Book Review

Ruth Hurmence Green

The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible

1979, Freedom from Religion Foundation

 

by Jeffrey Stueber, copyright 2000, all rights reserved


I must admit there are few atheistic critiques of the Bible in my personal library at home. Humanist Steve Allen's book on the Bible and Christianity is one such book while the above-named book is another rarity. At $1.98, a handsomely discounted purchase at a half-price book store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about five years ago, I could not pass it up. I purchased it when I was just starting to dig deep into researching Christian apologetics and already, scholarly as I sought to be, I was noticing her many errors in Biblical exegesis. I actually thought the book was from a skeptic turned Christian ala Josh Mcdowell, but soon found it was from an agnostic turned hardened atheist. Green says, "I'm fond of saying that reading the Bible turned me into an atheist. But reflection makes me realize that the process wasn't that simple." Green recounts her Christian upbringing, but it obviously turned sour. She obviously didn't learn any scholarship back then since her book is very little hard scholarship; actually it's more like poor scholarship mixed with much angry sophistry.

Near the beginning she recounts Genesis 1 which states that God will make man and woman in His own image. She states that "These verses suggest that females are also in God's image, contrary to the claim of St. Paul, whose narcissism precluded a feminine deity." (p. 6) In other words, for Green, both man and woman look like God in one way or another, or God has male and female physical traits, because we are in God's image. Therefore, calling God by masculine pronouns or names can only be a result of prejudice or narcissism, as she says - a variation of the popular "the Bible was a writing of drunken priests" argument. She is however mistaken in her analysis of the word image. An image often displays traits of what it is reflecting and is not an exact likeness. My own NIV Bible states:

Since man is made in God's image, every human being is worthy of honor and respect; he is neither to be murdered nor cursed. "Image" included such characteristics as "righteousness and holiness" and "knowledge". Believers are to be "conformed to the likeness" of Christ and will someday be "like him." . . . Since man was created in the image of the divine King, delegated sovereignty (kingship) was bestowed on him. [The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan]

I should also mention that the name Adam means "man" just as "Eve" meant "mother of all." Names are important in the Bible; they infer important characteristics about the person. When God made man (Adam) he gave him godly characteristics. Woman was made from man and therefore she also shared in those characteristics which I previously mentioned. The image of God includes the ability to be righteous, the trait of limited sovereignty, and freedom of choice. These characteristics were given to woman when she was made from man. God does not look like either a man or woman because God is spirit, but man and woman can reflect, in a limited way, an image of God.

Green gets it wrong when she talks about Cain and Abel. She states:

God is also partial in smaller ways than those that involve the whole of civilization. He is such an admirer of Abel that Cain is driven to kill his brother in a fit of jealousy. (p. 20)

Green seems to characterize God as a parent who ignores a child no matter how good that child is and despite the child not doing one thing wrong. This is however not the case with Cain and Abel. Cain was a vegetable farmer while Abel tended flocks of sheep.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Genesis 4:2-5 NIV)

What is to be learned from these passages is that Cain brought some of the produce of his fruits, such as berries and others. Abel however brought forth the firstborn (or in essence, the first fruits). Abel took from the beginning of what he had whereas Cain did not and was content with taking extra fruits which were produced. Cain was content with taking the leftovers. This is why God did not look with favor on his offering. This is very much in accord with Jesus' comments that we are to bring the first fruits of our labors. We are not to take from our wealth (the excess) but from the original minimal amount we own. [See story of the widow's offering, Luke chapter 21 NIV]. He does not demand what is left over. He demands from what is initially there. This is why God looked on Cain's offering with disgust; we are to love God first and then other people and things and the lack of commitment toward offering the first fruits shows a lack of love toward God.

Green continues by next misrepresenting Christ's teaching on wealth and sin.

Jesus's attitude toward riches would, if taken seriously by Christians rather than lightly by them like many of his teachings, make wealth a hot potato to be tossed from hand to hand, since its possession is a sure ticket to perdition. (p. 26)

This comment is no doubt related to a passage where Paul declares that "for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." [1 Timothy 6:10] Jesus also expresses similar belief that money is what many men serve and literally worship. In Matthew 19 a rich man came to Jesus and asked what good thing he must do to get eternal life. After several proddings, Jesus told the rich man to sell all his possessions, which he had since he had "great wealth." The man went away downtrodden at which time Jesus told the disciples it was harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Neither of them say that having money will get you a quick ticket to hell because in the Gospels the path to salvation is defined in terms of your relationship to and belief in Christ. Instead, their message is that money (i.e. wealth, prosperity, fame, ...) is the root of all evil, something that finds itself at odds with what must be done to gain salvation. This is amply noticed in our secular society where people often do the worst things imaginable for material possessions. People with money do not automatically go to hell. They do, however, find it difficult to put other things, like spirituality or family, first. Green's failure to even consider the correct teaching of Jesus and Paul on this subject is unreal.

Green takes a stab at Jesus' conception of faith in which He states that faith should be like the simple believing that children do. Children often accept what they're told without questioning it, simply because they accept the authority of their source. Her citation is as follows:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Luke 10:21 NIV)

Her criticism of this passage reads as such:

Education and knowledge gained from maturity lead to eternal damnation, because they threaten blind faith, and achievement in this world assures one a place far down on the class scale in heaven.

Well, let's put Jesus' statement in Biblical context. Jesus often criticized his opponents as the learned (or supposedly learned) because they believed they knew God's word. Thus, Jesus thanks the Father (one-third of the trinity) that He has revealed His word to those (disciples) who are of simple faith who will listen and not insist they know God's will when they actually know very little.

Another point to make is that the disciples were to accept the teachings of Jesus because of his authority, much like children accept what they are told out of adult's authority. They were not to accept things foolishly. Yet, when confronted by one who is to be trusted as authoritative, such as Christ, they were to accept what they heard. When the disciples doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, He showed them bodily evidence. What better evidence could you have than that?

Green goes terribly off course in the dates she assigns to the New Testament books. She boldly states that, "Most Bible scholars date the gospels in the 2nd century." I don't know which scholars she is referring to, but I can say that the ones I have come across differ remarkably from her viewpoint.

William Campbell, a scholar who has studied the Koran and the Bible and the differences between the two, mentions Dr. Bucaille, a scholar of the Koran, who gives these dates:  (1)

Matthew 80
Mark 70
Luke 70-90
John in the 90s

Campbell suspects that the later dating is due to anti-supernaturalistic bias on the part of Bucaille; Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and these Gospels have Jesus predict the destruction of the temple. Taking away this bias, we may certainly date these earlier.

Josh McDowell lists these dates as most likely cited by conservatives and liberals alike:  (2)

Matthew 70-80 A.D. (conservative) 80-100 A.D.(liberal)

Mark 50-60 A.D. (conservative) 70 A.D.(liberal)

Luke early 60's (conservative) 70-90 A.D.(liberal)

John 80-100 A.D.(conservative) 90-100 A.D.(liberal)

 

Henry Halley lists these dates for composition of several New Testament books:  (3)



Matthew Around 60 A.D., revised Greek copy later

Mark Between 60 and 70 A.D.

Luke Around 60 A.D.

John Around 90 A.D. but possibly much earlier


John Warwick Montgomery lists these dates: Mark, 64-70; Matthew and Luke, 80-85; Acts, shortly after; John, no later than 100. He notes that there is strong reason to date these much earlier. The books of Luke and Acts could be dated prior to 64 since Paul most likely died in the persecution by Nero, yet Acts does not record this. He cites the opinion of W. F. Albright who says that, "In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and the eighties of the first century A.D."  (4) Perhaps much of the late dating of the books is due to anti-supernaturalist bias, bias that believes that Jesus could not have predicted the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Robert Hoerber contributes to my detail. He says some scholars will date Matthew as early as the fifties and as late as 85 A.D. He says that external evidence connects the Gospel of Mark with Rome about 30 to 35 years after Jesus' death. The duo of Luke and Acts belongs in the early sixties. John is dated between 90 and 100 A.D.  (5)

Todd Lake notes that even the Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1972) asserts that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses to the events recorded. Todd also notes that the atheist Anthony Flew said that the earliest New Testament documents bring us to within twenty years of Jesus' death.  (6)

Exactly which scholars was she talking about? These dates are far off from what she suggests. Even the critic Dr. Bucaille doesn't come close to Green on this.

Green goes on a rampage by listing Jesus' teachings. (p. 63 ff.) Here are just a few of her comments which demonstrate her brand of commentary:

 

"Accumulate no wealth or possessions. There is no need for them. Besides you would run the risk of getting rich. If you do, be sure to give it all away."

"Don't admit to having sexual urges. If a sight of a member of the opposite sex arouses you, pluck out your eye."

"Avoid the `dogs' and `swine' of this world. Save your uplifting thoughts for worthy persons."

"Do not achieve prominence in this world, for the first shall be last in the next."

 

The reasoning behind the words of Jesus alluded to in that first paragraph ("Accumulate no wealth . . .") has already been explained. Jesus did advise those who heard him to pluck out their eyes if they offend them or to cut off their hands if their hands caused them to sin. Contrary to Green, Jesus put the issue in context when he said, "It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:47 NIV) In other words, if your salvation is put in danger by actions brought about by your hands or eyes, it is better to pluck them out or cut them off than risk your awaiting reward in heaven. Green's comment about avoiding the "dogs" and "swine" is unusual because Christ often frequented with sinners, grievous sinners by the standards of His day. When Jesus stressed His followers should avoid prominence, he was speaking of heavenly and transcendent things because those who often believe they will be first in the Kingdom of God might be last.

Green does have a large chapter on Biblical contradictions, but here her lack of ability to consider alternatives to her own analysis displays ignorance and scholarly near-sightedness. She cites Exodus 21:24 which states you should return "an eye for eye, tooth for tooth" among others. She then claims this is a contradiction to Matthew 5:38,39 where Jesus says to turn the other cheek. There is nothing in Matthew here to claim that for every evil one is to turn the other cheek. What Jesus seems to be saying is that in some instances you should turn the other cheek because by giving a person what he or she wants, even letting him slap you aside the face, you might win him over. My NIV Bible claims that Jesus was correcting a Jewish misunderstanding in proper retaliation for wrongdoing and was setting the record straight - punishment should be limited to fit the crime. Perhaps if someone slaps you, there is no need for punishment and you should turn the other cheek.

Green also sees contradictions where there are none. She believes that certain Biblical stories expose contradictions because they are only cited in one book of the Bible and not others. She cites Matthew's story of the bribe of the guards and Matthew's tale of how the Jews asked Pilate for a guard to prevent the body from being stolen by the disciples. Since this story is not told in Mark, Luke, John, or Paul's epistles, she considers it a contradiction. Yet, her argument is clearly false. If you say something on any subject and I say nothing about it, are we in contradiction? No. Such an argument is an argument from silence and cannot be taken seriously. Therefore, one Gospel cannot be held in contradiction to others when the others say nothing on the subject.

As far as being an atheist, the circle of her denial is complete. Later (p. 131 ff.) she claims "An in-depth study of the history of magic and religion throughout the world cannot help but reveal the fact that the facets and components of Christianity have evolved from the worship systems of primitive peoples and pagan cultures." This is quite a non-scholarly dismissal of it, giving no hint that she has researched this enough to make such a judgement. Then she dismisses as myth the belief in a soul, claiming it originated in savage tribes.

An addendum notes that Ruth Hurmence Green died July 7, 1981, after a battle with cancer. Here was a poor scholar turned atheist. I fear for her soul.


Notes:


1. William Campbell, The Qur'an and the Bible, 1986, Arab World Ministries, p. 116

2. Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, p. 62; one critic dates the book of John at 170 A.D., but this seems like a far off estimate.

3. Henry Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook, 1965, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI

4. John Warwick Montgomery, History & Christianity, 1964, 1965, InterVarsity Press: Downer's Grove, IL, p. 34-35

5. Robert Hoerber, Reading the New Testament for Undertanding, 1986, Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, MO

6. Todd Lake, "My Search for the Historical Jesus," in Kelly Monroe, ed., Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians, 1996, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, p. 43

Jeffrey Stueber

jstueber@globaldialog.com