I’ve been responding to some comments of Don Camp’s over on Cross Examined. First off, Don objected to the claim someone made that the Bible is ‘full of errors’. He went on to make a number of assertions that I felt compelled to challenge. I’ve also added here a number of other points in italics, where, it seems to me, Don is trying to bluff with guff.
Don: “Full of errors” is an overstatement. There are errors, which is obvious when one looks at the critical apparatus of the USB Greek text. (What is this ‘apparatus’ of which Don speaks? Critical scholarship? Can’t see Don bothering much with that. Magic seer stones, then?) But if you know how to read the apparatus (ah, we must have insider knowledge to know how to read the manuscripts [which ‘manuscripts?] the way Don does) you will notice that the differences between manuscripts is minor and do not impact the message (we will? How?) The doctrine of “inerrancy” speaks to the original manuscripts (autographs). (We don’t have the original manuscripts so we can’t verify their accuracy or otherwise. Even if we did have access to them, how would we know they said what God wanted them to say? How would we know if what they said was true? We wouldn’t. They’re both hypothetical and irrelevant, and this is all meaningless theobabble.)
Don: I don’t subscribe to a strong inerrancy… (The examples you cite are) nitpicking and, I suspect, avoidance. (What is ‘strong inerrancy’? I’d have thought something was either inerrant or it wasn’t. The presence of one error in a document means it isn’t inerrant. If Don doesn’t subscribe to ‘strong inerrancy’ there’s nothing else – only the presence of error.)
And then we’re off on a tangent – call it ‘sleight of hand’ – about how marvellous the Bible is:
The Bible is a remarkable book. There is none like it in all of literary history. It is the story of man and God and explains not only why things are the way they are but how God acted to reconcile man to himself. That message throughout the Bible is the same. In that sense, the Bible is unified.
And then another unfounded assertion, to which I sent the reply that follows:
Don: The Bible is also coherent. The message is logical and consistent. The third chapter of Genesis contains the message in brief as a narrative. It is sometimes called the proto-evangel. The rest of the Bible unfolds that message and explains how God accomplished his purpose and how we can respond to his mercy and grace […]
Me: Okay, let’s disregard the numerous ‘minor’ inconsistencies and contradictions. There’s insurmountable disunity between the old and new covenants: God in the Old Testament (OT) promises Abraham his contract with him and his seed is ‘always and forever’ (Genesis 12). He negates this completely in the New Testament (NT) when he declares, or so Paul would have us believe, that the only way to find favour with him is through faith in his saviour. Yes, the Bible’s unchanging God changes his mind and presents two irreconcilable ways to be reconciled with him.
Or how about the differences between Paul’s theology – salvation through faith alone – and Matthew’s Jesus who says salvation is through personal righteousness achieved by doing good works (Matthew 25)? For God’s sake, Don, there’s only about forty years distance between these two schemes and yet they don’t agree on what God’s plan is for mankind.
You want more? How about the differences between the OT and NT perspectives of the afterlife? Jesus’ (and Paul’s) conviction about the imminence of the End of the Age and that of later NT writers? The views of Heaven in earlier and later writing?
You’re deluding yourself, Don, if you think there’s a unity to these central doctrines in the Bible. There evidentially isn’t. Please don’t take us for fools with your attempts to delude us too.
To which I’d add that Christians’ dishonest attempts to prop up that book of suspicion and make-believe, the Bible, as something it isn’t are tiresome in the extreme. Words like ‘apparatus’ and ‘original manuscripts/autographs’, are meaningless, while ‘inerrancy’, ‘coherence’ and ‘consistent’ are used in ways that strip them of any of their meaning. There is no ‘apparatus’ that magically removes the serious discrepancies in the Bible, no pristine, error-free original manuscripts to which we can refer. As in many of its minor details, the Bible’s central messages lack unity, coherence, consistency – and anything approaching sense. The American Bible Society reported recently that through lockdown, Christians haven’t – shock! horror! – been reading their Bibles with any regularity. Given they don’t read them much anyway, this can only be a good thing.
Neil, I think your beef is with fundamentalism and with the fundamentalism that I associate with the American Bible belt. And that puzzles me a little. Living in the UK I would not think that you had encountered that kind of fundamentalism.
Nevertheless, Bible belt fundamentalism is a very recent phenomenon. It does not describe the faith of most Christians in the world over the centuries. It was a swing of the pendulum away from the liberalism of the 19th century, and as in every swing it went beyond the center to an extreme. (That has been characteristic of theology historically. The theology of the moment is often a reaction rather than a sober and careful consideration of the biblical text.)
You mentioned inerrancy. That is also a rather recent development. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy “History”) What I see in scripture and in history is a great respect for the scriptures. That was true of the Jews as well as Christians. I and most Christians and Jews through then centuries believe in the inerrancy of the truth expressed in the scriptures. Those truths are expressed multiple times and in different ways throughout the scriptures. They do not depend upon the precise words used. They are found in the meaning of those words in context. (Words have no meaning out of a context. That is kind of a linguistic axiom.) So, fussing about inerrancy is a bit like beating a strawman.
What a lot of assumptions. You think the US has a monopoly on fundamentalism. You think my’beef’ is with fundamentalism only. You think your interpretation of cult beliefs should be spared criticism. You rely on the ‘out of context’ excuse, even though the gospels are constructed from out of context prophecy. What thin ice you stand on.
Well, what I said IS from my own limited perspective. But I would expect you, being from the UK, to focus more on the Christians and their theology and faith that is more UK-ish. I think of them as N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis and maybe J.B. Phillips rather than the idiosyncrasies of fundamentalism. They represent historic Christianity much more closely than the American fundamentalists.
I apologise that this blog is not the one you’d prefer to read. Nonetheless it isn’t.
Wright is a fundamentalist dressed up in intellectual sheep’s clothing. His theology is disputed by many Christians. Likewise Lewis (of whom I used to be very fond.) J. B. Philips is an odd bod who ‘upgraded’ the bible to make it contemporary. He died in 1982. The Christianity of Lewis (who died even earlier, in 1963!) and Phillips is not the Christianity that infested my life. I belonged to evangelical churches replete with people who thought Jesus was due back any time soon (soon being the 1970s and 80s). I write about what I know.
While you claim your brand of Christianity is liberal and intellectual it isn’t; you admit to hearing voices in your head, believe supernatural beings are real and think that one of these is going to grant you eternal life because you believe all the ‘right’ things. That is fundamentalism. Don’t pretend otherwise.
Well, you can write your own definition, but I would not call the kind of evangelicalism that I espouse Fundamentalist. Lots of Fundamentalists would agree that it is not.
The words fundamentalism and evangelicalism are ill-defined for most people. They are for me I know. I prefer to be labeled, if labels are important, a follower of Jesus and a biblical theologian, meaning I believe what the Bible says and don’t need to reconcile everything into a systematic theology. I am not Liberal in any sense that that word has been applied in the past.
I am not trying to put you in a box, Neil. I am trying to figure out what it was that triggered your reaction to Christianity. We sometimes seem to be talking past one another, and I thought understanding your story better might help me not to do that.