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.

Always and Forever

nurseGod is trustworthy and true. He always keeps his promises. We know this because Christians, either in person or on web-sites, like to tell us so.

Let’s take a look at some of the promises God made back when he only liked Jewish people. How well do they hold up?

As part of his promise (covenant) with Jewish patriarch, Abraham, that he would look after his descendants in perpetuity, Yahweh came up with a particularly gross way for them to sign up:

I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God… Abraham, you and all future members of your family must promise to obey me. As the sign that you are keeping this promise, you must circumcise every man and boy in your family. This will be a sign that my promise to you will last forever. Any man who isn’t circumcised hasn’t kept his promise to me and can’t be one of my people… The promise I am making to you and your family will be for (your son) and his descendants forever (Genesis 17.7, 9-13, 21; my emphases).

‘Always’ and ‘forever’ obviously meant only until God changed his mind – which he did when he came up with the new ‘covenant’. You know the one: ‘believe in Jesus to be saved, no primitive surgery required.’ Of course, Jews still feel the original promise is in force and so keep up the old slicing’n’dicing membership requirement. So who’s right? Jewish people who feel that a promise is a promise? Or Christians who insist God eventually lost interest in mutilating penises? It’s hard to tell, but if it’s the Christians, then God, being omniscient and all, must have known he would change his mind eventually. So why tell ol’ Abe the agreement with him was ‘always’ and ‘forever’?

Then there’s the one where God promises there’ll be a descendant of King David’s on the throne forever:

I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel’ (1 Kings 9.5).

Oops. David’s line ceased ruling over Israel when the Assyrians defeated it in 586BCE. Since then there has been no king of the Davidic line ruling over Israel. Why didn’t God see this coming? And if he did, why’d he make a promise, with ‘forever’ and ‘never fail’, that he knew he wasn’t going to keep? Yes, I know Christians like to claim that Jesus took over the kingship when he came along, but he didn’t, not really. His descent from David is highly questionable and there’s still that awfully long gap between 586BCE and Jesus’ time that blows a hole in ‘never fail’ and ‘forever’. In any case, Jews, by definition, have never seen Jesus as their king and they’ve got a point: it’s difficult to see how someone dead and/or totally invisible can be king of anything.

Never mind, let’s try another. This time God’s promise that everything’s going to work out okay:

(The Lord) will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2.4).

Safe to say this didn’t happen either. Not while people were still using swords and spears anyway.

Finally, what about the promise that’s trotted out every Christmas? –

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Whatever Christians might claim for these verses, they’re not about Jesus. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself: Jesus did not and does not reign on David’s throne. He said he would, it’s true, believing himself to be the fulfilment of ‘prophecies’ like this, but he was wrong, as events went on to demonstrate. He didn’t, in any case, fit the description of whoever it is who’s being spoken of here; an earthly ruler who – yes, you guessed it – has still to show up. We’d have spotted him if he had. Some Jewish scholars think they might have done, pointing to King Hezekiah who ruled Israel in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, for almost 30 years. That’s hardly ‘forever’ though, is it. Yet more evidence that ‘prophecy’ doesn’t ever work, principally because it’s impossible to know the future.

God’s promises are like those of politicians: you just can’t trust them. There has to come a time when those who believe in them must face up to the fact they’re not promises at all, just ancient wishful thinking.