that Isaiah 52:13-53:15 is prophetic poetry—I believe the correct way to interpret זֶ֖רַע (ze-ra, “offspring”) in 53:10 is metaphorically.

  5. Barry Jones

    Well I don’t see how you could possibly establish to 51% probability or greater that the NT is “inspired by God”, so that presumption of yours could possibly impose the least bit of intellectual obligation upon the skeptic to worry that all the parts of Isaiah 53 that don’t match Jesus are suddenly “metaphorical”.

    That means that you aren’t going to show that the skeptic’s literal interpretation of Isaiah 53:10 is the least bit unreasonable. So, do you think the skeptic’s literal interpretation of Isaiah 53:10 is reasonable or unreasonable.?

    If unreasonable, do you seriously think the divine inspiration of the NT is the least bit “clear”? What “clear truth” are skeptics denying or ignoring when they say the NT books are purely human in authorship?

    1. R. L. Solberg

      You introduce a very interesting issue, Barry! You claim that you don’t see how I “could possibly establish to 51% probability or greater that the NT is ‘inspired by God.’” Then, based solely on your personal incredulity, you proceed to argue for the reasonableness of a literal interpretation of Isaiah 53:10. I don’t want to presume so please correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to accept the Old Testament (aka Hebrew Bible, Tanakh) as inspired by God. Do you suppose you could “establish to 51% probability or greater” that the OT is “inspired by God?”

  6. Barry Jones

    “You introduce a very interesting issue, Barry! You claim that you don’t see how I “could possibly establish to 51% probability or greater that the NT is ‘inspired by God.’” Then, based solely on your personal incredulity,”
    ———I don’t understand why you would even comment like that, as it would have no significance either way. “Incredulity” means unwillingness or inability to believe something, and that is true about every Christian apologist who doesn’t find some particular skeptical argument very compelling. Therefore, you also interpret Isaiah 53:10 based upon your own personal incredulity (i.e., unwillingness or inability to agree that the gramatico-historical method is the final court of appeal in what the verse means). So what you asserted was a truth about me that I share with every Christian apologist.

    “you proceed to argue for the reasonableness of a literal interpretation of Isaiah 53:10. I don’t want to presume so please correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to accept the Old Testament (aka Hebrew Bible, Tanakh) as inspired by God. Do you suppose you could “establish to 51% probability or greater” that the OT is “inspired by God?”
    ——-I am an atheist. So the issue is not whether YOU are reasonable to think the NT authors’ interpretation of Isaiah 53 is the end of all discussion about what it means.

    The issue is whether I can be reasonable to consider the grammatico-historical method to be the final court of appeal on questions of what Isaiah meant with the words he chose to use to express his thoughts.

    If not, then you and I need to have a discussion about the proper criteria for exegetical reasonableness.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      You said that I “interpret Isaiah 53:10 based upon [my] own personal incredulity,” but that isn’t the case at all. I don’t interpret it metaphorically because I am unable or unwilling to believe your interpretation. The reason I disagree with you is that the NT disagrees with you. And as much as I like you, I have to side with the NT on this one. (BTW a friendly note of caution: be careful when using the historical-grammatical method on the genre of prophecy literature like Isaiah: it’s packed full of symbolism, poetry, and allegory!)

      Okay, so you’re an atheist who happens to be studying the book of Isaiah. Thanks! Knowing that helps me to better understand where you’re coming from. So you’re framing this issue you brought up as whether you “can be reasonable to consider the grammatico-historical method to be the final court of appeal on questions of what Isaiah meant with the words he chose to use to express his thoughts.” My answer—as a believer in God and the inspired nature of Scripture—is: kind of.

      For one thing, both testaments of the Bible tell a single, continuous story. So to interpret any OT passage without consulting the NT for additional information can lead us into error. It’s like reading 75% of a murder mystery novel and trying to decide who the killer is. We don’t have enough information. And that’s because the prophet Isaiah (along with the other authors that may have contributed to the book) didn’t have enough information. They were recording prophecies they did not fully understand. God doesn’t reveal His entire story to us all at once. He gives it to mankind on a need-to-know basis (progressive revelation), and Isaiah (et. al) only received what they needed to know at the time. So even if Isaiah wrote down 53:10 thinking it was about biological offspring, that doesn’t mean he was correct. The real and full meaning could not be known until the prophecy was fulfilled. And the prophecy of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 was fulfilled in Christ. Which is something we only discover when we read the last 25% of the Book. Blessings, Rob

  7. Barry Jones

    “You said that I “interpret Isaiah 53:10 based upon [my] own personal incredulity,” but that isn’t the case at all. I don’t interpret it metaphorically because I am unable or unwilling to believe your interpretation.”
    ——–You are unwilling to believe my interpretation because the NT disagrees with me. your personal incredulity is implicated whether your basis for rejecting my interpretation is the NT or Big Bird.

    “The reason I disagree with you is that the NT disagrees with you. And as much as I like you, I have to side with the NT on this one. (BTW a friendly note of caution: be careful when using the historical-grammatical method on the genre of prophecy literature like Isaiah: it’s packed full of symbolism, poetry, and allegory!)”
    ———-But you take most other descriptions of the Servant in ch. 53 as literal because you think Jesus literally fulfilled them. The non-literal aspects of ch. 53 probably should have alerted you that the only feasible connection Jesus could have to it is typological, the type of fulfillment that has no apologetics force.

    “Okay, so you’re an atheist who happens to be studying the book of Isaiah. Thanks! Knowing that helps me to better understand where you’re coming from. So you’re framing this issue you brought up as whether you “can be reasonable to consider the grammatico-historical method to be the final court of appeal on questions of what Isaiah meant with the words he chose to use to express his thoughts.” My answer—as a believer in God and the inspired nature of Scripture—is: kind of.”
    ———–Then apparently, you don’t agree with Christian fundamentalists who think the skeptic of the gospels is on the level of the lunatic who denies the existence of trees. Good to know.

    “For one thing, both testaments of the Bible tell a single, continuous story.”
    ———-I disagree. So have the Jews, for 2,000 years. I reject bible inerrancy, so I’m not going to abandon my interpretation of an OT verse merely because it contradicts a NT verse. Since we disagree about the harmony of the two Testaments, would you like to have a discussion about whether a skeptic can be reasonable to deny their alleged harmony?

    “So to interpret any OT passage without consulting the NT for additional information can lead us into error.”
    ———–I’m not seeing how your chosen methodology would foist any intellectual obligation upon an atheist to follow suit. Your belief that the NT provides “additional” information on OT matters doesn’t suddenly mean the skeptic who denies this is unreasonable. Your statement would not be found challenging by anybody except other Christians.

    And I assert that the NT authors were in error on every page, and I have good reasons to call them liars.

    “It’s like reading 75% of a murder mystery novel and trying to decide who the killer is.”
    ———–Except that the bible books were written by different authors spanning thousands of years, while your murder mystery novel is written by a single person. One wonders how Isaiah’s originally intended audience understood his oracles back when he originally uttered them. After all, those people didn’t have the NT yet. They must have thought he was talking nonsense?

    “We don’t have enough information. And that’s because the prophet Isaiah (along with the other authors that may have contributed to the book) didn’t have enough information.”
    ————–You only say that because you insist the NT gives us more information about the Isaiah 53 Servant. I have to wonder how many of Isaiah’s contemporaries would have said that Isaiah has only given partial information and humanity will have to wait for God to explain it more. Probably none. You NEED Isaiah to give incomplete information because that creates a hole that you can then plug with the NT.

    “They were recording prophecies they did not fully understand.”
    ————-If somebody doesn’t understand the meaning of their own speech, how could I be unreasonable to just ignore them? Was Isaiah’s inspiration by God some completely obvious thing only a fool would deny? How sad is your religion that you cannot defend it without accusing some of its founders of not understanding many of their own statements?

    “God doesn’t reveal His entire story to us all at once.”
    ———-An alternative explanation is that the NT is nothing but yet another evolution in Judaism which contradicts some of the prior forms of it. If you said God revealed his entire story all at once, you wouldn’t be leaving any room to “need” the NT.

    “He gives it to mankind on a need-to-know basis (progressive revelation), and Isaiah (et. al) only received what they needed to know at the time.”
    ———–I cannot understand your brand of apologetics. This is nothing but preaching to the choir, and yet you appear to hope that I will find your assumptions compelling?

    “So even if Isaiah wrote down 53:10 thinking it was about biological offspring, that doesn’t mean he was correct.”
    ——–Only in Christianity could we be “wrong” to interpret an author’s words the same way the author himself understood them.

    “The real and full meaning could not be known until the prophecy was fulfilled.”
    ———I’m not seeing anything in Isaiah 53 that is future tense, so why are you calling it a prophecy? Was it God’s idea of clarity and accuracy to couch predictions about the future in past-tense language? You will say other prophecies in the OT were couched in past tense language, but I would argue that it is far from clear that the past-tense language is describing the future.

    “And the prophecy of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 was fulfilled in Christ. Which is something we only discover when we read the last 25% of the Book. Blessings, Rob”
    ————–You know that I’m an atheist, and yet you continue blindly relying on your acceptance of the NT to make your arguments to somebody who doesn’t see the NT as the least bit authoritative.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Hey, Barry! For an atheist, you are arguing rather vehemently for a particular interpretation of a Bible verse. That’s odd. You are studying a collection of ancient writings that tell the story of a Creator God you do not believe exists. To an atheist, wouldn’t the Bible be considered an ancient myth? And yet you’re strenuously arguing for a particular interpretation of a single line in an old myth?

      Look, if you’re reading the Bible as an atheist and asking about a reasonable interpretation, then the world is your oyster. You are not required to accept the worldview of the authors of the Bible, who all believed in God and wrote about Him from that perspective. And at the same time, as someone who does not believe God exists and does not accept the inspired nature or inerrancy of scripture, you have limited your possible interpretations of Scripture to only natural explanations that do not invoke God. This is going to cause significant problems with your use of the historical-grammatical method, which strives to discover the biblical author’s original intended meaning in the text. For example, every time Isaiah writes, “thus says the Lord” (which is a lot!), how will you interpret that? For an atheist, a statement like that either makes Isiah delusional (he believed a non-existent God told him something) or a charlatan (he’s knowingly asserting a false attribution).

      Either way, why dig in your heels about a single verse? Without a belief in God, Isaiah’s “suffering servant” could be referring to anything. Maybe he was writing about his crazy uncle who gave up his life for a neighboring tribe. Or maybe he was writing about aliens from another planet. Or maybe it is pure fiction from the mind of a delusional believer in a non-existent God. The one thing you are not allowed to reasonably conclude if you are an atheist is that Isaiah, as a prophet, was recording a message revealed to him God. Which is exactly what Isaiah would have thought he was writing at the time.

  8. Barry Jones

    “Hey, Barry! For an atheist, you are arguing rather vehemently for a particular interpretation of a Bible verse.”
    ———-Because Christian fundamentalists routinely insult my intelligence by pretending OT predictions about Jesus are so completely obvious that only fools can think otherwise. You may not be such a Christian, but you help their cause. I’m not a pacifist skeptic. I defend atheism equally as vigorously as you defend messianic prophecy.

    “That’s odd. You are studying a collection of ancient writings that tell the story of a Creator God you do not believe exists. To an atheist, wouldn’t the Bible be considered an ancient myth?”
    ————-Yes.

    “And yet you’re strenuously arguing for a particular interpretation of a single line in an old myth?”
    ———–Yes, because the pushing of that old myth in today’s society often causes innocently ignorant people to become trapped in abusive fundamentalist churches, and then to start believing some invisible person “loves” them, but only in ways that defy human definition, forcing them to wonder why they bother calling it “love” in the first place. Then they learn to use “God’s mysterious ways” as some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card whenever they are confronted with an atheist rebuttal they cannot answer.

    So the falsity of that myth needs to be publicized in order to help protect innocently ignorant people from becoming trapped in abusive churches and starting the process of wearing down their critical thinking skills. If they wish to become Christians without being able to answer my skeptical objections, they’ll probably join a liberal non-abusive church that doesn’t label outsiders as “fools”. I don’t wish to refute Christianity. I wish to attack fundamentalist Christians who have mistaken their zeal for knowledge. You might not be any such Christian, but your work is still used by them to achieve their slanderous ends. So you become one of my targets even if you don’t insist all non-Christians are morons.

    “Look, if you’re reading the Bible as an atheist and asking about a reasonable interpretation, then the world is your oyster. You are not required to accept the worldview of the authors of the Bible, who all believed in God and wrote about Him from that perspective.”
    ———Calvinist presuppositionalists would disagree, citing Proverbs 1:7 for the proposition that unless I start out my investigation by fearing YHWH, my conclusions will be untruthful by logical necessity. You apparently disagree with them and claim there is no intellectual obligation on me to accept the biblical authors’ world-view. I think that’s accurate. But you still disagree with the Calvinists on the point, creating justification for the skeptic to say that because even spiritually alive people cannot agree on these matters, people who are allegedly spiritually dead will have no hope of finding the truth in the bible, so the most rational thing they can do is consider the bible to be fatally ambiguous and discard it from their lives, unless they prefer keeping it around as a hobby.

    “And at the same time, as someone who does not believe God exists and does not accept the inspired nature or inerrancy of scripture, you have limited your possible interpretations of Scripture to only natural explanations that do not invoke God.”
    ——–Much like the police officer who doesn’t know how a murder happened, but refuses to consider any evidence that the guilty party is an invisible man.

    “This is going to cause significant problems with your use of the historical-grammatical method, which strives to discover the biblical author’s original intended meaning in the text. For example, every time Isaiah writes, “thus says the Lord” (which is a lot!), how will you interpret that? For an atheist, a statement like that either makes Isiah delusional (he believed a non-existent God told him something) or a charlatan (he’s knowingly asserting a false attribution).”
    ———–Correct. But I don’t see how my denial that God ever told Isaiah anything, is going to prevent the grammatico-historical method from revealing to me what Isaiah meant. If a man says “Thus says the Lord, “Sacramento is the capital of Texas”, the grammatico-historical method will successfully enable me to notice that his statement is false, despite my general presupposition that he is delusional for thinking god ever told him anything.

    So you are wrong to presume, as you apparently do, that lack of belief in god could somehow limit the usefulness of the grammatico-historical method.

    “Either way, why dig in your heels about a single verse?”
    ———-Because I’m on a mission to crush fundamentalist Christianity by demonstrating that their claim that counter- apologists and skeptics and atheists are fools, is both incorrect and unreasonable. You don’t need to call me a fool, your work is still utilized by fundamentalists to justify calling unbelievers fools. So you become one of my targets even if you don’t slander bible critics.

    “Without a belief in God, Isaiah’s “suffering servant” could be referring to anything.”
    ———I’m not seeing how that is any problem for me. I don’t see any problem in crediting fatal ambiguity to ancient people who thought they were speaking for any ‘god’.

    “Maybe he was writing about his crazy uncle who gave up his life for a neighboring tribe. Or maybe he was writing about aliens from another planet. Or maybe it is pure fiction from the mind of a delusional believer in a non-existent God. The one thing you are not allowed to reasonably conclude if you are an atheist is that Isaiah, as a prophet, was recording a message revealed to him God. Which is exactly what Isaiah would have thought he was writing at the time.”
    ————So? If I can be intellectually justified to say Isaiah never heard anything from any god, then I’m intellectually justified to call Isaiah a liar for claiming he heard something from god. Did you have a point?

    Can we agree that the non-Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53:10 can possibly be reasonable even if “wrong”?

    Or would you insist, like a fundamentalist, that reasonableness of interpretation always requires accuracy? If that is the case, then the fact that you obviously think many Christians in y our general theological camp are ‘inaccurate’ in their interpretation of something in the bible (say, doctrines of grace) means you also see them as unreasonable.

    But if reasonableness of interpretation doesn’t always demand accuracy, then I’m not seeing why any non-Christian should worry if their interpretation of Isaiah 53 is “false”. That’s not enough to prove it “unreasonable”. But if the non-Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 can be “reasonable”, then this sort of hurts your case that I’m in “trouble” with God, for then you’d have to admit God cares about reasonableness far less than you, and He only cares about whether somebody’s beliefs are “correct”. But at that point, you differ with most Christian scholars, who believe that the state of a person’s heart toward god bears far more on the question of their being in trouble with god, than does the person’s accuracy of bible-related knowledge.

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Thanks, Barry. I’m honored to be collateral damage in your campaign to crush fundamentalist Christianity. So, to be clear, you’re arguing for the proper interpretation of a myth you don’t believe in, in order to falsify it? That seems like a strange way to spend one’s time but to each his own, I suppose.

      I assume what you call the “grammatico-historical” method is the same thing as the “historical-grammatical” method. It’s the attempt to discover the biblical author’s original intended meaning in the text. If that’s the case, then disbelief in God most certainly limits the usefulness of this method of examining biblical texts, which were written about God by believers in God. An atheist undertaking this approach will rarely come up with an interpretation of a passage that the biblical author who wrote the text would agree with.

      BTW You have underscored my problem with presuppositionalist apologetics. I like Van Til, Bahnsen, et. al. and believe they are arguing on solid logical grounds. However, as an apologetic strategy, it is a non-starter for the atheist. It requires too much of them.

      This brings me to “reasonableness,” which I typically regard as a relative term. It can, for example, be entirely reasonable for the first detective on the scene to suspect that the victim was murdered by a man. But depending on the evidence they uncover during the course of their investigation, that same conclusion may later become unreasonable.

      1. Barry Jones

        “Thanks, Barry. I’m honored to be collateral damage in your campaign to crush fundamentalist Christianity.”
        ————Ok

        “So, to be clear, you’re arguing for the proper interpretation of a myth you don’t believe in, in order to falsify it? That seems like a strange way to spend one’s time but to each his own, I suppose.”
        ———-No, I’m arguing for the proper interpretation of a myth I don’t believe in, in order to falsify the Christian interpretation of it, because the Christian interpretation of it plays a part in ensnaring innocently gullible unbelievers into thinking they “need” to repent and spend the rest of their lives talking to an invisible man who allegedly wants a “personal relationship” with them in a way that would make no sense unless the new believer radically redefines “personal relationship”.

        To be perfectly blunt, your god did not do his best to convince me that the gospel is true. When you fail to do your best to protect a loved one from disaster, you are forced to admit that your love for them, if any, was limited. That’s just common sense, yet I’m constantly inundated with Christians who assure me that God’s love for me is “without end”.

        “I assume what you call the “grammatico-historical” method is the same thing as the “historical-grammatical” method. It’s the attempt to discover the biblical author’s original intended meaning in the text. If that’s the case, then disbelief in God most certainly limits the usefulness of this method of examining biblical texts, which were written about God by believers in God.
        ——–Then according to your logic, my disbelief in the Mormon god therefore “certainly limits the usefulness of this standard of examining” the Book of Mormon. Should I worry that I’m limiting the grammatic-historical method when I read pre-Christian Greek myths while thinking Zeus is a false god?

        Can I correctly interpret the Upinshads if I don’t believe in Vishnu?

        “An atheist undertaking this approach will rarely come up with an interpretation of a passage that the biblical author who wrote the text would agree with.”
        ———Criminal prosecutors often give the jury a different interpretation of a suspect’s excuse, than the one intended by the suspect.

        “BTW You have underscored my problem with presuppositionalist apologetics. I like Van Til, Bahnsen, et. al. and believe they are arguing on solid logical grounds. However, as an apologetic strategy, it is a non-starter for the atheist. It requires too much of them.”
        ————I would agree. I used to be a Calvinist and thus blindly quoted the bible at unbelievers with no worries about establishing common ground, because I believed that by quoting the bible, I was infusing magic into the air.
        But because Calvinism relegates everything to God’s purpose, even saying God sovereignly controls and directs evil, this must mean that they think Christians who disagree with presuppositionalist apologetics methodology are doing exactly what god wanted them to do…in which case the Calvinist’s warning that you need to change your ways, constitutes a request that you stop fulfilling god’s secret will. Don’t even get me started…

        “This brings me to “reasonableness,” which I typically regard as a relative term.”
        ————Then you’ve refuted many fundamentalist Christians right there. They think reasonableness is some absolute thing.

        “It can, for example, be entirely reasonable for the first detective on the scene to suspect that the victim was murdered by a man. But depending on the evidence they uncover during the course of their investigation, that same conclusion may later become unreasonable.”
        ————-I agree. However, I also argue that it can be reasonable to intentionally blind oneself to truth. So I’d be able to refute you, if you argued that it is unreasonable for anybody to intentionally blind themselves to the “truth” of Christianity.

        1. R. L. Solberg

          Good morning, Barry! It sounds like we’re basically saying the same thing: You are arguing for a particular interpretation of a myth you don’t believe in, in an attempt to falsify a different interpretation of the myth you don’t believe in.

          I get that you find the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 dangerous. But I have to say you’ve really got your work cut out for you! Isaiah 53 is only one of the hundreds of passages in the myth you don’t believe in (OT) that Christians use to build their case for Jesus as Messiah. But, as a former Calvinist, I’m sure you already know that!

          You said, “your god did not do his best to convince me that the gospel is true. When you fail to do your best to protect a loved one from disaster, you are forced to admit that your love for them, if any, was limited.” This statement really jumped out at me. The first thing I noticed was (what struck me as) personal pain and/or disappointment. I could be wrong. But unlike the other things you’ve written, this doesn’t come across so much as a logical argument as a statement of experience. I’d love to understand how a Calvinist became a Christ-opposing atheist. That’s quite a shift in worldview.

  9. Barry Jones

    “I get that you find the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 dangerous. But I have to say you’ve really got your work cut out for you!
    ———-Not really. I’ve already done enough rebuttal work to show the reasonableness of denying that the OT “predicted” anything about Jesus. For the details that Jesus couldn’t possibly have manipulated, such as his place of birth, he simply didn’t fulfill these. For the details that he could possibly have manipulated, I think this is a combination of him deliberately trying to make his life appears to be such a fulfillment, helped by the NT authors using fiction to make Jesus life appear to fulfill OT “prophecies” more certainly than his life actually did.

    “Isaiah 53 is only one of the hundreds of passages in the myth you don’t believe in (OT) that Christians use to build their case for Jesus as Messiah. But, as a former Calvinist, I’m sure you already know that!”
    ——–Yes, and in the last 20 years, I’ve debated “messianic prophecy” hundreds of times with Christian “apologists”. I can show that it is reasonable to deny that Jesus was predicted in Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53, Micah 5:2, Daniel 9, etc, etc. That’s going to refute all the fundamentalists who think my denying that the OT predicted Jesus, puts me on the level of those who deny trees exist. It doesn’t matter if your religion is true…something being “true” doesn’t automatically mean the truth is going to be clear or obvious.

    But you appear far more respectful than the fundamentalist Christians I routinely deal with. That is appreciated.

    “You said, “your god did not do his best to convince me that the gospel is true. When you fail to do your best to protect a loved one from disaster, you are forced to admit that your love for them, if any, was limited.” This statement really jumped out at me. The first thing I noticed was (what struck me as) personal pain and/or disappointment. I could be wrong. But unlike the other things you’ve written, this doesn’t come across so much as a logical argument as a statement of experience. I’d love to understand how a Calvinist became a Christ-opposing atheist. That’s quite a shift in worldview.”
    ———I don’t prefer to give my story here. For now, the issue is not the pain that your god causes. The issue is the reasonableness of saying a father’s love for his child must definitely be limited, if he doesn’t make his best effort to save the child from disaster. The point is that unless you wish to argue that your God did his best to convince me the gospel is true, then he obviously didn’t do his best to convince me that the gospel is true…and therefore, contrary to John 3:16, God’s love for me, if any, cannot possibly be infinite or eternal. It MUST be limited. Is there anything unreasonable about that argument?

    I think that argument would be valid even assuming God provided a small amount of evidence that was minimally sufficient to keep me “accountable”. The issue is not whether I’m accountable to God, but whether his refusal to do his “best” to convince me the gospel is true, requires that his love for me, if any, is limited.

    But to get back on topic, do you insist that all non-Christian interpretations of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 are unreasonable?

    1. R. L. Solberg

      “The issue is the reasonableness of saying a father’s love for his child must definitely be limited if he doesn’t make his best effort to save the child from disaster…God’s love for me, if any, cannot possibly be infinite or eternal. It MUST be limited. Is there anything unreasonable about that argument?” Yes.

      (1.) Sometimes experiencing disaster is the most loving thing a father can do for his child. As part of a Celebrate Recovery ministry, I’ve seen this scenario play out many times. The parent, heartbroken, ultimately lets go and allows the addicted child to experience the consequences of their actions, which is almost always disaster. (Jail, job loss, homelessness, even death.) But most often, it leads to the restoration of the child. And in the end, it’s more loving than coddling the child in their addiction for years and years in the hope of saving them from disaster.

      (2.) In the case of God (as opposed to a human father), granting his children free will carries with it the possibility that they will choose a path that leads to disaster. In a world where love exists, free will must exist. Where free will exists, personal disaster is possible. God can love you (John 3:16) and desire your salvation (2 Pet 3:9) and at the same time honor your decision to reject Him, even knowing it leads to disaster. Would it be more loving to force you to follow Him against your will?

      (3.) What does “best effort” mean? That’s an ambiguous term, especially if we’re talking about God. How can one determine if God made His “best effort” to save them, or if He merely gave it “the old college try” and then gave up?

      (4.) Because someone does not believe in God is not evidence that God didn’t work hard enough to convince them. (See: free will.) In fact, it is more reasonable that unbelief is due to the human’s lack of will/interest/desire/openness than to a Creator God’s lack of effort or ability to communicate with the creature He created.

      (5.) No offense, but you aren’t that special. You have access to the same evidence I do. The reason you don’t believe is not a lack of evidence.

      Side note: It’s interesting that you’re not basing your arguments on accuracy or correctness, but rather, reasonableness, which is a relative concept. Is there a reason you’re avoiding an absolute position on these issues?

      You asked, “Do you insist that all non-Christian interpretations of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 are unreasonable?” No. But I believe they are all incorrect.

      1. R. L. Solberg

        Barry tried to post the following, but it didn’t work. So I am doing it for him:

        “The issue is the reasonableness of saying a father’s love for his child must definitely be limited if he doesn’t make his best effort to save the child from disaster…God’s love for me, if any, cannot possibly be infinite or eternal. It MUST be limited. Is there anything unreasonable about that argument?” Yes. (1.) Sometimes experiencing disaster is the most loving thing a father can do for his child.”
        ————I was talking about the skeptical arguments that attack your beliefs the most….such as God standing at the foot of the bed doing nothing but watching as some guy rapes a little girl to death. You won’t be pretending this kind of neglect can possibly be loving, otherwise, you’d open a can of worms: if you discover a child rape in progress, the fact that god didn’t do anything about it might counsel that you also refrain from doing anything about it. You don’t want to open that possibility, so, best to just insist that it is only a cruel being who is capable of stopping a child rape without creating further evil, but who just sits there watching and doing nothing about it.

        “(2.) In the case of God (as opposed to a human father), granting his children free will carries with it the possibility that they will choose a path that leads to disaster.”
        ———-Then why don’t people whom make it into heaven ever choose disaster? Does take away their freewill? If so, then we can rightfully ask why God doesn’t do the same favor for people on earth. If the people in heaven have a special type of will that can authentically love god while also being guaranteed to never sin, we can rightfully ask why God doesn’t cause people on earth to have such will. You can speculate till you are blue in the face about why, but the truth is, you don’t know. It may very well be that the reason God never does this for earthlings is because a) he doesn’t exist, or b) open-theism is true, and your god is a bit more ignorant and imperfect than you’d be comfortable admitting.

        “In a world where love exists, free will must exist.”
        ———Does love exist in heaven? If so, then according to your logic, freewill must exist in heaven too.

        “Where free will exists, personal disaster is possible.”
        ————then personal disaster must be a possibility for people after they make it into heaven.

        “God can love you (John 3:16) and desire your salvation (2 Pet 3:9) and at the same time honor your decision to reject Him, even knowing it leads to disaster. Would it be more loving to force you to follow Him against your will?”
        ———No, because love is also protective, and thus the parent who jerks her unwilling child out of the street when a car is speeding toward him…or the adult who overpowers her daughter in order to prevent her from shooting herself dead, is showing love BY such expressions of force. So you are wrong to pretend that love always stands by and lets other people do whatever they want. If you acknowledge that love can sometimes overpower a loved person to protect them from the consequences of their own rebellion or stupidity, then you are still faced with the question of why God doesn’t use force to rescue those he allegedly “loves” from the consequences of their own disastrous choices. The truth is that your excuses for God’s neglect are very ad hoc, not even William Lane Craig can show they are the least bit realistic, and the more ad hoc reasoning is, the more justification we have to disregard it. What’s worse, you apparently want me, a spiritually dead person, to agree with you that Calvinism is wrong, when in fact I see Calvinism as biblically justified, and therefore I find plenty of biblical justification for saying God sees no problem “forcing” people whenever he thinks doing so will make them see the light. Daniel 4:33, Acts 9, Ezekiel 38-39, etc.

        “(3.) What does “best effort” mean?”
        ———-What is god doing for today’s unbelievers, that it anywhere near equal to parting the Red Sea, or Elijah’s defeat of the false prophets at Mt. Carmel?

        “That’s an ambiguous term, especially if we’re talking about God. How can one determine if God made His “best effort” to save them, or if He merely gave it “the old college try” and then gave up?
        ————-Same answer. But of course, we are merely trifling here, and I believe we see no miracles today because there is no god to do miracles in the first place. I’ve read Keener’s two-volume book on miracles, and he has refused for nearly 5 years to give me the evidence for the one modern-day miracle he says is the most impervious to falsification. So blame Keener for talking so boastfully about modern-day miracles and being so unwilling to supply the evidence to permit an outsider to conduct an independent investigation. Keener’s miracle stories on YouTube constitute nothing that intellectually compels a skeptic to check out any such claims.

        “(4.) Because someone does not believe in God is not evidence that God didn’t work hard enough to convince them.”
        ———I wasn’t asking you whether God worked hard enough to convince them. I asked whether he put forth his best efforts to convince them. He obviously hasn’t. Once again, when you know a loved one is headed for disaster and don’t put forth your best efforts to protect them or warn them from it, it is because your love for them is limited. So God’s love for me must be limited too. I don’t see why you would trifle otherwise. You might get all caught up in god’s “love” but your bible gives us God’s dark side too. See Psalm 5:5. God’s hatred is not limited to the “works”, his hatred extends to the “worker” too. So maybe you are very wrong here for trying to do hard to trifle about how to reconcile God’s love for me with his refusal to do his best to convince me. If you believed Psalm 5:5, would you just say “yeah, if God doesn’t do anything for you, it’s probably because he hates you.” I don’t know why you feel constrained to think John 3:16 represents what God is like 2,000 years after it was written. God demonstrated his love for the Hebrews by rescuing them from Egyptian slavery, but in the wilderness wandering stories, God often gets angry at them for this or that. It doesn’t matter if John 3:16 correctly stated God’s feelings back when it was originally written. It is foolish to pretend nothing has changed in the last 2,000 years.

        “(See: free will.) In fact, it is more reasonable that unbelief is due to the human’s lack of will/interest/desire/openness than to a Creator God’s lack of effort or ability to communicate with the creature He created.”
        ————-But the sinner’s state of mind toward God is God’s fault, see Proverbs 16:1, 9. or maybe that is stupid of me since not even spiritually alive people (Arminians and Calvinists) agree on how the bible teaches about human “freewill”.

        “(5.) No offense, but you aren’t that special. You have access to the same evidence I do. The reason you don’t believe is not a lack of evidence.”
        ———–The reason I don’t believe is because I interpret the evidence differently than you do. In light of this correction, you need to modify your statement and assert that I don’t believe because I refuse to acknowledge that your interpretation of the evidence is superior…which would be arrogant and foolish in light of how even Christians cannot agree on how to interpret most of the evidence. And your insinuation that I defy the available evidence is also false. The Context Group has informed me that they think there are no good English bible translations, so under their logic, I’m being misled every time I read an English bible, which means the evidence you think is so compelling, is misleading.

        “Side note: It’s interesting that you’re not basing your arguments on accuracy or correctness, but rather, reasonableness, which is a relative concept. Is there a reason you’re avoiding an absolute position on these issues?”
        ———–Yes, the bible was written between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, and today’s conservative and fundamentalist Christians are in constant disagreement over how to interpret it. That provides me rational warrant for saying so much time has passed that mere study is not going to confirm an interpretation to be “accurate”, all we can hope for at this point is “reasonable” interpretation. Yet you seem to act as if correctly interpreting the bible isn’t much more difficult than correctly interpreting the headline from yesterday’s New York Times.

        “You asked, “Do you insist that all non-Christian interpretations of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 are unreasonable?” No. But I believe they are all incorrect.”
        ————But what do you think God is doing when I read Isaiah 53? Is he “trying” to make me see the “correct” interpretation? If so, then why does he fail so much in light of his ability to MAKE me see things his way (Ezra 1:1, Daniel 4:33, Ezekiel 38-39, etc)? If God is NOT trying to make me see the “correct” interpretation, then who’s fault is it that I come away from Isaiah 53 with what you call an “incorrect” interpretation? You cannot blame me, your other doctrines insist that I am incapable of originating anything good, and when I do, this is not me but God within me. In that case, your God would have to be a lunatic to “expect” a sinner to just “get it”, no less than the lunatic who knows the limited muscular power of dogs, but nevertheless demands that his dog jump over the moon anyway.

        1. R. L. Solberg

          I get what you’re saying, Barry. Your objection is moral in nature. God ought to prevent his children from disaster, he ought to stop rapists, and it is immoral of him not to do so. And because of His moral lapse, you conclude that God’s love must be limited; He must not be omnibenevolent. It’s a modern take on Epicurus. And it’s a strong argument. Its tacit implication is that if God was really all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful, He should have created a universe without evil, suffering, or disaster. This implication suggests a presupposition that one of the highest moral values is an absence of evil and suffering. However, Christianity teaches there is an even higher moral value than an absence of evil and suffering: namely, love.

          But it’s important to establish what is meant by “love” because those who find it difficult to reconcile an all-loving God with the existence of evil/suffering/disaster often mistake love for kindness, or sweetness, or a sort of fuzzy, sentimental feeling. Scripture’s view of love is much higher than this. God’s Word teaches, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This higher form of love—the love that desires what is best for the beloved regardless of the cost to the lover—is what C. S. Lewis called Gift-love. This kind of love is not just a cosmic edict issued by God for mankind to follow; He led the way by demonstrating this kind of sacrificial love Himself in Christ.

          For love to be authentic, it must be a voluntary expression made by a free moral agent. Love is not love at all if it is not given freely. Consider the alternative. Imagine a robot programmed to confess undying love for its maker. Such a pre-programmed confession of love would certainly not be considered genuine, nor would it be indicative of authentic love. Therefore, free will is a precondition for love. And here we begin to see the rub. Moral agents with free will necessarily have the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate. Indeed, the very free will that affords a man the ability to love also gives him the ability to choose evil. And because man is a morally flawed and fallen creature (Rom 5:12), we will inevitably actualize the possibility of evil. Consequently, the ultimate source of moral evil is man’s misuse of his free will.

          What about Heaven? While Heaven may be a place where there is free will and no suffering, Scripture tells us that every human will have endured suffering and evil on their way in (John 16:33). Nevertheless, God redeems even the evil and suffering caused by man (Gen 50:20). Scripture reveals that our suffering is not without purpose. It can produce character and hope (Rom 5:3-4; Jas 1:2-4), draw us to God (2 Cor 1:9), teach us to love (2 Cor 1:4-5), and play an important role in our sanctification (Heb 12:6-10; Eph 5:26-27). Suffering also plays a critical role in our salvation (1 Pet 4:12-16). In fact, I think our salvation is the reason Heaven can contain love and free will without the existence of evil. Through a saving faith in Jesus Christ, every citizen of Heaven has been washed clean (Isa 1:18), made morally righteous (2 Cor 5:21), and sanctified (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). Consequently, once glorified (Rom 8:30, Col 1:22, 1 Cor 1:8), they are able to rightly use their free will for love rather than for evil. Thus in Heaven, evil—while a theoretical possibility of free will—is never actualized.

          1. Barry Jones

            “However, Christianity teaches there is an even higher moral value than an absence of evil and suffering: namely, love.”
            ————-Then unless you think God is being “loving” to just stand there doing nothing and watching while some little kid is raped to death, then I’m afraid the only reason you define “love” so differently from the common definition is because your theology requires it.

            “But it’s important to establish what is meant by “love” because those who find it difficult to reconcile an all-loving God with the existence of evil/suffering/disaster often mistake love for kindness, or sweetness, or a sort of fuzzy, sentimental feeling.”
            ————But in the case of the raped little girl, “love” would be defined as “protecting her from all rape”. That’s reasonable and there is no evidence that it might be “more” loving in some cases to just stand around watching the rape and doing nothing about it.

            “Scripture’s view of love is much higher than this.”
            ———–Any view of love for a child that even begins to suggest it might be more “loving” in some circumstances to just sit around watching a child get raped, and do nothing about it, sounds like it is worried less about common sense and more about playing any word games necessary to avoid admitting defeat. The evidence for your “god” in the bible is self-contradictory, so you cannot expect me to pretend that the “scriptural” definition of love for a child is somehow “better” than the instinct against rape that most sane parents have for their child.

            “God’s Word teaches, “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This higher form of love—the love that desires what is best for the beloved regardless of the cost to the lover—is what C. S. Lewis called Gift-love. This kind of love is not just a cosmic edict issued by God for mankind to follow; He led the way by demonstrating this kind of sacrificial love Himself in Christ.”
            ————-That’s not an answer, unless you are going to trifle that for the child who is in the middle of being raped, what’s best for her might be something other than somebody stopping the rape and preventing further atrocity/trauma.

            “For love to be authentic, it must be a voluntary expression made by a free moral agent.”
            ———Your 5-Point Calvinist brothers in Christ disagree, suggesting to me that because spiritually alive people cannot even agree on how to define human freewill, they are fools to expect spiritually dead skeptics to figure out which Christian group got it “right”.

            “Love is not love at all if it is not given freely. Consider the alternative. Imagine a robot programmed to confess undying love for its maker. Such a pre-programmed confession of love would certainly not be considered genuine, nor would it be indicative of authentic love.”
            ———–Then you’ll have to classify the people who make it to heaven, as robots, since they will no longer be capable of choosing evil. And regardless, you are talking in terms of adult love. I was talking about the child who is being raped, and the parents knowing about it but choosing to do nothing but sit and watch it happen.

            “Therefore, free will is a precondition for love. And here we begin to see the rub. Moral agents with free will necessarily have the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate. Indeed, the very free will that affords a man the ability to love also gives him the ability to choose evil. And because man is a morally flawed and fallen creature (Rom 5:12), we will inevitably actualize the possibility of evil. Consequently, the ultimate source of moral evil is man’s misuse of his free will.”
            ———-Your 5-Point Calvinist Christian brothers disagree. But regardless, you are forgetting important opposing viewpoints in the bible. God throughout the bible is forcing people to do things. Daniel 4:33, Ezekiel 38-39. Such biblical teaching clearly shows your god has no qualms about forcing people. Conservative Christian commentaries say the “hook in your jaws” in Ezekiel 38:4 is a metaphor drawing upon the familiar sight of men hooking an alligator or fish and drawing it into the boat against its will.

            So I have biblical precedent to say your god does not think himself constrained by “love” to just sit and watch and do nothing while human beings sin. Your “loving” God also thinks it is righteous for him to force people to sin, or to give them war victories, or to cause pagan armies to successfully overcome Israel. But regardless, none of your comments speaks to the problematic issue of why God just stands around watching and doing nothing while a little child is raped to death. What are you going to argue? that “maybe God knows it is more loving in light of his mysterious purposes to let the rape continue to completion”?

            First, that would make you sound foolish.

            Second, you’d be laying a basis for child-rape being morally good: Notice:

            1 – If God was watching and doing nothing while the man raped a child, what makes you automatically think that when you discover the rape in progress, God surely wants you to interfere? If God himself isn’t interfering, there is a fair probability that anybody’s interference would be sinful.

            2 – In the real word, we call an act good because it leads to morally good result. Like feeding kids nutritious food because it leads to the moral good of their enhanced survival and thriving. Johnny is morally good to obey his parents and put down the match he intended to start a forest fire, because this led to the good of so many hundreds of families being able to continue living in their houses and not losing everything they own. So you are not being fully logical to simply say “god uses evil for the sake of a greater good”. If the act really does lead to a morally good result, that is a reason to call the act morally good. We might not follow that logic consistently in modern society, but that’s the logic of it.

            “What about Heaven? While Heaven may be a place where there is free will and no suffering, Scripture tells us that every human will have endured suffering and evil on their way in (John 16:33).”
            ———–Which doesn’t explain why you think aborted babies will refrain from sin in heaven, since they were killed before they could have endured suffering and evil. What “suffering” is endured by an ovum that was aborted 5 seconds after it was fertilized?

            “Nevertheless, God redeems even the evil and suffering caused by man (Gen 50:20).”
            ———–No thank you. The bible says that, and reality says nobody was there to protect the child when the child was raped. I prefer reality over the theological views of ancient authors whose assurances about God making good triumph over evil were just as speculative as modern day Christian exegesis.

            “Scripture reveals that our suffering is not without purpose.”
            ———–Then the next time you see some guy raping a little girl, you should pause before you try to save her: that rape might have a purpose, and if so, the purpose could be that the girl die from hemmoraging so that her atheist family will be drawn closer to God…in which case if you stopped the rape and saved her life, the higher divine purpose would never be achieved. And since you aren’t a Calvinist, you don’t have the luxury of telling me that surely all of your morally good acts were intended by God. No, if you have freewill, you are capable of doing something against God’s will, even if you had the best of intentions in any such act.

            “It can produce character and hope (Rom 5:3-4; Jas 1:2-4), draw us to God (2 Cor 1:9), teach us to love (2 Cor 1:4-5), and play an important role in our sanctification (Heb 12:6-10; Eph 5:26-27).
            ———–If that can be true about the little girl being raped, you have all the less reason to just automatically interfere when you see her being raped. You don’t hvae the first clue what God’s higher purpose is, so you are forced to remain open to a possibility that takes places in reality every day: God doesn’t want this evil to stop until it has taken this little girl’s life. In which case if you kill the man and save her life, you are violating God’s will for her. And since you are non-Calvinist, you cannot pretend that surely all of your well-intentioned actions were guided by God.

            “Suffering also plays a critical role in our salvation (1 Pet 4:12-16).”
            ———–Then when you see a little child being raped and you automatically attempt to stop it, you might be stopping a process that God intended to continue on longer for the purpose of motivating the child to get saved.

            “In fact, I think our salvation is the reason Heaven can contain love and free will without the existence of evil. Through a saving faith in Jesus Christ, every citizen of Heaven has been washed clean (Isa 1:18), made morally righteous (2 Cor 5:21), and sanctified (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). Consequently, once glorified (Rom 8:30, Col 1:22, 1 Cor 1:8), they are able to rightly use their free will for love rather than for evil.
            ————-Then for every second that goes by that God could have, but chose not to, glorify the Christians, he obviously didn’t want them to stop sinning. God knows of a way to get them to stop sinning, but he refuses to employ it. Guess who’s fault it is that they sin? Yup, it just like you knowing of a way to get your pit bull to stop attacking the jogger, but you choose to refrain from employing that solution. Only a fool would say it is the dog’s “fault”. YOU are the one with the solution, and YOU are the one refusing to employ it. So it is GOD’s fault that people continue sinning. God also has no excuse for refusing to make himself known to them by the empirical means that always successfully motivate them to obey other authorities even when they disagree with those authorities. I’m sorry, but you have done nothing here but preach to the choir. A few authors 2000 years ago mischaracterized their blind explanations for evil as the word of God, and you think parroting their excuses today means atheists are without excuse. !?

            “Thus in Heaven, evil—while a theoretical possibility of free will—is never actualized.”
            ———-God has no good reason why he couldn’t have created in earth-bound people the same type of will you think people in heaven will have (especially in light of the fact of many kids and adults who refrain from sin most of the time, showing that living sinlessly is indeed possible within the current space-time continuum, how small of an extra “shove” do such people need to actually stop sinning altogether? Apparently not much, as you think it rational to “expect” sinners to use their own power of will to cease sinning). The longer god takes to bring about the end of the world, the more obvious it is that he doesn’t want it to stop sinning. Just like the longer you take to snatch the gun from the toddler, the more obvious it is that you didn’t want to prevent disaster.

          2. R. L. Solberg

            I tried to step back and offer an explanation at the big picture level in terms of love and free will. But you are quite persistent about your specific rape scenario. I assume that is because you believe it to be a water-tight argument. Or, perhaps—God forbid!—because you have personally experienced the rape of a child, either as a victim or relative of a victim. And if the latter is the case, please accept my sincere and heartfelt condolences. In the recovery ministry I work with, there are a number of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and rape. I’ve seen the damage it causes. And I’ve also seen many brave, strong women recover and allow God to use their trauma for good.

            And for the record, if I ever came across a rape in progress (of anyone of any age), I would most certainly step in and do my best to prevent it. And shame on any person who wouldn’t do the same! (And, BTW, in that event, I would wholeheartedly believe that God put me there in order to stop the rape.) That said, as I alluded to previously, if God stepped in and stopped every human being before they could carry out any act of evil, such as your rape scenario, we would, indeed, be automatons. And authentic, biblical, other-focused love would cease to exist.

            But here’s the thing. In the atheist worldview, there is no such thing as objective evil. Few atheists have the courage to admit that, of course. Richard Dawkins is one. He wrote: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Atheism doesn’t offer a basis on which one can label rape objectively wrong or immoral. And even worse, denying God does nothing to resolve the situation. It only removes the ability to denounce rape as objectively evil and to find any possibility of meaning in such a heinous tragedy. The atheist can perhaps categorize rape as undesirable, or unpleasant, or sub-optimal for society. But they have no real basis on which to label it objectively morally wrong. Your moral outrage at that child’s rape belies your atheism, my friend.

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