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Does God Tempt People to Evil?

Pharaoh

According to James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.” Skeptics, aiming to disprove the Bible, may reply that God certainly does tempt people to do evil, and his actions during the Israelite's exodus from Egypt is proof of that.

Let My People Go!

 
In Exodus 3-4 God calls Moses from his life as a fugitive in Midian and tells him to return to Egypt in order to lead the Israelites to freedom. God assures Moses that he will give him help, including the support of his brother Aaron and a wooden staff capable of performing miraculous feats. This will show the Egyptians that the God of Israel means business. God then says in Exodus 4:21, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”

Wait a minute! God says he wants to free the people of Israel and now he is saying he will cause Pharaoh to not release them. What’s going on here? First, God does not merely want to relocate the Israelites. He wants to demonstrate to the Egyptians the power and reality of the God of Israel by delivering them with “his mighty hand.”

This will compel the Egyptians to let the Israelites go of their own will and maybe even cause them to repent in the process. In fact, in Exodus 12:38 we read of a “mixed multitude” who left with the Israelites during the Exodus. This group could have included Egyptians who were convinced that the God of Israel was the real God. But why did God cause Pharaoh to “harden his heart” and not let the people go?

Who Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart?

 
Exodus 4:21 is the first time we read of how God will harden Pharaoh’s heart. In the next chapter Moses and Aaron make their demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go worship in the desert. The Pharaoh not only curtly dismisses them, he demands the Israelites make bricks without straw as a punishment for their insolent request. All of this takes place without any hint of God prompting Pharaoh’s overreaction.

God then reminds Moses again in Exodus 7:3 that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. In Exodus 7:14 and 7:22 we read that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, although the text does not say by whom. Then, in Exodus 8:15, 8:32, and 9:34 it is revealed that Pharaoh hardened his own heart by “sinning yet again” and refusing to release the Israelites. Only as the plagues grew worse and Pharaoh became more stubborn does the text begin to say God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it is an easy mistake to assume that God did something to Pharaoh in order to cause Pharaoh’s heart to become stubborn and “hard.” But you can cause something to become hard just by leaving it alone, such as when bread is left out on the counter. It seems that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by removing what little presence of his grace that was in Pharaoh’s heart in the first place. Pharaoh had his chance to peacefully release the Israelites, but he ignored God’s warnings and hardened his heart. This description of events, as some commenters have noted, preserves God's sovereignty. God is not thwarted by Pharaoh's obstinacy but has providentially foreseen it and uses it for the good of his people.

Stubborn Hearts

 
As a consequence of Pharaoh’s own actions, God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to reach its maximum level of stubbornness, and Israel’s freedom was purchased at a heavy price for the Egyptians. This mirrors other times when God punishes sinners not through external punishment but by letting the awful consequences of their own bad lifestyles show them the error of their ways. God even did this with Israel after the Exodus. In Psalm 81:11-14 the author describes God saying, “How my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.”

In conclusion, skeptics should know that God will punish us by letting us engage in our foolish sins, but as soon as we desire to repent he will deliver us from our sins. God did the same thing for Pharaoh and allowed him to wallow in his foolish disobedience. God was not the primary cause of that disobedience and would have allowed Pharaoh to repent if Pharaoh had chosen to do that. Pharaoh’s failure to do that and not release the Israelite’s says more about his character than God’s.
 
 
Originally published at Catholic Answers. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Athena Academy)

Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Ben Posin

    Trent believes that God does not do things that Trent considers evil.
    Trent thinks it would be an example of God doing evil if, where Exodus says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it meant that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.
    Therefore, where it says that God hardened Pharoah's heart, it doesn't actually mean that.

    The only bit not predictable is that Trent thinks that God allowing Pharoah's heart to harden by "withdrawing" God's grace isn't ethically problematic.

    This is a "C'mon" worthy article if ever I have seen one. I mean, c'mon. At some point just come to grips with the fact that the Old Testament tells stories about God that are at odds with the current Christian notion of how God behaves and what his nature is. From the outside, this is just getting painful to watch.

    • Ben, thanks for the comment. If you'd like to show where Trent is wrong, you must offer more than "C'mon". I'm sure you're aware that "I mean, c'mon" is not an argument.

      Your last jab, "this is just getting painful to watch," is unnecessary and unwelcome here. Please aim for more charity in the future.

      • Ben Posin

        Uh...did you read the bit before the c'mon? Do you disagree with my description of what's happening in this article?

        • Thanks for the reply, Ben. There's a lot here, and I wish, per our commenting rules, you'd focus on one point or question per comment. Otherwise it's just impossible to provide an adequate response. Nevertheless, that's what I'll attempt:

          "Uh...did you read the bit before the c'mon? Do you disagree with my description of what's happening in this article?"

          I of course did read your entire comment (it was only a handful of sentences), and therefore don't appreciate the rhetorical question, "Uh...did you read the bit before the c'mon?"

          In your original comment, all you attempted was a cursory psycho-analysis of *why* Trent holds the interpretation he does. You offered no evidence or reasoning to refute his view. You just posited why he holds it, suggesting that he presupposed a conclusion and then worked backward. Yet even if you were right about that, you'd still have to show why that conclusion is wrong. But you failed to.

          You then say:

          "I mean, c'mon, Brandon, I think you're letting annoyance at my using the word c'mon get in the way of addressing the content of what I wrote, and I'm sure you know that choosing to focus on your annoyance at a rhetorical flourish is not an argument."

          Ignoring the juvenile repetition of "c'mon", clearly designed to irk, you again miss the point. I agree that rhetorical flourish is no substitute for argument. I'm not aware I insinuated otherwise. If you'd like me to reframe my original reply in syllogism form, here you go:

          1. Trent's biblical interpretation in his post is either true or false.

          2. If it's internally consistent and no critic shows it to be false, it is true.

          3. It is internally consistent.

          4. No critic shows it to be false.

          5. Therefore, Trent's biblical interpretation is true.

          You then write:

          "I've asked this before, and never got an answer: what is your thought process when you see that the core of an article is entirely unpersuasive to your non-Christian readers, and they are in agreement as to some reasons why?"

          That one of two things is true: either the article contains a serious flaw, or the non-Christian readers are mistaken. Perhaps they misunderstand the article, or maybe the presuppose it's wrong and fail therefore fail to engage the arguments (which is what it seems you did in your original comment here.) Either way, it's a mostly irrelevant question. Why would my thought process matter in regards to the article's merits? And does an argument stand or fall based on the unanimity of its opposition? I don't think so.

          You then write:

          "Trent, or at least YOU, should know that your atheist readers, such as they remain, find it unreasonable and unpersuasive to argue that one can ignore the plain meaning of passages in the old testament because they conflict with the current Christian idea of God's nature."

          You've mentioned two distinct metrics here, reasonability and persuasiveness. If you asset that an idea is unreasonable, you must show why it fails in its reason. Yet as far as I'm aware, you have not done this in either of your own comments. You've only asserted it without evidence. Which part of Trent's article violates the laws of reason?

          Persuasiveness, on the other hand, often depends on internal bias. For example, I could present you a valid argument that you just don't find persuasive because you're already committed to a certain worldview. Therefore, the fact that a specific interpretation is unpersuasive is independent--and therefore irrelevant--to whether that interpretation is true. If you're argument that Trent is wrong, you must do more than claim "this isn't persuasive."

          "Do you assume that the atheists just don't understand the article? That the article just needs to be a bit clearer? Or are you at all open to the idea that the argument presented isn't actually persuasive, that it doesn't actually move the ball forward?"

          I think it's likely, and common, that atheists misunderstand the theists' argument (especially when it comes to philosophical arguments for God and to biblical interpretation.) But I will acknowledge that articles can always be clearer--you'll find no dispute here.

          But then you reference persuasiveness again. Again, whether something is persuasive is not a measure of whether it's true. Our goal is not to "move the ball forward" if by that you mean "persuade the most people to hold one communal view." Our goal is to move forward, together, toward truth.

          "Basically, seeing another repetition of the above article's theme without any attempt to acknowledge that the interpretive practice appears ridiculous on its face to a non-Christian really throws a shadow over any claim that you care about dialogue with those atheists who remain here."

          This last paragraph simply repeats the same baseless assertions made above. You again fail to offer any reason why Trent is wrong other than, essentially, "I don't find this persuasive." That's not an argument against his view, nor any sort of defeater. It's simply a firm refusal to engage Trent's points with anything other than flippant dismissal.

          • Peter Piper

            I want to focus on one of the points you are making here. In your five point argument, the second point is a bad principle. For example, I just flipped a coin, but I deliberately didn't check whether it came up heads or tails. So each of the following statements is internally consistent, and no critic can show that either of them is false:

            A: The coin came up heads
            B: The coin came up tails

            If we apply point 2 from your comment, it follows that A and B are both true, which is absurd.

          • Peter, fair enough. Perhaps I could reword it to say, "If it's internally consistent and no critic shows it to be false, it is plausibly true."

            Either way, it wouldn't be "unreasonable" as Ben posits without, ironically, giving any reasons.

            To use your own example, if you flipped a coin but didn't look at it, it would not be unreasonable to defend *either* a heads or tails outcome--both would be reasonable proposals unless more evidence is provided. The same holds here: Trent's proposed interpretation seems plausible, reasonable, and, in light of any evidence to the contrary, the most persuasive.

          • Susan

            "If it's internally consistent and no critic shows it to be false, it is plausibly true."

            So is wing fungus in forest fairies. You'll think I'm being snarky but that statement applies as well to that.

            if you flipped a coin but didn't look at it, it would not be unreasonable to defend *either* a heads or tails outcome--both would be reasonable proposals unless more evidence is provided.

            Plausibility is not even closely analogous to one coin toss. Are you suggesting that "internally consistent" and non-disprovable give us a 50/50 model?

            Trent's proposed interpretation seems plausible, reasonable, and, in light of any evidence to the contrary, the most persuasive.

            And then MOST persuasive?

            Step 1: It's plausible
            .
            Step 2: It's got a 50/50 probability.

            Step 3: It's the most persuasive interpretation.

            We could both go back and forth asserting things all day by those standards. All day and night. Forever and ever.

            Is that the view you'd like Ben to refute?

          • Ben Posin

            I would say that it's silly to try to argue about what's "plausible" or "reasonable" after being told the field must be limited by the following axioms: a) God has a character of Good as supposedly portrayed in the New Testament, b) the Old Testament is divinely inspired and true and c) describes the same God. At that point the discussion has already driven far past the off ramps for plausibility or reasonableness, when faced with an Old Testament story that does not describe what Christians think of as a "Good" God. Faced with that, reasonable and plausible answers are going to involve questioning the above axioms.

          • Tim Dacey

            Ben:

            Forget about religious/theological philosophical axioms for a moment and consider your statement that "I would say that it's silly to try to argue about what's "plausible" or "reasonable" after being told the field must be limited..."

            I am troubled by your advocation of such an epistemological anarchism :) Wouldn't you agree that setting boundaries is a useful tool for clear thinking?

          • Ben Posin

            "Wouldn't you agree that setting boundaries is a useful tool for clear thinking?"

            Uh...I guess that would depend on what we're talking about, and what boundaries. Here, no. For my part, I'm equally troubled that my point is controversial. To play off of Susan's examples, I think it would be a bit silly to be told a priori that forest fairies cause rain, and then to spend time arguing about the plausibility of any particular mechanism by which they do this.

            But if we actually want to know what's going on, we'd do a lot better to follow the evidence first. With our a priori assumption, we instead are required to ignore or "interpret" the evidence in bizarre ways to make it support a fairy theory. That's what's happening here: we have a clear, unambiguous example of God hardening someone's heart, deliberately pushing someone on a path of bad behavior so that God has an excuse to punish him in a display of power. Those are the facts on that ground, as it were. But because of the axioms Trent has chosen, he's forced to ignore the facts on the ground, and once you're doing that it's meaningless to try to make your theories sound plausible; as I'm doing my best to explain, reasonable answers are going to involve questioning any axiom that forces you to vanish the evidence.

          • Ben Posin

            Also, I think it's a little odd that you truncate the sentence you quote into what you call "epistemological anarchism" when the rest of the sentence shows that it's a very specific limitation, about a particular subject, that I think renders silly subsequent argument. I note that Brandon gave you post a thumbs up. I think that if I were to use someone else's quote in such a way I would get not just a thumbs down, but a warning.

          • David Nickol

            Tim Dacey did indeed truncate your statement and then distort its meaning. You did not imply that no boundaries should ever be set. You objected to the ones you listed and that he omitted when he quoted you.

            "Up-votes" often seem to be cast according to the following rationale: "I disagree with Commenter X. Commenter Y disagrees with Commenter X. Commenter Y has earned an 'up-vote.'"

          • Tim Dacey

            Ben:

            I'm sorry if I have offended you. My point was to show that if we are going to make arguments, then are assumptions should be clear.

          • Tim Dacey

            Susan,

            Consider this epistemological 'rule':

            If it seems to S that p, and there are no defeaters for her belief that p, then S is justified to believe that p.

            Are you in agreement, that one can have non-inferential justification?

          • Ben Posin

            I think you're wrong to focus solely on defeaters, as with many questions there may be a wide range of possible answers, and whether someone is justified on selecting one of the possibilities depends on whether that person has good reason. To go back to the 20 coins, it's not reasonable to hold a belief that 20 coin tosses resulted in 20 heads, given that there's no reason to promote this possibility above the others, and given that it's enormously more likely that at least one coin was tails.

            But this isn't really worth pursuing further, because here, there is a "defeater." Again, confusion and silliness appear when we start with accepting Trent's axioms, and go from there. The beliefs we should first be examining for defeaters are Trent's beliefs that God doesn't tempt people, and that the Old Testament is accurate and true. Does he have good reason to think these two things, simultaneously? No, because the Old Testament shows God tempting people. Unless Trent is willing to say that Exodus is a forgery or incorrectly written/translated, his beliefs have been defeated.

          • Peter Piper

            Even this is not quite right. Imagine that I tossed the coin twenty times, rather than just once, and never looked at how it came up. Now imagine my friend Tony claiming that it came up heads every time. His claim is internally consistent, and no critic can show it to be false. But it is not plausibly true.

          • "Even this is not quite right. Imagine that I tossed the coin twenty times, rather than just once, and never looked at how it came up. Now imagine my friend Tony claiming that it came up heads every time. His claim is internally consistent, and no critic can show it to be false. But it is not plausibly true."

            We're getting off topic here, but I'll offer two thoughts:

            First, I don't see how this is analogous to whether Trent's interpretation is correct. Flipping heads twenty times in a row is statistically improbable in light of the background (i.e. in light of the fact that the coin can *only* be heads or tails, you'd have a 1 in 1,048,576 chance of flipping all heads.) But what's the background information here? How can you assign a probability to whether Trent's interpretation is correct? How can you show it's statistically improbable?

            Second, even if it *were* analogous, this is not an adequate refutation. It wouldn't allow you to say Trent is wrong or "unreasonable", only that "I don't think his interpretation is likely to be true." It would still be consistent on Catholicism, and involve no internal contradictions, and therefore would be a completely plausible interpretation.

            I'll let this be my last comment on this tributary; let's get back to the main river.

          • Susan

            We're getting off topic here

            How is it off-topic?

            It is an attempt to get to the heart of the epistemology behind the whole "Yahweh didn't REALLY harden Pharaoh's heart. He just didn't prevent Pharaoh from letting his heart go hard and then Yahweh was forced to slaughter innocent babies and innocent non-humans, none of whom had anything to do with Pharaoh's heart-hardening." claim.

          • Peter Piper

            That's fine. I was just pointing out that your principle was flawed, in the hopes that you will be able to avoid relying on it in the future.

          • Ben Posin

            Brandon,

            I can't refute Trent's theory, if I'm forced to accept his axioms of interpretation. I'm not sure you're getting that my objection is to Trent's willingness to ignore the plain meaning of biblical passages in an effort to vanish evidence that contradicts these axioms.

            If I'm bound to accept that the new testament is correct when it says God doesn't tempt people, then of course the old testament is wrong when it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. No problem! It's where I'm also told I have to assume that the old testament story is also inspired and somehow true at the same time that things go off the rails.

            Tell me that the old testament story got it wrong, that it was a myth or misunderstanding corrected by the new testament, and I'm all ears. But tell me that both are true at the same time, and try to paper over evidence to the contrary by transforming the text into something new, and I'll call you on it every time. Trent has changed the story to make it more consistent to the new testament, but it's certainly the opposite of what Jews have and do understood it to mean, the opposite of what the plain language actually says.

            Your calling me a "fundamentalist" doesn't really impress, it seems like an attempt to cover over what I'm saying with a prejudicial label. To me, a fundamentalist is someone who lets a bible verse commandeer normal moral sense when addressing the real world, like someone who relies on Leviticus when opposing the rights of gays. I'm not sure it's "fundamentalist" to maintain that when the bible repeatedly says things like "I, God, will harden Pharoah's heart," "and so God hardened Pharoah's heart" and "and indeed, Pharaoh's heart was hardened, as God said it would be" that it's saying God hardened Pharoah's heart. I can tell you, as someone raised a Jew, that while Jews are happy to argue about the ethical implications of this passage, there's no real dispute about what it's saying happened.

    • Irenist

      Well, If Trent has good warrant for believing that God is entirely good, and he has good warrant for believing Exodus to be God's Word, then he either has to abandon the weaker of the two beliefs, or interpret them so as to be consistent with each other.

      In the absence of a belief that God is good, or in the absence of a belief that God does not tempt any man (James 1:13), the text here might bear the interpretation that God directed Pharaoh to evil. But if we have Christian religious warrant to believe that James 1:13 is just as divinely inspired as Exodus, and/or metaphysical warrant to believe that God is all-good, then it makes sense to interpret Exodus in light of our other warranted beliefs.

      An analogy:
      I hear a man say "I'd like a nice, big sub." The facile interpretation is that he wants a sandwich on a baguette. However, if I have good reasons to believe that:
      1. He hates sandwiches
      2. He is the Secretary of the Navy
      3. Military procurement is being budgeted for the next fiscal year right now
      4. He's talking on a bluetooth earpiece to some colleague as he walks by me
      then perhaps he means he wants an underwater warship, rather than a sandwich, despite the fact that "nice, big" is a weird way to describe a warship and a normal way to describe a sandwich.

      So the underlying argument raised by this post seems to me undecidable without prior decision about the correctness of Trent's beliefs as a Catholic that God is Goodness itself and that every verse in Scripture must be read in light of the whole context of the Bible, with the character of Christ as its interpretive key.

      • Danny Getchell

        undecidable without prior decision about the correctness of Trent's beliefs as a Catholic that God is Goodness itself

        Exactly. Cuts right to the chase!

      • Ben Posin

        Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        Your last paragraph seems to be the heart of what you're saying, and has helped me clarify my thoughts a bit. Yes, Trent's ...nonobvious interpretation of this passage are based on his proposed answers to certain questions, as you say. Where we differ is that, when trying to answer some these questions, I think that you have to take the content of the Bible as evidence. The content matters, it makes certain answers to these questions more or less likely. But the way Trent is doing things, it doesn't matter what the Bible says, because he's happy to make up his own meaning that fits: if you're willing to twist this story, which at least four times says God hardens Pharaohs heart in clear language, into meaning God didn't actually harden Pharaoh's heart, well, what can't you explain away? It makes his claims unfalsifiable.

  • ScienceJoe

    My favorite summary of this is "the same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay."

    • Irenist

      That's lovely! Whence comes it?

      • ScienceJoe

        I honestly cannot recall. A bible study, I am certain.

  • Loreen Lee

    I do not interpret the words of God that the Pharaoh will develop a hard heart as being a temptation, or anything like that. This is, after all, God that we are talking about. I do believe that this can be understood by pointing out the difference between contingent and necessary being. I submit that God is speaking of events from the advantage of his omniscience, and from the necessity of his being, and a perception of all of creation within the realm of necessity rather than contingency. I will call on both Spinoza's and Hegel's philosophy to give credence to this point of view. God can 'see' what the pharaoh will do and the person he will become, although it must be stressed that the pharaoh's free will exists within this context. But that would involve another discussion. From Hegel's perspective, this argument I hope gives support to his saying: Freedom is the recognition of necessity. And from Spinoza's perspective, I have tested the possibility and accept that it is possible for even 'my self' to see the world from the vantage point of necessity, rather than within the context of contingency. .

    • David Nickol

      I submit that God is speaking of events from the advantage of his
      omniscience, and from the necessity of his being, and a perception of
      all of creation within the realm of necessity rather than contingency.

      There were no quotation marks in biblical Hebrew, but do you believe that when modern translations of the Bible put God's words in quotation marks, God actually spoke those words?

      • Loreen Lee

        Dear David. For a 'simplistic' answer, not based on any knowledge of biblical exegesis/hermeneutics, etc. I would simply say 'No'. I also believe that when God said "I am that I am" that this could be regarded as personal revelation, except that because it is 'in the bible' it is considered 'public revelation'. The distinction between personal and public revelation was made in a post on New Advent. It discussed many mystical experiences, such as those of Lourdes, etc. which require the authority of the church to pronounce as 'worthy of belief'.

  • David Nickol

    When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it is an easy mistake toassume that God did something to Pharaoh in order to cause Pharaoh’s
    heart to become stubborn and “hard.” But you can cause something to
    become hard just by leaving it alone, such as when bread is left out on
    the counter.

    If the family bread supply is sitting out on the counter, and I state to a friend that I am going to harden the family bread, and then I leave the bread out on the counter and it grows stale and hard, I can't claim to have done nothing. C'mon! You have to make a very good case to deny that God didn't actually mean what he said, and God quite plainly said, "I will harden his heart."

    Exodus 4:21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go."

    Exodus 7:3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt . . . .

    Exodus 7:13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the Lord had said.

    Exodus 9:12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them; as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

    Here's an instructive footnote from the New American Bible to Exodus 4:21. (The above passages are from the RSV.)

    Harden his heart: in the biblical view, the heart, whose actual function in the circulation of blood was unknown, typically performs functions associated today more with the brain than with the emotions. Therefore, while it may be used in connection with various emotional states ranging from joy to sadness, it very commonly designates the seat of intellectual and volitional activities. For God to harden Pharaoh’s heart is to harden his resolve against the Israelites’ desire to leave. In the ancient world, actions which are out of character are routinely attributed not to the person but to some “outside” superhuman power acting upon the person (Jgs 14:16; 1 Sm 16:10). Uncharacteristically negative actions or states are explained in the same way (1 Sm 16:14). In this instance, the opposition of Pharaoh, in the face of God’s displays of power, would be unintelligible to the ancient Israelites unless he is seen as under some divine constraint. But this does not diminish Pharaoh’s own responsibility. In the anthropology of the ancient Israelites there is no opposition between individual responsibility and God’s sovereignty over all of creation. Cf. Rom 9:17–18.

    It makes considerably more sens to explain these kinds of "problem passages" by trying to understand what the ancient Israelites believed about how the world worked—and in this case to understand that they did indeed believe God hardened Pharoah's heart—than to explain away the very words attributed to God as not meaning what they plainly say. You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say if you are willing to deny the plain meaning of words. (True almost all of us are dealing with translations, and there certainly are difficult passages where the meaning is ambiguous or obscure, so it is not always possible to talk about "the plain meaning of words." However, I don't think in this instance there is any quarrel over the literal meaning of the text.)

    I very seriously doubt that the audience for whom these passages were written would have said, "Hey, it's unfair of God to harden Pharaoh's heart! What about Pharaoh's free will? God would never do a thing like that."

    Also, to quote Ye Olde Statistician, "It is hard to explain such things to Bible-thumping literalists." How many Catholic biblical scholars does anyone suppose believe this is a verbatim quote from God?

    But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you; then I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring forth my hosts, my people the sons of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.

    There is good reason to doubt that anything remotely resembling the story of Moses and Pharaoh actually occurred, since there is no historical evidence (outside the Bible, if that can be called historical evidence) or archaeological evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt in large numbers and left abruptly. And even if something historical inspired the story about the exodus, there is no good reason to believe the account of it in the Book of Exodus was intended as a factual, historical account.

    • David Nickol

      You have to make a very good case to deny that God didn't actually mean
      what he said, and God quite plainly said, "I will harden his heart."

      CLARIFICATION: I should be clear that I don't believe it is a historical fact that God actually said to Moses that he would harden Pharaoh's heart. However, in explicating the text of Exodus, it is clear that its authors intended their readers to understand that God said to Moses that he would harden Pharaoh's heart. It is conceivable that the biblical authors expected their readers to know Exodus was written as a religious account of Israelite history and was not intended to include verbatim transcripts of God's words. So in making the remark that I quote above, what I mean is that (in my opinion), the character God in the pertinent passages of Exodus is saying, plainly, that he will harden Pharaoh's heart. There is nothing in the text to indicate that God winked when he said those words, or had his fingers crossed behind his back. There is nothing in the text to indicate "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" means anything other than "I will harden Pharaoh's heart. The sentence has a transitive verb and clearly means "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" and not "I will sit by and do nothing and by my inaction, Pharaoh's heart will harden, and it won't be attributable to me."

      • Irenist

        "there is nothing in the text"

        1. There is nothing in the *English* text.
        2. For Christians, the Bible is one book, and every verse must be read in the light of Christ's Incarnation. In the text of the entire Bible, which includes the Gospels, God's willing evil is ruled out. The verse does not stand alone.

        Protestant proof-texting has understandably given modern Anglophones (even atheists) the unfortunate habit of referring to specific verses in isolation from the rest of Scripture and Tradition, and of leaning too much on English translations.

    • Irenist

      The Hebrew word usually rendered in English as "harden" when translating this verse can also mean "strengthen," "make firm," etc. "Heart" of course, is not meant literally, but instead means here "state of mind" or "affection" or whatever with a metaphorical range that is helpfully akin to "heart" in English.

      The original Hebrew verse, then, much more than the English, more naturally bears an interpretation like "God firmed up Pharaoh's mind," or better, "God confirmed Pharoah in his preexisting disposition."

      However, all that having been said, it remains the case that the Old Testament, although inspired Scripture, reflects the Israelites' evolving understanding of God. In the oldest texts that went into the making of the Bible, Yahweh appears as a wrathful tribal storm god. As the relationship between God and His people deepens, the later strata of Biblical texts increasingly bears witness to the conception of God we Christians derive from God Incarnate, who came not to destroy the (Old Testament) law, but to fulfill it.

      It is ancient Christian practice to see in Christ the key to Scripture. Any account of God that does not accord with the conduct of God Incarnate is a misunderstanding--either on the part of the ancient Israelites, or on the part of modern English translators and readers. Christ Himself endorsed such an approach to the Old Testament in His walk with the disciples to Emmaus after His Resurrection.

      • Ben Posin

        In this case, how is saying that this story reflects the Israelites "evolving understanding of God" different from saying that the author of Exodus got this bit wrong? It seems here that the "evolution" in question here is realizing that no, God doesn't harden people's hearts. Since Trent and you and other Christians seem convinced that God couldn't have done what Exodus says God did, why isn't this the obvious and most plausible solution? If you can adjust your conception for what it means for the Old Testament to be inspired, you wouldn't have to write or support articles saying black is white.

        • Irenist

          Great point, Ben.

          I'm not sure what Trent's understanding is, but my understanding of inspiration and inerrancy is as follows:
          1. The human author of Exodus may indeed have gotten this bit wrong. He was just a fallible human working away at the beginning of the historic evolution we're talking about.
          2. The Divine Author working through the human author doesn't get anything wrong, and always already eternally knows what will be in the Gospels, and what will happen at the end of time, as much as He knows what was going on at the time of the writing of Exodus.
          3. Thus, "what did the human author intend by this passage?" and "what does God intend by this passage?"

          E.g., the human author of the Book of Joshua may have thought that the sun really stopped in what he thought was the sun's course around the Earth during the siege of Jericho. God, who must know astronomy, must have meant the passage metaphorically.

          Wearing my philological or literary critical (ignoring the unhappy fad for ignoring authorial intent in lit crit for roughly the past century) or archeologist hat, I might be right there with you on any given Biblical passage's most likely meaning in the mind of its human author. But as a Catholic, I have to square my interpretation of the Divinely intended meaning(s) with what I know about the Divine Author from sources outside the passage.

          Although what I've just said would horrify a Biblical literalist, it's pretty standard stuff, AFAIK, among Catholics, Orthodox, and mainline Protestants.

          One thing about the non-literalist Christian understanding of the Bible is that, AFAIK, inspiration is rarely, if ever, taken to be on the model of Divine dictation and human stenography of the word for word text, even though God of course has a purpose for every word in the text--as Jewish scholarship on the O.T. will cogitate on quite elaborately.

          Compare the situation of the Muslim confronting an infelicity of some kind in the Quran, which was supposed to have been dictated word for word by Gabriel to Muhammad: the understanding I'm proffering of the Bible isn't available to the devout Muslim seeking to exegete the Quran.

          • Irenist

            BTW: You might be wondering how God can have a purpose for every word in the text, as I write above, if he doesn't dictate it. The bit about Pharaoh here provides an example: God didn't dictate Pharaoh's sin, but did have a demonstration of his power in mind that used it.

          • Ben Posin

            I have a few problems with this separation of human and divine meaning for this passage. One of them is that here, no one has suggested ANY basis in the text for a proposed meaning different than "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." I'm sorry, but in this case, the text, as written, is crystal clear. Trent is making up his own guess at what actually happened instead of what appears in the text, basing his guess off of what he sees as overriding new testament principles. So, here, what is being proposed isn't a divine meaning of the text, but an understanding of the divine that guides Christians to disregard the text. This seems distinct from the theory you are proposing, and I don't think can be squared with it.

            Another problem, of course, is that your proposal seems like a pretty unkind, unclear, odd way for God to communicate with his people. I mean, it's just so bizarre, and not what one would ever expect from a God that cares about honesty, or correctly guiding his people, or letting them know his nature. Think of the thousands of years where, prior to the availability of the New Testament, people had no mechanism to get past these "human" meanings which you have agreed can be wrong!

          • Irenist

            One of them is that here, no one has suggested ANY basis in the text for a proposed meaning different than "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." I'm sorry, but in this case, the text, as written, is crystal clear.

            Well, I've suggested that the Hebrew text isn't as crystal clear in this instance. However, there are plenty of other texts in the O.T. where the meaning is troubling for some reason, so I still owe you an answer on a more general level.

            here, what is being proposed isn't a divine meaning of the text, but an understanding of the divine that guides Christians to disregard the text.

            Well, it's a fine line between strained reading and complete disregard. I think the Christian meaning here is that the text emphasizes Divine omnipotence rather than Divine omni-benevolence: God *is* after all, the primary cause, if not the secondary cause, of all that happens, and that really is a truth worth the Bible's attention. However, I admit that such a meaning is not the most apparent meaning of the text, so I'll concede that it's a strained reading, although I won't concede it's a complete disregard for the text.

            Another problem, of course, is that your proposal seems like a pretty unkind, unclear, odd way for God to communicate with his people. I mean, it's just so bizarre, and not what one would ever expect from a God that cares about honesty, or correctly guiding his people, or letting them know his nature. Think of the thousands of years where, prior to the availability of the New Testament, people had no mechanism to get past these "human" meanings which you have agreed can be wrong!

            Sure. Of course, that's a problem of Christian theodicy generally: Why has God taken so long to save us, and why does God seem so often absent? Why didn't Christ incarnate in the generation right after Adam? Why wait? Why doesn't Christ show up on the ice at Sochi and perform an irrefutable miracle in front of the entire watching world, instead of relying on "faith"? I think that's a discussion worth having, but I don't think it's specific to this text, or even to the Bible's not having been dictated word-for-word like the Quran is alleged to have been: it's a general question of theodicy. Do you want to have that more general discussion, or would you prefer to focus on this text? I don't want to threadjack.

          • Ben Posin

            Irenist,
            If there's ANY line between what you're willing to call a strained reading and actual disregard of the text, I don't see it, and it doesn't seem to be something you can articulate. The story has a number of aspects, and your decision to now focus on one part while disregarding another is, well, disregarding that part of the text.

            As to the .problem of theodicy: well, yes, this backwards suggestion of how one should interpret the old testament is one more example. But it seems odd that we should ignore that this is another proposed brick in that wall, just because of how sadly large that wall is. And theodicy is something that has been discussed multiple times on this board--and it's a problem the Catholics here have not been able to solve; if you have something new to bring to the table, boy, could they have used you. But no one ever seems to.

          • Irenist

            your decision to now focus on one part while disregarding another

            Which parts are you referring to?

            it seems odd that we should ignore that this is another proposed brick in that wall, just because of how sadly large that wall is.

            Fair enough. I'm certainly not suggesting that we ignore it, although I can see how my comments read that way. What I'm suggesting is that solving the theodicy problem at a more general level would provide us with a theorem that could be applied to specific puzzles like the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.

            And theodicy is something that has been discussed multiple times on this board--and it's a problem the Catholics here have not been able to solve; if you have something new to bring to the table, boy, could they have used you. But no one ever seems to.

            I doubt I have anything to bring to the table you haven't encountered before. I lean toward a pretty standard free will theodicy. Frankly, I think the Problem of Evil is the hardest problem Christian theology faces. During my time as an atheist, the Problem of Evil always seemed to me a self-evident refutation of theism.

            When I later became convinced of theism on metaphysical grounds, Christianity was attractive because, without solving the problem of evil in a way I consider logically adequate (to be honest) it seems, of all the theistic worldviews, to be the one that most hints toward an at least affectively satisfying solution: that somehow, God Incarnate suffered in solidarity with us, and Christ Resurrected somehow has already mended what is broken. But that's an emotionally suggestive answer for me, not a publicly accessible one for you.

            To the extent that I think there's publicly accessible warrant for Christian faith, it's because I think the metaphysical arguments for theism are sound, but leave one with the Problem of Evil, and that in turn Christianity presents the least bad solution to that problem.

            Sorry (on many levels) I don't have a better answer for you.

          • Ben Posin

            "Which parts are you referring to?"

            Look back to your previous post in your chain. You would take from this story a lesson on divine omnipotence, while choosing not to focus on what it has to say about God's moral nature.

            As to theodicy: I don't think it really matters if we speak generally or specifically because I think our various reactions to this particular story are pretty much the sameas how Christians and non-Christians see the problem of evil. There only is a problem of evil if one starts with the axioms that God is all good/knowing/powerful, and then insists that the evidence of the world must be interpreted so as to fit these rules. Without starting with these beliefs, there is no "problem" in a metaphysical sense. The world simply has evils due to its physical nature, how life evolved, and the choices people make, and if we're smart we'll get to work on making things better.

            As I've been saying throughout, before trying to explain away the evidence, the more sensible thing to do is to look at all the evidence first, and see if one axioms are actually supported. The reason evil is such a "problem" is that the state of the world does not suggest the existence of a triple omni God. Just as Trent must invent a new meaning for this passage, just as a previous author had to try to invent a new meaning for that song about the joy of killing one's enemies' babies, Christians have no choice but to try to invent some narrative justifying the evil we see in this world. "Free will" is a common one, and I suspect you know it doesn't really do the job. Some other answers involve "mystery" or our lack of a higher understanding of good or evil, or some sort of greater reward we obtain later through suffering now, and so on, and so on. As with Trent's bible explanation, from where I sit it's silly to argue about whether these explanations are "plausible" once we're this far down the highway, once we've decided to ignore the previous off ramps associated with questioning these axioms.

          • Irenist

            You would take from this story a lesson on divine omnipotence, while choosing not to focus on what it has to say about God's moral nature.

            Okay. I think I see what you’re getting at. My prior theist commitment to God as all-good prevents me, as a Christian, from allowing that the comment you see in
            the story on God’s moral nature could be the theologically correct reading. To the extent that the story naturally elicits that reading, I’m disregarding an element of it. Conceded.

            As to theodicy: I don't think it really matters if we speak generally or specifically because I think our various reactions to this particular story are pretty much the same as how Christians and non-Christians see the problem of evil. There only is a problem of evil if one starts with the axioms that God is all
            good/knowing/powerful, and then insists that the evidence of the world must be interpreted so as to fit these rules. Without starting with these beliefs,
            there is no "problem" in a metaphysical sense. The world simply has evils due to its physical nature, how life evolved, and the choices people make, and if we're smart we'll get to work on making things better.

            Agreed. I’d quibble that God’s all-goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence are logical deductions made by thinkers like Aquinas, rather than axioms. But on the basic point, I concur 100%. Without some prior
            warrant for theism (e.g., Aquinas’ metaphysical arguments), evils are just stuff that happens, not a puzzle of any kind.

            As I've been saying throughout, before trying to explain away the evidence, the more sensible thing to do is to look at all the evidence first, and see if one
            axioms are actually supported. The reason evil is such a "problem" is that the state of the world does not suggest the existence of a triple omni God.

            I concede this as well: the *state* of the world indeed does not suggest a triple omni God. However, that there *is* a world, at all, does suggest, to one who accepts Aquinas’ arguments, both that there is a God, and, after further deductions, that He has the traditional omni- predicates. If Aquinas or someone like him does demonstrate that God exists and that He has the omni- predicates, then and only then does the Problem of Evil become important, due to the glaring
            apparent inconsistency between the omni- predicates and all the world’s countless sufferers from devoured prey to despairing prisoners. But sure, if you don’t
            find Aquinas-type metaphysical arguments for theism persuasive, then “suffering-> !(triple omni God)” is certainly the most obvious conclusion.

            Just as Trent must invent a new meaning for this passage, just as a previous author had to try to invent a new meaning for that song about the joy of killing one's enemies' babies, Christians have no choice but to try to invent some narrative justifying the evil we see in this world.

            Carl Jung once penned an essay titled “An Answer to Job” about the Incarnation. I don’t remember much beyond the title so I neither know nor especially care how closely this tracks Jung, but the gist as I remember it was that Christ Incarnate, Suffering, and Resurrected is God’s answer to Job’s complaint about bad things happening to good people (like Job). The problem of evil, IOW, in the person of Job, is the question. Christianity is the answer to that pre-existing question, not an axiom that calls forth a narrative to justify itself.

            For an atheist or a polytheist, the Problem of Evil need not arise: suffering is the fault of either brute nature or of malicious gods. But for the classical monotheist
            believer in a triple omni God (like the Jews of Job's author's day, e.g.), the Problem of Evil is prior to Christianity.

            So while a figure like, e.g., the Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga takes his Christianity to be a “properly basic” (i.e., axiomatic) belief, the classical theist tradition does not. It’s not that Christianity is axiomatic and then I invent narratives to justify the evil in the world. It’s that the Christian narrative solves the Problem of Evil that metaphysically derived theism sets for me before I even arrive at Christianity. The solutions aren’t tailored to a pre-existing Christianity; instead, I discover Christian theodicy as a solution
            to a pre-existing theistic Problem of Evil.

            “Free will" is a common one, and I suspect you know it doesn't really do the job. Some other answers involve "mystery" or our lack of a higher understanding of good or evil, or some sort of greater reward we obtain later through suffering now, and so on, and so on.

            I think “free will” is the least bad family of theodicies. But were I not convinced of theism logically prior to confronting the Problem of Evil, I agree that I doubt I’d
            find any of the theodicies very attractive when "!God" would be a simpler answer.

            As with Trent's bible explanation, from where I sit it's silly to argue about whether these explanations are "plausible" once we're this far down the highway, once we've decided to ignore the previous off ramps associated with questioning these axioms.

            Agreed! The rubber really hits the road when we weigh the arguments for theism. If theism is
            granted, then Christianity is, IMHO, the most compelling solution to theism’s Problem of Evil; having granted that, the theodicy of specific instances of
            apparent evil (like the non-perspicuity of the Bible) is just a matter of application of general principle.
            However, if the deductive chain leading to
            theism seems faulty to you (or worse, if you have somehow acquired the misimpression that Catholic theism is merely axiomatic), then arguing about specific Bible stories is indeed silly. The real
            dispute between us is upstream of the Bible, at the questions of whether there is a God, and whether this God has the traditional omni- predicates. If I and
            my coreligionists can’t convince you of *that,* then IMHO we haven’t the slightest hope of convincing you that Christian theodicy, or Catholic Biblical hermeneutics, or anything else logically downstream of “mere theism” is at all compelling.

          • Irenist

            BTW: I think the history of Christianity bears out the abstract logic I've presented: Jewish monotheism made the problem of evil morally and intellectually urgent, and Christ is the answer to the problem. But in Israel's neighbors--pagan Rome and Zoroastrian Parthia--the problem wasn't posed as sharply.

          • Ben Posin

            Irenist,

            I very much appreciate your honesty and introspection. I think we've gone about as far as we can go, however. You agree with me that the evidence, that the world we observe, doesn't support the existence of Aquinas' God, and that any natural reading of the Exodus story doesn't support Trent's conception of God's nature. But you are willing to overlook that evidence based on what you consider the strength of Aquinas' logical arguments. It should be clear by this point that I consider this the opposite of how one should think, and that all of the logical "proofs" that make you believe in a triple omni God should be discarded as flawed in the face of an inconsistent reality, just as Aristotle's theories of gravity went out the window the moment someone bothered to time how long it took for things to fall. You don't, and I'm not sure how we bridge that divide.

    • God can withhold faith from being received to allow this hardening, and this is not taking away Pharaos free will. Its withholding a gift. The hardening of a heart makes one stubborn, but more importantly, fearless. Pharao did not fear the one true God at all. The first step to faith in the OT was fear of God

      • David Nickol

        God can withhold faith from being received to allow this hardening, and this is not taking away Pharaos free will.

        God doesn't say, "I will withhold faith so his heart will remain hard, or so his heart will harden." God says, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go." What is it about "I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go" that is difficult to understand? These rationales as to why God's words don't mean what the clearly mean are more than a little bit like "clarifications" issued by politicians or their handlers when the politicians say something damaging to themselves but can't bring themselves to admit they were wrong.

        The Jewish Study Bible says of Exodus 4:21:

        I will stiffen his heart, make him unyielding, impermeable to reason. As in v. 23 and 7.3, God here speaks of the final stage of the confrontation with Pharaoh (see 9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11.10; 14.4, 8, 17). He does not stiffen Pharaoh's heart initially, but only after Pharaoh has done so himself many times (7.13, 14, 22; 8.11, 15, 28; 9.7, 34, 35). Then God punishes Pharaoh in kind, depriving him of the freedom to change his mind and escape further punishment. The process is drawn out so that God's power can be made abundantly clear (7.3-5; 10.1-2).

        Exodus 10.1-2 is particularly enlightening:

        Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons' sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Lord."

        There is nothing mysterious about any of this. There is nothing in it about God "withholding faith." God says what he is going to do, and he says why he is doing it. And not only does God stiffen Pharaoh's heart so that the last few plagues can take place. After Moses leaves, God stiffens Pharaoh's heart again so that he pursues the Israelites and gets his whole army drowned in the Red Sea.

        • [---
          What is it about "I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go" that is difficult to understand?
          ---]
          If I attempt to harden water, it only becomes frozen through a privation of heat.

          If I attempt to harden a heart, it only becomes hard through a privation of good.

          It is not through the efficient cause of sin that Pharaos heart becomes hard. It is through a privation. A privation of His grace and/or faith. It is by God withholding.

          • Susan

            If I attempt to harden water, it only becomes frozen through a privation of heat.

            Like this: If I attempt to harden water, it only becomes frozen through a privation of heat.

            If I attempt to harden a heart, it only becomes hard through a privation of good

            What does that mean and how is it even close to the same thing?

          • David Nickol

            It is not through the efficient cause of sin that Pharaos heart becomes
            hard. It is through a privation. A privation of His grace and/or faith.
            It is by God withholding.

            How do you know this? How do you know how God hardened Pharaoh's heart? What is there in the text of Exodus or anywhere in the Bible a statement that God hardens people's hearts not actively, but passively, by withholding something? If Exodus must be read in light of the entire Bible, where in the Bible can it be found how God hardens hearts?

            Second, as I have argued elsewhere, this is not about converting Pharaoh to follow God. What is happening in Exodus is that God is (through Moses) making demands of Pharaoh and punishing him (and all of Egypt) if Pharaoh does not comply. No appeal is made to the goodness of Pharaoh's heart.

            Paul discusses the issue explicitly in Romans 9:

            14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on the part of God? Of course not!l
            15 For he says to Moses:
            “I will show mercy to whom I will,
            I will take pity on whom I will.”
            16 So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy.
            17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is why I have raised you up, to show my power through you that my name may be proclaimed throughout the earth.”
            18 Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.
            19 You will say to me then, “Why (then) does he still find fault? For who can oppose his will?”
            20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, “Why have you created me so?”
            21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one?

            It seems to me that Paul's answer is basically that God can do anything he wants, it just goes without saying that he is perfectly just, and how dare anyone try to maintain otherwise.

          • [---
            Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.
            ---]
            St. Paul juxtaposes mercy with hardening because they are in contrast. The opposite of mercy is judgment(punishment). He is equating the 'hardening' with Divine punishment.

            If we are justly judged by God to spend an eternity in hell, it is primarily painful because we are deprived of God. A privation of communion with Him and all benefits that communion entails.

            In a similar way, Pharao was deprived of the gifts that sustain, and in turn this allowed his heart to harden.

            [---
            How do you know this?
            ---]
            Punishment and chastisement are a physical evil which is distinct from moral and metaphysical evil. God can not be the cause of a moral evil. That is how I know.

          • David Nickol

            The opposite of mercy is judgment (punishment). He is equating the 'hardening' with Divine punishment.

            I (and Webster's) would say the opposite of mercy is cruelty, pitilessness, or mercilessness, not punishment.

            If we are justly judged by God to spend an eternity in hell . . . .

            In discussing God and Pharaoh, hell is irrelevant. The authors of Exodus had no concept of hell. In discussing St. Paul, hell is also irrelevant. He never mentions it.

            . . . . it is primarily painful because we are deprived of
            God.

            This notion of hell has become somewhat of a cliche on Strange Notions, but a cliche that is less than satisfactory. Part of the theory is that people are not sent to hell and are not "deprived" of God. They choose to go to hell and they reject God. God doesn't want people to go to hell. He just allows them to go there and to remain out of his presence. If such a choice is an informed choice—if those who choose hell really understand what they are doing, then for them living outside of God's presence should not be painful. They are getting what they want. Only if they do not get to make a truly informed choice should they discover that their choice does not make them happy. Why would a loving God allow someone to choose eternal misery based on incomplete or mistaken information? The standard answer is that God respects a person's free will. But to respect a freely made decision that was made based on faulty information is somewhat similar to accepting as true the conclusion of a valid syllogism of which one of the premises is untrue. It is to respect the form but disregard the content.

          • [---
            I (and Webster's) would say the opposite of mercy is cruelty, pitilessness, or mercilessness, not punishment.
            ---]
            And you would be wrong to take your theological cues from Webster. In the end, it is heaven or hell. It is mercy or punishment. They are theological opposites.

            [---
            In discussing God and Pharaoh, hell is irrelevant. The authors of Exodus had no concept of hell.
            ---]
            No. Heaven and Hell are always relevant. BTW, the books of Genesis and Job are older than Exodus and they both mention hell many times.

            [---
            In discussing St. Paul, hell is also irrelevant. He never mentions it.
            ---]
            When Paul refers to perishing which he does probably a dozen times.... he is obviously warning readers about hell.

          • David Nickol

            Genesis and Job . . . both mention hell many times

            They do?

          • "Let him pass from the snow waters to excessive heat, and his sin even to hell."
            - Job 24:19

          • David Nickol

            It is difficult to know why anyone in the 21st century would cite the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible. It is very badly mistaken to translate sheol (שְׁאוֹל) as "hell" in the Old Testament. Note how many of the following translate sheol as "hell" in Job 24:19:

            New International Version
            As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow, so the grave snatches away those who have sinned.

            New Living Translation
            The grave consumes sinners just as drought and heat consume snow.

            English Standard Version
            Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters; so does Sheol those who have sinned.

            New American Standard Bible
            "Drought and heat consume the snow waters, So does Sheol those who have sinned.

            King James Bible
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave those which have sinned.

            Holman Christian Standard Bible
            As dry ground and heat snatch away the melted snow, so Sheol steals those who have sinned.

            International Standard Version
            As drought and heat evaporate melting snow, that's what Sheol does with sinners.

            NET Bible
            The drought as well as the heat carry away the melted snow; so the grave takes away those who have sinned.

            GOD'S WORD® Translation
            [Just as] drought and heat steal water from snow, so the grave steals people who sin.

            Jubilee Bible 2000
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters; so does Sheol consume those who have sinned.

            King James 2000 Bible
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so does the grave those who have sinned.

            American King James Version
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so does the grave those which have sinned.

            American Standard Version
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth sheol those that have sinned.

            Douay-Rheims Bible
            Let him pass from the snow waters to excessive heat, and his sin even to hell.

            Darby Bible Translation
            Drought and heat consume snow waters; so doth Sheol those that have sinned.

            English Revised Version
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth Sheol those which have sinned.

            Webster's Bible Translation
            Drouth and heat consume the snow-waters: so doth the grave those who have sinned.

            World English Bible
            Drought and heat consume the snow waters, so does Sheol those who have sinned.

            Young's Literal Translation
            Drought -- also heat -- consume snow-waters, Sheol those who have sinned.

            Only one. The Douay-Rheims version.

          • It is difficult to understand why you cite protestant translations. I only see one authorized Catholic translation. The Douay Rheims. The others are just noise.

            In any case, newer authorized Catholic translations that you fail to list, do use the word Sheol, but this is not a correction. Hell in the strict sense can be used to describe limbo/hades as well. In the OT, it is not yet the hell of the damned, but the hell described as the limbo of the fathers where the just and sinners awaited Christ. It could also be temporarily referred to as heaven when Christ in their presence preached to them (as described by Peter), and the hell of the damned once He freed the just from the bondage of death and took them with Him to paradise.

          • David Nickol

            The idea that all translations of Hebrew Scripture except authorized Catholic ones are "just noise" is highly offensive.

          • Ben Posin

            Citation, please, regarding the Douay Rheims.

      • Savio Sacco

        Can't "God can withhold faith from being received" be seen as a sin of omission?

        • No. Faith and grace are unmerited gifts. One can not say God ought to give an unmerited gift.

          • David Nickol

            Faith and grace are unmerited gifts. One can not say God ought to give an unmerited gift.

            Two problems.

            First, no one has come close to establishing that God hardened Pharaoh's heart by withdrawing (or refraining from bestowing) faith and grace. Since it has been established (in my opinion) that hardening Pharaoh's heart involves manipulating his intellect and/or will, and since what is affected is Pharaoh's ability to act rationally, the "unmerited gift" theory lacks support.

            Second, isn't free will an unmerited gift? Life itself is an unmerited gift. Why can't it be argued that free will is an unmerited gift? If God chooses to take it back for reasons of his own, he may certainly do so. He may send everyone to hell if he wants to. Nobody merits heaven. It is difficult to argue that there is anything God may not do if he so chooses. That is, in effect, what I understand St. Paul to be saying. You are pottery, and God is the pottery. A pot has no right to say how the potter may and may not use his clay.

          • [---
            First, no one has come close to establishing that God hardened Pharaoh's heart by withdrawing (or refraining from bestowing) faith and grace.
            ---]
            Passively. Not by removing from the person. By not offering/gifting for reception. In any case, this is not something that can be "established" in the way you desire. However, it is one of the very few theories that is compatible with what we know about God. Your theory is not compatible.

            [---
            Since it has been established (in my opinion) that hardening Pharaoh's heart involves manipulating his intellect and/or will
            ---]
            I am glad you qualified that with it being your opinion. If you are right, I think God would be guilty of a moral evil which is incompatible with what we know about God. God can be responsible for physical evils such as punishment and chastisement, which is compatible. However, Paul is not saying what you think he is saying as I have already explained. His statement only makes sense with respect to the physical evil of punishment, not moral evil.

          • David Nickol

            Passively. Not by removing from the person. By not offering/gifting for reception.

            There is simply no hint in the text that God is "hardening Pharaoh's heart" passively. That is not anywhere in the Bible. It is completely invented. The argument seems to be that seen "in context" (meaning in the context of the entire Bible as the Catholic Church has interpreted it), the plain sense of the story contradicts what the Church teaches about God, and consequently it must be interpreted to mean something other than what it says.

            I suppose it would not bother me so much if someone said, "We know that God would never deprive someone of free will, so exactly how God hardened Pharaoh's heart without depriving him of free will is a mystery." Or, "Here is one way it seems possible God could harden Pharaoh's heart without depriving him of free will." But (as I read them, anyway) many people seem to be saying, "Problem solved. This is what the Bible really means. Don't get hung up on what it says. That makes you a fundamentalist."

          • David Nickol

            One can not say God ought to give an unmerited gift.

            While I do not buy the "unmerited gift" theory, nevertheless I would say that there are circumstances in which it would be wrong to withdraw an unmerited gift. If I am supporting my unworthy 20-something daughter out of sheer benevolence which she in no way deserves, then it might seem that I am perfectly free to stop supporting her at any time for any reason. However, suppose that she becomes pregnant and I know she will have an abortion should I cease to support her. If I stop supporting her with the intention that doing so will result in her having an abortion, I am complicit in the abortion. Acts that are morally neutral or even morally good in themselves can be morally reprehensible if done with the intention of causing evil.

            If I were to stop supporting my unworthy (fictional) daughter without the intention of her having an abortion, but nevertheless knowing she will have one, then I would not be responsible for what she does. However, if my intention is to precipitate her having an abortion, and I carry out that intention, I am responsible for her abortion.

            In the story as told in Exodus, however God accomplishes the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, even if it is by withdrawing an unmerited gift from Pharaoh, it is God's intention for Pharaoh to do wrong. God is omniscient. The only reason he could have, based on his own words, for hardening Pharaoh's heart is to make sure that Pharaoh does not do what Moses demands. God is omniscient. He knows what Pharaoh will do. He intends for Pharaoh to do what he is going to do. Consequently, he is partly to blame for St. Paul's actions.

          • [---
            I would say that there are circumstances in which it would be wrong to withdraw an unmerited gift.
            ---]
            You have presented a set of false choices. Lack of money is not a valid reason for an abortion. Therefore it is not a valid reason for a third party to act or even connect it to your outcome.

            [---
            The only reason he could have, based on his own words, for hardening Pharaoh's heart is to make sure that Pharaoh does not do what Moses demands.
            ---]
            God wanted Adam and Eve to stay away from the forbidden fruit. But God did not take away their free will to accomplish that desire. He did not take away Pharaoh's free will either. Just because God desires something, does not mean He will in turn actively suppress your free will. Sin has a way of destroying your freedom all by itself, by conditioning your mind and body.

          • David Nickol

            You have presented a set of false choices. Lack of money is not a valid reason for an abortion.

            It was a hypothetical example. And lack of money may not be a valid reason for an abortion in your opinion, but 68% of women in the United States procuring an abortion give not being currently able to afford a child as a reason. So it is perfectly plausible that a woman who was losing her income would choose to have an abortion. But the particular example is not important. Doing X, or ceasing to do X, even when you have a perfect right to stop or start doing X at will, can be an evil act if you do X, or stop doing X, with the intention of causing evil to be done by another.

            God wanted Adam and Eve to stay away from the forbidden fruit.

            There was no Garden of Eden. There was no Adam and Eve.

            LATER ADDENDUM: There was no forbidden fruit. There was no talking snake with legs. Even the Catechism says the story is in figurative language.

          • [---
            There was no Garden of Eden. There was no Adam and Eve. There was no forbidden fruit. There was no talking snake with legs. Even the Catechism says the story is in figurative language.
            ---]

            Figurative is not the same as "never happened". Its also does not mean that is the only sense in which a particular verse was written.

          • Susan

            Figurative is not the same as "never happened". Its also does not mean that is the only sense in which a particular verse was written.

            Fair enough. What does it mean in this case and how do you know?

          • [---
            Fair enough. What does it mean in this case and how do you know?
            ---]
            No disrespect meant, but debating the creation story is not the road I want to go down at this time. Perhaps another time.

          • Susan

            No disrespect meant, but debating the creation story is not the road I want to go down at this time.

            No disrespect taken. I'm not sure why you brought it up, pursued the point and when asked to explain what you mean, decide it's not a road you want to go down.

            But that's up to you.

          • David Nickol

            Figurative is not the same as "never happened".

            If the story of Adam and Eve is said to be told in "figurative language," but what actually happened is that "our first parents" started out life in a beautiful garden, were tempted by a serpent to eat forbidden fruit, and so on, and so on, what does "figurative language" mean?

          • Savio Sacco

            That sounds like a Calvinistic way to see things. It contradicts the idea proposed elsewhere that God does not look at faces. If faith, and hence, salvation comes only to people God fancies (and chosen arbitrarily) than there is no point trying to be good. It also throws the idea of free will out the window.
            The more I read these articles and the more I read answers like these, the more I start to think that Atheists are probably right.

    • Lionel Nunez

      You don't actually harden the bread in any circumstance; the air does, and God is more like the air. Think about it. In this analogy, God is the air.

      • Ben Posin

        I wouldn't get too hung up in arguing the meaning of a bad analogy. After all, the text doesn't say God allowed Pharaoh's heart to harden, as one might allow bread to harden in the air, it says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, as one might harden clay in a kiln. If you insist on using bread and air analogies, one might say that God deliberately and with malice aforethought took pharoah's bready heart out of his chest and placed it in the air, so that it would harden.

      • David Nickol

        What Ben Posin said.

  • "I swear I didn't kill the guy! I just pushed him off the building. The fall killed him!"

    • Irenist

      It's more, "I let him jump without trying to stop him."

      • David Nickol

        It's more, "I let him jump without trying to stop him."

        But God is not depicted as passively letting things happen. Trent Horn says, "It seems that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by removing what little presence of his grace that was in Pharaoh’s heart in the first place." But what is going on is not a matter of grace or faith. Moses is not trying to convert Pharaoh to Judaism. He is threatening him with terrible punishments, and when Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, those terrible punishments are inflicted. All Pharaoh has to do is act in his own self-interest and in the interest of Egypt. He doesn't need grace or faith to do this. He needs rationality.

  • Peter Piper

    The question of whether the hardening of Pharaoh's heart can sensibly be considered to be a kind of inaction has been adequately dealt with by David Nickol. So I'll address the other prong of the argument here:

    Only as the plagues grew worse and Pharaoh became more stubborn does the text begin to say God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

    In fact, the clear implication of the text is that God was hardening Pharaoh's heart from very early on. Consider, for example, Exodus 7:22, which reads `But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.' The last clause is the vital one, for it must refer back to something said by God earlier in the book. But the only things God said which related to Pharaoh's heart becoming hard or Pharaoh not listening were the statements that God himself would harden Pharaoh's heart.

    The OP also seems to think that if Pharaoh is hardening his own heart then God cannot be hardening Pharaoh's heart as yet. But in Exodus these two seem to be just different ways of talking about the same thing. Consider, for example, the following consecutive verses from the end of Exodus 9 and the start of Exodus 10:

    When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them...

    • Irenist

      The issue you've raised is a special case of the Problem of Evil.

      God, as omnipotent primary cause of everything, causes Pharaoh's actions along with everything else in the cosmos, by sustaining Pharaoh in being. Nothing can be forced upon God, because no actor can exist without Him.

      Pharaoh, as a secondary cause and free-willed agent, is the efficient cause of his own behavior.

      The Israelite author(s) of Exodus is dealing with some of the same issues that preoccupied Augustine and Calvin: How to affirm God's sovereignty without implying that God directly wills evil? The active tense of the Hebrew verb corresponding to "hardens" in English flows, IMHO, from an emphasis on God's omnipotence on the part of the author of Exodus here.

      Exodus is particularly interested in the "God brings good from evil" aspect of free will theodicy here, as in the line "so that I may perform these signs among them."

      Because of all this, I think the "God controlled Pharaoh's mind to make him sin so God could show off his power" interpretation is an easy one to make if these verses are considered in isolation. However, they should not be so considered. When read in the context of the rest of Scripture and Tradition, that interpretation cannot be consistently squared with the rest of what we know about God (and human free will) and so must be incorrect. Anyone or any text quoted out of its proper context will often be misread. Avoiding that is fundamental to sound hermeneutics.

      • David Nickol

        When read in the context of the rest of Scripture and Tradition, that interpretation cannot be consistently squared with the rest of what we know about God (and human free will) and so must be incorrect.

        I think you have a problem when you take a passage from the Old Testament and say, in essence, "The meaning is apparent, but it just can't mean what it appears to mean, because we know from other parts of the Bible (and Tradition) that God isn't like that, or would never say that, or would never do such a thing." Th Hebrew Scriptures were written by and for the Jews a significant amount of time before the time of Jesus and the New Testament, and are considered to be divinely inspired. To say something in the Old Testament is wrong in the light of the New Testament and Tradition is to say God inspired errors in the Old Testament that had to wait to be contradicted until the New Testament was completed and accepted as canonical. It is also to say that contemporary Jews can't possibly understand the Torah (or the Tanakh) unless they read it along with the New Testament as a single work.

        Here's a passage from Joseph A. Fitzmyer's The One Who Is to Come that I have quoted in similar discussions that takes a different approach:

        A Christian interpreter of the Old Testament should
        be able to agree with a contemporary Jewish interpreter of the Hebrew Scriptures on the literal meaning of a given passage, even one mentioning māšîăḥ, or one related to such a concept, before the Christian invokes his or her canonical meaning. After all, the extent of the writings that the Jewish interpreter regard as the written word of God is identical with the Old Testament that the Christian interpreter seeks to expound. For the Christian canonical sense of the Old Testament is a "plus," a sense added to the literal meaning of the Old Testament.
        That meaning may be a "closed" meaning for the Jewish interpreter, but it remains "open" for the Christian interpreter, who has to reckon with the literal meaning in its historical formulation and take into account all the aspects that it may have that allow it to be "open" to subsequent Christian interpretation.

        In the 21st century, I don't think it is necessary to be a Christian or to read the New Testament to see it as unjust for God to "harden Pharaoh's heart" and then punish him (and all of Egypt) for not relenting. However, that is clearly what God does in Exodus. It is just as problematic for contemporary Jews as for contemporary Christians to accept that God would do such a thing. It seems to me the only solution is to accept that the Israelites had a more primitive understanding of God and of human action than we do today. It is not really that Jews have a problem with this passage and Christians don't, because Christians read the Bible as one book.

      • Peter Piper

        We have now moved on from the claim of the OP (that this passage does not appear to be implicating God in wrongdoing) to the claim that, (1) although the passage might appear to be implicating God in wrongdoing, it is possible to interpret it as not doing so, and (2) this other possible interpretation is the one that ought to be accepted. (1) is correct, and I don't doubt that you have good reasons for believing (2).

        But it is important to recognise that, every time you do this, you are attacking the foundations of your own belief system. For you are attacking the trustworthiness of both scripture and tradition. Scripture, in that you accept that it may appear to say one thing but actually be saying another. But also tradition, because you suggest that God allowed the traditions of the Israelites to be distorted to fit their time, place and culture, and so it becomes more plausible that he also allows the tradition of the Catholic Church to be distorted to fit time, place and culture.

        It may well be that your belief system, taken as a whole, is robust enough to survive the attacks you are making on its foundations. But it is important to not simply ignore this phenomenon: that is, each time you must explain away a passage in this way, you should lower your level of trust in scripture and tradition a little.

      • Guest

        deleted

  • Peter Piper

    For another interesting example of God leading someone astray, see 2 Samuel 24.

    • Irenist

      Indeed. Others are 1 Samuel 26:19 , 2 Samuel 16:10 , Psalms 105:25 , Isaiah 7:17. I think we Catholics approach all of them much as we do the passage under discussion here.

  • This seems a very odd way to communicate to me. For example, if I were to tell my wife "I will wash the car" but what I mean is "I will leave the car outside in the rain until it is clean" I think she would consider my words to have been willfully misleading.

    So although what God meant was "I will not stop Pharaoh's heart from hardening" he chose to say "I will harden Pharaoh's heart so that he will not let the people go."

  • Even if Trent Horn is right, this story is astonishingly cruel and the most cruel character in it is Yahweh.

    God kills the first born of every Egyptian after nine torturous plagues. If he knew the plagues would not work, why did he put them through that torture? If he didn't know, what kind of omniscient God is he?

    But he seems to know what would happen. He says:

    Exodus 11:1 "Yet will I bring one plague more upon
    Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall
    let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether."

    But for some reason Pharaoh is given another change and Exodus tells us:

    "And the LORD hardened
    Pharaoh's heart, SO THAT he would not let the children of Israel go out
    of his land"

    And so all those people and babies died and, as God predicted "there was
    a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one
    dead." Do you think the babies deserved it?

    But this still didn't really work because Pharaoh sends an army after the departing Jews and God drowns the army too. Why not just strike the army down in the first place with lightning? This would have been a pretty clear indication of Yahweh's power, and, with the army dead, no one could have stopped the Jews from leaving. The bonus would be that the newborns didn't have to die.

  • David Nickol

    I would expect that even Trent Horn himself would not insist (as others seem to be doing) that he has articulated the solution to the problems of this passage in Exodus. Remember that Dr. Matthew Ramage proposed a way of looking at the Old Testament in Is God Pro-Life or Pro-Death? I think a plausible application of that theory to this case is that God did not harden Pharaoh's heart by any means, but rather what we are getting in Exodus is an account informed and limited by an understanding more primitive than our own of human freedom and how God operates in the world.

    The advantage of Dr. Ramage's view is that it applies to all of the Old Testament. Without some comprehensive theory like this, it is necessary to come up with a different ad hoc explanation each time an Old Testament passage appears, on the surface, to say something problematic about God. ("Oh, although God says he will harden Pharaoh's heart, he doesn't really harden Pharaoh's heart. He permits it to harden.")

    • I do not think it is fair to say that there was a more primitive understanding of freedom at the time. If this book was written in 6th century BCE, this is not that far off in time or location from the Athenian Golden Age.

      This was a period in which we had Sophocles, Plato, Athenian democracy, Euclid, the Parthenon, and so on. The river valley civilizations had existed for thousands of years. The works of Sophocles contain demonstrate a profound understanding of justice and psychology. Aristophanes a subtle demonstration of satire.

      To me this story is clearly one of several in which the Jews identify themselves as a chosen people, not because they nor their god is particularly enlightened, merciful, enemy-loving or just, but because he is stupendously powerful. Likely as a justification for expelling those who had moved in on their land during the Babylonian exile.

      Of course, if you read it with the unshakable presumption that the God character is perfectly loving and fair, there is no option but to interpret it like Mr Horn and Mr Ramage have done.

      • David Nickol

        I do not think it is fair to say that there was a more primitive understanding of freedom at the time. If this book was written in 6th century BCE, this is not that far off in time or location from the Athenian Golden Age.

        To be more clear, I should have said free will instead of freedom. As I noted in another message, a footnote in the New American Bible says:

        In the anthropology of the ancient Israelites there is no opposition between individual responsibility and God’s sovereignty over all of creation. Cf. Rom 9:17–18.

        I quote Romans in this message. I think our sense of fairness and justice is quite different today. (Mine certainly is.) I think we expect would like to conceive of God as fair. If one person is born into a stable, virtuous, affluent family and is additionally showered by "grace" whenever he is in a difficult situation, and a second person is born into a poor, dysfunctional family in an urban environment where crime is rampant, and God chooses to dispense minimal "grace" to that person in difficult situations, I think we see that as unfair unless God's final judgment of the two men takes into account all of the disparities between their two situations.

        We also have to remember that in the Old Testament, there is no idea of eternal reward (heaven) or punishment (hell). Jews in Old Testament times would have looked at the consequences of personal moral choices quite differently from the way Christians did in the New Testament and the way Christians do today.

        This was a period in which we had Sophocles, Plato, Athenian democracy, Euclid, the Parthenon, and so on.

        First, it is certainly not warranted to conclude that Israelite documents written at a particular time would reflect Greek thought from the same time. Second, it is very difficult to specify a date of composition for the Book of Exodus, particularly because it appears to be material from different sources edited together. Knowing the date of the editing does not tell us the dates of the various parts that were edited together.

        no option but to interpret it like Mr Horn and Mr Ramage have done . . . .

        As I understand it, their interpretations are (or would be) quite different. Horn is saying God did something (or refrained from doing something) that constituted "hardening Pharaoh's heart." He has to show that whatever God did, it didn't interfere with Pharaoh's free will. Ramage could say that it was the Israelites' understanding that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but that would not mean God did anything at all.

        I think it is also important to remember that nothing at all may have happened between a historical figure named Moses and a historical Pharaoh of Egypt, either because no Israelites were slaves in Egypt and the whole story is myth, or because there was some kind of migration of Israelites from Egypt that grew in the telling to become an epic confrontation between God and Pharaoh.

        • Thanks for the clarification. I don't suggest that the Israelite myths written or oral were influenced or connected to the writings of Athens. I understand that our best guess places their writing or editing at around 600 BCE. But I do reject the idea that things like subtle and complex understanding of psychology or morality were beyond the abilities of people 2500 years ago. I realize you weren't saying that.

          Big fan of your posts.

  • David Nickol

    When we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it is an easy mistake to
    assume that God did something to Pharaoh in order to cause Pharaoh’s
    heart to become stubborn and “hard.”

    While everyone would acknowledge, I think, that "harden Pharaoh's heart" is a figure of speech, it almost is being taken literally. Note the sentence that follows the above:

    But you can cause something to become hard just by leaving it alone, such as when bread is left out on the counter.

    In the entry on Heart in McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible, it says:

    Biblical idiom differs from modern idiom in considering the heart as the seat of intelligence and decision, and heart is used in the Bible where in English we should use mind or will. . . . To be stubborn is to be heavy or hard of heart, and stubbornness is overcome by the exchange of a heart of stone for a heart of flesh. . . . .

    When we say that someone is hard hearted, we mean he is cold, unsympathetic, uncaring, and immune to emotional appeals. Hard heartedness is largely explained in terms of emotions or lack of emotions. But what the passages in question in Exodus claim is not that God interfered with Pharaoh's emotions, but rather with his intellect and will. God made Pharaoh stubborn, and by stubborn we mean unreasonably headstrong, inflexible, and impervious to reason.

    God was exerting pressure on Pharaoh to accede to his demands to let the Israelites go, but he was also, toward the end, making sure that Pharaoh would not accede to his demands. As God was ratcheting up the pressure, things reached a point where God did not want Pharaoh to accede to the demands relayed to him by Moses. God wanted to put on a display of power, and premature cooperation of Pharaoh would prevent this. God said, " Go to Pharaoh, for I have made him and his servants obstinate in order that I may perform these signs of mine among them and that you may recount to your son and grandson how I made a fool of the Egyptians and what signs I did among them, so that you may know that I am the LORD."

    To say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart does not mean that God modified some of Pharaoh's emotions. It means he altered Pharaoh's intellect and will.

    • Lionel Nunez

      If you're going to interpret God's words literally; then reading it as if God "made" the Pharaoh obstinate the same way he "made" you an atheist is probably closer to the intention of the text.

      • Ben Posin

        You and Brandon both: you can't swerve away from the meaning of this passage by complaining about people being too "literal." It's a bit worrying that you think this is a reasonable thing to say. If we were being literal, we'd be saying how surprised we were that Pharaoh didn't drop dead when his heart and arteries hardened.

        Your proposal, that God is discussing the way in which he had fashioned Pharoah, is the closest thing I've seen at trying to base a non-obvious theory in the text, but it still fails. God doesn't say at the outset that Pharaoh's heart was hard, or that Pharaoh had developed as a stubborn man; instead, God says that he is going to harden Pharoah's heart, and is going to make Pharaoh stubborn so that Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go. The equivalent would be if God said to you: Lionel, go and present reasonable and clearly true proof of my existence to David Nickol, and I shall then fill him with stubbornness so that he does not listen, that I may punish him for being and atheist and show my power. Though for the record, I can't recall whether David Nickol has said he is an atheist.

        I tell you three times: being able to read plain English (or plain Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Latin, or Greek, as the case may be) is not the same as being too literal.

        • Lionel Nunez

          I'm saying you're too committed to reading the passage as if God is a "person" at least in the sense that we are. The description of events, that you're arguing in favor of, would probably convey to a person who isn't acquainted with the Judeo-Christian tradition that God is some wizard who has his own substance in the world and manipulates that world by some magical mechanism.

          • David Nickol

            I'm saying you're too committed to reading the passage as if God is a "person" at least in the sense that we are.

            Are you saying that God did not recruit Moses for this mission, give him miracles to work, and speak to him in order to tell him what to say to Pharaoh?

            If you are saying that, I think you are correct, but I have a feeling that is not what you are saying.

            This whole thread, it seems to me, depends it being a historical fact that God spoke to Moses and said, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart."

          • Lionel Nunez

            I'm saying you come across as thinking he's a human; who happens to have infinite power. At least in terms of the narrative. And you're projecting that sentiment on to your evaluations.

          • David Nickol

            I'm saying you come across as thinking he's a human; who happens to have infinite power. At least in terms of the narrative.

            Isn't that exactly how the story is written? God appears to be an extremely powerful person. He is not the God of philosophy here, outside of time. That is very much how God is depicted throughout the Old Testament. In Genesis, he even comes down in the cool of the evenings to walk through the garden.

            And you're projecting that sentiment on to your evaluations.

            I don't see how else to approach it. And that is the way the OP approaches it, as well. The God of philosophy (or theology) is very different from the God of the Old Testament. The Old Testament God is very much a person, and very much like an immensely powerful human being. To try and talk about a "Bible story" by making the God of the Old Testament into the God of philosophy and theology is basically impossible.

          • Lionel Nunez

            No that's not how it's written; between the burning bush and the ambiguous sourcing of the dialog attributed to God, it's obvious God isn't human or even in human form. And that's a terrible example from Genesis; so bad in fact I'll leave it to you to figure out how many non-human things can walk. And regardless of genre or book it's a consistent theme in the Bible that God can assume different forms on Earth; Jacob wrestling God, the burning cauldron when he makes covenant with Abraham, the whirlwind at the end of Job, take your pick. And if you refuse to read the Bible in the narrative premise it sets out then it's inevitable that you'll notice "inconsistencies" or "inaccuracies". It would be the literary equivalent of reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein while complaining that it's impossible to construct a new life form from dead tissue. Just as you have to read that novel with the premise being true in terms of the narrative; at a minimum you should read the Bible as if the author believed it to be true when he wrote it. And don't complain that the book Frankenstein isn't anything like the Bible; I know Mary Shelley intended her work strictly as fiction and that Bible consists of many genres written across different time periods. The point of my analogy was to frame the way your fallacious argument appears in terms you could appreciate and not to make a direct comparison between the Bible and Frankenstein or to suggest they are alike in every, or even some, respects.

          • Ben Posin

            You are missing the forest for the trees. Sure, God isn't depicted as an actual human, but he is pretty clearly depicted as a sort of person, as an entity with personality, that focuses on things, communicates with people, and picks events to work his will on. The examples you have listed SUPPORT this.

            And we're not the ones refusing to read the Bible in its narrative premise. It's people who are saying that we need to ignore the actual text and clear themes in the Old Testament in favor of theories inspired by a book written thousands of years after the Old Testament was written that are refusing to give weight to the Old Testament's narrative premise.

          • David Nickol

            And if you refuse to read the Bible in the narrative premise it sets out
            then it's inevitable that you'll notice "inconsistencies" or
            "inaccuracies".

            I agree with Ben Posin's response.

            Here is something from the old (online) Catholic Encyclopedia that makes sense to me:

            The Bible, especially the Old Testament, abounds in anthropomorphic expressions. Almost all the activities of organic life are ascribed to the Almighty. He speaks, breathes, sees, hears; He walks in the garden; He sits in the heavens, and the earth is His footstool. It must, however, be noticed that in the Bible locutions of this kind ascribe human characteristics to God only in a vague, indefinite way. He is never positively declared to have a body or a nature the same as man's; and human defects and vices are never even figuratively attributed to Him. The metaphorical, symbolical character of this language is usually obvious. The all-seeing Eye signifies God's omniscience; the everlasting Arms His omnipotence; His Sword the chastisement of sinners; when He is said to have repented of having made man, we have an extremely forcible expression conveying His abhorrence of sin. The justification of this language is found in the fact that truth can be conveyed to men only through the medium of human ideas and thoughts, and is to be expressed only in language suited to their comprehension. The limitations of our conceptual capacity oblige us to represent God to ourselves in ideas that have been originally drawn from our knowledge of self and the objective world. The Scriptures themselves amply warn us against the mistake of interpreting their figurative language in too literal a sense. They teach that God is spiritual, omniscient, invisible, omnipresent, ineffable. Insistence upon the literal interpretation of the metaphorical led to the error of the Anthropomorphites.

            Here's the problem I find with the OP and most of its defenders. They are not looking at God in this story as "spiritual, omniscient, invisible, omnipresent, ineffable" (and outside of time). They are taking most of the story literally and then saying, "When God said he would harden Pharaoh's heart, he didn't mean he would do it actively. He meant he would do it passively, by withholding grace—passively, like leaving a loaf of bread sitting out so it gets stale instead of wrapping it up so it stays fresh. But there's nothing in the story that even hints at that.

            Also, as several commenters have implied, accomplishing something passively and accomplishing it actively are morally the same when the intended goal is the same.

            If I know a person is having a rough time making ends meet and I give him a million dollars to help him, that is a charitable act. If I know a person is having a rough time making ends meet and I give him a million dollars because I believe he can't handle money well, will spend it on getting drunk, and he will be much worse off that if he continued to struggle, and I want him to become an alcoholic, I have not done a good deed. I have done something wicked. If I do a good deed with the intention of something good coming from it, I have done something good. If I do a good deed with the intention of something good from it, and in reality something bad comes from it, I have still done a good deed. But if I do something that appears to be good (like giving money to a poor man) with the intention of causing evil to happen, then I have done something wrong.

            So I would say that if God deliberately withholds something like grace—which he is free to give or not give as he sees fit—but does so with the intention of causing evil to happen, then he has intentionally and deliberately caused evil to happen.

          • Ben Posin

            What David Nickol says. What I'm committed to is decent reading comprehension, and facing up to the plain meaning of language. I'm not sure if Old Testament God has "substance," but of course he's a person, at least in the sense of having a personality, having opinions about things, having conversations with people, and appearing at specific places and times. If you think that's a bad description of God, all you have to do is say that the Old Testament does a bad job describing God, and is corrected by the Catholic church.

      • David Nickol

        then reading it as if God "made" the Pharaoh obstinate the same way he "made" you an atheist . . . .

        I am not an atheist.

        • Lionel Nunez

          My mistake; just substitute whatever you identify as in for atheist. Sorry if I came across as presumptuous.

  • kwaku Osei

    Totally agree! New to this site but liking it already. Thank you Trent, you're absolutely right.Am a young scientist scientist from Ghana looking for more of such intellectual sites.

  • David Nickol

    Let us assume (and it is an assumption not supported by non-biblical historical records or archeological evidence) that the account of the exodus in the Bible is based in some way or another on historical occurrences. Did God actually speak directly to Moses and convey to him something that, translated into English (RSV Catholic Edition), is accurately represented by the following?

    When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.