Did Moses Literally See the Face of God?

Moses speaks with God – Gerard Hoet (1728)

Exodus 33:11 says that the Lord spoke “face to face” with Moses, but Exodus 33:20 says that Moses could not see the Lord’s face. Is this a contradiction?

Two preliminary observations may be helpful. First, we should notice that Exodus says that the Lord “spoke” with Moses “face to face” (Exod. 33:11), not that Moses saw God face to face. There may be a difference, and as we shall discover there is indeed a difference. Second, it is significant that the two allegedly contradictory statements appear in the same passage. Exodus 33:11 says that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”[1]  Exodus 33:20 says that the LORD told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” It does not seem likely that the author of Exodus 33 contradicted himself in the space of just ten verses. Such contradiction in close proximity within the same passage is possible yet would be extremely surprising, as compared, say, to statements appearing in different books written by different authors. If it seems that these statements in Exodus 33 are contradictory, perhaps we are misunderstanding one of them.

Reading Exodus 33 in Context

The expression “face to face” can, of course, be used literally of two human beings seeing each other’s faces at the same time. However, in Exodus 33 that is not the case. Continue reading

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30 Days, 30 Books: The History of Christian Apologetics in One Month

In the Apologetics Book Club on Facebook this month, I am doing a series entitled “30 Days, 30 Books: The History of Christian Apologetics in One Month.” So far we have highlighted six key books in ancient and medieval church history. The series will feature 15 books from the first through the nineteenth centuries and 15 books from the twentieth century.

If you’re not a member of the ABC group, you can join any time and catch up on the series. Please also spread the word. The group started at the beginning of the year and so far we have 376 members. Here is a link to the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/apologeticsbookclub/.

 

 

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Joseph Smith and the Many Wives of David and Solomon: Authorized or Abominable?

Giovanni Venanzi, Solomon’s Wives (1668)

In all of the debate over Joseph Smith’s teachings and practices regarding polygamy, little attention seems to have been given to an explicit contradiction in his scriptural revelations. This contradiction concerns what the Lord thought of David and Solomon having many wives. These statements appear in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine & Covenants, two of the scriptural volumes considered “standard works” in the LDS Church. I quote the two passages with sufficient context to allay any concerns that the contradictory statements are being taken out of context.

2:23 But the word of God burthens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This People begins to wax in iniquity; they understand not the Scriptures: for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which are written concerning David, and Solomon his Son. 2:24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. 2:25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord: I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch, from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. 2:26 Wherefore, I, the Lord God, will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. 2:27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: for there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none: 2:28 For I, the Lord God, delighteth in the chastity of women. And whoredoms is abomination before me: thus saith the Lord of Hosts. 2:29 Wherefore, this peeple shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. 2:30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people: otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things. (Jacob 2:23-30, emphasis added)[1]

132:1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines…. 132:38 David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me. 132:39 David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord (D&C 132:1, 38-39).

The standard Mormon perspective on these two passages is that God sometimes permits polygamy while otherwise prohibiting it. This is how Mormons typically understand Jacob 2:30. They argue that monogamy is the norm, but when God chooses, he commands some people to practice polygamy (or “plural marriage”). In my estimation, this view regarding polygamy has some problems, but for my purposes here I will not be challenging it. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Lord sometimes commands some people to practice polygamy and at other times prohibits it, there remains a direct contradiction between these two passages. Continue reading

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EASTER: The Evidence

Rembrandt, Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene

How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? Several years back I put together a simple outline of the main lines of evidence using the word EASTER. Each point is tied to Paul’s important defense of the hope of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. At the end is a list of six books for those wishing to pursue the evidence for each of the six points in detail.

Empty tomb (1 Corinthians 15:4)

One important evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is the fact that he was buried in a rock tomb and then a couple of days later that tomb was found empty. The Gospels accurately describe the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid, matching the many limestone rock tombs that had been carved around Jerusalem in the first century. The Gospels all report that women, including Mary Magdalene, were the first to discover the empty tomb—not something men were likely to make up. The author of the Gospel of John claims that he personally went to the tomb and saw that the body was gone and that the grave clothes had been left behind (John 20:2-9). Jewish critics of Christianity claimed that the disciples had stolen the body from the tomb. That claim is not credible (the disciples were disheartened and scared), but these critics implicitly conceded the empty tomb as fact.

Appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

An empty tomb by itself is just a mystery: the case of the missing body. Continue reading

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Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 2: Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Incoherent?

In Part 1, I responded to Unitarian philosopher Dale Tuggy’s claim in a recent conference address that my biblical argument for the doctrine of the Trinity omitted essential elements of the doctrine. Here I will respond to his objection that my statement of the doctrine is incoherent. In Part VII of my outline study “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I concluded by reviewing the propositions that constitute the essential elements of the doctrine, including these four:

  1. The Father is God (see Part III).
  2. The Son is God (see Part IV).
  3. The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
  4. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).

As he has been doing with Trinitarian theology in general for many years, Tuggy finds fault with my argument by complaining about the logical difficulty of affirming that each person “is God” and yet that the persons are distinct from one another. “Things that are identical to the same thing are identical to one another.” With this analytical knife Tuggy thinks he can cut any presentation or defense of Trinitarian belief to ribbons without so much as opening a Bible. His point is that my argument is incoherent because (as he sees it) the affirmations that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God logically contradict the affirmation that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not each other. To this objection, I have three responses. Continue reading

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Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 1: Are Essential Elements Missing?

First Council of Nicaea

First Council of Nicaea (325) – unknown Eastern Orthodox icon

In Part VII of my eight-part series of articles entitled “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I offer the following concluding argument for the doctrine:

A. All the elements of the doctrine are taught in Scripture.

1. One God who is one divine being (see Part I and Part II).
2. The Father is God (see Part III).
3. The Son is God (see Part IV).
4. The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).

B. The New Testament presents a consistent triad of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (God, Christ, Spirit)….
C. Therefore, the Bible does teach the Trinity.

On April 13th, at the 2019 Theological Conference, a Biblical Unitarian meeting in Hampton, Georgia (ironically held at the Calvin Center, owned by the liberal PCUSA), Dale Tuggy devoted part of his lecture, “How Not to Argue from the Bible to the Trinity,” to a critique of the above argument. Unlike the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which has drifted completely away from the Bible and Christianity, the advocates of Biblical Unitarianism generally take a fairly conservative view of the Bible and accept such basic Christian beliefs as the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, in this respect they are more conservative than many pastors and scholars in the PCUSA! Tuggy is a philosopher who blogs on the subject of the Trinity. His critique of the above argument begins just under 17 minutes into the video and ends about ten minutes later. In this post, I will respond to his claim that my argument for the Trinity is unsound. In a second post, I will respond to his claim that my argument is incoherent.

Before he gets to his main criticisms of my argument, Tuggy asserts that I don’t need the second premise, regarding the consistent triad of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament (point B. above). He speculates that I threw it in there because I think only Trinitarianism can explain this premise and that Unitarianism can’t. Tuggy guessed incorrectly here (although I certainly think Trinitarianism explains this information better than Unitarianism). Continue reading

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Jesus as God and Distinct from God: A Reply to Kegan Chandler

Chandler, The God of Jesus

In his book The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma, Kegan Chandler repeats Dale Tuggy’s critique of Richard Bauckham’s “divine identity Christology,” which is essentially that the idea is logically contradictory. As part of his critique, Chandler offers the following quotation from the book Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with Ed Komoszewski.[1] Here is how Chandler presents the quotation:

One pair of evangelicals who subscribe to Bauckham’s thesis admit:

The New Testament makes a distinction between [Jesus and God the Father]… sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath.

But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as “God” and “not God” at the same time? Is this conclusion only “hard to understand” as these apologists claim, or is it impossible?[2]

Chandler’s footnote to our book cites page 1 and credits Tuggy for the citation. The second-hand nature of the citation shows, since the quotation actually comes from page 21 of the book.

As is very often the case with Chandler’s quotations from Trinitarians, he characterizes the statement he quotes here as something we “admit,” as though it were somehow contrary to or in tension with our theological position. This is not at all the case. Chandler has made it seem as though we were making an embarrassing admission by a highly selective, partial quotation of what we said. Here is the complete statement with the omitted material restored:

Third, we take for granted that Jesus is not God the Father. Rather, Jesus is “the Son of the Father” (2 John 3 nasb). The New Testament makes a distinction between the two, sometimes as the Father and the Son, sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath (e.g., John 1:1; 20:28-31; Heb. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:1-2). It is this fact about New Testament teaching—paralleled in what it also teaches about the Holy Spirit—that led Christian theologians to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. We will not be discussing the Trinity in this book, although Jesus’ identity as God is a key part of that doctrine.[3]

Far from something we are forced to “admit,” the New Testament distinction between the Son Jesus Christ and God the Father is basic to the doctrine of the Trinity.

In addition to obscuring the point we were making by his selective partial quotation, Chandler excises from the quoted sentence the biblical references we cited as exemplifying our point that Jesus is both called God and distinguished from God “sometimes in the same breath.” Those texts we cited—John 1:1, John 20:28-31, Hebrews 1:8-9, and 2 Peter 1:1-2—are all discussed in some detail later in our book.[4] Chandler does not engage or even mention our treatment of those texts anywhere in his book.[5] Nor does he engage the exegesis of those texts from other orthodox Christian scholars, though he offers a few citations from such scholars on John 1:1, generally shorn of context, without even commenting on how those scholars handle the texts in question.[6] Trinitarian studies of the other texts do not get even this much attention.[7]

Chandler asks, as quoted above: “But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as ‘God’ and ‘not God’ at the same time?” This is not quite what we said, but let it stand. Chandler excised our reference to “the data” from his quotation of our book, ignored much of “the data” in the rest of the book, and never engaged any orthodox treatment of the exegesis and interpretation of any of those biblical texts. In a book of more than 500 pages boasting over 1,500 footnotes, about 200 pages of which are focused on the biblical teaching about the person of Jesus, these omissions are really inexcusable.

The point being made here is simply this: If a critic of the doctrine of the Trinity is going to cite Trinitarian scholars, he ought to engage their arguments. With rare and mostly fleeting exceptions, this is something Chandler does not attempt in his book. Rather, for the most part he attempts to wring admissions out of orthodox scholars by selective quotations that appear to support his position.

NOTES

[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

[2] Kegan A. Chandler, The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma: The Recovery of New Testament Theology, foreword by Anthony F. Buzzard (McDonough, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2016), 434.

[3] Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 21.

[4] Ibid., 138–44, 148–56.

[5] Chandler has only two other references to Putting Jesus in His Place in his book, neither dealing with any of these biblical texts: God of Jesus, 440, 511.

[6] Chandler devotes 26 pages to John 1:1-3 (God of Jesus, 469-94) and only briefly quotes A. T. Robertson, F. F. Bruce, and most notably Murray Harris without engaging their exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 487, 493). This appears to be the only reference in Chandler’s book to Harris’s important monograph: Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).

[7] Chandler devotes three pages to John 20:28 without citing a single orthodox scholar or engaging any Trinitarian perspectives on that text (the 18th-century Hebrew scholar J. D. Michaelis does not count); God of Jesus, 418–20. He dismisses Hebrews 1:8 very quickly without even mentioning any Trinitarians or engaging any orthodox exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 416). 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 are dispatched in a footnote (God of Jesus, 413 n. 1301).

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Enoch, Jude, the Canon, and the Sons of God: Some Notes for the Curious

God took Enoch, Gerard Hoet (ca 1700)

In an odd coincidence, I was asked twice in one day to comment about the canonicity of the Book of Enoch and some related matters. I will not attempt to resolve all of the issues here, but instead will offer a brief overview and some references for those who would like to pursue the matter in further depth.

In the epistle of Jude, we read the following:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying:
“Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his holy ones,
to execute judgment on all
and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness
that they have committed in such an ungodly way,
and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15 ESV).

Compare Jude’s quotation of Enoch with the following passage from the Book of Enoch:

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness
which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Enoch 1:9)

By the way, the closest any passage in the canonical Old Testament comes to the statement in Jude is in a different context, that of God’s revelation to Israel in the wilderness:

“The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran;
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deut. 33:2 ESV).

The odds are very good that Jude’s quotation of Enoch (Jude 14-15) came from the Book of Enoch. The quotation is very close to what is found in the book. The matter is complicated by the fact that the book was probably written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, Jude’s quotation is in Greek, and our earliest substantial manuscripts of the book are later translations in other languages (especially Ethiopic). Given these language differences, the similarities between the two passages are surprising. Most scholars think Jude is quoting from the book, and this seems likely to be correct. If Jude is quoting a “tradition” found also in the Book of Enoch but got it from a different source, that source would either be oral or written. I don’t think it’s plausible to argue that it was oral only, so we would likely be talking about a different book. If so, that different book is also not in the canon of Scripture, so we have not gained anything by denying that Jude was quoting the Book of Enoch. Perhaps one could maintain that Jude was quoting from an earlier version of the Book of Enoch. Continue reading

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Don’t Know Much about Book of Mormon Geography

John Clark’s Mythical Geography View of the Book of Mormon

On January 29, 2019 (yesterday as of the time of this writing), the LDS Church published an article online entitled “Book of Mormon Geography,” another installment in its series of innocuously titled “Gospel Topics” essays. Begun in 2013, this series has addressed such problematic issues in Mormonism as the conflicting First Vision accounts, race and the priesthood, the Book of Abraham, the LDS doctrine of becoming Gods, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Joseph’s use of a seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, and DNA and the Book of Mormon. The articles are all anonymous and, in most cases, appear to have been composed by BYU scholars. The typical Gospel Topics essay is heavily footnoted[1] and ends with a vague acknowledgment of “the contribution of scholars.”

The new essay on “Book of Mormon Geography” is something else. It is only five short paragraphs in length, has only four footnotes, and contains no acknowledgment of scholarly input. Evidently there simply is not much that the LDS Church has to say on the matter. The essay itself confirms this impression. It begins with the following paragraph, which it sets in all italics:

The Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

This directive is not new. A 2012 curriculum manual contains an abstract diagram of the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi with the caveat, “As you use this diagram, explain that the Church has no official position about Book of Mormon geography except that the events occurred in the Americas.”[2] LDS leaders and writers have cautioned many times for over a century against placing too much confidence in any particular theory about the lands where the Nephite civilization was located.[3]

Although the directive expressed in the new essay is not itself new, the essay makes some noteworthy statements, as we shall see. Continue reading

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Six Hints that the “Baby Jesus Stories” of the Gospels Were Not Late Additions

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

 

Every December, articles circulate online (and often in major news magazines) calling into question the truth of the virgin birth of Christ. This year, a blog article posted on December 19, 2018, by former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist Valerie Tarico has been making the rounds, boosted by various progressive “news” websites such as Alternet and RawStory. Tarico’s post is entitled “Six Hints that Baby Jesus Stories were Late Additions to Early Christian Lore.” Let’s look at her six hints.

Paul’s Silence about Jesus’ Miraculous Nativity

According to Tarico, Paul’s epistles, the earliest New Testament writings, “give no hint” about Jesus’ virgin birth or the other miracles associated with his nativity. “Paul simply says that he was a Jew, born to a woman.”

Well, yes. Paul makes no mention of a number of significant events mentioned in the Gospels, such as Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, his cleansing of the temple, or any of Jesus’ miracles. His omission of these events does not call any of them into question historically. Paul was not writing a biography of Jesus; he was writing letters to churches and church leaders to address specific pastoral and theological issues as they arose in those churches. Tarico’s “hint” here is no more than an argument from silence, a fallacious form of reasoning.

That having been said, the very statement Paul makes to which Tarico alludes may in fact be a “hint” that Paul was aware of Jesus’ miraculous conception:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4).[1]

Three aspects of this passage are at least possible hints at the virgin birth of Christ. Continue reading

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