Hayes on God Changing His Mind

From atheist Christine Hayes’ Yale lectures:

Secondly, remember that the Bible isn’t a manual of religion. It’s not a book of systematic theology. It doesn’t set out certain dogmas about God, and you need to be careful not to impose upon the Bible, theological ideas and beliefs that arose centuries after the bulk of the Bible was written — for example, a belief in a heaven and a hell as a system of reward or punishment, or the belief in a God that doesn’t change his mind. The character Yahweh in the Bible changes his mind; it’s just a fact of the text.

11 comments

  1. What can he possibly mean by the statement?:

    “..you need to be careful not to impose upon the Bible, theological ideas and beliefs that arose centuries after the bulk of the Bible was written — for example, a belief in a heaven and a hell as a system of reward or punishment,….”

    What? I have read the Bible, over and over, many times, for 40 years, but it takes only a passing knowledge of Scripture to discard the above statement. The Bible certainly does teach there will be rewards and punishment. Just check “reward” in a concordance for verses such as “…leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven;…” (Luke 6:23)

    Am I missing his point? In the new world of Twitter I often miss the point of those who use such truncated language.

    1. Christine Hayes is a Yale professor (specializing in old testament theology) who teaches the most frequented Yale open course. Her teachings on Sheol can be found in the same course material. I’ll post some quotes of hers on Sheol.

    2. Sheol refers to a shadowy place beneath the earth where the shades of the dead reside, an ancient notion in Israel. However, Sheol is in no way connected with the idea of just rewards and punishments after death.

      Hayes, Christine (2012-10-30). Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 7098-7100). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

    3. On Ecclesiastes:

      Nevertheless, for all the despair and cynicism, there is a positive note in Ecclesiastes. The writer does not, after all, recommend nihilism or suicide, despite the lack of purpose or meaning in life. In fact, he does quite the opposite. He states that every life does have its moments of happiness, and these one should seize while one can.

      Go, eat your bread in gladness, and drink your wine in joy; for your action was long ago approved by Elohim. Let your clothes always be freshly washed, and your head never lack ointment. Enjoy happiness with a woman you love all the fleeting days of life that have been granted to you under the sun— all your fleeting days. For that alone is what you can get out of life and out of the means you acquire under the sun. Whatever it is in your power to do, do with all your might. For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol, 1 where you are going. (9: 7– 10)

      Similarly,

      Only this, I have found, is a real good: that one should eat and drink and get pleasure with all the gains he makes under the sun, during the numbered days of life that Elohim has given him; for that is his portion. (5: 17)

      Or

      Hayes, Christine (2012-10-30). Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 5777-5787). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

      Thus I realized that the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime; also, that whenever a man does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth, it is a gift of Elohim. (3: 12– 13) 2

      We must not delude ourselves. There is no grand plan, no absolute value or meaning to our labors, and no life in the hereafter that we are working toward. (Here Kohelet may be polemicizing against the belief in an afterlife of reward or punishment that was taking root in Jewish writings of the Hellenistic period under the influence of Greek thought.) But one can still find happiness and love, and with these, one should be content. Striving after anything more is a striving after wind that leaves one weary and bitter. One must accept the reality of death and enjoy what one can in the short time one has. Indeed, it is precisely the reality of death that makes life precious— whatever it is in one’s power to do must be done with all one’s might, because there is only this single, brief chance. Eternal unlimited life with endless opportunities to act would make any single act meaningless. Given the fact of death and the limitations it imposes, taking pleasure in the ordinary activities and labors of life becomes not meaningless, but precisely meaningful.

      Hayes, Christine (2012-10-30). Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 5787-5797). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

      1. Am I correct that Christine Hayes teaches there is not sufficient Scriptural reason to believe there is an afterlife? Is she only suggesting there is Scriptural reason to not believe in the afterlife? Well, there were scholars then and are scholars now who agree with her. For instance, the Sadducees evidently did not believe in an afterlife, because they did not believe in a resurrection (Acts 23:8). My guess is that is why the Sadducees were sad, you see.

        Not at all sure, though, why she thinks Open Theism and a non belief in the afterlife are related. Why did she put them both in the same sentence? One can believe in Open Theism, I do, and also believe in the afterlife.

        So, I agree, there is historical and textual evidence to support the points that Christine Hayes makes. And she has a PHD and is a professor at a prestigious university. That does not make her right. I have 2 brothers, both professors at a quite prestigious university with page after google page of accomplishments and publications. And, there are not two people in the world with whom I have disagreed more.

        Although thank you for introducing what Christine Hayes has to say. It is always best to read those with whom one disagrees.

        Regardless of the Old Testament meaning of Sheol, and regardless of certain passages in Ecclesiastes, the Bible, taken as a whole, in my opinion, absolutely and certainly teaches there is an afterlife and we should look forward to and expect to be held accountable. There will be punishments (discipline?) and rewards.

        1. //My guess is that is why the Sadducees were sad, you see.

          : )

          Hayes never claims to be a Christian. She is just an Old Testament scholar. She believes the Old Testament does not feature an eternal judgement.She thinks that is a first century construct.

          She is good to quote because she tries not to bring biases into the text and wishes to reconstruct Old Testament theology. She attempts to have her students accept a face value reading of the text and set aside later theology that is forced onto the text (such as the platonic concepts of an omniscient god).

          Being a scholar does not make one right, but it does make one’s position worth considering and only rejecting with clear evidence.

    4. Hayes was referring to the Hebrew Bible/Tanakh in her lectures, not the New Testament and she is correct, there is no reference to a Hell/Heaven system in the Tanakh.

  2. “….whatever it is in one’s power to do must be done with all one’s might, because there is only this single, brief chance. Eternal unlimited life with endless opportunities to act would make any single act meaningless.”

    The above quote is precisely what is believed by those who believe in materialism. It is said to be a brave, realistic, even an optimistic expression of the cold truth. It is not. It is just sad. As the song goes “If that’s all there is…”

    No, eternal life does not make our life on this earth meaningless. The exact opposite is the truth.

    May I ask, what is your point in quoting Christine Hayes? Surely you do not agree with her? Is your point to offer her ideas for others to simply consider?

    1. The OP is great because with what dismissal she rejects Christians who want to impose of Yahweh such ideas such as immutability. It is just a fact that immutability is not compatible with the God of the Bible. The Bible has God changing His mind throughout the text, and to say otherwise takes serious cognitive dissidence.

      Watching the video of the lecture is even better, to hear her tone of voice.

      Hayes would probably not object that the New Testament depicts a Heaven and Hell. Open Theists, as a group, mostly affirm a Heaven and Hell paradigm. But there are other views. I am a Kingdom theologian (similar to NT Wright). And I know some annihilationists. It is a point of interest, but is not crucial to Open Theism.

  3. I have now read enough of Christine Hayes to know that I agree with a great deal of what she says. She does understand certain things about the Bible that the majority of Christians do not realize.

    However, she is an atheist, which means she does not yet know the most important of all facts in the universe – that God really, truly, and actually does exist. It continually amazes me when extremely intelligent people do not realize there is a God. There is overwhelming proof that God exists, and it is also just plainly obvious.

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