Do Gentiles have to obey the Law?

The Bible says God requires his chosen people, the Jews, to obey the laws he gave them. But what about people who aren’t Jewish? Do Gentiles need to obey God’s laws too?

Yes.

When the kingdom of Israel was overthrown, the Israelites were deported to Assyria. Then people from other nations came to live in their land. But God didn’t like how those foreigners didn’t do what he required. So he started sending in lions to kill them. Then the king of Assyria had to send an Israelite priest back there to teach the new inhabitants what God required them to do.

Ezra praised God for giving the king of Persia the idea to severely punish (sometimes with death) anyone in his kingdom (not just Jews) who didn’t obey God’s Law.

Paul required Timothy, who had a Gentile father, to be circumcised before he could go anywhere with him. Paul said Jesus wanted him to call all the Gentiles to obedience. He said God judges and punishes everyone the same way, regardless of whether they’re Jews or Gentiles. And the way he judges them upholds the Law, rather than nullifying it. Paul told his Gentile followers to put someone to death for breaking one of the Jewish sex laws. He did not think it was okay for Gentile Christians to do whatever they wanted.

No.

God’s Law itself says Jews can give Gentiles things to eat that would be forbidden for the Jews themselves to eat.

The apostles declared that Gentile Christians should not be required to keep the law of Moses, which even the Jews had been unable to fully obey. They rejected the idea that people could only be saved if they were circumcised. They said anyone could be saved by the grace of God.

Paul took this further and said that all believers, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles, could be saved by grace and by faith apart from the Law. He said no one can be justified or saved by keeping the Law, since everyone inevitably sins. Paul didn’t think Gentiles should be forced to follow Jewish customs. And he didn’t require his Gentile companions to be circumcised.

Paul said anyone who relied on the Law was cursed, and could not be justified before God. He taught his Gentile followers that they were not under the law, because Jesus had set aside the Law and set them free from that curse. Paul’s followers tried to follow the law anyway, which he thought was foolish. He said there would have been no point in Jesus dying if following the Law was what people needed to do to be saved.

According to Paul, even if the Gentiles were under the Law, it would kill them, and then dying would release them from the Law. If Paul’s claims are true, it’s impossible for anyone to remain under the Law!

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The Story of the Levite’s Concubine
The Most Pointlessly Evil Story in the Bible

A Levite man’s girlfriend broke up with him and went back to live with her parents. But then he followed her to her parents’ house and took her back. On the way back to the man’s home, they stopped for the night in Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin, and stayed in an old man’s house.

Some of the Benjamite men from that city came and surrounded the house. They told the old man to send the Levite man out so they could have sex with him. The old man said he couldn’t let them have sex with his guest, because that would be outrageous and vile. So he offered to let them rape his daughter and his guest’s girlfriend instead.

The Levite man thought that was a good idea, so he sent his girlfriend outside. The men of Gibeah spent the whole night gang-raping her to death. Then the man went home, and he chopped up his girlfriend into a dozen pieces and had them distributed all over the country.

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The Most Pointlessly Evil Story in the Bible
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Did Jesus drink from the fruit of the vine between the last supper and the second coming?

During the last supper, Jesus was drinking wine. Then he told his disciples that he would not drink from the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of God came.1

Later, before he was crucified, Jesus was offered some wine, and he refused it, as you would expect after what he had said. But then when he was about to die on the cross, he was offered some wine vinegar (which is made from grapes, the fruit of the vine), and he accepted that drink.

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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages

This is the second in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible. This time, I’ll be looking at passages that aren’t saying exactly the same thing as other passages, but are still awfully similar.

Why does the Bible have so many strangely similar stories? In some cases, it’s because the writers had this weird idea that history systematically repeats itself. So if they didn’t know enough about the life of Jesus or whoever they were writing about, they figured they could just look at stories about similar people in the earlier scriptures, and assume Jesus must have done the same things.

In both of the first two chapters of Job, Satan goes to see God along with the angels, God asks him where he’s been, Satan says he’s been roaming the earth, God asks him what he thinks of righteous Job, Satan says Job’s love of God is not unconditional, he tells God what he would have to do to get Job to curse God, God agrees to let Satan do that to Job, and Satan goes off to do it.

There are three different stories in Genesis where a man claims his wife is his sister so no one will kill him over her, then a king tries to take her for himself, and when the king finds out he’s being tricked into doing something wrong, he doesn’t get angry and punish anyone for some reason, but just lets the couple go on their way. This supposedly happened to Abraham twice, and then also to his son Isaac.

The books of Genesis and Judges both have stories where a mob surrounds a man’s house and tries to get him to let them rape his male guest(s), and the man doesn’t think that would be right, so he offers to let them rape his daughter(s) instead.

The Bible says Abraham and Isaac both had disputes over the ownership of wells in Gerar. Wives for Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all found at wells. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had wives who were infertile at first, until God intervened. Abraham and Jacob both used a workaround where they had children with their wives’ servants.

In Genesis 28, God appears to Jacob and tells him he will have a huge number of descendants who will inherit the land he’s in. Jacob sets up a stone pillar, pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel. Then in Genesis 35, all that happens again. In Genesis 32, God gives Jacob a new name and claims that Jacob won’t be called Jacob anymore. Then three chapters later, he does it again.

Once in Genesis and twice in Daniel, a king has a troubling, cryptic dream about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the dream with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land. Then after this has already happened twice in Daniel, in the next chapter of Daniel, a king has a troubling vision of a hand writing cryptic messages about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the writing with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land.

In Genesis, Jacob pronounces blessings on each of his sons, and in Deuteronomy, Moses pronounces blessings on each of the tribes descended from Jacob’s sons.

Post-exodus parallels

Moses’s father-in-law praised God, who rescued Moses from the hand of the Egyptians, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.

In both Exodus and Numbers, there’s a story where God gets angry at his people for idolatry and wants to kill them all, some Levites help him kill some Israelites, and God rewards all the murderers’ descendants with a special status.

God had both Moses and Elijah stand in a certain place so he could show himself to them. It happened to Elijah after God asked him what he was doing there in a cave. Elijah explained his situation, and God told him to go out and stand where God was about to appear. After three similar sentences about where the omnipresent God wasn’t present, Elijah went where God was. God asked him what he was doing there at the mouth of the cave, as if he wasn’t the one who had just told him to go there, and Elijah explained his situation to God again. And then God told Elijah to go somewhere else.

Exodus 40 says “as the Lord commanded him” eight times after describing what part of the Tabernacle Moses was working on. Leviticus, 1 Samuel, and 2 Chronicles all have stories where God decides to punish people for making offerings to him.

Each of the first two chapters of Numbers has a long list of tribal leaders. Numbers 7 repeats 12 times in a row almost exactly the same description of an offering a leader brought. The only difference is what day it was, who brought the offering, and what tribe he was from. Then it repeats the same description of what they all brought yet again.

The daughters of Zelophehad asked Moses how the law should be applied to their unusual situation, and Moses consulted God and gave them an answer. But apparently God didn’t think of everything, because nine chapters later they had to come back and ask for further clarification.

The books of Joshua and 2 Samuel both have stories where a woman hides two spies from the men sent by the king who the spies’ boss is plotting to overthrow.

A later passage in Joshua gives monotonous descriptions of what Joshua did to the nations that lived in the land the Israelites wanted. Later, in Judges 2, God decides he’s not going to help them drive out the nations anymore, which is strange because earlier in the same chapter he mentions that he had already decided that. (Referring to what he said back here in Joshua, perhaps?)

When 1 Chronicles describes the territory the Kohathites got, it says something like “From the tribe of [tribe] they received [towns] together with their pasturelands” nine times.

Post-settlement parallels

Judges has two different stories where the Ephraimites get excessively offended because somebody didn’t ask them for help fighting his enemies. In another story in Judges, a man keeps repeatedly persuading his visiting son-in-law to stay a little longer, which goes on for several days.

The Bible describes Samuel and Jesus growing up in pretty much the same way. As a child, Samuel heard someone calling him at night, went and said “Here I am, you called me,” and was told to go back to bed, and then all that happened two more times before anyone figured out what was going on.

When Saul and David were enemies, someone pointed out that Saul was vulnerable, but David refused to harm him. He just stole something from Saul, and showed it to him to prove that he wasn’t trying to kill him. And Saul decided to stop trying to kill David. Then two chapters later, the same thing happened again.

When describing how some people were assigned duties, 1 Chronicles says “The [Nth] (lot fell) to [Name], his sons and relatives: 12” 24 times. There are more efficient ways they could have expressed that. Then two chapters later, when it’s listing some people who served David, it says “In charge of the [Nth] division for the [Nth] month was the commander [Name]. There were 24,000 men in his division” 12 times.

1 Kings and 2 Chronicles both conclude the story of Solomon in the same way, except the books they tell you to refer to for more information are different. Same with Rehoboam, and Abijah.

Post-split parallels

Two consecutive kings of Judah are introduced by saying they became king during the reign of Jeroboam of Israel and were descended from a woman named Maakah. Meanwhile, Jeroboam and one of his successors are both told by prophets that God chose them when they were commoners and made them kings, but since God’s chosen kings didn’t turn out to be good ones, God is now going to slaughter their whole families.

Elijah and Elisha both did the same kind of food-multiplying miracles to help poor widows, and they both brought a dead boy back to life in the same weird way. Elisha also did the same kind of food-multiplying miracle to feed a crowd that Jesus did twice.

In both First and Second Kings, there are stories where Jehoshaphat the good king of Judah is strangely willing to be an ally to one of the evil kings of Israel, but he insists that the evil king find a prophet of God to consult. In between those two events, another evil king of Israel sends a captain with 50 men to summon another prophet of God, but the prophet gets God to kill all those men with fire, just because he can. Then that happens again, and then it almost happens again.

Three times, Elijah told his apprentice Elisha to stay where he was, and Elisha refused to leave him. And the first two of those times, some other prophets asked the annoyed Elisha if he knew that God was about to take Elijah away from him.

Mass-murdering maniac Jehu somehow repeatedly convinced his enemy’s messengers to join him, while accusing his enemy of not being peaceful enough.

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent a message to the people of Judah saying they shouldn’t depend on their God to save them, because no other nation’s gods had ever saved them from Assyria. Then in the next chapter, he sent a message to the king of Judah saying the same thing. (And this same repetitive story that was told in 2 Kings is later told again, in Isaiah.)

Later, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new king over those who were left. Then in the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided and destroyed the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new governor over those who were left. (This is after the king of Assyria besieged and captured the capital of Israel, took the king prisoner, and took the people into exile.)

Post-exile parallels

In both the third and the sixth chapter of Daniel, Jewish exiles living in Babylon refuse to obey the king’s decree for religious reasons, and are sentenced to death, but then saved by an angel.

In the first six chapters of Ezra, Cyrus king of Persia sends some exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, which they manage despite opposition. Then in the first six chapters of Nehemiah, Artaxerxes king of Persia sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, which he and his people manage despite opposition. Nehemiah 3 describes the people rebuilding the wall pretty repetitively: Next to him, half-district, made repairs, near his house, bolts and bars, blah blah blah. Ezra and Nehemiah also both got really mad at their people for intermarrying with other nations.

Luke and John both have stories where Jesus makes Simon Peter’s fishing efforts successful. Apparently those are supposed to be two different events, since Lukes’s story is when Jesus first met Peter, and John’s story is after the resurrection.

Jesus told two parables back-to-back that were about basically the same thing: Somebody sells everything he owns so he can buy something even more valuable that he just found.1

When Jesus went to see Lazarus’s family after knowingly delaying his visit long enough for his friend Lazarus to die, Lazarus’s sister Martha told him Lazarus wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there. Then Lazarus’s sister Mary said the same thing.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages
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Who is God’s firstborn?

Of all God’s children, who is the firstborn? Paul says Jesus is God’s firstborn, having been there before he made anything else. But the gospel of John suggests that Jesus wasn’t created in the beginning, much less born. He was just always there. So the only way Jesus could be God’s firstborn would be if God had no other children before Jesus was actually born, 2000 years ago.

Is that really the case? The Bible says it’s not. Instead, it calls David God’s firstborn.

God also says Ephraim is his firstborn son, and Ephraim was born long before David. But wait, that same verse also says God is Israel’s father. And Israel was Ephraim’s grandfather. So Israel must be a son of God who was born before Ephraim, right?

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The Story of Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The Stupidest Story in the Bible

The people of Israel angered their God again by serving other gods. So God let the Ammonites take over Israel, and he said he would never save his people again. But his people insisted on being saved, so the never-changing God, who never listens to sinners, changed his mind and appointed a new judge to save Israel: Jephthah, the leader of a gang of scoundrels.

Jephthah asked the Ammonite king why he was attacking Israel. The king explained that the Israelites had stolen the Ammonites’ land, and the Ammonites wanted it back. Jephthah was like, that never happened, what would you know about that? The king ignored him.

So Jephthah went to attack the Ammonites, which God had forbidden the Israelites to do. He promised that if God helped him disobey God in this way, he would give God whatever met him at the door when he came home, as a burnt offering. The all-knowing God knew what would happen if he did this, but he wanted that burnt offering. So he helped Jephthah destroy twenty Ammonite towns, and he didn’t warn Jephthah’s family to stay indoors.

Continue reading The Story of Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The Stupidest Story in the Bible
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Will all the mountains be removed when the heavens recede?

In the book of Revelation, the author has a vision of the future where the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain is “removed from its place“. Then the next thing he sees is everyone hiding in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. How can they do that if the mountains aren’t there anymore?

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False prophets in the Bible

The Bible expects you to take the words of God’s prophets very seriously, because they speak for God. It doesn’t approve of all prophets, though, and it’s equally adamant that some prophets should be ignored. But even false prophets can do miracles and stuff. So how can you tell who the real prophets are?

The Bible provides a few different ways to tell which prophets you shouldn’t listen to. And it encourages us to test prophecies and reject every kind of evil. So let’s see how many of the prophets in the Bible are not actually true prophets of God, according to the Bible’s own criteria.

Some of the Bible’s prophet tests are not so useful: It suggests that if a prophet doesn’t acknowledge Jesus, his prophecies are not coming from God. But most of the prophets in the Bible lived before Jesus, so can we really expect them to acknowledge him? Well, we are talking about prophets, so maybe we should expect that of them. But still, there’s no way to know for sure that a prophet didn’t ever acknowledge Jesus. Maybe they did, but the Bible just doesn’t mention it. So that test isn’t going to be useful for evaluating prophets of the past. But don’t worry, the Bible has other methods we can use to spot false prophets.

Prophets the Bible specifically calls false

The most obvious way to tell that someone is a false prophet according to the Bible is when the Bible specifically says so:

Now that you have a good idea of what the God of the Bible thinks of false prophets, let’s see who else God’s law says should have been treated the same way…

Prophets of other gods

The Bible says if a prophet tells you to worship other gods, God did send that prophet… but he has to be executed anyway. So does anyone who claims to speak for other gods. That means these people should have been killed and not listened to:

  • Aaron was “Moses’s prophet“, but he made idols and encouraged the people to worship them.1
  • Balaam got the Israelites to worship the gods of Moab.2
  • Micah’s priest, who was also a prophet, served a guy who made his own household gods. And then when some other people convinced him to go with them and be their priest instead, he took those idols with him, so those people could worship them too.
  • The prophets of Asherah were brought along with the prophets of Baal when Elijah challenged them to prove that their gods were real. But for some reason it doesn’t say what the outcome was for the prophets of Asherah. If they had failed as well, you’d think the author would have been eager to report it… But even if their gods were real, the Bible still says prophets who speak in the name of other gods have to be killed.

Prophets who made false predictions

There are a ton of false predictions in the Bible, so that’s another easy way to spot false prophets. The Bible says if what a prophet predicts turns out to be false, God has not actually sent that prophet or spoken through him, and that false prophet must be killed. That makes all these people false prophets:

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Does God listen to sinners?

No.

We all know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but only to godly people who do his will. That’s what a man said in the gospel of John, when he was defending Jesus against the Pharisees.

There are several passages in the Old Testament that agree with that statement. A psalmist wrote that if he had cherished sin, God wouldn’t have listened to him. Solomon said God hears the prayers of the righteous, but is far from the wicked. He also said that if anyone ignored his moral instruction, their prayers would be detestable. When God’s people sinned, their prayers just made him angry, and he wouldn’t listen to them. He covered himself with a prayer-proof cloud!

If you half-heartedly engage in religious rituals, but your behavior isn’t actually good, you can’t expect God to hear you, because your sins separate you from God and hide his face from you. If you don’t listen when God calls, God won’t listen when you call. God doesn’t even want to let wicked people ask him anything in the first place.

Even just being related to a sinner was enough to keep Saul from getting an answer from God. God pretty much never listens to people at all, so of course he doesn’t listen to sinners. Or is it that he always listens to everyone, so he does of course listen to sinners…?

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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 1

In the beginning, God said: Let there be lights in the vault of the sky… and let them be lights in the vault of the sky. God created us in his image, and in his image he created us. And that’s the story of the heavens and earth when they were created, when God created the earth and heavens.

That sounded awfully unnecessarily repetitive, didn’t it? Well, that’s pretty much how those parts, and a whole lot more, are written in the Bible. Unnecessarily repetitively. Imagine how much shorter the Bible would be without all that pointless repetition…

After God is done talking to Job, he speaks to the people who have been claiming that God is just, and he tells them that unlike Job, they have not spoken the truth about him. Then he says the same thing again.

The Bible says Ephron the Hittite sold Abraham a field with a cave in Machpelah near Mamre, and then Abraham buried his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. And then it says Abraham bought the field and the cave. For the purpose of burial. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, which was the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre that Abraham had bought with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite and buried his wife. Then he says the field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.

It tells you that the master of the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt was the king of Egypt. It says he put those two people, who were the cupbearer and baker, in custody. And then it tells you what happened to each of those two people (who were the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt, who were in prison) after they had been in custody.

God says he’s seen how the Egyptians are treating the Israelites, and he has heard their cry. And then he says it again. God tells Moses he’s the Lord, and to tell the Israelites that he’s the Lord, and that he’ll free them from Egypt. Because then they’ll know that he’s the Lord, who freed them from Egypt. Also, he’s the Lord. (And that’s just in one chapter; there’s plenty more of the same later.)

When a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle, Moses couldn’t enter the tabernacle because a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. It says Moses sprinkled some oil and blood on Aaron and his garments, and on Aaron’s sons and their garments. And that’s how he consecrated Aaron, and his sons, and their garments.

Near the end of Leviticus, the Lord decides he needs to tell everybody that he’s the Lord a couple more times. When some Israelites were challenging Moses’s authority, Moses said God would have whoever really belonged to him come near him, and the man he chose he would cause to come near him.

When the priests and soldiers were marching around Jericho for seven days, it says on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times, the same way they had on the previous days, except this time they circled the city seven times. Then when Israel attacked the city of Ai, it says they left no survivors or fugitives. That’s redundant, because in that situation anyone who was one of those things would also have to be the other.

Post-settlement stories

In a story in Judges, six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate, and five men went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the household gods that somebody had in his house, while the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.

The story of Ruth begins by telling us about a man from Bethlehem in Judah who took his family to live in Moab. Then it mentions that they were from Bethlehem, Judah, and that they went to Moab, and lived there. Later, it says that man’s wife had a relative from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And then it says the wife’s daughter-in-law went to work in the fields of Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

David told Jonathan that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast. Then after they discussed what they would do tomorrow, Jonathan told David that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast.

After Jonathan died, David asked if there were any relatives left for him to show kindness to. Whoever he was talking to summoned a servant, and then David asked the servant the exact same question. Was it really necessary for the story to include that first part, where he doesn’t get an answer? The servant then tells David about Jonathan’s son, and mentions that the son is lame in both feet. Ten verses later, the narration mentions that Jonathan’s son was lame in both feet.

Rehoboam was advised to be a servant to his people and serve them, so that they would always be his servants. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.

When the king of Assyria removed the Israelites from their land and replaced them with foreigners, he was told that the people didn’t know what the god of that country required. And he was told that that god had sent lions after them, because the people didn’t know what the god of that country required.

When the king of Babylon removed the people of Judah from their land, he carried off all the fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans. He also deported the entire force of fighting men, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.

Jesus (who was God, who was all-knowing) informed God that his disciples were “not of the world” any more than he was, and then he said it again, in case he hadn’t heard himself. According to John, when Judas came to betray Jesus, Jesus betrayed himself instead. And then when nobody arrested him, he did it again. Three times in a row, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, Peter said he did, and Jesus told him to feed his sheep.

In three different chapters in the book of Acts, Peter tells people that when God sent Jesus to them, they had him killed, and then God brought him back to life.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 1
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