Sunday, January 10, 2010

To My Christian Friends and Family

In light of ProfMTH's video I thought it apropos to expound on his idea.  In his latest video ProfMTH's provocation was only extended to liberal and moderate Christians. I think his video should not only constitute those of liberal and moderate theology but those who also hold more of a conservative theology and the like. His challenge is both arduous and demanding, yes, but it is also most crucial and acute. This challenge unequivocally necessitates the need for answers for the vitality of your faith. I will be dealing with four areas: historicity, inspiration, inerrancy or infalliability, and the ugliness.


I have heard it said that when debating or conversing with creationists or inerrantists that it is a losing battle. I completely agree that it is hard to show a stubborn person the error of their ways but that doesn't mean all is lost. It reminds me of Dante's famous line in The Divine Comedy, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." To me there is still hope because the burden of proof is still laid upon the creationist or inerrantist. They still have given us no evidence or proof. That is what I am asking for here. I am giving a chance to all the Christians around me to prove themselves right in their beliefs and in return proving me wrong. I will be posing some questions in the aforementioned areas. So let it begin!

1. Historicity.

So in Matthew 1:18 we have the author telling us, "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about..." and in Luke 1:3 we have the author saying, "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..."  but if we read both accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke we are faced with a nauseating fact. They aren't congruous. They are almost at complete odds with eachother. The only thing they share together is they both have Jesus born in Bethlehem but by totally different means. So I would like to know which one of these stories is false and which one is true? Remember both can't be true one has to be false.

Also within these narratives we have events that never took place in history like the supposed "world census" issued by Cesar. They have dates wrong and even historical figures wrong. So I guess what I am getting at is, how can these stories be trusted as history?  There are numerous incongruous parts of the Bible. If you would like to know more please read Bart Ehrman's book, Jesus, Interrupted. This leads me to my second topic.

2.Inerrancy

This brings up the fact that the Bible contains errors. The Bible is riddled with discrepancies and inconsistencies. Not only the above mentioned error but hundreds of others. Some even as important as getting the day of Jesus' death wrong. The synoptics have Jesus die on the Sabbath but John has him die the day before. These aren't mistakes an all powerful God would make when divinely inspiring the Good News, right? These are all too human tendencies. Surely God can't err, right?

3. Inspiration

As we can see by the numerous incongruous parts of the Bible we can't trust it to be historically reliable or error free. With that said how could it be divinely inspired? I mean certainly the God who created this world and the humans who inhabit it can remember the who, what, where, and whens of his ONLY SONS birth, right? I mean if God is Jesus and Jesus is God surely they wouldn't have differing versions of their own birth, death, and resurrection, right? So which is it, divinely inspired texts or falliable human written texts? Which leads me to...

4. The Ugliness

Have you read the Old Testament? Or did you skip over all the rape, pillaging, and murder? Here are just some examples of the divinely inspired work of God.

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." Deuteronomy 22:28-29

"If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property." Exodus 21:20-21

"If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you." Deuteronomy 22:20-21

So with that out of the way, how do you reconcile verses like that with verses like Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God is flawless" and Isaiah 61:8, "For I, the LORD, love justice"? Does the Bible give you the option or authority to reject such passages? On what, if any basis, do you believe you may legitimately reject portions of your scriptures?  How do you reconcile your continuing to be a believer with this rejection with at least some of your faiths divinley inspired fundamental documents? And if you do accept each of the passages as accurately communicated words spoken by your God, how do you deal with serving a God who equated physical disabilities with spiritual defilement (Lev. 21:16-23)?

I do understand that I address alot of questions but it would be helpful to all if your responses were short, sweet and to the point.

I would like to thank ProfMTH for being ever so wise and giving me a basis to start upon.

17 comments:

  1. Have you ever thought that those people, who your basing your whole beliefs on, could be wrong? The bible has been around for about 2000 years... with numerous attempts to try to prove it wrong or get rid of it or just totally destroy it and yet it is still around today. I think it takes a great amount of pride for someone whose been around for a whole 20 something years to say that the bible is wrong, simply because it is not understood or logically figured out. The way you believe is the simple reason that none of it makes sense to you and the other people who try to dethrone the legitimacy of the bible.

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  2. there is no right and there is no wrong when arguing in matters such as these. i could give you "proof" that says you're wrong, talk about translation issues, or 'no this is what he really meant', or 'this definition in the greek really means this instead of that changing the meaning of the verse' etc...

    and than you come back with your 'no this is what it means, not what you said it means', or even though this guy's opinion proves me wrong, this other guys opinion proves me right.

    it's a never ending i'm right you're wrong. no one is going to change their mind.

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  3. @ Chad.

    Yes I have thought about whether those people could be wrong. But I am not basing my arguments off other peoples work. These questions I raise about historicity, inspiration, and inerrancy came by reading the Bible myself. I have a great tool in helping me read the gospel stories side by side so to compare them with it is Kurt Aland's Synonpsis of the Four Gospels. This is where I get my arguments from, the Bible. I do admit some help from ProfMTH for giving me a basis of material to get me started but that is irrelevant.

    I think the word you were actually looking for was arrogance not pride. And to respond to that I don't consider it arrogant to take down the Bible. Yes it is one if not the most important book of the last 2000 years. But when you have YECs and IDrs trying to say that the Bible is scientifically and historically accurate I think it deserves scientific and historical scrutiny. When people try and tell me I'm wrong because the Bible is absolute truth and I say prove it is not arrogance or a sense of pride. It is what any human being does. Creationist do it all the time with evolution and I suppose you have no problem with that. But when I turn the tides it's considered arrogant and prideful?

    But just like I supposed you would throw around non sequiturs, non answers, and red herrings. I just want answers. I am not looking to tell you how your wrong I just want answers to those questions that is all. I want to understand how Christians reconcile their beliefs in the light of those things I address. This isn't arrogance I am just curious really.

    Peace,
    DevinWL

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  4. @ Jake.

    To presume no one is going to change their minds is absolutely deluded. Of course people will change their minds. When you shatter enough belief by presenting evidence it takes a toll. I changed my mind. I also read both sides of the argument for years. All I wanted was the truth. I didn't want a way out of Christianity. But I think I did something most atheists don't do and that is compare that actual Bible. All other people's books did was help me understand the arguments better when I compared the stories of the Bible.

    Also, it would be imprudent to say there is no wrong or right in matters such as these. That, sir, is just dead wrong and quite misleading. This isn't a matter of translation of verses or greek or what he really meant to say. It is a matter of taking two stories and seeing how incongruous and contradicting they are. The fact is there are numerous accounts of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection and they all dont agree. That is what I present. That is not a problem with translation my friend.

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  5. @ Chad.

    I would like to make a correction. It is completely anachronistic to assume the Bible has been around for 2000 years. This is not accurate at all. The Bible we have today has only been around for the past four to five hundred years or so. Before that it was a hotly debated item. Constantly being revised, translated, and copied. The Jewish Bible has been around since Jesus' time and before, yes, but not our Christian Bible. It was illegal for a lay person to own a copy of the Bible. It was property of the Church. Instead it was read aloud in church. It wasn't until the Reformation did lay people own their own copies.

    Cheers

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  6. People who defend the Bible's message on the basis that it has simply been misunderstood, or feel that we haven't gotten the gist of it after carefully examining it's passages, are simply practicing relative moralizing to salvage and safeguard the "assumed" value of the Bible from pillory and well deserved criticism.

    But then I don't see how this is any different from those of us who practice moral relativism.

    Just saying. I mean, it's nice to pretend the Bible is something other than it is, but for those of us who do admire the passages and have studied the scriptures in detail, and have a deep understanding of the history of the texts, and appreciate the Bible as a wonderful work of myth, fable, legend, and literature, this sort of prancing around and making excuses to save it from its own inadequacies as an archaic and outmoded text just doesn't do the Bible any justice.

    It is was it is. You can take it or leave it. But taking just the parts you like and forgetting the damaging or irreconcilable bits is not an improved variety of faith, it's a salvage operation, and ultimately it leads to a meaningless sort of faith.

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  7. Biblical Errancy; this might help:

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-i-am-not-christian-part-2-biblical.html

    And although a bit long and in-depth, here is something on Redaction:

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-i-am-not-christian-part-1-redaction.html

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  8. Hey, it's Erik. I showed your questions to my brother, and asked him to respond. I'm sure his answers won't satisfy you, but differing viewpoints are fascinating. Enjoy.

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  9. 1. Historicity

    The Christmas story is very misunderstood even by most Christians but there is no reason to conclude that the two accounts of Jesus’ birth are contradictory or that one must be false. Matthew and Luke provide different details of the same story. Matthew 1:18-25 tells us of the miraculous virgin conception and how Joseph came to understand the situation through an angelic visitation. Very little is said about the actual birth of Jesus in this passage. Luke 2:1-20 gives us more details of the actual birth: Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem because of a census, there was no room in the inn so Jesus was born in some sort of animal shelter, angels appeared to shepherds who went and witnessed the birth of the promised Messiah. Luke is really the only one to describe the birth itself. Matthew chapter 2 is the story of the Magi, or Wise Men. The traditional Christmas nativity puts these Magi at the scene of Jesus’ birth with the shepherds, but the biblical story suggests that they probably came looking for Jesus sometime between His first and second birthday. Verse 1 says that the Magi came AFTER Jesus was born and verse 16 gives us a timeframe to work with as it states that Herod killed all babies two years old and under. Also, on a bit of a side note, it is nowhere mentioned how many Magi there were. It is only indicated that there was more than one. The tradition of the three wise men comes from the number of gifts that were presented: gold, incense and myrrh.

    The world census by Caesar Augustus has puzzled many but is not enough reason for doubting the authenticity of the Bible. For one thing, just because there is no documented evidence of such a worldwide census is not proof that it never happened. Also, we do know that Augustus reorganized the administration of the empire and conducted numerous local censuses. Luke may be referring to an otherwise unknown census, or he may be treating a local Palestinian census as part of the emperor’s administrative policy. And as for the dates and historical figures that are supposedly wrong…you have not really provided any examples for me to respond to, but if we are still talking about the account of Jesus’ birth then I might assume you mean the dates of Quirinius’ rule. I can only guess that this is what you are referring to and if so you can find several possible solutions to this in the “Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary” edited by Clinton E. Arnold.

    I won’t even begin to go into all the problems with Bart Ehrman’s newest book. For such an educated man it is amazing that his works are so poor academically. I am sure they are popular among those who want to find fault with the Bible, but his arguments against the Bible have all been addressed by real scholars. He also claims his work to be the general consensus among New Testament scholars when in reality it comes nowhere near. And he treats pastors and preachers as conspirators who know the supposed truth that Ehrman preaches (yes, Ehrman is more preachy than scholarly in his books) but choose to hide it from there congregations. A ridiculous conspiracy theory. If you want to know more about the poor scholarship of Ehrman read the review of this book by Michael Kruger (Google it if you need to).

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  10. 2. Inerrancy

    All four Gospels clearly state that Jesus died on Preparation Day, the day before the Sabbath (see Matt 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31). What you are probably referring to is the time differences in Mark as opposed to John. There is an article on the web that explains this.

    http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/451

    There are many SUPPOSED discrepancies throughout the Bible. And if read without understanding or taken out of context they may look like proof of the Bible’s fallibility. Many of these supposed discrepancies have been dealt with in great detail by numerous Christian scholars (something that Ehrman chooses to ignore). Of course the typical atheist response to this is that they want me to point them to a website or book that deals with all of these issues. Unfortunately, no such book or website exists. A real scholar will generally only focus on one or a few of these discrepancies and so in order to find answers to a variety of questions of inconsistencies within the Bible someone will need to do their research. For the most part I find that atheists are either unwilling or simply do not know how to do such research. Reading what other atheists have to say on the matter will only convince you that you were right to begin with, but without any actual understanding of what the leading Bible scholars have said concerning the issues.

    3. Inspiration

    Since your entire argument here was based solely on your previous arguments that the Bible cannot be trusted as a historical document and is full of errors there is really nothing for me to refute at this point.

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  11. 4. Ugliness

    Sin is ugly and the Bible deals with sin and sinful people. The Bible does not condone sin, but it also does not ignore it. The Bible accepts sin as a reality of the fallen nature of humanity and deals with it accordingly. God is just. God is holy. But God is also love. He is merciful. Therefore, God deals with sin but also loves the sinner. It is a great conflict, but one that I am grateful for. Everyone sins, even Christians. We are no better than anyone else, though there are many Christians out there who act like and genuinely believe that they are better than non-Christians. But that is not what the Bible teaches. All of us sin and all of us need redemption. All of the passages you quoted here have to do with punishing the ugliness of sin, not condoning it.

    Also, to be clear, Christians do not reject any part of Scripture, but we do recognize that no part of Scripture was written directly to us today. The Law of Moses was written for ancient Israel and was given as the stipulations for their covenant with God. The book of Ephesians was Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus in the first century AD. I could go on but I think my point is clear. We cannot expect all biblical principles and commands to apply to our lives in the same way that they were applied to those who originally received them. Biblical hermeneutics has two parts: first we determine the meaning for the original audience and then we look at how we can apply the underlying principle to our lives today. This is not a rejection of Scripture, it is a proper understanding of how these ancient books can be useful for spiritual guidance today.

    Finally, Lev 21:16-24 does not equate physical deformities with spiritual defilement. Physical perfection is an understandable provision for priests who were representatives of God to the people, but even more important is that it carried out the typology of the perfect Christ. Like many things in the Old Testament, the priesthood pointed to Christ (read the book of Hebrews). People with deformities also may have found it difficult to perform the rigorous duties of a priest. If you read through all that was required of a priest it would be difficult to perform such duties with almost any kind of a handicap. If you read through this entire passage you will also notice that those with deformities were still allowed to eat the sacred food from the sacrifices. If any sort of spiritual defilement were implied this would certainly not be so.

    Do not make the mistake of thinking that any Christian who does not know the answer to every question that any skeptic can throw at them is somehow stupid or that their faith is invalid. Skeptics of the Christian faith can easily find a dozen reasons not to believe in as many minutes, and unless we Christians can answer them on the spot, the skeptic believes that he/she has therefore won. Most of the time I find that skeptics are only out to set up a straw man argument that they can easily tear down. I do not know if that was your intention here or not. If it was then I’m sure you will pick this response apart and find something that you can take out of context or twist to mean something that I did not say just so that you can “win the debate.” But, if you are genuinely looking for answers then do some actual research on what Christian scholars have to say about these issues. Asking the average Christian will generally not get you anywhere. And if you only read books and articles by other atheists and skeptics you will never truly understand what Christians believe or how they explain certain supposed discrepancies.

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  12. Bart Ehrman does have an axe to grind yes but in his eyes it is justifiable because he feels his area of study is inadequately told and known to laymen. Which is absolutely true. If it wasn't for his books I would never have known of the world of textual criticism, etc...

    Also to say, "He also claims his work to be the general consensus among New Testament scholars when in reality it comes nowhere near." is an outlandish lie. Respectable and well known biblical scholars almost undeniably agree with the scholarship of Ehrman. People like D.B.Wallace, K.Aland, J.W.Loftus, H.Avalos, D.Martin, et al...I do agree that they all do have their own opinions and disagree on some minor points but all almost fully agree that the Bible is full of errors, mistakes, discrepancies, and contradictions. Even Bruce Metzger, considered to be one of the greatest TC scholars today, agrees with Ehrmans scholarship. They even write books together.

    Even Wallace who is one of Ehrmans biggest critics agrees that the Bible is not inspired by God. He tells us this in Lee Strobel's book. He says that the Bible isn't inspired by God himself but that men were inspired by God to write what they thought God was telling them through the Holy Spirit. Not direct inspiration but kind of like artistic inspiration.

    Now that is something I could understand and agree with because that still leaves room for human error. And it is obvious to all these scholars that the Bible is filled with human error.

    Universities all over the country use Ehrman's textbooks to teach their students. Even Yale bible scholar Dale Martin uses Ehrman's book to teach his grad students...there has to be some merit to his scholarship if it is used to teach grad students at Yale, don't you think?

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  13. To say, "Matthew and Luke provide different details of the same story." is misleading. Luke specifically says, "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..." He "carefully investigated" everything. So this means he would have known all the information Matthew did and decided to leave it out. Why? Was it not historically accurate? Why did Luke deem it ok to leave out everything Matthew wrote?

    It is possible that Luke decided to leave everything Matthew had written out because Matthew's gospel was already in circulation, so Luke didn't want to repeat everything Matthew said. But that doesn't make any sense really because Luke's was a carefully investigated orderly account. He would have to include parts of Matthews if he was to be true to the story. But Luke and Matthew completely stand at odds in almost every aspect.

    Amalgamating the stories together makes it more problematic than resolving.

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  14. Also you assume too much of me and who I am. You throw out accusations like we have known eachother for quite some time. I do not make the mistake in thinking that, "[A]ny Christian who does not know the answer to every question that any skeptic can throw at them is somehow stupid or that their faith is invalid." This is a ridiculous accusation. I have the utmost respect for my fellow human being no matter what they believe. I don't ever want to take away what comforts them in the dark of night or light of day.

    Also what I find astounding is that you tell me, "Asking the average Christian will generally not get you anywhere." This leaves the impression that you think that an "average" Christian doesn't know any of the problems that plague their theology and Bible. Only "real" Bible scholars and apologists know the answers. Well that leaves a problem doesn't it. Scholars know and lay men and Christians don't. Could Ehrman be right after all?

    As you see I am not an atheist who just reads a random blog and holds its words to be true. I cross check information, I read both sides of the argument before I make my decisions. I study some times for years. I read all sorts of books on all sorts of topics. I have read real Christian scholars on all these topics and secular ones too and I find the former wanting. They invoke miracles that can't be tested. They ask for you just to believe them on blind faith that they are right. I have attended lectures and watched plenty of debates and for some reason the Christian side comes up short for me.

    For me this is not about "winning the debate". It is about two things.

    1. It is about getting the word out there about all scholars know so people will become more educated.

    2. I want to believe these things. I don't come from a background of atheism I come from Christianity. I want more than anything to believe again because I want to be a part of something that is bigger than me. But after several years of reading and researching I can not make my self believe again. Say what you will but I can't. To me the evidence is just to strong on the side of the skeptic. Not because I want it to but because I use critical thinking and common sense and it tells me I would be a fool to believe again. But only time will tell maybe one day this will all change.

    Cheers,
    Devin

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  15. Hey, buddy. It's Erik again. I have to apologize that my brother probably won't actually be reading this. He rarely, if ever debates these types of topics over the internet and certainly not using his little bro as a middleman. He mostly did it as a favor to me because I was curious. I appreciate both sides to this argument. Interesting stuff, though I think there's still more to be said on both sides. Also, I apologize if you took offense to his assumptions. I don't think he meant to make any unfair judgements about you, he's just a little rough around the edges =) He's a very educated man who I respect as a big bro and as a scholar. He's planning on writing some books of his own sometime in the future. I think you two would have a lot to talk about face to face. Anyway, take it easy bud. God bless, and I'll talk to ya later.

    -Erik Sheets

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  16. kinda comes full circle back to what i said: you prove me wrong, i prove you wrong, no one changes their mind.

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  17. Erik,

    Thanks for passing this on to your brother! It helps both sides to know what eachother is saying. I also didn't take offense to his assumptions. I just think it not fair to assume things about people you've never met just because they call themselves atheist or christian. But thanks for your interest in my stuff and the debate!!! I will be looking forward to your brother's books!!!

    Peace,
    Devin

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