Pages 2-6: summer 1993
WILL THERE BE SPIDERS IN HEAVEN?
The inerrancy doctrine is an inevitable consequence of belief in the divine
inspiration of the scriptures. Inerrantists recognize that if the Bible was
indeed verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimoral deity, then
by necessity it would have to be completely inerrant in every detail written in
it. This is why we frequently hear fundamentalists say that the Bible is
inerrant in matters of science, history, geography, chronology, etc. as well
as matters of faith and practice. Their belief in verbal inspiration allows
them no other conclusion but this.
Past articles in The Skeptical Review have exposed many inconsistencies in
the biblical narrative concerning matters of science, chronology, history,
etc., and recently we have begun to focus on another facet relevant to Bible
inerrancy--the element of logic. If the Bible was really inspired by an
omniscient, omnipotent, omnimoral deity, then the logic used by its writers
would have to be impeccable, for how could a person being guided by such a
deity in everything he wrote, word for word, be capable of faulty logic?
That biblical writers were not perfect in their use of logic is evident to
anyone who is willing to examine the Bible with an open mind. Faulty logic is
most evident in the New Testament, probably because of a need the writers
felt to convince their readers that Jesus was the Messiah whom God had sent
in fulfillment of Old Testament promises. With no logic on their side, their
attempts at argumentation were necessarily faulty. The Apostle Paul, who
seemed to fancy himself as a master of argumentation, made some horrendous
mistakes in reasoning. His lack of ability in logic was very much in evidence
in his famous defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. At one point
in his narrative, Paul said, "If there is a natural body, there is also a spir-
itual body" (v:44). Paul's argument could be stated in the form of a modus
MAJOR PREMISE: If there is a natural body, there is a spiritual
MINOR PREMISE: There is a natural body.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, there is a spiritual body.
The major premise of this syllogism is a conditional or hypothetical sentence
that contains two parts: an antecedent (the "if" statement) and the conse-
quent (the conclusion derived from the antecedent). For a modus ponens syl-
logism to be sound, it must be demonstrably true that the antecedent undeni-
ably necessitates the consequent, and this is where Paul's logic fails.
There is absolutely nothing in the existence of a natural or physical body
that would necessitate the existence of a spiritual body. I am aware of the
deep-seated desire in humans for life after this one, but desires, wishes, and
hopes prove nothing. To arrive at truth in this matter, we must lay aside
dreams and aspirations and examine all the evidence under the microscope of
cold logic. If this is done objectively, one will have to reject Paul's argu-
ment, because it is an obvious non sequitur. The existence of natural or
physical bodies does not necessitate the existence of spiritual bodies. Dogs,
cats, fleas, and spiders have physical bodies, so does this mean that they
also have spiritual bodies? Will there be spiders in heaven? To accept Paul's
argument, one would have to believe that there will be, because they too
have "natural bodies." That doesn't leave us much to look forward to, does
it? We spend our lives here tolerating mosquitoes, fleas, spiders, and cock-
roaches only to find out that we will also have to put up with them all
The same type of non sequitur (conclusion not justified by its premises)
occurred in a Pauline argument intended to show that the fact of baptism
proves the existence of a spiritual resurrection. After stating that in the act
of baptism one is buried as Christ was buried in his death, Paul said, "For if
we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also
shall be in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:5). In this statement,
we see the "if this, then that" elements of a conditional or hypothetical
sentence. In other words, Paul was arguing that if "this" (burial with Christ
in baptism), then "that" (resurrection to a new life).
No one denies that religious experiences can bring about significant
changes in people's lives, but Paul's argument here is purely arbitrary. The
ceremony of baptism, as Paul perceived it here, was symbolic of the death of
one's old life and resurrection to a new life only because Paul arbitrarily
declared it was so. Other religious sects of the time practiced baptism as
nothing more than a ceremonial cleansing. They saw nothing at all in it to
denote burial of "the old man" and resurrection of "the new man." Some
religious sects (including the Israelites of the Old Testament) thought that
there was advantage to worshiping their gods in "high places." Had the
custom survived into New Testament times, I suppose some "inspired" writer
could have argued that one's act of climbing a mountain to worship was a
symbol or likeness of the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
Paul's argument here is just another example of a Bible writer who was
long on assumption and short on proof. If one is resurrected to a new life
after baptism, then what do we say about the person whose religious fervor
subsides after the emotionalism of the moment that led him to be baptized? In
backsliding, does he "spiritually" find his "old man," which was crucified and
buried with Christ, and reenter that body? There is simply no logic in Paul's
argument. It is religious whim and caprice--and nothing more.
In Romans 3:5-6, we find Paul at it again; only this time he is begging
the question. In speaking of the righteousness of God, he asked, "Is God
unjust who in-flicts wrath?" His answer was, "Certainly not! For then how
will God judge the world?" Begging the question occurs when an argument
assumes crucial points that need to be proved. In this case, Paul was argu-
ing that God cannot be unjust simply because he inflicts wrath on people, be-
cause God is going to judge the world and he could hardly judge the world
justly if he himself is unjust. Paul offered no evidence at all to prove that
God is indeed going to judge the world; he merely presented it as an assump-
tion that he apparently expected his readers to accept. He undoubtedly did
this for the obvious reason that there is no way that he or anyone else could
prove that God is going to judge the world, so at a loss for logic to prove
his point, all he could do was beg the question.
Paul was no better at arguing from analogy. He showed this in an attempt
to prove the abrogation of the law of Moses:
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who
know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as
he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law
to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies,
she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while
her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an
adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so
that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law
through the body of Christ, that you may be married to
another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should
bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful
passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our
members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered
from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we
should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness
of the letter (Rom. 7:1-6).
Paul's apparent intention here was to compare the abrogation of the law of
Moses and its replacement by a new covenant with the marriage relationship.
His analogy concerned a widow who enters into a second marriage, but he had
obvious difficulty keeping straight what corresponded to the wife and what
represented the husband and even who or what had died.
A wife was bound to her husband as long as he lived and, unless her
husband had died, could not marry another without committing adultery. If,
however, her husband died, she was free to contract a second marriage
without incurring the stigma of adultery. Paul seemed able to get that much
of it right, but when he tried to analogize the widow's situation with the
relationship between the two covenants, he got confused and had the widow
dying rather than the husband (law).
In The Mythmaker: Paul and the invention of Christianity, Hyam Maccoby
very effectively identified the points of confusion in the analogy:
It seems that the correspondence intended is the following:
the wife is the Church; the former husband is the Torah, and
the new husband is Christ. Paul tells us that a wife is released
by the death of her husband to marry a new husband; this
should read, therefore, in the comparison, that the Church was
freed, by the death of the Torah, to marry Christ. Instead, it is
the wife- Church that dies ("you my friends, have died to the
law by becoming identified with the body of Christ") and there is
even some play with the idea that the new husband, Christ, has
died. The only term in the comparison that is not mentioned as
having died is the Torah; yet this is the only thing that would
make the comparison valid (p. 69).
"Dying to sin" was such a recurrent image in Paul's writings that in this
passage he apparently lost sight of who was supposed to represent what in
his analogy, so he wound up having his Christian audience "die" to sin
rather than the law die to free Christians to marry another. Such a mistake
would be no big deal in the writings of an ordinary man, but we have to
wonder why Paul, writing under the verbal guidance of an omniscient, omnip-
otent deity, could have made a logical error like this.
In Maccoby's commentary on Paul's analogy, he noted another flaw:
On the other hand, there is also present in the passage an
entirely different idea: that a person becomes free of legal obliga-
tions after his or her own death. This indeed seems to be the
theme first announced: "that a person is subject to the law so
long as he is alive, and no longer." The theme of the widow
being free to marry after the death of her first husband is quite
incompatible with this; yet Paul confuses the two themes through-
out... (p. 69).
My reaction to the muddled way that Paul tried to present his argument is the
same as Maccoby's: "Confusion cannot be worse confounded than this" (Ibid).
More than that, I have to wonder why a verbally inspired writer would not
have a better sense of logical analogy than this.
A frequent device of persuasion used by New Testament writers was the a
fortiori argument, but they frequently bungled their attempts to use it. In
this kind of argument, a conclusion of greater necessity is arrived at by
comparing it to a generally accepted conclusion of less significance. "Drunk
drivers deserve to have their licenses revoked," one might argue, "so how
much more should those who drive while stoned silly by drugs have theirs
revoked?" Anyone so arguing would be using the a fortiori approach to
persuasion, and it was a common device used by New Testament writers. In
Hebrews 10:28-29, it was used by the unknown writer of this epistle:
"Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of
two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose,
will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, count-
ed the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and
insulted the Spirit of grace?" In other words, the writer was arguing that
if disrespect for the law of Moses brought death, then surely open disrespect
for the covenant of Christ will merit even harsher punishment.
The conclusion that the writer reached, however, violated a basic princi-
ple of a fortiori argumentation, which is that the conclusion (the how-much-
more element) cannot validly exceed the premise it depends on. In my drunk-
driving illustration, for example, the punishment demanded for driving while
"stoned silly" on drugs was the same as for drunk driving--the revocation of
one's license. The argument did not attempt to prove that if one's punish-
ment for drunk driving was the revocation of his license, then the penalty
for driving under the influence of drugs should be a prison sentence or the
death penalty; it merely argued that if driver's licenses are revoked for
drunk driving, then the same penalty should be imposed for the greater
offense of driving while "stoned silly" on drugs. The Hebrew writer's appli-
cation of the argument, however, deviated from the standard a fortiori pat-
tern and concluded that a much harsher punishment should be given to those
who trample underfoot the son of God than to those who just disobeyed the
law of Moses.
In 9:13-14, the Hebrew writer made the same reasoning error: "For if the
blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean,
sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of
Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God,
cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" The
cleansing of the conscience or spirit would be greater than the cleansing of
the flesh, so once again the writer used a fortiori logic to obtain a conclusion
that went beyond the premise it was derived from.
The Apostle Paul also made frequent attempts at a fortiori argumentation,
but, like the Hebrew writer, often misapplied it. In The Mythmaker (p. 65),
Hyam Maccoby analyzed Paul's use of the form in his epistle to the Romans
and identified several statements with conclusions that exceeded the premises
they were derived from. Two of them were these:
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God
through the death of His Son, much more, having been recon-
ciled, we shall be saved by His life (5:10).
For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the
one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the
gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one (5:17).
Just a cursory examination of both passages will show that Paul tried to
derive a fortiori conclusions that far exceeded the premises he was arguing
from, so apparently he was no more skilled at this type of reasoning than was
the Hebrew writer.
Some will no doubt say that the reasoning in the above examples of a
fortiori argumentation is sound, even though it may have technically deviated
from the traditional form of the argument. Does it not make sense to think,
one might say, that if the blood of bulls and goats cleansed the flesh, the
blood of Christ would be much more efficacious in the cleansing of the soul?
To so argue, however, is to venture into pure speculation. As Maccoby said
of Paul's a fortiori arguments whose conclusions exceeded their premises,
"Such an argument has no precision about it, for how do we know how much
to add to the data given in the premise in order to arrive at the conclusion"
(p. 66)? Besides that problem, we have every reason to wonder why a
writer verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity would not know
how to use logic that was as firmly established in Jewish legalism as was a
Another problem in many of the a fortiori syllogisms in the New Testament
is the flagrant resort to begging the question that characterized so many of
their premises. In Hebrews 9:13-14, for example, the writer's argument was
if the blood of bulls and goats cleansed the flesh, then surely the blood of
Christ will be even more efficacious in cleansing the soul. Yes, if... IF, IF,
IF! But what proof did the writer give that the blood of bulls and goats
could purify flesh? He gave none. He simply expected his reader to assume
that the statement was true. He begged the question. Likewise, Paul in
Romans 5:10 begged the question in the premise of his argument: "For if
when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His
Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
What was his proof that the death of Jesus reconciled us to God? He gave
none. He merely stated it as a fact to be assumed without proof and pro-
ceeded to draw his conclusion, i.e., the life of Jesus will be much more effi-
cacious in saving us. Thus, many of the a fortiori arguments in the New
Testament were doubly flawed. They didn't just reach conclusions that far
exceeded the premises they were derived from, but the premises themselves
were often no more than mere assumptions.
Such examples of reasoning as these are flawed through and through.
They constitute formidable proof that the Bible is just another fallible book
written by very fallible men. No omniscient, omnipotent deity had anything
to do with writing it. To say otherwise is to insult the omniscience of the
deity who is presumed to be the source of the inspiration.
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