Archive for category inerrancy
The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book. It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways, to encounter God. By this definition alone, it is a sacred book. But as St. Paul once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.
The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral. Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.
The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples. These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice. At the same time, different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.
The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha. Everything else (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences. There has always been a very active, and often heated, debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.
The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today. The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice. They have also been used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war. If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.
Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions, it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden. It is undeniably a very, very important book. It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest. But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book. In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.
That’s right. Through meticulous historical research, rigorous scientific study and the application of advanced mathematical concepts, the academics over at Harold Camping’s think-tank have determined the precise date the world will end. And it’s right around the corner.
Since we know the year the Earth was created, and using surprisingly simple and obvious formulas, it can be clearly seen that earth’s last day will be Wednesday, October 21, 2011, just a little over one year away. Surprisingly this beats the conventional wisdom about the world’s end ( based on the otherwise accurate Mayan calendar) by over two months. But the predictions are very close. Coincidence? I think not.
4990 BC—The flood of Noah’s day. All perished in a worldwide flood. Only Noah, his wife, and his 3 sons and their wives survived in the ark (6023 years from creation).
7 BC—The year Jesus Christ was born (11,006 years from creation).
33 AD—The year Jesus Christ was crucified and the church age began (11,045 years from creation; 5023 calendar years from the flood).
1988 AD—This year ended the church age and began the great tribulation period of 23 years (13,000 years from creation).
1994 AD—On September 7th, the first 2300-day period of the great tribulation came to an end and the latter rain began, commencing God’s plan to save a great multitude of people outside of the churches (13,006 years from creation).
2011 AD—On May 21st, Judgment Day will begin and the rapture (the taking up into heaven of God’s elect people) will occur at the end of the 23-year great tribulation. On October 21st, the world will be destroyed by fire (7000 years from the flood; 13,023 years from creation).
This body of evidence is conclusive and undeniable. Of course there will be skeptics and others quite happy with their heads in the sand. Some have already spread nasty rumors that these same scholars claimed that Jesus would return on September 6, 1994. But we all know that the Enemy is well versed in the use of lies and distortion.
I’ve long looked at the four Gospels as being complimentary to each other. One evangelist filling in the gaps that were, for whatever reason. left by another. Recently, I took a closer look at the differences between the four passion narratives and it no longer appears that this is the case. Mark was the first Gospel to be written and the vast majority of scholars understand that Matthew and Luke both based their gospel largely on Mark’s. But it is clear that Luke significantly changed Mark’s account. It’s not like he just added to it, filling in the gaps, but he changed the story in such a way that, if they both didn’t use Jesus’ name, you might think that he and Mark are talking about two different men.
Mark’s Jesus is quiet and if anything, despairing. He does not respond to those who taunt him, not even those (2?) crucified along side him. Before he dies he forlornly cries out to God, asking why he has been forsaken.
For the most part, Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion remains true to Mark’s account.
Luke’s Jesus, on the other hand, is much more talkative and seems to be much more positive about and more in control of his circumstances. Jesus is taunted by only one of the two crucified and he assures the other one a place in paradise. He asks God to forgive his killers and does not cry out in despair as he does in Mark and Matthew. Instead he appears unafraid of death and offers his spirit to God .
And John’s Gospel does not mention any dialogue between Jesus and the thieves. His Jesus does not cry in despair or vocally assign his spirit to God (though it is implied) nor does he ask forgiveness of his tormentors. Instead he concentrates on the future well being of his mother and that of an unnamed disciple. Most importantly, his last words seem to underscore the cosmic significance of his death ( or do they?).
I’m not questioning the authenticity of any of these accounts. But what do we mean by authenticity? That the scriptures must be factual representations of actual events? If so, then how do we account for where they differ? Did Jesus say all of these things (as the famous ” 7 things that Jesus said on the Cross” quiz would suggest)? If so, then why are all of them not found together in at least one Gospel? If not, then why would one author (or later scribe) remove or add something to another’s earlier account? I don’t think there is any way we can read these four accounts and not see that this is precisely what happened. But what were their motives? What, if anything, do these observations mean to us? Is it a good thing or not that these changes in the text, though at times seemingly slight, may decidedly alter the way in which we perceive Christ, perhaps in ways that were never intended?
Does a devotion to biblical literalism, a zealous misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura, require that someone ignore the obvious? If we can force ourselves to deny the scripturally obvious in order to comply with ‘orthodoxy’ then perhaps we can also force ourselves to deny (or overlook) the essence of scriptural truth.
Perhaps it is too late for us to cut to the chase , too difficult to critically edit the various Jesus movies that are playing in each of our minds, where in each film Jesus is portrayed differently: the tough Christ, the loving Christ, the Christ who climbs on Rocks. Angry Jesus, sad Jesus, suffering Jesus, baby Jesus, the Jesus who loves little children. Warrior Christ, peaceful Christ, Buddha Christ, liberal Christ, Super Christ, American Christ. Vindicator Jesus, savior Jesus, Jesus the blood sacrifice. Max von Sydow, Jeffrey Hunter or Jim Caveziel? Jesus as man, as God or as the Son of God. Which Jesus died for you?
There is an old Evangelical tee-shirt that mimics the Coca Cola logo and reads: “Jesus-The Real Thing”. How certain can we be that our Jesus is “the real thing”? Or should we be so confident? Perhaps certainty is part of the problem.
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. 1 Cor 7:29-31
From this writing (among some of his others), it sounds as if St. Paul thought the end of the world was near. If that was the case, then Paul had no idea that his words would be preserved for thousands of years and presented by the church as the Word of God.
So then, why do we assume that when Paul is writing to people in the early church – when he answers those unknown questions that were put to him – why do we assume that he is also talking to us, today, in 21st century America?
For sure, there is good stuff in Paul’s writings. There is much to learn from what he has to say and a lot of his advice is well worth heeding, even 20 centuries later. But some of what he says just doesn’t make sense to our post-modern ears. Until we stop trying to make this first century square Jewish peg fit into each succeeding generation’s ever shifting cultural inputs, trying instead to see Paul for who he was, when he was and where he was – then we are destined to find ourselves bogging down over his words, words that he never intended for our ears. I doubt if Paul would ever have imagined his letters causing so much trouble for us, especialy as he likely didn’t even think there would ever be an ‘us’.
Just a few of my opinions. The funny thing is, I used to believe most of these things not too long ago.
1 – I doubt that the scriptures were ever meant to be read literally, or formatted between two covers and called the Bible, with numbered verses and the words of Jesus written in red. I doubt that the Bible is the actual Word of God. It is a collection of ancient, spiritually oriented scriptures and, as St. Paul said, is useful for spiritual instruction, which implies it’s not the only end-all, go-to, book for everything you wanted to know about the universe but were afraid to ask
2 – I doubt the book of Genesis is historical or factual in almost any way. I doubt that Adam and Eve were real people. I think they are biblical metaphors for mankind in general. I doubt that the Garden of Eden was a real place. I think Eden is a metaphor for a world that is in harmony with nature. I doubt that there was a global Flood and i doubt that God nuked Sodom and Gomorrah. I doubt that science and the theory of evolution are incompatible with faith.
3 – I doubt the literal doctrine of the Fall is supported by scripture. I doubt that Satan was ever a real being, a fallen angel, but he is a damn good metaphor for man’s ego run amok. I doubt that mankind is essentially depraved and wicked but learns to be this way.
4 – It follows, then, that I doubt the doctrine of Original Sin
5 – I doubt God ever ordered anyone’s army to rape, pillage, steal or enslave.I doubt if God ever ordered tortuous death sentences or ritual sacrifices. Therefore, I doubt that Leviticus or Deuteronomy set good standards for today’s politicians and leaders.
6 – I doubt that people of the twenty-first century are supposed to respond to God in the same way the ancient Israelites did. So, I doubt that all those old Jewish laws (on diet, slavery, sex, tithing etc) are obviously applicable today. God may not change but people do, thank God.
7 – I doubt that God has preordained everything (although God may have preordained some things, but I doubt that as well).
8 – I doubt that God has chosen some people for salvation and others for damnation. That would be a pretty wicked God. The NeoCalvinists are nuts.
9- Anyway, I doubt the doctrine of Hell, where God infinitely torments (or allows the torment) of finite people, judging them infinitely guilty of finite sins. I doubt God is beholden to any sort of legal system and I doubt that God is really all that into judging as it is.
10 – Therefore, I doubt that Jesus’ death was some sort of legal blood sacrifice necessary to pay our way out of Hell.
11 – I doubt (nor do I really care) if Mary was a virgin.
12 – I doubt if any of the Old Testament writings are predictions of Jesus. These “prophecies” are poor ‘reasons to believe’ because the only ones who see these predictions are those who already call themselves Christian.
13 – I doubt Jesus had super powers and could predict the future. I doubt he was holding himself in check in order to get the job done, just ‘pretending ‘ to be a man (even though I believe he may have performed miracles).
14 – I doubt that Jesus was the ‘perfect’ sacrifice’ (akin to an unblemished lamb slaughtered to appease God) but that his sacrifice was ‘perfect’ ; he was innocent and undeserving of the punishment he received for proclaiming the Good News (which was really bad news for the ‘powers that be’). He forgave his tormentors and executioners and did not forsake God while on the cross, which is much more ‘perfect’ than any other example I can think of.
15 – I doubt that women are in any way supposed to follow men, take a back seat, not teach or preach or lead in church (or anywhere else).
16 – I doubt that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Navajos, Druids, Wiccans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists or atheists are held in less regard by God than Christians or Jews
17 – I doubt that only Christians are ‘saved’ . In fact, I doubt that most Christians are ‘saved’. But salvation is not about heaven and hell; it is about being saved from our false selves and living the life God intended for us. I believe that Jesus points to and shows the ‘Way’ of this ‘eternal’ life but he is not THE WAY himself (because what does that really mean, anyway?). Jesus Way IS very narrow; there is no room for hatred, selfishness, or arrogance. It is the way of love and forgiveness.
18 – I doubt that there is a place called Hell. I doubt that God would have any reason to make such a place, unless, of course, God is sadistically deranged. And that is too horrifying to contemplate.
19 – I doubt the United States of America was ever intended to be a Christian Nation. I doubt that the words “Christian” and “nation” are ever compatible.
20 – I doubt that it is possible to readily define or identify an authentic “Christian”. I doubt that there are 34,000 different Christian denominations (as some sources say) but that really there are around 34,000 different religions that all claim they are “Christian”. I doubt that Jesus and religion will ever mix very well,
Let’s start at the beginning.
Genesis One: God makes the universe and everything in it. He creates life. He creates humans and he makes them in his own ‘image’, both man and woman. He gives humankind all of nature for their enjoyment and their sustenance. Although the chronology may be a bit confusing, the basics of this account can be made to square with what we know of nature, as long as you don’t read it too literally.
Genesis Two (the rest of the story?) is a bit fuzzier on the universe-making details but it does gives us more info on the first humans. Here we have God creating just one human, a man named Adam and instead of placing all of nature at his disposal he sets him up as the caretaker for a garden called Eden. Genesis doesn’t give us any of God’s policies and guidelines except for one; Adam is to never eat the fruit from one particular plant – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God soon figures that Adam will become bored (especially if he is immortal, as some think) and that he needs a companion – or as the NIV say; a “helper”. So God runs all the animals by Adam (who names them all in the process) but none of them seem to fit the bill. So God tries something completely different. He knocks out Adam and removes one his ribs, which he then turns into the first woman. She’s also the world’s first Gal Friday, as it is her job to ‘help’ the world’s only man do whatever manly things he does. At this time, she doesn’t even have a name for herself.
But good help is hard to find and soon the woman is picking up bad ideas from the local crime boss, Satan. Using her beguiling feminine ways, she gets Adam to join her in a little snack, courtesy of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So God’s original deal is now off and life for the two of them will suck forever. At this time Adam finally names the woman, just like he did with the other animals. He calls her Eve , which means something like “mother of all the living” ( perhaps implying that kids and paradise are incompatible concepts?).
Now, though Genesis never actually says this, many people believe that what Adam and Eve did in the Garden queered things not just for them but everyone else that came after, including all of nature and the entire universe. So even though it is NEVER stated explicitly, one could get out of this story that Eve (who owed her own existence not just to God but also to Adam) couldn’t stay focused on her job and so ended up being a huge hindrance to Adam. And everyone else, including you and me. Turns out she was not much of a helper at all.
No doubt the cultural views of the men who wrote the scriptures had some bearing on how they presented their stories of God. It is obvious that this particular telling of the Creation story, along with a very rigid reading of it, has adversely influenced the relationship between men and women over the centuries. Amazingly, it still does so today.
Over the past few years I’ve met quite a few people, both theists and atheists, who have some very definite ideas about God yet they are open to discussion and respect the opinions of others. Then there are those who are quite combative and almost shrill. I’ve noticed that although most of those in the second group fall into either one of two diametrically opposing camps, they share a common characteristic; fundamentalism.
It’s become trendy to label vocally strident atheists (Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens etc.) as “Fundamentalists” prompting considerable effort on their part to denounce this definition as inaccurate. And, fundamentally speaking, these atheist are correct. But many people of faith have pointed out that those who are called religious fundamentalists are rarely fundamental themselves. For example, Christian Fundamentalism is a fairly recent phenomenon that stresses a rigidly literal interpretation of scriptures as being essential to the Christian faith. This view was principally developed in response to the perceived threat that secular humanism presented to Christianity, in the wake of the Enlightenment and especially after the advent of Darwinism.
It is in regards to Biblical literalism that many members of these two extremely different schools of thought end up becoming strange bedfellows. They both agree that authentic Christianity assumes a rigidly literal interpretation of the Bible. Both agree that the in order to be Christian one must accept that the Earth is very young, that Adam and Eve were real, that all the world’s animals fit on Noah’s ark and that the flood covered the Himalayas. And as we discussed in an earlier thread, both groups assume that the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species are irreconcilable. Because the atheist sees this narrow view of the Bible as being inconsistent with the world of scientific evidence they easily dismiss all of scripture as absurd mythology and superstition. Meanwhile the Christian Fundamentalist says that those who do not understand the Bible in the way that they do are either lacking in spiritual discernment or even worse, acting under the influence of Satan. Both groups will readily cite individual scriptures removed from context to make their points.
Neither group sees any merit in a more open and intuitive reading of scriptures, no matter how well it is presented. I have been party to conversations where both the atheist and the fundamentalist will strongly agree that the moderate or progressive believer has no right to call himself a Christian and that in reality he is a relativist who picks and chooses what he finds most agreeable. Both the Atheist Fundamentalist and the Christian Fundamentalist think that they alone look at the world, including the Bible, through very pragmatic and logical lenses. Both groups are very much a product of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on empirical evidence, mathematical formulas and the rule of law. Christian Fundamentalists will often rise to the atheist’s bait and present very far-fetched historical scenarios in attempts to defend what they call Creation Science. And the Atheist Fundamentalist, when up against the mathematical improbability that makes abiogenesis (the spontaneous presence of life) essentially impossible, will fall back on the speculative fiction of intergalactic life-seeding aliens, multiple universes and those mysteries that may reside within black holes, at times presenting them as if they were essentially fact and not fancy.
Both types of fundamentalist are very uncomfortable with the idea that perhaps we just cannot say everything with certainty, nor may we ever. This insecurity can verge upon panic as they stridently defend their positions by personally attacking those who disagree with them. The Christian Fundamentalist sees Satan at work behind the atheistic scene and the Atheist Fundamentalist tends to blame religion for all the worlds ills.
The Atheist Fundamentalist does not believe in sin but that man’s depravity is the result of primitive superstitious conditioning – once religion has passed away the world will be that much closer to the natural Utopian end product of progressive evolution. The Christian Fundamentalist, on the other hand, sees sin as akin to a disease that infects man as the result of Adam’s rebellion against God and that someday Jesus will return to the Earth and pronounce yet another type of Utopia. Neither group is willing to see that sin is something that is intrinsic to the nature of a creature that is no longer animal, but has the unique ability to choose wrong over right, and often does so.
To suggest that the Bible is often metaphorical threatens both of these world views. If Evolution does not refute scriptures then for the Atheists there remains a possibility that God does exist and there may be vitally important truths that they may be ignoring. As for the Christian Fundamentalists, if Evolution is part of God’s plan, then some of their cherished doctrines (like Original Sin and Sacrificial Atonement) are threatened.
I am no longer surprised at how many overzealous atheists claim to have escaped rigid church traditions. So few seem to have backgrounds with the more moderate and progressive Christian denominations. Conversely, so many extreme Christian Fundamentalists seem to have recently converted from either atheism or agnosticism. This would aptly describe my situation of just a few years ago, as I converted from atheism to Christian fundamentalism. Fortunately, for me, my troubles with Fundamentalism did not sour me on the faith.