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.