Most Bible scholars are interested in what people believed. I am not. I am interested in the logic of God. Those are different questions.
The Bible contains many books, and some are more logical than others. If a writer seems to respect logic (as Mark and John seem to) then they interest me. But if a writer openly rejects logic (what Paul dismisses as "the wisdom of the Greeks") then that writer loses my interest.
John is the only Bible writer who defines the word God. He does so in his first verse:
'Word' is the Greek 'logos' meaning logic. Later Christians gave it a special supernatural meaning, but when John wrote it still had its normal Greek meaning. It was a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus, circa 535-475 BC. Aristotle confirmed the meaning of logos in his 'on rhetoric'. We persuade people using 'logos' (logic), 'pathos' (emotion) and 'ethos' (our reputation). The modern word logic is derived from logos.
"Logos" is a principle of order and knowledge (see the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd edition):
'With' is the Greek 'pros', as in the modern usage "pro -something", meaning 'to the advantage of'. So John 1:1 could be translated:
So logic (in the Greek sense of the word) is God. The most learned of
the early Christians and Jews seem to agree. For example, Philo of
Alexandria wrote that "The
imperfect have as their law the holy Logos [logic]" (see "The Sacrifice
It is important to remember that ancient people were at least as intelligent as us, and possibly more so. This is why:
In short, modern man can afford to be stupid, and ancient man could not. Perhaps this is why our ancient ancestors had bigger brains than we do: brain size peaked before the discovery of farming and has been in decline ever since, according to measurements of skulls found in French caves).
This is not to say that every ancient farmer was a philosopher. But it is naive to think that they were not as smart as us, or that they were less happy.
Now back to the topic of gods.
Since God is logic, the first verse of the Bible now becomes clear:
Science has shown that the universe and the earth are created by logic. This is not a new idea: Pythagoras said that everything is math, and Plato said the real universe is abstract logic, and the physical world is just its shadow. Later we shall see that Greek and Hebrew thought were much closer than most people realise.
The name of God
When Moses described his conversion at the burning bush, he asked for God's name (how God talks will be discussed later):
Here God seems to be defined as the first, self existent principle: "I am that I am". Again this only makes sense if God is logic itself: the self-existent abstract principle that makes existence possible. Without logic we can know nothing about anything, so the first principle of any philosophy must be the existence of logic.
It was essential to Moses that people understood that God is abstract, not a person or thing.
Making no graven images was the second of the Ten
Commandments. The first is to put God (logic) first. It is
It is sometimes assumed that God must have arms and legs (other than our arms and legs of course), because of passages like this:
The context however shows that this is metaphorical: in Exodus 14, the crossing of the "red sea", there was no mention of a great hand coming out of the sky to hit the Egyptians. And if God had literal nostrils they must have been very large to blow the waters away, and his lungs must have been even larger to keep up this breath for many hours! Later passages also say that God has wings and feathers:
Clearly these are metaphors for the power that saved the Israelites. They were saved by logic: that is, by a very intelligent leader. Nostrils and feathers are metaphors. The idea of God in physical form was completely alien to Judaism. In the years before the New Testament, the Septuagint translators did their best to choose words that would not give the slightest hint that God had a human form in any way. E. g. the "image" of God was changed to the "glory" of the Lord and the "mouth" of God became the "voice" of the Lord (see the Jewish Encyclopedia: Anthropomorphism). Jesus put it succinctly:
But Jesus went on to say that God (logic) can be revealed through people. This was hardly a new concept: in the Old Testament the word for God was "Elohim", a plural word, and meant (according to Strong's Hebrew concordance)
Hence the Bible refers to Elohim (plural) walking in the garden of Eden, having dinner with Abraham., etc. These Elohim would have been people who claimed to have logic (God) inside them, and therefore must be obeyed.
Theoretical physics is hard work. We can show mathematically
that logic can create everything, logic has rules, logic prefers some
others, and so on, but it takes a long time, Also, it does not
capture how it feels to be part of the universe, and to rely on it for
our needs. So it helps if we personify logic: to say "logic says this", or "logic wants that".
This is exactly the same reason why we personify ourselves.
What, after all, is a person? A person is a
atoms interacting in vastly complicated ways. But the only
practical everyday way to think of ourselves is by describing feelings
Highly complex systems are best understood in terms of emotions and needs. This is true of any complex system. Take computers for example:
Those who understand computers the best are most likely to treat them as being conscious. Similarly, those who know humans best are most likely to treat them as conscious, even though consciousness is "nothing but" chemical processes. Consciousness is the most useful and therefore the best way to understand people, computers, and all complex systems, including (and especially) the logic of the universe itself.
Logic takes one condition and makes another: "if A and B, then C". Just study theoretical physics (and then biochemistry) to see how simple initial conditions logically create an entire universe.
Logic has arms and legs
Logic created the universe. The universe is an expression, or embodiment of logic: everything in the universe is a physical manifestation of logic. So every person, every part, every head and arm and leg is logic made flesh.
(Of course, each of us is only a small part of the big
picture. So we can appear to be wrong about things, just as
one side of an equation is unbalanced.)
If a person talks and acts in a logical, then we say "that is
a logical person." So that person is a part of logic, and
logic is part
of the person. Jesus said something similar about God (see
Logic has desire
When a person or other complex system tends to move in a certain direction we say it has a desire to do so. For example, logic leads to its conclusions, and we say a graph "tends toward" a particular direction. Even the simplest particle of matter has inertia: a desire to continue at its present velocity. So everything has desire.
Logic has morality
Logic creates the universe, including living things. Living things must logically want to survive (otherwise they would be quickly replaced by those who do). Logically, we survive best through cooperation. Methods of cooperation are known as morality: we see the other person's point of view, help the tribe, do not kill or cheat, etc.
Logic cares for us
For us to exist, the universe (a creation of logic) has provided for all our needs. Giving someone al they need is called caring for them.
Logic is love
The first letter of John contains this extra definition of God:
'Love' is the Greek "agape" meaning brotherly love: that is, treating others like ourselves. That fairness makes a society stronger because they enable the most efficient use of resources. In other words, "agape" is logic: the logic of survival (and its bi-product, a happy society).
Logic will answer our questions
If you have a question use logic and you will get the best possible answer.
Logic loves you personally
For the best chance of survival, every member of the tribe (or family) matters. So logically you matter, personally. (And if you sacrifice your life for your tribe or family and that is the logical thing to do, don't worry: your consciousness will survive. See part two of this book.)
Logic has a sense of humour
Humour is that which provokes laughter: usually through
combining the unexpected or absurd. The universe is full of
Hunter gatherers, who live close to nature, laugh frequently. Scientists who truly love their field often laugh at the pleasure of some unexpected thing. Devout skeptics like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett made a career out of laughing at the universe. Even mathematicians take a childish delight in particularly pleasing discoveries: Logic is always throwing up the unexpected: it loves to play tricks. So logic has a sense of humour.
Logic gives moral certainty
Logic is always constant and unchanging. In contrast, any current evidence, such as scientific findings or interpretation of a holy text, is subject to the possibility of change. If we base our ideas on anything except logic then our ideas are relative to something that might change. But logic itself does not change: it is the standard by which everything else is judged. Logic is the only sure foundation.
Today we don't just talk of one logos, but many. We have the
logos of the biome (bio-logy), the logos of society
(socio-logy), the logos of the physical body (physio-logy) and
so on. It was no different in ancient times, except they
personified each logos to make it easier to remember.
The Greeks and the Hebrews
The Greeks are better known than the Hebrews for respecting
So in this part of the book I will often compare Greek and
The Greeks had many logics (or logoi). For example the Greeks had the logos of the endless oceans embodied in the Titan Oceanus, and the logos of nearby seas embodied in the god Poseidon, then various nymphs to represent the different characteristics of local waterways. Oceanus was unfathomable and distant and eternal, Poseidon was unpredictable and to be treated with great respect, and the nymphs were helpful or treacherous depending on the waters. Thus the Greeks simplified complex topics through personification.
For ancient Greeks the council of gods was the Olympians.
When they wished to refer to something that was generally
agreed they could refer to
"the gods" rather than a particular god.
For most peoples of the near east the council of gods was
called "il" or "el". The ancient Hebrews also had a council of
gods, or divine council, called "Elohim" (the ending "-him"
The Hebrews decided that only logic mattered, so in their
divine council the other gods to be
just messengers (angels), but they are still referred to as
e.fg. in Psalms:
So whereas the Greeks had Zeus (head of the gods), Ares (god of war) and Hermes (messenger god), the Hebrews had Yahweh (the one god), Michael (angel of war: see Daniel 12:1, Revelation 12:7), and Gabriel (for the most important messages).
Battles between logics
As generations pass, different logics (logoi) gain and lose status. For example in modern times, phreno-logy (the logos of reading bumps on the head) lost ground because it failed in real world tests, whereas psycho-logy (the logos of thoughts) was more successful. We see the same battles in the earliest history of the Hebrews, in the battle between Baal and Yahweh.
Ball and Yahweh were originally "storm gods". The lands of the near east were very dry, so survival depended on understanding the logic of rain. Obviously that meant irrigating where possible, and using the best crops, but how do you organise the people? How do you respond to needs? There were two competing theories, represented by the Yahweh and Baal.
Baal's logic was strong leadership: a strong ruler can have good advisers and tell people what to do. This seemed rational. but whether or not it led to better harvests, one obvious result was that cities that followed Baal tended to have a wealthy king who owned all the land.
Yahweh's logic (in the books of Moses) was to have no king, but share the land equally, and teach the people correct principles (do not steal, care for the poor, etc.). The thinking (as later explained in the first book of Samuel) is that kings tend to be out of touch and yet they take all your resources. So the cities that followed Yahweh leave fewer grand monuments for archaeologists, but they treated their written law as sacred.
The logic that won
Which logic was more correct? For centuries the two approaches lived side by side, but gradually Yahweh's equal-land, sacred law approach gave better economic results. So Yahweh replaced Baal. See part five of this book for details.
Yahweh became so successful that he was treated as "the one" god. because once you have rain, justice and wealth, all other concerns seem trivial in comparison. But of course wealth brings envy, and soon Israel had kings and central control again, and the economy went into relative decline. Again, see part five for details.
It may be hard for modern people to see ancient religion as logical. After all, didn't these gods demand animal sacrifices? Yes, and there was good logic behind it.
For a nation to run you need communication. This is easy in
modern times: technology makes it easy to communicate. But in
ancient times it might take weeks or months for messages to
spread, and sophisticated detail was almost impossible. So how
know that the people are really committed to your message? If
you send out a message
how do you know they are not just nodding their heads and then
you once you go?
Almost every ancient culture solved the communication problem in the same way: through sacrifice. If people do more than they have to, if they are willing to sacrifice the best of their (scarce) possessions, then you (and their neighbours) can be sure that that they are committed to the cause.
In modern times we still sacrifice for the same reason. For
we spend more than we need to on a home, to demonstrate that
the home is very important
to us. If we just bought the cheapest possible goods then
us would question our commitment. Much of the modern economy
is based on this kind of sacrifice: people spend more than
have to, in order to send a message about their values. This
communication is the glue that holds society together. So
sacrifice is logical.
Religion literally means a study of logic. Cicero explained religion in his book "De Natura Deorum" - "The Nature of the Gods" (in book 2, part 72). He wrote that Religion originally meant "relegere", from "re- legos" or "re-logos", meaning to go through the logos (or reasons) for something.
Cicero contrasts the religious (those who understand reasons) with the superstitious: from the word "superstes" meaning survivor. The superstitious are those who think they will be blessed (i.e. they or their children will survive the harsh world) simply because they believe the right things or obey the right rules. That describes modern religion, but it is the opposite of ancient religion.
However, later Christians (such as Augustine) changed religion to mean "religare" or "to bind fast", in the sense of "place an obligation on". (See the Online Etymological Dictionary). A system of logic (re-logos) was gradually replaced by a system of blind obedience (religare). This process is covered in parts eight and nine of this book.
The kingdom of God
A kingdom is an economic unit: that is, laws for how people
interact, how they give and take. Moses and Jesus offered a
template for the kingdom of God: that is, a template for the
kingdom of logic. This template is based on land rent: it has
no taxation, but is based on clear laws, and judges when
needed, but no hierarchy: no human kings. See parts five and
Prophets and priests
At this point it is probably worth mentioning the
difference between priests and prophets, and the great danger
confusing the two roles.
Priests and prophets are opposites. The nation of Israel had priests to carry out day to day work. It also had prophets: from time to time: men who would arise and speak logic, and their actions would prove their logic.
Priests are necessary bureaucrats, insiders. Prophets are troublemakers, outsiders. A prophet is known only by his results, not his position. "By their fruits ye shall know them".
If a prophet arises and speaks great truth then the worst
thing we can do is give him an administrative position.
Position brings power, and power is an incentive for
corruption (and the self deception that goes with it).
For more about hierarchies see part five (about kings and economic health) and part six (especially the commentary to Mark 10:42-44).
Greeks and Romans
Earlier I referred to Cicero's view that religion means re-legos, or repeated study of logic. This was not some minority fringe opinion. If Cicero said it, it counts. "The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language" (according to classicist Michael Grant).
The religion definition comes from Cicero's book "gods". Gods was a summary of the full range of religious views, represented by the Epicureans (who thought life was to be enjoyed), the Stoics (who thought life was to be suffered), and the skeptics (who thought life was to be questioned).
Epicureans followed the teachings of Epicurus, who rejected
anything that sounded supernatural. The Stoics did believe in
gods, but they were metaphors for ideas: a god of war, a
goddess of love, and so on.
But did they believe?
There is plenty of evidence that the average Greek was just
superstitious as anybody else: just read "the Greeks and the
Irrational" by Dodds if there is any doubt. But once again I
return to the
methodology of this book. I am not interested in the views of
people who thought it was all magic. I am interested in the
views of those who's
views made rational sense. In every age there were many who
the metaphor and saw the logic beneath. There was always a
Plato or a
Cisero or a Philo.
Myths are true
Another vital point, perhaps the most important, is that
matter. Myths decide how we treat facts. Here I use "myth" in
Barthe's sense. Myth does not mean lie, myth means the story
that allows us to make sense of the universe. For example,
every "good guys versus
bad guys" story is a myth: to the bad guys they are the good
"good guys versus bad guys" lets us communicate values and
more efficiently than a lengthy argument.
Ancient readers seemed far more comfortable with myth than we
The Greeks did not care if Hercules was a real man who lived
certain date: Hercules represented their values and concerns.
was a means of communication.
Now back to the more educated readers, who were well aware of
the value of logic and metaphor.
Christians, before Paul
For the earliest Christian view of God, read Philo of Alexandria. He discussed the topic at great length. Philo was a contemporary of Jesus (actually twenty years older), and was very popular with the early Christians. Jesus quotes Philo in the gospel of Thomas (in saying 19, see part eight of this book). Unlike most first century books Philo's are still available: they were carefully preserved, because nearly all sides of Christianity agreed on them. St Jerome even called Philo one of the fathers of the church.
Modern critics argue that Philo was merely adding Greek ideas to Moses, and Moses saw God as anthropomorphic. But Moses taught the opposite: God is purely abstract, and cannot be represented by any graven image.
Old Testament Judaism
Old Testament Judaism was about wisdom, not supernatural belief. There is no practically no mention of life after death in the supernatural sense (see part two of this book), but there are whole books full of proverbs and wisdom.
There is no requirement in the Old Testament to believe
anything in particular, except to love logic. The law of Moses
was not supernatural, but was a set of laws for running a
state, like the laws of Hammurabi, or Solon of Athens, or any
other great thinker-leader.
Moses' miracles were not supernatural either, but were evidence of his intellect: see part four of this book.
Greek and Hebrew religion compared
Scholars routinely draw a contrast between the later Jews (with their concrete teachings and appeals to holy texts) and later Greeks (with their abstract ideals and appeals to logic). But in the early days their religions were remarkably similar:
Phoenicia: the Hebrew link with Greece
The earliest Hebrews and Greeks were almost neighbours and shared ideas. Most people do not make the connection because the Hebrews who dealt with the Greeks were known by a different name: Phoenicians.
"Phoenician" is not a term the Phoenicians used: it is simply
a name for people from the cities of Tyre and Sidon on the
coasts of Canaan (and later their colonies in Carthage and
elsewhere). Historians are unable to find much of a
distinctive culture: there are no Phoenician legends or books
for example (see the BBC radio four "in Our Time" episode for
a good overview). The early Phoenicians were simply the
And who were the Canaanites? Later Hebrews tried to emphasise a big difference between themselves and the Canaanites, but the earliest texts (e.g. the book of Judges) and archaeology agree that they were culturally mixed, with shrines to Baal and YHWH side by side. While some Israelites may have spent time in Egypt (the story of Moses), they were originally from Canaan, and when they returned they rejoined their former people.
How the Hebrews influenced the Greeks
Most scholars are familiar with how later Greeks influenced Jewish thought. But less well known is how the earliest Hebrews influenced Greece.
It is well known that the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians. Some argue that Thales, the first Greek philosopher, was Phoenician. Certainly the Phoenicians, the great seafarers and traders, would be best placed to share ideas.
Josephus claimed that the Greeks were greatly influenced by the ancient Jews:
For a brief overview of Jewish influence on the early Greeks, see Yehuda Shurpin at chabad.org/ library/article_cdo/ aid/1586152/jewish/ Jewish-Impact-on-Greek- and-Western-Philosophy.htm For a more detailed scholarly view of similarities, see "Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece: Religion, Politics, and Culture", by John Pairman Brown.
God and lower gods
The key to understanding Geek and Hebrew ideas of God (as well as God in other cultures) is the distinction between ultimate truth (logic) and all the people, both real and fictional, who have claimed the title god. For example, in the Old testament the Hebrew word "Elohim" applies to all gods, including people or judges acting in the name of God.
In Greek and early Christian thought (and Jewish thought, as the earliest "gnostic" texts probably predate Christianity) these lower gods were called "skilled workers", or in Greek, "demiurge."
To explain the difference between the lower gods and the higher logic or logos, Plato wrote his dialogue "Timaeus." It is a dialogue about the nature of the gods. It reconciles the different gods of (e.g.) Hesiod's Theogony with the abstract arguments of Plato.
Timaeus explains that a god is like a skilled worker (a "demiurge"): very capable, very powerful and clever, and usually (but not always) benevolent. But the demiurge is not the logos.
Genesis and the demiurge
Genesis teaches the same principle as Timaeus. It tells of fallible rulers (gods) who are gradually replaced by the higher concept of logic. Genesis teaches of local gods who might visit you in the garden (Eden) or they have dinner with you (as they did with Abraham). These gods might tell you to do troubling things: like do not eat of knowledge, or sacrifice your first born son. Genesis teaches that a higher truth, reason, can override this.
Part three of this book discusses the Eden episode in depth. As for Abraham, his gods told him to sacrifice Isaac, but he decided not to, and later Israelite prophets condemned their neighbours the other Canaanites for "passing their children through the fire" (child sacrifice). Gradually, tradition and local rulers were replaced by a higher law: logic.
The most learned early Christians discussed the demiurge at length, contrasting the lower gods of Genesis with the higher god, logic. For more about the learned Christians see part eight of this book.
Genesis and polytheism
Most scholars accept that the earliest Hebrews were polytheists. There is plenty of evidence for this: e.g. the word "Elohim" is plural, there are many references to the divine council, worship of Yahweh and Baal existed side by side for centuries, and polytheism was the normal form of religion everywhere. Traditionally, Abraham is credited with shifting the emphasis to monotheism: saying that the true ruler, the true Yahweh, was logic and not any earthly king. But Abraham's father Terah was a polytheist, as were Terah's fathers before him: these were the great patriarchs of the Genesis. They all worshipped "Elohim", the gods, plural.
Genesis and the Greek creation story
The Genesis creation story appears to be based on earlier Sumerian (and later Babylonian) story, the Enuma Elis. The Greek creations story appears to be based on the same account, though the accounts focus on different aspects. It is possible that the Greek version (best known through Hesiod's Theogony) is a descendant of the Sumerian version, perhaps via the Hittite "kingship in heaven" myth: "similarities between this myth and the Theogony are striking." (classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/hesiod)
The face of God
Moses' followers wanted to see something. But how do you show an abstract idea? Moses needed to physically show the concept of ideas.
In Hebrew, ideas are in words or breath, the word "ruwach". It can be translated both as air and as spirit. The same is true in Greek: 'pneuma' means both breath and spirit. So Moses needed to show the breath of God: air itself. But how do you show air? Air is invisible. So you have to show a manifestation of air:
Seeing God "face to face" meant smoke, or fire, or looking upwards:
The people who advised Moses
Since a "god" meant a ruler or representative of the ultimate God, sometimes Moses was a god to others:
And when Moses took logical advice from his father in law, Jethro (Exodus 18), Jethro represented God. But to Moses it was important not to identify God with an individual, to avoid the worship of individuals or things (see Deuteronomy 4:15-19). So a person was never called a god in front of others.
Whoever spoke for God, he hid behind smoke (as on Sinai), or in this case he simply told Moses to look away:
Centuries later the Catholic church used the same principle: when confessing to a priest the priest is hidden.
It is fun to speculate who might have advised (i.e. acted as a god to) Moses: Jethro again? One of the priests of Midian, where Moses learned his religion? Or perhaps a woman? Is that the subtext of Numbers 12? The people were very sexist and would not accept Moses taking orders from a woman:
"Ethiopian" in Hebrew just means from Cush - that is, she could have been from anywhere in Africa. The reference to being meek suggests that Moses was taking instruction from somebody. Aaron and Miriam (Moses' sister) say that God can speak through them, so speaking through a woman is accepted. Why does marrying the African woman raise the question of Moses' authority? Was he taking her advice? It would be strange for a wife not to offer advice to her husband.
Yet another possibility is that Moses had brought advisers from Egypt. Some scholars have pointed out similarities between the monotheism of Moses and of the apostate Pharaoh Akhenaten. Given that Moses' message was "escape from slavery to Egypt" it would make sense to keep Egyptian advisers secret from whoever wrote Exodus.
But all of this is idle speculation. Whoever advised Moses does not matter: only what they said matters. The truth of logic is contained in the logic, not in who says it.
The voice of God
Moses' decisions were called God's decisions, and Moses' words were called God's words (Exodus 18:15-16). The spirit (literally the breath) of God filled Moses and gave him all wisdom and understanding (Exodus 35:31). Why? Because Moses' words were logical (see parts three and five of this book for details).God talks to us
When Moses came down from the mountain, it is said the Lord passed in front of Moses and then spoke. Given that the people were not permitted to see God other than as smoke, this probably indicates that God's voice was the voice of Moses (Exodus 34:5-7) or of a priest.
Most of the time (e.g. when routinely acting as judge to his people) Moses just received God's words in his mind. This is how later prophets usually experienced God: as ideas in the head. That is, "a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).
During the time in the wilderness God appeared to Balaam (Numbers 22-23) but it appears that means God put words into Balaam's mind (Numbers 23:5).
God the Father
Isaiah refers to God as "father" because he redeems us when
others forget us:
In ancient Israel a redeemer was a person, usually a family
such as a father, who paid (redeemed) any debts and ensured
after we died or got in trouble. (For more about redeemers see
of this book.) This is a good personification of logic: if we
logical thing then even if we die things will work out for the
Jesus often referred to God as father. According to Strong's Greek concordance, the word for father ("pater") can also mean the originator and transmitter of anything. Logic causes everything, so "father" is a very good word. But Jesus' followers did not understand the concept of personification.
Jesus was personifying logic, and did not refer to a supernatural being, as we can see form the verses that followed:
God can be inside a person while a person is inside God. This is only possible of God is logic. (And note that human identity, our spirit, is our ideas: see part two of this book.)
Jesus had logic inside him. For the evidence, see parts six and eight of this book.
Christianity and atheism
The more intellectual Christians rejected all supernatural gods, and so were called atheists by the Romans. This is from Justin Martyr, who loved Greek philosophy and understood that God is the logos:
After saying that God is logic, John continued:
'Glory' is the Greek word "doxa": literally God's opinions, i.e. logical ideas.
'Only begotten' is the Greek word "monogenes", meaning the most important one (mono) of the family (genes). This comes from Plato's Timaeus:
To Plato, the world of logic is the real world and the physical world is like shadows of that real world. The best possible example in any group or family (monogenes) is the one that is closest to the abstract logical ideal. John is saying that Jesus is the ideal man.
'Grace' is the Greek word "charis". In Greek mythology the graces are women who represent splendour (the grace called Aglaea), mirth (Euphrosyne), and good cheer (Thalia). That is the kind of person Jesus was, according to John.
Jesus was the opposite of supernatural
John 1:14 said Jesus was full of truth. This is the Greek "aletheia" or opening up: the most commonly used Greek lexicon defines the word as "objectivity". The philosopher Heidegger spoke at length about the word:
In short, this is not supernatural truth. Aletheia provides the metaphysical basis for any understanding of the real world. God is the opposite of supernatural: he is the logic that makes everything visible. Hence:
If God is logic, why do so many people treat him as a
supernatural being? It works as a metaphor, but why don't more
scholars see through it? The simple answer is history.
Scholars respect history, and throughout history would-be
kings and priests have promoted the idea of a
supernatural God. It's the easy way to get power.
Kings favoured the supernatural
Logic does not favour kings. Logic lets us see our king's mistakes. But a supernatural God is different: anybody who wants power can say "I am chosen by God" and nobody can prove they are not. It worked for Pharaoh, it worked for Saul, and it has worked for kings and priests throughout history.
The poor and weak believe the king: they have little choice
if they want to eat. Some scholars make a good living by not
rocking the boat, while other scholars make trouble by saying
the emperor has no clothes and the true God is logic.
How kings first gain power
Moses opposed kings. Moses told the people to always remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt. To ensure it could never happen again he created a society where land was shared out equally and decisions were made by judges. But eventually kings returned. The prophets warned against kings (see for example 1 Samuel 8) but the would-be kings used the same argument they always use: "you are surrounded by dangers! You need a strong leader to keep you safe!" For priestly elites the argument is similar: "you are in great danger after death, you need my religion to save you!"
History and logic show that this argument is false. Elites take resources while adding nothing (they are no smarter than a cheaper, elected official). So monarchies and theocracies are weaker than democracies. And kings like to start wars, not end them. But people are easily swayed by fear, and so elites gain power.
How the Jews embraced the supernatural
Once the Jews accepted kings to rule over them the rejection of logic was clear. Most people were uneducated anyway, so the kings merely had to undermine or ignore the educated people. We see this in the book of 1 Samuel: the prophet warned against kings, but this particular prophet (Samuel) had bad children. So Saul, a man who would be king, just had to say "look at his children! This man is no moral authority. You can ignore him." So Saul became Israel's first king. From then on the prophets were either lone voices in the wilderness, or (in the case of Isaiah) on the king's payroll. Logic was no longer king.
Later scholars (such as the great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides) looked back and saw the intellectual decline:
How Jesus' followers embraced the supernatural
Jesus taught logic and rejected hierarchies (see part six of this book) and his more educated followers, such as John, openly stated that God is logic. But immediately after that he noted that this was a hard concept for most people to grasp:
The men on whom the light shone, the men who listened to
Jesus' words, did not understand. Part nine of this book give
the details. Part eight focuses on Paul, a man who saw Jesus
when Jesus was supposed to be dead, and spent the rest of his
life promoting a supernatural theology.
How do we reconcile "God is logic" with this verse?
Many people take this as gospel. For example, Matthew Henry says:
But there is one problem: Job 11 is an example of a false belief. It is spoken by Zohar, who speaks against the prophet Job, and calls him a liar:
In the next chapter Job answers, and says Zophar is completely wrong. Can a man by searching find God? Yes! Through asking questions of nature:
Wisdom versus foolishness
The last few chapters of Job are God saying that his evidence is in physical things: in the origin of the earth, natural processes, and the living world.
Job does not have access to those observations, so rationally concludes that he does not know everything. Job shows wisdom: that is, reasoning ability. In contrast, Zophar said a man cannot know. That is not wisdom, and Zophar and the others are condemned.
Like Socrates and Plato and all great philosophers, Job taught by means of dialogue. Chapter by chapter, Job would make a case, his opponent will give an alternate view, and Job would respond.
In the examples from Job, Job argued the evidence of God is in physical things. In other words, the philosopher is appealing to what modern people call science.
For more examples of prophets using reason and opposing the supernatural, see parts three to five of this book.
Can man by searching find God? Yes.
Is God unknowable? No.
Do we find God through logical debate? Yes. That was Jesus' main teaching method. See the commentary to Mark 1:22 in part six of this book.
The idea that the Bible is anti-intellectual can be traced to Paul. Paul's only experience with Jesus was dramatic: Paul (then called Saul) thought that Jesus was dead, the Jesus appeared to him and was alive. This changed Paul's life. He decided that Jesus was supernatural. So he went looking for scriptures to support his view. This is the only one he could find:
This appears to refer to Isaiah 29:
But it is taken out of context. The complete quotation praises the wise and condemns the foolish:
Isaiah 29 is about the threat of Assyria invading in 722BC. Political counsellors (wise men) were negotiating with Egypt for protection, but that was short sighted: Egypt would take Israel's freedom in return. Isaiah condemned this (see Isaiah 19:11-17, Isaiah 20:5,6, Isaiah 30:1,2, etc.). Isaiah promised that if the nation instead returned to the land laws of Moses they would be economically strong, and eventually they would be free on their own: (that is the "marvellous work"). So Isaiah was condemning certain politicians, and not wisdom. Indeed, Isaiah himself was a wise and learned man, probably the most learned of the prophets.
The foolish counsellors were condemn they "have removed their heart far from me." In ancient times the heart was considered the centre of life and of thought. Contrast this with the bowels which were the centre of emotion (Isaiah 16:11; 63:15; Song of Solomon 5:4;etc.) Far from condemning intellectuals, Isaiah condemns people for not thinking clearly!
In short, God is logic. If someone "lacks understanding" they should ask God (see James 1:5) and they will get answers. Logic is like that: appeal to logic, and you get answers.
Why use the word "God"? For accuracy.
God is logic in the ancient sense, the bigger sense. The modern definition is very narrow: simply the fundamental abstract rules. But the ancient definition of logos was "the word" in the sense of rational discussion. It meant ultimate wisdom and its implications: the powers of nature. Logic and logos are two concepts, so they require two words.
Logic alone (in the modern sense) may leave us thinking this is a cold and meaningless universe. But trace the implications of logic - how it creates the universe, how it creates consciousness, how morality helps us survive, and we see the opposite.
The need for humility
Using the word "God" for logic emphasizes humility. It reminds is that logic should rule us, even when our feelings say we know better.
It is easy to be ruled by feelings, and usually this is a good thing: feelings exist in order to make complex decisions very quickly, and most of the time they are more or less right. But when a question is very important we need to take whatever time it needs and trace the logic instead.
Ironically, those who use the narrow modern definition of logic often use it to support an appeal to emotion. Here are some examples:
History: emotion versus logic
The Bible is sometimes dismissed as a bronze age document. This is an appeal to emotion. It is true that they had far fewer scientific discoveries, but it does not follow that they knew less about concepts like power and land ownership. If anything, a simpler society means human nature should be easier to see.
Moses and Jesus taught that work should not be taxed: we should pay rent on land instead. These lessons were learned the hard way, by seeing how people try to grab resources, and the misery and weakness this creates. Land rent is economically and socially more advanced than our present system of taxing work. It can be demonstrated both logically and empirically (just read Adam Smith). It is not logical to reject an observation just because it was first made long ago.
Politics: emotion versus logic
The Bible is sometimes dismissed because so much evil has been done in the name of religion. This is another appeal to emotion. Logically it fails because there is no evidence that atheism is any better for humanity. The list of modern atheist states is not encouraging: Soviet Russia, Communist China, North Korea, etc. They are not models of tolerance. Of course, atheists argue that these states are not really atheist. Likewise, Christians point out that hateful people are not following Christ, and moderate Muslims say that extremists are not following the Koran. This is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.
Statistics: emotion versus logic
Another appeal to emotion is the anecdotal one: "no atheist
ever burnt somebody for their beliefs!" Even if this were
true, it does not follow logically that atheism is a better
course: for that claim to be statistically valid we need to
look at all deaths, all suffering, all benefits, all
happiness, and adjust for population, historical norms, etc.
but in general, the idea that atheists do not persecute is
false. The Soviet Union for example was an atheist state and
persecuted plenty of people for their beliefs.
If we want to restrict our search to just burning people alive, we could note that the atheist North Korean leader burnt his enemies alive because they did not have the correct political beliefs (in Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day Stadium, reported in the Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2004). Of course, this was for political and not religious belief, which must have been a great comfort to those being burned. But killing is never for beliefs, that is always just a cover. Look at any group that has been killed for "religious" reasons: Cathars, Jews, "witches" or anybody else. In every case they had the same beliefs for centuries before and centuries after. Nothing changed in the period of persecution other than politics. The persecutor held political power, felt that power was threatened, so found it useful to blame a dissenter. Or once the process was normalised, found this a convenient way to steal somebody's money. belief did not matter too much: you could just as easily be targeted for political views, or just being an outsider or somebody convenient to blame. Persecution is always about power, never belief.
In the final analysis, what ancient people believed is of
itself of little interest. What matters is what (if anything)
in God can offer here and
now that cannot more easily be obtained some other
An understanding of history is one answer. The ability to connect with billions of other believers is another. An understanding of life after death is another. But for me, it is the economic teachings of Moses and Jesus: land rent offers is a better economic system than one based on taxing work: and governing by consent (Jesus' method) is a better system than ruling through a monopoly on power.
But to be certain of these economic and political advantages
we need to study the Bible as if it is an economic and
history, and an economic and political text book. That is what
to do in this book.