In the spring of 2010 I wrote a booklet entitled “The Elephant and the Suit” https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/the-elephant-and-the-suit/ . This work is a critique of Dr. Michael Brown’s five volume series in which he attempts to argue for the alleged Messiah-ship of Jesus. Dr. Brown has not responded to my arguments despite his assurances to do so. In light of the silence of Dr. Brown, a different follower of Jesus, Charles Soper, took up his pen to respond to some of my arguments http://strateias.org/ProBrown.pdf . In a 12 page essay, Soper attempts to invalidate two of the arguments that I presented in The Elephant and the Suit.
The first of my arguments that Soper addresses is based on Deuteronomy 4:35. In that passage God points to the knowledge that He imparted to the Jewish people as a sign that His covenant with them still stands. These words are addressed to the last generation of Jews, after the Jews experienced the curses of the covenant that result from disobeying God. And God speaks to this generation of the knowledge of God that they were granted through the stupendous events of the exodus and through the unparalleled collective revelation at Sinai. God points to Israel’s unique possession of this knowledge as a proof that His covenant with them will never waver.
We learn from this passage that Israel’s knowledge of God that was gained, not through the reading of books but through living experience, is a unique possession which sets them apart from the other nations. This Scriptural witness testifies that Israel is the exclusive repository of this knowledge. It is for this reason that God refers to Israel as His witnesses in the prophetic book of Isaiah (43:10,12; 44:8).
This passage stands at the heart of Israel’s resistance to any other devotion. Yet Dr. Brown could not find space for it in his 1500 page argument that is ostensibly meant to be a Christian response to Judaism. I argued in The Elephant and the Suit that this proves that the argument in defense of faith in Jesus is not an argument for truth. If a lawyer finds the need to suppress the testimony of a key witness then this lawyer’s client must be guilty.
Soper’s contribution to this debate only solidifies my argument. Soper simply follows in Dr. Brown’s footsteps and refuses to face the Scriptural passages that refute his position. Instead he presents his own arguments without explaining how they conform to the Scriptural passages that I quoted. The difference between Soper and Dr. Brown is that Dr. Brown doesn’t quote these passages altogether. Soper, on the other hand, does quote them, he even goes on to assure his audience that they support his own faith, but subsequently he fails to address them at all.
How does Soper fill the 12 pages of his essay? He cites various passages in Scripture which speak of Israel’s disobedience. He then argues on the basis of these passages that it is impossible for Israel to have maintained any Godly truth throughout these long periods of rebellion against God.
What Soper fails to explain is how Deuteronomy 4:35 makes any sense in light of his own assessment. If Israel lost possession of the Godly truth that they acquired through the exodus and Sinai experiences then how is the exclusive possession of this truth supposed to encourage them in the last generation? What is Moses talking about in Deuteronomy 4:35? Soper simply does not face this Scripture that refutes his position.
The second Scriptural passage that Soper quotes but fails to address in any serious way is Deuteronomy 30:1-10. The passage speaks of Israel ultimate return to the land on the basis of her repentance. The Scripture describes repentance as obedience to the Law of Moses as Moses taught it. The Scripture clearly explains that this repentance will precede the circumcision of our hearts predicted by the prophets. These Scriptural teachings refute the central pillar of Christian theology; that the path to salvation cannot run through the Law but through faith in Jesus. Aside from one directionless paragraph, Dr. Brown fails to address this central passage in his five volume series and this omission speaks volumes.
Soper’s cavalier treatment of this passage speaks as loud as Dr. Brown’s silence. Soper acknowledges that this passage indicates that Israel’s repentance will precede her return to the land but he claims that six other Biblical passages contradict this passage from Deuteronomy. An examination of these passages (Ezekiel 11:17-20; 20:42-44; 28:25-26; 36:24-28; 37:21-23; Zechariah 12:8 – 13:1) reveals that they do not contradict the prophecy of Moses at all. Some of these passages speak of a new spirit which follows the return to the land, but this does not contradict Moses’ prophecy, it actually conforms to it. Moses also speaks of a circumcision of the heart that follows the return to the land and this circumcision of the heart is parallel to the new spirit spoken of by Ezekiel. But Moses also speaks of a repentance that precedes the circumcision of the heart and the other prophets never contradict Moses’ word on this matter.
But let us accept Soper’s irresponsible interpretation of Ezekiel and Zechariah for a moment. Soper still needs to face the words of Moses. After all Moses is also a prophet of God. In the one sentence out of his 12 page article that is devoted to explaining the passage in question, Soper suggests that the passage is referring to Jesus. So does Soper believe that Jesus needs to have his heart circumcised? Does he believe that he needs to repent from a state of disobedience?
Soper leaves these questions unanswered. He fills his pages with his own dissertation on theology laced with irrelevant quotations from Scripture. I will shortly demonstrate how his theology has no basis in the word of God but there is something that needs to be addressed before we get to that peripheral work.
The argument that I presented in The Elephant and the Suit against Dr. Brown’s work was that he refuses to face Scripture. He has no hesitation in quoting Scripture, but he does not face the Scriptural passages that refute his position. It seems that Soper has not grasped the serious nature of this refusal to face Scripture. Soper does not seem to realize that if one has the time to write a dissertation filled with quotations from Scripture but fails to address those passages which directly apply to the discussion at hand, then that person cannot be arguing for the truth.
Let us now approach Soper’s dissertation. Soper argues that there is a need for a mediator between Israel and God. He bases this argument on the Scriptural passage that speaks of Israel requesting that a prophet bring them the word of God. Soper then takes the English word “mediator” and stretches it to fit all of its connotations; prophet, priest, intercessor and sacrifice. The scriptural text that Soper quoted is actually only speaking of a prophet and not of a priest, intercessor or sacrifice.
Soper quotes Deuteronomy 18:16-18 in an effort to prove that a more perfect prophet is to come and “mediate” between Israel and God. The problem with Soper’s interpretation is that the text says nothing about a “perfect” prophet. It describes the prophet as someone like Moses, a man who Soper believes was not perfect at all.
Under the heading; “The necessity for another Priesthood,” Soper quotes Psalm 89:27 to prove that God will appoint a priesthood that will replace the priesthood of Levi and Aaron. The Scripture that Soper quoted is speaking of a king and not a priest and the passage speaks of a king who will have descendants that will sin (vs. 31). This cannot be referring to Soper’s Jesus who never had descendants.
Under the heading; “The necessity for another sacrifice,” Soper quotes Psalm 51:16 as a proof that there is to be another sacrifice that will supersede and replace the Temple offerings. This Psalm speaks of the efficacy of simple repentance, a turning back to obedience and has nothing to do with a “new sacrifice.” The sacrifice that God desires is a broken heart and not faith in a theology that refuses to face Scripture.
Soper concludes his dissertation with the claim that “only the perfect obedience of a perfect man can bring life.” He bases this non-Scriptural doctrine on the very passage that refutes it; Deuteronomy 30. In Deuteronomy 30 the prophet clearly states that God will accept an unperfect repentance, a repentance that precedes the circumcision of the heart. But Soper, in the footsteps of Dr. Brown and hordes of Christian apologists before him, refuses to face the Scriptures that refute his theology.
After sharing his theological musings on the need for Jesus, Soper goes on to contrast the behavior of Evangelical Christians with that of Orthodox Rabbis. He claims that various Orthodox Rabbis forbade their people to flee Europe during the holocaust while they themselves did not hesitate to escape the inferno of the Nazi death machine. He contrasts this behavior with that of Evangelical Zionists who supported Herzl’s vision for the establishment of the State of Israel and who participated in the practical execution of this plan. Soper dismisses those Evangelical Christians who advocate anti-Zionist positions with a “strong repudiation” that is limited to one sentence. Soper’s criticism of Orthodox Jewish leadership is not complete without an accusation that they have “bowed” to the idol of evolution and Darwinism.
At this point I would like to return to the beginning of Soper’s 12 page essay. The first slew of quotations from Scripture that Soper shared with us was devoted to the prophet’s record of Israel’s sin. Soper pointed to this record as “proof” that Israel no longer possesses any true testimony from God. As did Dr. Brown before him, Soper refuses to face those Scriptures which explicitly speak of Israel’s possession of God’s testimony at the end of the age (Deuteronomy 4:35, 30:2). Soper seems to be unaware of the testimony of Psalm 78:5-8 which explicitly states that God will preserve His truth in Israel for the last generation despite their disobedience (another relevant passage that is noticeably absent from Dr. Brown’s five volume series).
What Soper has failed to realize is the prophet’s purpose in recording this sin. The prophet did not put Israel’s sin in writing in order to invalidate Israel as God’s witness. The purpose of recording Israel’s sin is so that Israel can turn back to God in humility and faithfulness. A nation that reveres a record of its own sins is less likely to hide behind the evil platitude “those were not my people.”
Soper’s incredible arrogance is rooted in an opposite tradition, the tradition of the Christian Scriptures. The authors of the Christian Scriptures highlight the faults of their theological opponents and ignore their own humanity and that of their hero. It is in this spirit that Soper praises the leadership of the Evangelical Church while criticizing the leaders of Orthodox Judaism.
The holocaust was a huge keg of hatred that exploded with devastating results. The gunpowder in this keg was poured in over a period of many centuries. The most prominent contributors to this supply of hatred were the people who believed in Jesus. If Christianity would have a tradition of revering writings that expose their own sins perhaps they would engage in some soul searching repentance. But as it stands Christians like Soper are satisfied to point to a few examples of heroic people and declare that these people represent them. The millions of people who reacted with hatred or apathy while innocents were being slaughtered are “not my people” says Soper.
No Orthodox leader prevented his people from fleeing the scourge of Nazism once it became apparent. The general attitude of many Orthodox leaders before the war was that Jews should stay where their spirituality is safe. It is for this reason that there are those who argue that had this policy not been in place, more Jews would have survived the war. But this has nothing to do with encouraging people to stay in a danger zone. When the Orthodox leaders realized the danger, they did everything in their ability to save their people. But the gates of the free world were closed to them thanks to the apathy of those nations.
The Church that Soper belongs to was not known for its efforts to save Jews during that dark period. The fact that some of them supported a secular political movement does little to exonerate them. Where were they when Jews were being gassed? Where were they when Jews were being refused entry into almost every country on the face of the planet?
If Soper considered these questions he doesn’t tell us about them. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these questions in the face. It is also difficult to face the Scriptures that refute your position. But if you are going to defend Jesus, then it is not only difficult to face the Scriptures, it is impossible, as Charles Soper and Dr. Brown have so eloquently demonstrated.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal