Believe what you want to believe

Blog415

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.

The Great Resurrection Miscalculation

How long was Jesus in the tomb before he ‘rose again’? Three days you say? Wrong! Read on and discover the secret of the Great Resurrection Miscalculation.

Resurrection

Jesus is wrong about no less an issue than his claim that he would rise from the dead after three days. In Mark 10.33-34 he prophesies:

the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.

On the surface, this seems pretty accurate for a prediction of events made some time before they actually happen (it wouldn’t be a prediction otherwise). Except, of course, this prophecy, like others of Jesus’, was written forty years or more after the event. Even then, Mark or whoever wrote the earliest gospel, can’t get it right. He tells us clearly in Mark 15.34 that Jesus dies at 3pm on Friday; Matthew and Luke agree. Jesus then reappears, fully recharged, ‘very early’ on the Sunday morning (Mark 16.2). But 3pm Friday to the ‘very early’ hours of Sunday is less than 48 hours – not three days, not even two.

What is the cause of this failed prophecy? For some reason, Mark assumes that ‘on the third day’, when he believed Jesus rose from the dead, means the same as ‘after three days’, the words he has Jesus prophesy. The third day after the crucifixion would indeed be the Sunday, but it wouldn’t be, and isn’t, three full days after it, as Mark’s Jesus seems to think.

The problem is not Mark’s alone, however. Matthew’s Jesus is even more emphatic that he will be buried for the three complete days:

For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12.40)

Thanks to Jesus’ insistence in Mark and Matthew that he would spend three days in the tomb, the belief that he must have done so – contrary to the ‘evidence’ in those same accounts that it was less than two – appears to have become securely established by the time of the fourth gospel. Its writers, however, find their own unique way round the problem. Their thinking seems to have been along the lines that ‘if Jesus said he was going to be buried for three days and three nights, then he must have been. He was the Son of God after all, and he wouldn’t get a thing like this wrong. Therefore, if, as we know, he rose on the Sunday, he cannot have been crucified on the Friday. He must have died on the Thursday’. And so the writers of John’s gospel shift the crucifixion back a day, to around noon on Thursday (John 19.14). It’s an ingenious solution. Thursday to Sunday – near enough three whole days. There’s even some neat symbolism as a bonus: the earlier execution equates with the slaughter of the sacrificial lambs on the Thursday, ready for that evening’s Passover. Problem more than solved!

Except it creates a whole raft of new ones, not least the glaring inconsistency between the synoptic gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion on the Friday – after Jesus’ and the disciples’ celebration of Passover the previous evening – and John’s gospel’s account of the crucifixion during Thursday afternoon, well before the Passover meal would have been eaten. Significantly, no-one in the history of Christendom has ever been persuaded by John’s Thursday crucifixion, otherwise we’d remember it on ‘Good Thursday’ instead of ‘Good Friday’, and have a different day off work.

Does any of this matter? Probably not, but it does demonstrate that:

i) if Jesus’ words in the synoptic gospels are to be taken literally, then either he can’t count or he badly misjudges the timing of his resurrection. If scheduled for three days after the crucifixion it should have occurred on the Monday;

ii) the resurrection probably didn’t happen at all, and more than forty years later Mark and Matthew trip themselves up trying desperately to convince people that it did, and that Jesus knew it would;

iii) the gospel writers are prepared to rearrange already highly improbable events to make equally unlikely prophecies appear true;

iv) because the Bible cannot get its own faked, after-the-supposed-event prophecies right it can’t possibly be trusted about other claims it makes. 

Happy Easter, y’all.

Adapted from my book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead. Buy it on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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