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.

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.