Christians’ Favourite Delusions 27: The Bible Is The Ultimate Authority On All Things

Biblereader* Mark Twain

Since writing my posts about the Bible, I’ve stumbled across a few assertions out in Blogland that the Bible is the ‘ultimate authority’ on some subject or other. ‘The ultimate authority on the issue of homosexuality is the Bible’ says Tim Brown, while Marsha West claims ‘the Bible’s the final authority in all matters of faith’ and the snappily titled ‘Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention’ insists that ‘as Christians we must affirm our commitment to divine revelation, the written Word of God— the Bible—as our ultimate authority base.’ 

You might wonder how a book, written largely by bronze and iron-age tribesmen and first-century zealots who thought their world was going to end any day soon, could produce anything authoritative. Especially when these men (and they were all men) get it wrong about –

How the world was created. Genesis 1 tells us how Yahweh formed the Earth pretty much as it is today. In this made up explanation, light, night & day and plant life all precede the creation of the sun, and the order in which animal life appears is completely wrong.

How humans came into beingas fully formed adults. No messy evolution here. Moreover, woman is created from man, even though all foetuses are female to begin with and male comes always from female.

How the world got to be the mess it’s in. Sin, apparently; this first couple fucked the whole thing up. There was no death before they ate some fruit. After, there was.Move along. No understanding of evolution here.

How old the Earth is. The Bible’s genealogies imply the Earth is now 6000 years old or thereabouts. Actually it’s about 4.5 billion, but that doesn’t stop Ken Ham and other wingnuts insisting it can’t be, because, you know, the Bible.

How important the Israelites were. They weren’t; they were a relatively obscure and insignificant tribe. Their only ‘achievement’ seems to have been creating the idea of there being only one God, and even that took time to develop. Little of what the Torah/Old Testament claims for them has been supported by archaeological and other evidence, and much has been soundly refuted.

How the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. There is no evidence at all that they were. Moses and the whole of the ‘let my people go’ story appear to be complete fabrication.

How the world really works. According to Bible animals can sometimes talk (Genesis 3.1; Numbers 22. 23-30); humans once lived to be well over a hundred years old (Genesis 7.6;, 23.1 etc); the sun goes round Earth (Ecclesiastes 1.5); the sun can be stopped in the sky (Joshua 10.12-13); the Earth is flat (Isaiah 40.22 etc); Heaven is in the sky (Psalm 103.11 etc) and Hell is under the Earth (Psalm 63.9 etc)

How God’s Kingdom was going to come to the Earth in the first century. You’ve probably spotted that it didn’t. Yet the belief that it would drove both Jesus and Paul, and accounts for the very existence of Christianity (see previous posts). How wrong can you get?

How believers would never ‘perish’ (John 3.16). From the very first convert to the Christians who will die today, every believer has ‘perished’. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of them has been resurrected or that they enjoy eternal life. Like the end of the rainbow, this promise is perpetually out of reach, always somewhere in the future – even though Jesus and Paul were telling their followers 2000 years ago that it was all going to happen real soon.

How Jesus was coming back any minute. See above. Always going to happen just about now. Never does.

And so it goes.

That’s some ‘authority’, I’m sure you’ll agree. The Bible is wrong about practically everything, except when a preacher needs it to support his bigotry and/or prejudices. Then, miraculously, it’s the ultimate authority.

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The Most Important Words In The Bible

EternalLife1Some parts of the Bible are more important than others. A few verses have a prominence far greater than all the other parts of God’s Word™ and are far more authoritative. To obey these few verses alone guarantees one’s status as a true, born-again Christian.

I can announce that today I will be revealing which the verses are that matter more than all the rest.

There are only about three of them, one in the Old Testament, and two in the New. It’s possible there are a couple of others hidden away somewhere but they’re a little more obscure and don’t, as a result, give us the clarity we’ve come to expect from God’s Word™.

More ink has been spilt, or in recent times, more keyboards bashed, to pound out the implications of these verses than almost any others in the Good Book. Check out any Christian blog, any church web-site and the chances are you will find multiple postings and even entire sections dedicated to these three special verses. You could start looking here or here or here or here… There are sermons about them too and even protests and counter-protests, so important are they.

So, you might be wondering, are these the verses that tell us to love our neighbour as ourselves? Are they the ones that say we should turn the other cheek? To attend to the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s?

No, it’s none of these. In fact, The Most Important Words In The Bible are not ones uttered by Jesus who failed, inexplicably, to recognise their importance. Maybe they’re the words of St Paul then, about love being the most important thing or how to gain eternal life? No, it’s not those either. Only modern Christians have been able to recognise fully the significance of The Most Important Words.

And they are – fanfare from the Heavenly Host, please –

Leviticus 18.22 (duplicated in Leviticus 20.13):
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Romans 1.26-27
…God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

1 Corinthians 6.9-10 (plagiarised in 1 Timothy 1.9-10)
Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

So now you know. The Most Important Words In The Bible are these, the verses condemning gay people. These are what Christians prioritise, write about and rant about more than any others. Not ‘forgive others if you want to be forgiven’, not ‘don’t judge’, not ‘give to all who ask’… but the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.

It’s irrelevant, apparently, that Jesus himself has nothing to say about same-sex relationships; irrelevant that, even in the verses where he touches on homosexuality, Paul lists a whole load of other ‘sins’ that Christians themselves are known to indulge in from time to time. No. The Bible is not, you see, about salvation, not about witnessing to non-believers – it’s about homosexuality and what a dreadful thing it is. Today’s Christians, having isolated these few verses, know this and so have their priorities straight.

Never mind that the Bible isn’t really God’s Word (see my previous two posts); never mind it has other things to say besides a few mentions of homosexuality; never mind that it demands a great deal of Christians themselves, which, naturally, they ignore – today’s believers know what Christianity is really about.EternalLife2

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 26.2: The Bible is the Word of God

WritingRight on cue, after my post on the Bible as ‘the Word of God’, Mike Ratcliff over at the intense Possessing the Treasure, posted his own item on the forged 2 Timothy 3.16-17, using it to show how the Bible is truly God’s Word.

You should know that Mike will not be contradicted in any way. You’re wasting your time posting a comment about his ‘exegesis’ of biblical texts because his musings – and there are many, many of them – are without any sort of error. Mike doesn’t make mistakes! He explains in his post how the Bible is ‘inspired, infallible and inerrant’. Many evangelical Christians hold this view of the Bible, which is as mistaken as it is idolatrous.

Infallible literally means ‘incapable of failure’ and ‘trustworthy’, but as I’ve attempted to show in many of my previous posts, the Bible fails in all sorts of ways:

It fails as science. It claims light existed before the sun was created; it claims the sun goes round the Earth, which it thinks is the centre of the universe. It has no idea about the order in which life-forms developed; no idea about evolution; no idea about life-forms that cannot be seen with the naked eye. It describes insects as having four legs and gives animals the power of speech.

It fails morally. It endorses slavery, polygamy, rape, incest, genocide and cruelty to both animal and human life. It denigrates women, children, the disabled and gay people. It prescribes brutal and barbaric punishments for those who infringe its petty laws.

It fails in its promises and prophecies. None of its promises ‘work’, none of its prophecies have come true (except those made after the event they’re meant to be predicting.)

Can something that fails so spectacularly and consistently be considered trustworthy? Yes, say Christians like Mike. No, says anyone capable of a little elementary reasoning.

Inerrant means incapable of error. As if the errors in the ‘failure’ category aren’t enough, the Bible is littered with mistakes and contradictions. The gospels, for example, all have different visitors to the tomb of the supposedly risen Jesus. These visitors are all met by different strangers – one man, two men, angels and their dog, Spot. More importantly, the New Testament can’t decide how a person is saved. Paul’s formula is radically different from Jesus’, and different again from the message Luke puts into his mouth in Acts. In total, there are eight different and conflicting ways to find salvation in the New Testament*.

Inspired literally means ‘breathed out’; Mike Ratcliff and others insist that the Bible is ‘breathed out’ by God. Apparently, he ‘breathed out’ his confused, contradictory message into and through fallible tribesmen, and first-century hallucinatory zealots, causing the former to exaggerate their own importance and success and the latter to create those eight different routes to salvation. He didn’t, however, see fit to give them a clear picture of who Jesus actually was, nor a precise formulation of the so-called Trinity (that fanciful nonsense had to be worked out much later), nor of what would happen to believers after death. He did, though, inspire forgeries and fakes like 2 Timothy and left it forty to a hundred years to prompt four individuals who had never met Jesus to write the muddled tales of his adventures on Earth. He didn’t think it important to preserve the originals of any of the manuscripts he’d inspired, nor did he take steps to prevent them from being altered both deliberately and accidentally throughout the ensuing years**. Perhaps he ‘breathed out’ the alterations and errors too.

The real problem with the inspiration argument is though that it is circular; the Bible ‘proves’ God and God proves the Bible.

No, the Bible is not infallible. Nor is it inerrant, nor inspired. It is an all too human creation, fallible and error-ridden. There is greater consistency and style in the works of Shakespeare than there is in the shambolic collection of books cobbled together as the Bible in 397CE. Those who see it as something more, see what they want see and are wilfully blind to its many failings. God’s Word it isn’t.

 

Notes:

* For the eight (at least) salvation plans in the New Testament see my book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, chapter 6.

** For errors, alterations and the non-preservation of any original documents see Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible And Why.

 

 

 

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 26.1: The Bible is the Word of God

IsaiahThe Bible: not so much holy as full of holes.

So much hinges on the fallacy that the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God. As the ‘director’ of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, puts it:

We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired, infallible, written Word of God to whose precepts, given for the good of nations and individuals, all man’s laws must submit.

Try as you might, you will not find the Bible claiming it is the Word of God, capitalised or otherwise. The phrase does appear, without the capital W, but on none of these occasions is the Bible referring to itself.

Christians usually base their conviction that the Bible is the Word of God on a verse in 2 Timothy (3.16):

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

There are some serious problems with this claim.

Firstly, the ‘scripture’ to which 2 Timothy 3.16 refers cannot be the Bible as we know it today. This was not compiled until about 260 years after these words were written*. At best, the author of 2 Timothy is referring to the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch – and maybe, possibly, though we cannot know for certain (you see how tentative it is?) some of the writing he had encountered that was eventually included in the New Testament.

By the same reckoning though, he could equally be referring to books that at one time were considered to be inspired but did not make it into the final 27 books of the New Testament**. This is also why the use of the term ‘the word of God’ in other places in the New Testament cannot be referring to the Bible as a whole. No-one knew when using the phrase in its original context that there was going to be a Bible, let alone one divorced from its Jewish roots.

Secondly, most scholars today are convinced that Paul did not write 2 Timothy, even though it claims that he is its author. There are very good reasons for saying the letter was written between 100-150CE, thirty-six years, at the very least, after Paul’s death in 64CE. In other words, 2 Timothy is a fake, claiming to be written by one person – Paul – when it is in fact the creation of another, taking advantage of the reputation of the more well-known writer.

How far can such a false witness be trusted? Most people in any other context would say not at all. And yet Christians take this forger’s letter to be ‘inspired by God’, just because it says it is. In essence they are saying that God is happy to inspire forgery, and not just in this instance either: none of the ‘pastoral’ letters (1 and 2 Timothy, together with Titus) is written by Paul, even though all of them claim to be. The second letter to the Thessalonians and those to the Ephesians and Colossians are not by him either; 1 and 2 Peter are not by the (illiterate) apostle Peter and the letters of James and Jude, while wanting us to think that they are, are not by Jesus’ brothers***.

In short, and as Bible scholar Bart Ehrman puts it:

Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle — Peter, Paul or James — knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.

Christians do not accept that the Qur’an is the word of God (Allah), nor the book of Mormon, even though both say they are, so why do they take it on trust, from a forged document that was lucky enough to find its way into the New Testament, that it and all other ‘scripture’ is inspired? ‘Faith’, they would tell you; but in this as in many other contexts, it is extremely misguided faith.

 

Notes:

* For the Bible’s late compilation see Charles Freeman (2008) Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State, p42

** For non-canonical texts once considered contenders see Bart Ehrman (2009) Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible, chapter 4

*** Forgeries in the New Testament are discussed more fully in Ehrman (2011) Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are: The pastoral letters – pp96-103; 2 Thessalonians – pp105-108; Ephesians – pp108-112; Colossians – pp112-114; Jude – pp186-188; James – pp192-198. Peter’s illiteracy is noted in the Bible itself (Acts 4.13) and is discussed on pp75-76 of Forged.

UK editions referenced.

 

What would the world look like if Jesus had been right?

NewEarth

If everything Jesus promised had come true, then:-

Jesus and his twelve mates – or maybe it’s eleven, what with one of them pissing on the parade – would have been running the world for 2,000 years by now (Matthew 24.34 & Matthew 19.28).

All the undesirables – that’s me and, in all probability, you – would’ve been consigned to Hell and the Righteous would’ve been living on the New Earth, working miracles all day long, not getting married, enjoying eternal life and definitely not having sex (Matthew 13.43, Luke 20.34-35, Matthew 25.46, Matthew 13.41-42).

But seeing how none of that has happened yet, what does the world-according-to-Jesus look like while we wait for the Kingdom to arrive?

Well, duh, look around you; this is how it is:

True Believers go around curing the sick, the blind and the lame, just by touching them or using magic saliva. There’s no need for hospitals, medicine, doctors or heath care. Jesus did this sort of thing and he said his followers would too, to an even greater extent. That’s why Christians can even help amputees grow back missing limbs (Mark 16.18 & John 14.12).

By the same principle, True Believers regularly raise the dead. Okay, so there’s not going to be any death in God’s Kingdom on Earth, but it’s a handy power to have all the same (Matthew 10.8).

Hunger is a thing of the past. When anyone feels a bit peckish – an entire continent, say – Christians feed them using whatever scraps they’ve got lying around, like left-over sardines and burnt toast with Jesus’ face on it (Matthew 14.13-21).

True Believers supply everyone with as much wine as they want, too. They simply pour out some water and change it into alcohol with their water-into-wine superpower. If their beneficiaries turn out to be tee-total, the Righteous change it into something else for them, like coffee or Kool-Aid or cyanide. Of course, cyanide is the beverage of choice for God’s Chosen. He makes sure no harm comes to those who imbibe it (John 2.1-11, Mark 16.18).

Christians are regularly to be seen playing with poisonous snakes, because, like Superman they’re practically invulnerable (Mark 16.18).

Transport is transformed in Jesus’ new world too. No need for ships or ferries; Believers travel overseas by walking over seas. Conditions a bit choppy? The Almighty calms things down for them; all they have to do is ask. (Matthew 14.22-33 & Mark 4.35-41).

Mountains getting in the way? They can just be lifted out of the way using the Power of Faith, and thrown into the sea. Or, if that’s likely to cause problems for those out for a stroll on the oceans, the mountains can be rearranged to make a passage through. Very neat and tidy (Mark 11.23-24).

Best of all, True Believers can ask God for anything at all and whatever they ask for he provides. No questions asked. He does it (Matthew 7.7 & 21.22, Mark 11.24 etc).

Thanks to Jesus’ followers, this is how it is in the world, while they wait for God’s Kingdom to arrive. And when it does, it’ll be even better. Hard to imagine it could be any better than it is, I know, but Jesus guarantees it. What a blessing it is to live, here and now, in such a transformed reality.

Except of course we don’t. None of these things happen. Not the miracles, the healings, the living forever. This is not the world we live in, even though Jesus said it would be. His Kingdom didn’t come; his followers don’t do miracles like his (and certainly don’t do better ones); no-one lives forever. They never have and never will.

Instead his Followers spend their time squabbling between themselves, judging others and living – and dying – pretty much the same way we all do.

Funny that.