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A Review of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Christopher Hitchens has just come out with a broadside against Christianity. Hitchens is a fine stylist.

  • Stephen Hays,
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God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007)

Reviewed by Stephen Hays

Christopher Hitchens has just come out with a broadside against Christianity.1 Hitchens is a fine stylist. Indeed, style carries the burden of the argument, for there is no sustained argument. He suffers from the self-reinforcing ignorance of the militant atheist. Since, from his viewpoint, Christianity is obviously balderdash, it would be a waste of time to bone up on the subject. But the consequence of this premature assessment is that he hurls one ignorant charge after another. He literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

An even deeper problem is that Hitchens doesn’t know his way around either side of the argument. One of the ironies of his work, which is typical of this genre, is the combination of intellectual pride with an anti-intellectual performance. He affects a tone of rational and moral superiority, but without the supporting evidence to justify his pretensions.

In a wonderfully ingenuous, childlike way he continually appeals to reason and morality without any glimmering awareness of how naturalistic evolution cuts the ground out from under his thinking, emoting, and moralizing.

Evolutionary ethics logically commits the Darwinian to moral relativism. Indeed, there are Darwinians who frankly admit this. And even apart from naturalistic evolution, a number of secular philosophers admit that atheism cannot underwrite moral absolutes.2 Likewise, evolutionary psychology torpedoes human reason.3

Shaving with a Dull Razor

Throughout the book Hitchens appeals to Occam’s razor4 to rule out supernatural explanations. But this is fallacious on two grounds:

i) Occam’s razor is prejudicial and question-begging. The simplest explanation is the best explanation—provided that the world is simple. But what if it’s complex? You only invoke Occam’s razor if you don’t know the answer. So this is an argument from ignorance.
ii) There’s a trade-off between a simpler explanation and a simpler ontology.5

In chapter four, Hitchens comments on the discrepancy between conventional dating schemes and Ussher’s computations (pp. 57–58). But this would be more impressive if he bothered to:

i) Address scientific objections to conventional dating schemes.6
ii) Ask himself what a world that originated by way of a front-loaded creation ex nihilo7 fiat would look like. Would it appear older or younger than conventional dating schemes? Would the difference be detectible?
iii) Consider how dating involves the measurement of time, which involves a temporal metric.8 But if metrical conventionalism is correct, then it’s meaningless to ask how old the world really is.9

In chapter six he attacks the argument from design.10 For some reason, he thinks the life cycle of stars undermines design (pp. 79–80).11 Likewise, he thinks that inhospitable zones12 undermine the design argument (p. 80).

Now, it’s true that we can’t live inside an active volcano or red giant, but how does that undermine the teleological argument?13 To begin with, the world needn’t even be fine-tuned for life to be designed. And a world that is fine-tuned for life does not imply that every part of the universe is biofriendly. Some inhospitable conditions are necessary for hospitable conditions elsewhere.

He attacks the teleological argument from the human eye (pp. 81–82). This would be more impressive if he bothered to interact with the counterarguments.14

The fact that some lower animals have more acute eyes and ears than we do is, for him, another strike against the teleological argument. But how does that follow? Various organisms are designed to occupy and exploit a special ecological niche.

He appeals to junk DNA and vestigial organs to disprove design (p. 85). In other words, Darwinism-of-the-gaps.15

He thinks that natural redundant systems undermine the argument from design (p. 88). But why wouldn’t that be an argument for design?

He thinks the silence of Genesis 1 on dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterodactyls, and marsupials is evidence of ignorance (p. 90). But the taxonomy16 in Genesis 1 isn’t intended to name every species. Indeed, the Bible mentions many species that are never named in Genesis 1.

He cites the Burgess Shale and Cambrian explosion as evidence for evolution (p. 91), evidently unaware of the problems they pose for Darwinism.17

He cites the seasonal variation in bird beaks to prove evolution (p. 94). But this would only prove microevolution,18 not macroevolution.19

He thinks that adaptability undermines the argument from design (p. 95). But why wouldn’t adaptability be a mark of design?

He cites the syphilis bacillus as undermining the teleological argument (p. 96). But a natural law theorist would think otherwise.

Feel-Good Criticisms

In chapter seven he attacks the Old Testament. His view of Old Testament law suffers from a couple of basic flaws:

i) As Gordon Wenham has noted, “Laws generally set a floor for behaviour within society, they do not prescribe an ethical ceiling … the laws thus tend to express the limits of socially acceptable behaviour: they do not describe ideal behavior.”20
ii) Many Old Testament laws are also adapted to the socioeconomic conditions of the ANE (Ancient Near East). Critics can rail against “slavery” and “genocide” all they like, but these are ignorant, feel-good criticisms because they make no effort to consider the absence of concrete, practical alternatives in dealing with hostile, warrior cultures.

He says there’s no evidence for the Exodus or Conquest (p. 102). Here he commits several blunders:

i) The argument from silence is only compelling if we have reason to expect evidence. But evidence would only be preserved under certain conditions.21
ii) One must also make allowance for stock formulas and literary conventions in the genre of Conquest literature.22
iii) The Biblical phraseology is actually more qualified and localized than the critics allow for.23
iv) He disregards positive, corroborative evidence of the Exodus and Conquest.24

He parrots the musty canard about how Numbers 12:3 disproves Mosaic authorship. But aside from the fact that his English translation is dubious at this point,25 Hitchens fails to read the passage in context. Moses was not one to defend himself against calumny. He had a divine commission, and he left it to God to vindicate his servant’s commission. That’s the narrative function of 12:3, as well as the surrounding context. As a literary critic, Hitchens should be able to read a verse in context. But his animus blinds him to the narrative flow.

He thinks that the posthumous obituary in Deuteronomy 34 disproves Mosaic authorship (p. 105). But, of course, this editorial postscript is hardly news to conservative scholars and has no bearing on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch as a whole.26

He then says, “[T]he Pentateuch contains discrepant accounts of the Creation, two different genealogies of the seed of Adam, and two narratives of the Flood” (p. 106).

But the composite editing of the Flood account has been disproven on both internal and comparative literary grounds.27 Likewise, Genesis 1 and 2 form an intricately interwoven literary unit.28

Contradicting the “Contradictions”

In chapter eight, Hitchens goes after the New Testament: “Matthew and Luke cannot concur on the Virgin Birth or the genealogy of Jesus” (p. 111). But he doesn’t explain how they “cannot concur on the Virgin Birth.” As to their respective genealogies, a modern reader needs to make allowance for the fact that in a tribal society with such cultural conventions as endogamy29 and levirate marriage, kinship and descent were drawn more broadly than might be the case in our own time and place. So there’s more than one way to trace a family line.30

In addition, it should be clear from the stylized, numerological selection criteria employed both by Matthew and Luke that neither of them is attempting to include every link in the chain, but are skipping over various ancestors.31

Hitchens then says:

They flatly contradict each other on the “Flight into Egypt,” Matthew saying that Joseph was “warned in a dream” to make an immediate escape and Luke saying that all three stayed in Bethlehem until Mary’s purification … which would make it forty days, and then went back to Nazareth via Jerusalem. (p. 111)

Here the “contradiction” is generated, not by the synoptic gospels, but by popular iconography—in which both accounts are treated as simultaneous when, as a careful reading of both will disclose, only Luke gives us a nativity account, whereas the arrival of the Magi comes much later. Hitchens could have avoided this blunder by either reading the text more closely—not too much to ask of a literary critic—or by consulting a commentary or two.

Predictably, he trots out the old warhorse of the census under Quirinius (p. 112), as if that hasn’t been dealt with by numerous scholars.32

He then says,

The scribes … disagree wildly about the Sermon on the Mount, the anointing of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, and Peter’s haunting “denial.” Most astonishingly, they cannot converge on a common account of the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. (p. 112)

The ironic thing about this indictment is that Hitchens operates with the same rigid hermeneutic as Tim LaHaye. He makes no allowance for such literary conventions as selective reportage, thematic organization, and periphrastic quotations.33

After talking about the gnostic gospels, Hitchens claims that,

For a long time, there was incandescent debate over which of the “Gospels” should be regarded as divinely inspired … the frantic early church councils that decided which gospels were “synoptic” and which were “apocryphal.” (pp. 113, 117)

In fact, there was never any serious dispute over the four canonical gospels, while the late dating of the apocryphal gospels is sufficient of itself to render them pseudepigraphal.34 All these charges have been addressed and refuted in detail.35

Then you have Hitchens’s assertion that Jesus’s “illiterate living disciples left us no record” of his existence (p. 114). Does Hitchens imagine that first-century Palestinian Jews didn’t know how to read or write?36 On the basis of retroversion37 from Greek to Aramaic, Maurice Casey has argued that various synoptic speeches are direct transcriptions of Jesus’s words.38

Hitchens also disregards arguments for the traditional authorship of Matthew and John,39 as well as the likelihood that Mark, as a native of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), was a partial eyewitness. In addition, both Mark and Luke had access to eyewitnesses, including the apostles. We also have letters from Peter and John, as well as two of his siblings (James and Jude). Hitchens can, of course, deny all this, but where’s the supporting argument?

He tries to generate a contradiction between the Gospel of John and the synoptics by an argument from silence (p. 115)—a fallacious exercise. He goes on to assert that

“[t]he contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of ‘metaphor’ and ‘a Christian faith’” (p. 115).

This is a paradigm case of Hitchens’s self-reinforcing ignorance. One could compile a long list of moderate to conservative scholars who have defended the accuracy and historicity of the New Testament, viz. Paul Barnett, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Richard Bauckham, E. M. Blaiklock, Marcus Bockmuehl, F. F. Bruce, E. E. Ellis, Craig Evans, Donald Guthrie, Colin Hemer, Harold Hoehner, Martin Hengel, Craig Keener, Andreas Köstenberger, Bruce Metzger, Stanley Porter, Robert Stein, Ned Stonehouse, Graham Twelftree, Daniel Wallace, David Wenham, John Wenham, Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright, Edwin Yamauchi, etc.

Hitchens continues, “We know that the word translated as ‘virgin,’ namely alma, means only ‘a young woman.’ In any case, parthenogenesis is not possible for human mammals” (p. 115).

Needless to say, the linguistic objection is addressed in any conservative commentary on Isaiah (J. Alec Motyer, E. J. Young) or Matthew (Craig Blomberg, D. A. Carson, Leon Morris) or monograph on the virgin birth (J. Gresham Machen).40 Moreover, Hitchens misses the point: a virginal conception is not supposed to be naturally possible—that’s what makes it a sign from God.

Hitchens also cites “the imminence of his second coming and his complete indifference to the founding of any temporal church” as examples of hearsay tradition (p. 120).

But the question of imminence has been treated by many evangelical scholars. The New Testament carries over stock eschatological imagery from the Old Testament. This stock imagery is regularly recycled and reapplied to a variety of historical and/or end-time judgments. That’s what makes it “stock” imagery. And in the typology of Scripture, one event can foreshadow another.41 An earlier event can foreshadow a climactic event.

In addition, it’s lopsided to single out passages on the imminence of the Parousia at the expense of other passages on the uncertainty of the timing or apparent delay. This alternating language is, again, consistent with the parabolic nature of the imagery—which is not literally descriptive of the future.

Hitchens’s statement about the church is obviously false since Jesus specifically addresses the founding of the church (Matt. 16:18; cf. 18:17). And even if he didn’t, the existence of the church would be implicit on the concept of the new covenant community, which represents an extension and fulfillment of the old covenant community.

Hitchens also has some funny notions about textual criticism:

Overarching all this is the shocking fact that, as Ehrman concedes, the story [John 7:53–8:11] … was not originally part of the Gospel … One of Professor Barton Ehrman’s more astonishing findings is that the account of Jesus’s resurrection in the Gospel of Mark was only added many years later. (pp. 122, 142)42

Hitchens acts as though, if he discovers something for the first time, this is the first time anyone else ever heard of it. That the authenticity of Pericope Adulterae43 and the long ending of Mark is a matter of scholarly dispute would come as no revelation to anyone with the slightest degree of Biblical literacy.44

Denying the Miraculous

In chapter ten, he attacks the miraculous, claiming that “the age of miracles seems to lie somewhere in our past” (p. 140). But there are Christians who beg to differ.45

He attributes the Ascension to antiquated cosmology (p. 141). But Jesus didn’t ascend into the clouds, as if heaven is “up there” somewhere. Rather, he was enveloped by the Shekinah. The “cloud” is the theophanic cloud.46

Hitchens informs us that “the last word on the subject [of miracles] was written by the Scottish Philosopher David Hume” (p. 141). This is yet another paradigm case of self-reinforcing ignorance.47 There are even secular philosophers who think otherwise.48

Hitchens attempts to cancel out the testimony to the Resurrection by appealing to ufology49 (pp. 141–142, 144). But there are three problems with this move:

i) It’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why should we treat these reports as comparable?
ii) The existence of dubious eyewitness reports of extraordinary events no more undermines the general reliability of paranormal or supernatural reportage than the existence of dubious eyewitness reports of ordinary events undermine the general reliability of normal or natural reportage.
iii) If you study the subject, there’s an interesting connection between ufology and old hag syndrome. So “abductees” may have undergone a genuine “encounter,” but they are describing their “encounter” in categories supplied by science fiction, whereas the true identity of the presence is occultic in nature.

Hitchens then says that miracles don’t validate religious claims, citing Exodus 7–8 (p. 142). But there are two problems with that objection:

i) It is not a sufficient validation of religious claims, but it may still be probative by affording corroborative evidence.
ii) It would still invalidate secularism.

Hitchens thinks that Matthew 27:52–53 is chronologically incoherent (p. 143), but this has been discussed by various scholars.50

He appeals to spontaneous remission to discount miraculous healing (pp. 147–148). But this disregards two issues:

i) What about the timing of spontaneous remission in answer to prayer?
ii) How many cases attributed to spontaneous remission are, in fact, in answer to prayer?

Hitchens then claims that God should perform more spectacular miracles (p. 150). But this contradicts his appeal to Hume, for whom no reported miracle can ever overcome the presumption of uniformity. It also contradicts his claim that doctrine is underdetermined by the miraculous. So Hitchens is being duplicitous.

If He Doesn’t Like It, He Doesn’t Believe It

In chapter eleven he says that Adam was “loaded with impossible-to-obey prohibitions” (p. 156). How was it impossible to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit?

He indicates that the death sentence was false since Adam left a large posterity (p. 156). Here he misconstrues the Hebrew idiom.51

He also says that Adam is forbidden “to eat from one tree lest he die, and another lest he live forever” (p. 156). But this misreads the account. The timing of one prohibition is prelapsarian52 while the timing of the other is postlapsarian,53 and they are logically interrelated, since the later prohibition is a penalty for the prior infraction. A literary critic should be better at reading the text.

In chapter fifteen he calls Isaac a “boy” and says Abraham was “willing to murder an innocent in expiation of his own crimes” (p. 207). Isaac was not a “boy,” but a young man, and there’s nothing in the text to suggest that Abraham was attempting to expiate his own sin. Once more, a literary critic should be able to read a text.

Hitchens also objects to the principle of collective guilt (p. 209). But there’s nothing counterintuitive about the idea of moral transference. For example, I’ll do a favor for a friend of a friend. He isn’t my friend, but he’s a friend of my friend, so I’ll treat him as if he’s my friend. He did nothing to earn it. He gets the credit for what a second party did.

In chapter sixteen, Hitchens says the doctrine of hell amounts to child abuse. But there are several problems with this charge:

i) What he attacks is not the Biblical doctrine of hell, but a literary tradition (James Joyce).
ii) Why does he think that hell would be such a bad place to spend eternity? Wouldn’t he enjoy the company of his fellow infidels? All his favorite people live there, viz. Voltaire, Thomas Paine, George Orwell. A humanist should have more faith in humanity!
iii) Is he saying that children should be shielded from unpleasant truths? Is it child abuse to tell a kid that his dad died in a traffic accident?

In chapter seventeen Hitchens objects to predestination on the grounds that  “no good works or professions of faith can save one” from his fate (p. 133). But, of course, reprobate men have no good works or professions of faith. Hitchens doesn’t comprehend the system he is attacking.

In the same chapter, he says that humanism can correct itself, unlike “unalterable systems of belief” (p. 250). But there are two problems with this claim:

i) Correct itself in relation to what standard of morality?
ii) Even if you’re a relativist on paper, you’re an absolutist in practice, for a relativist must still make decisions, including public policy decisions. So there will still be winners and losers.

Hitchens also spends a lot of time attacking non-evangelical or non-Christian religions and cults. And he’s welcome to whack away. At this juncture a Calvinist would often agree with him, though not for all the same reasons. In addition, Hitchens devotes a lot of time to the question of whether unbelievers are less virtuous than believers. But this misses the point in several respects.54 As usual, Hitchens doesn’t acquaint himself with the opposing argument. And that’s the problem with his book as a whole. Ignorance of Christian theology. Ignorance of Christian apologetics. Even ignorance of secular philosophy. His entire case against the Christian faith illustrates the textbook fallacy of the argument ad ignorantiam.

1. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve [Hachette, Warner], 2007).

2. See;; and

3. See and

4. i.e., the maxim that the simplest explanation is the best explanation.

5. Ontology is the study of what there is, of what exists. Is reality monistic or dualistic? Is matter all there is? What about mind? To say there is only one substance may enjoy greater ontological simplicity, but it may also have more to explain. Cf.

6. cf. John Byl, God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), chap. 8; Richard Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1997); Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002), chaps. 4–5.

7. i.e., the dogma that God created the world without recourse to preexistent matter.

8. i.e., the measuring system we use to compare the duration of temporal intervals.

9. Chronology is a value-laden exercise, for chronology involves the measurement of time, which—in turn—involves the philosophy of time. Does the system by which we measure relative duration correspond to objective intervals in time? Is one interval longer or shorter than another? That’s the philosophical question. And this question may be undecidable. Cf.

10. Later in the book he appeals to Tiktaalik and Archaeopteryx as transitional species (pp. 281–282). This would be more impressive if he bothered to interact with the counterarguments: see and

11. Hitchens also has boundless faith in physics, even though contemporary physics is in a state of crisis. Cf. Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006); Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

12. i.e., regions of the earth or outer space hostile to the existence of life.

13. A synonym for the argument from design, which infers the existence of God from purposive features of the universe.

14. See and

15. In this same connection he appeals to common DNA to prove common descent. But if God wanted to make one organism that was like another in some respect, wouldn’t the organisms have to share similar DNA at that respect?

16. i.e., a zoological classification scheme.

17. See and

18. Microevolution generally has reference to adaptive, subspecific variants. Selective breeding is a case in point. By contrast, macroevolution is the theory according to which the origin and diversity of life can be accounted for by incremental change and natural mechanisms, involving descent from common ancestors.

19. See

20. Gordon Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 80.

21. cf. Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2003), chap. 6.

22. cf. K. Lawson Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990).

23. cf. Richard Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996); Robert Hubbard, “Ai,” Bill Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 22b.

24. cf. John Currid, Exodus (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000–2001); Richard Hess, Joshua; James Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament; Douglas Stuart, Exodus (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006).

25. “Perhaps ‘more tolerant’ or ‘more long-suffering’ would express the sense of the MT [Masoretic Text] better,” R. K. Harrison, Numbers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), 195.

26. cf. Oswald Allis, The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1972), 284; Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 276; John Currid, Deuteronomy (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 533.

27. cf. Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 125–127; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 156–158, 168–169.

28. cf. Duane Garrett, Rethinking Genesis (Fearn: Mentor, 2000), 193–197. What Hitchens could mean by two different genealogies from Adam I can’t say, since he doesn’t say. Is he alluding to the divergent lines of Cain and Seth? But there’s nothing contradictory about that or suggestive of independent sources.

29. i.e., marriage within one’s own clan.

30. cf. Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2004), 34–40.

31. Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), chap. 7; W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 1:163–165; Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 75–77; John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 84–87.

32. cf. Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), 97–99; C. E. B. Cranfield, “Some Reflections on the Virgin Birth,” On Romans and Other New Testament Essays (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 157–158; Ernest Martin, The Star That Astonished the World (Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1991), chap. 11.

33. New Testament writers frequently paraphrase the material they quote. Cf. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1987; second edition forthcoming), chap. 4.

34. i.e., forgeries that claim to be written by an apostle or other suchlike.

35. Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2006); E. E. Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (Boston: Brill Academic, 2002); Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006); Michael Green, The Books the Church Suppressed: Fiction and Truth in The Da Vinci Code (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005); J. Ed. Komoszewski et al. Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006); Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2000); N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).

36. Alan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (New York University Press, 2000); “Zechariah Wrote (Luke 1:63),” P. J. Williams et al., eds., The New Testament in Its First Century Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 47–55.

37. i.e., a back translation that reconstructs the original text from a translation.

38. “The date of such material is likely to be very early indeed. There is no reason why the accounts from the ministry should not have been written down by eyewitnesses shortly after the events occurred … a date c. 40 C.E. [for Mark] must be regarded as highly probable,” Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 259–260; “It was possible to demonstrate that this [Matt. 23:23–36/Luke 11:39–51] was a very old source, containing authentic material from the historic ministry of Jesus,” Casey, An Aramaic Approach to Q (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 186.

39. cf. D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).

40. To make a few quick points: (i) whether alma has the precise sense of “virgin” is pedantic; Isaiah didn’t invent the Hebrew language. To express his point he chooses a preexisting word whose semantic range most closely approximates the sense he wishes to convey; (ii) beyond the meaning of the word are the cultural assumptions with respect to single Jewish females of marital age; (iii) we also need to distinguish between sense and reference: if even alma didn’t mean “virgin,” it could still denote a virgin; (iv) Matthew is using the LXX. The Septuagintal rendering bears witness to the pre-Christian Jewish understanding of the passage; (v) there is more to the overall sense of the oracle than the isolated import of alma, for we must also consider the import of the alma as a “sign” in Isaian usage and the evidentiary function of this sign. In context, this is a divine portent and prodigy—something out of the ordinary. As a literary critic, Hitchens should be attentive to all these nuances.

41. e.g., R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, 2002), 500–503,530–531.

42. Bart Ehrman is a militant apostate whose polemical potboilers have been subjected to scathing reviews by other scholars.

43. i.e., the story of literary unit comprising John 7:53–8:11 in the Textus Receptus.

44. The immediate point at issue is not whether you favor the eclectic text over the majority text, or vice versa. The point, rather, is that Hitchens wasn’t even aware of the debate, although any modern edition of the Bible will either bracket these passages or include a footnote on the textual variants. Apparently, Hitchens has only read an unannotated edition of the KJV.

45. e.g., see

46. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 104; John Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 210.

47. See;;;;;; and

48. cf. John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

49. Often regarded as a pseudoscience or secular cult concerned with the identification of unidentified flying objects and alleged alien contacts with planet earth or earthlings.

50. e.g., Craig Blomberg, Matthew (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 421.

51. cf. Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990; 1991 printing), 172–174.

52. i.e., before the Fall.

53. i.e., after the Fall.

54. Briefly put: (i) the question at issue is not whether unbelievers are virtuous, but why they should be virtuous. How does their secular outlook underwrite or warrant moral norms? (ii) Christian theology doesn’t deny that many unbelievers many be better than their creed. To the contrary, common grace implies that very phenomenon; (iii) ironically, virtuous unbelievers are generally virtuous to the degree that the social conditioning of a Christian culture makes them more virtuous than they would otherwise be if left to their own devices. When they deny the faith and appeal to their own virtue, they deny the very thing that restrains them; (iv) self-consciously consistent unbelievers are immoral. Cf. E. Michael Jones, Degenerate Moderns (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993); Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: Harper & Row, 1990).

  • Stephen Hays

Stephen Hays doubled-majored in history and classics at Seattle Pacific University and is currently both a student and teacher's assistant at Reformed Theological Seminary. He resides in Charleston, SC.

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