First off, I’m loving Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Understanding the Old Testament God.
Second off, I disagree with one of his major premises. In short, if you’ve read my book Backwards, I believe the Torah (the ‘law of Moses’) is still applicable to God’s people. So I do believe in keeping kosher, rest on the Sabbath, etc. Paul Copan is my fellow brother in Messiah, but believes the opposite.
How do I love a book with that kind of obstacle? Well, it’s gotta be a God thing, but through Copan’s writing my faith in God as the wise/loving/authoritative giver of the Torah is being strengthened. I first realized what was happening was when I was reading the chapter on uncleanness. Yeah, I know, a lot of people are like, “Ooh, a bunch of ‘ubiquitious weirdness’.” But even those God said were for our good and because of His character. My basic view is that since these are for our good, there must be a health benefit. And I can show that fairly easily. Scientific men of medicine used to examine corpses in one room and then go and deliver babies in the next, resulting in an elevated infant mortality rate. This was conventional medical practice at the time, but God said that touching the dead left you unclean until you had washed and a period of time had passed. Well, washing followed by a period of open air and sunlight will kill the germs which doctors were ignorant of until relatively recently. That is just one example of how God’s commandments regarding clean and uncleaness can be shown to have health benefits. Not having intercourse during a woman’s period could be another because women are more vulnerable to infection at that time.
However, Copan does not look at it from this perspective. If the Torah were for tangible physical benefit then it would make no sense for God to undo it at Yeshua’s death and ressurection. Since Copan rejects the Torah, he must also reject its health benefits even though the evidence from hygiene to the benefit of resting one day in seven can be substantiated. But I love my brother just the same.
What I especially appreciate though, is that he showing me the limits of my own doctrine. As a person who believes some ‘tangible’ benefit is primarily in view (as opposed to a simply spiritual benefit), Copan makes a point to me. If God for example forbid eating pig and shellfish because of their negative health benefits (which again, can not be nutritionally suggested), then why didn’t God also declare poisonous plants unclean? Why not forbid bleeding which would come into vogue later? Why not the danger of certain metals like mercury or uranium?
Questions like this lead Copan to conclude that the commandments were primarily pictures. Don’t mix fabrics, don’t mix seed, etc, were reminders to God’s people that they were set apart. Uncleanness seems to always have to do with some link to death. I.e., the most obviously unclean animals (specifically named) are predators or omnivours, meaning they might eat blood which God had forbidden God’s people to eat. Blood was often a symbol for death, especially violent death. The woman’s menstral blood is released because the egg has died, a potential human life is gone. The man’s emission is a part of life going out of him, again symbolizing nearness to death.
Well, God’s ways are ways of life so ways of death are incongruent (I found that especially interesting, considering the widespread popularity of vampires, zombies, and death-memorabilia). The high priest for example could not attend funerals. He could not have any defect; he had to be physically perfect. Not that the handicapped were in some ways inferior (God even commands not oppressing the handicapped), or that any of those processes were morally deficient (bleeding, having sex, having a baby, dying, mourning the dead, were all amoral), but the priest was a picture of nearness to God. The nearer to God the closer to full life and the farther from death. So Copan makes the spectrum: Holiness > cleaness > uncleaness > death.
You have to read it for yourself, but that completely clicked for me. Of course! But contrary to Copan’s position I found this strengthened my faith in the blessing of Torah. Yes, these are clearly symbolic of the fact that closer to God is farther from death because God is the source of all life. However, wouldn’t that symbolism be all the stronger if the objects of symbology had in the physical the same traits? I mean if a person bleeds long enough they will actually die, right? If a person were physically perfect they will continue to live (naturally speaking), right? Even age only kills you because you develop defects. So the fact that uncleaness is a symbol of nearness to spiritual death and also a state of nearness to physical death does not seem to be coincidental.
The absence of poisonous plants and radioactive material then could be because there are a lot of things that could be symbols for spiritual death. Being underwater could be a symbol for it (and ding ding baptism, there you go again). So if the Torah had to make a symbol of spiritual death out of every thing that was also nearness to physical death then it would be too long to even study, and in the time it took to do so you would be . . . physically dead!
One more thing before we switch gears, the natural presence of uncleanness is a beautiful picture. The message to the Israelite, Copan explains, is that there was a gap in holiness between us and God. Reinforcing that our fallen nature leads away from God to death. Sure that’s true, but not particularly beautiful is it? God wants you to remember your scum? No, remember being unclean was not a sin. In fact it could be because of righteousness (burying a mother or father), but it still left us unclean which symbolizes two things. First because of the gap in our holiness, it is not possible for us to reach up to God’s holiness, therefore God must reach down. God accepts us even in our uncleaness.
But stop and think about the idea of some of those things that cause uncleanness. Burying a loved one (good); having sex (very good); having a baby (very very good). Is that message saying that sometimes in the pursuit of life we have to break the boundary of holiness?
I say that carefully, but think about what Yeshua did? The God of gods left His place where angels cry 24-7-365 “Holy, Holy, Holy” and became a human. Born helpless and unclean, why? To reach His people and to change them and to bring them back to a place of holiness. God in a sense became unclean to give birth to many sons and daughters.
What Copan has done for me, rather than take away the here-now benefit of Torah is to point out that it really is also a spiritual work, not that the two are opposed. But physical health is unimportant without spiritual health. And that has been the message since the Garden of Eden when God removed man from the Garden to prevent him living forever as a fallen man.
Moving on, I’m fascinated by some of Copan’s insights on women. I was raised complimentarian (woman and men have different roles that compliment each other). I still am, but only semantically (men and women really are different so it only makes sense that God had different functions in mind). But I disagree with the common application. Usually it seems to be a bunch of taking Peter and Paul to make restrictive doctrines around women that don’t appear likewise in the Torah. For example, submission as “yes, sir, no sir,” is no where in the Torah. But being a helping-equal is submission in the sense of helping the man to achieve the mission that God gave (not his own whim) is consistent from the beginning to the end even when it means ‘disobeying/dishonoring’ the man to do it (see Abigail, Hadassah/Esther, Jael, Miriam/Mary).
I gave up the harsher view actually because of Torah. I simply could not find the view of submission I was taught in the Torah. In fact, I found differentiated and submissive role in some circumstances, but also a very potent and dynamic view of women who did lead and did think for themselves. And that can be traced back to the beginning. Eve was taken from the side, not the feet or the head. The first idea of men ruling over women came from the curse not a commandment.
Now what were God’s curses? Curses seem very un-godly. Like God has just had it and wants to lash out. But that type of curse kind of makes for a weak god. Moses seemed to think so. Talking to God about not destroying Israel, he argues if you destroy your people the heathen will say its because you couldn’t bring them into the land. God agrees with this argument. So if it’s not because God can’t do something that He curses, why does He do it?
I think a little study and you’ll find three things.
1) God never backs down from his original goal; never ‘gives up’ on what can be done.
2) Punishment is related to the crime. Usually you are punished by someone else doing the same bad thing to you.
3) The punishment is designed to bring you back to righteousness.
So when I look at the curses, I find (even if I can’t quite get it) that they are fallout from the choice and also created to turn back what went wrong inside. For example, man did not properly tend the garden (follow his God given mission) when he failed to intervene between the serpent and his wife, or even if he could not stop it he could have led by not participating. Suppose he hadn’t, would God have asked unfallen Adam to do what he asked the second Adam to do? Die for his beloved and trust God? But he failed to lead in the vision God gave him, so God curses his work. “You don’t want to do the good work I’ve given you? Fine, everything you do of yourself will be back breaking and futile.” The lesson? Turn back to me, do my work. I mean really, every man struggles with the thorns in his life, but Moses with God splits a sea? Elijah with God calls down fire from Heaven? A little boy with God takes out a giant that thousands were terrified by?
Woman? She fails to be a helpmate, and to trust God, and is deceived. “Ok, you don’t want to follow My lead? Ok, I’ll put man over you.” That happens naturally (as does sorrow increased in childhood because fear (distrust) increases pain as the body works against itself). Men learn their wives are not always on their side. Sometimes they undermine. Being physically stronger, man learns to dominate. Thus, woman’s failure results in the conditions of the curse which should lead her back to trusting God and being a helpmate.
But the point of all of it is to return to the ideal. God never gave up on Eden, we just took a man-made detour. Man ruling over woman is not the created state it is a product of rejecting God. Anyway, if each new thing is to bring us back to Eden. Then I look at the Torah and Copan points out something I’d never noticed. The original promise before the golden-calf and 40 years of faithlessness (warning, apparently we did not learn from Adam and Eve?), was not the Aaronic priesthood. It was a nation of priests. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did God say a nation of male priests?
Flashback to Eve. Yes, Adam was first and Eve was to help him (in a God given mission), but didn’t both Adam and Eve walk with God? God talked with Adam before Eve was created, but was there anything to suggest that Eve also in the image of God did not relate directly to God? So then wouldn’t it be natural, when God says a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:6) that women would also be included?
But in God’s “extended remarks” God does take the levites in place of the first born to care for the tabernacle, and Aaron and his sons are selected for the first priests. This line is assured when one of his sons acts zealously for God to keep Israel from sinning (he stood in the gap).
Copan proposes that women were not included initially because women were commonly used in pagan temple rituals as prostitute-proxies for having sex with gods. By not including women at first, He set a distinction that that was not going to be done in His worship. However, God only seals the priesthood with Aaron’s sons after the Phinehas incident. What would have happened if a woman had intervened instead? Someone might say women were culturally disadvantaged because while God had been preparing a people, the women would have been surrounded by the example of the pagans where women had no rights, so how could God have expected them to step up? That didn’t stop Sarah from standing up to Abraham did it? Rebekah? Tamar? The Midwives? Clearly, God’s women still showed ‘spirit’. Miriam was a leader, why didn’t she step up? Why didn’t an early Jael or Abigail or Hadassah? The point is there was no reason that a woman could not have stood in the gap, we might have had female priests then? For that matter, the original judges were men which God allowed but did not instruct, but apparently for lack of a man (or maybe just because she was better in spirit) God took Deborah to be a judge over Israel. If the levites were taken in place of the first born for service, couldn’t God take a daughter in place of a son?
Just to be clear, I am not claiming that’s what would happen. We don’t know, we just know a man did step up, and his line was rewarded. And one might counter-argue that as helpmates, the wife of a priest is also serving as a priest just not in that way. I’m not trying to blur distinction between man and woman and say they are interchangeable.
My point is that Copan makes a thought I’ve never noticed that the original intent was women with men as priests. Again affirming by not using them as sex objects that they had equal worth with men (he has some more amazing stuff on the trial of jealousy, and the fact that in some places in the Torah where we are told to honor parents, the mother is listed first), and in some way functioning equally to accomplish the goal of the priesthood even if they were never intended to actually be wearing the robes.
So yeah, all over the place but definitely worth the read, even, especially, for those who believe the Torah is still for daily living. Very encouraging, I thought.