In this series we tackle the above question, How do we know the Bible, in a very practical way. We take a step by step approach, providing tools and tactics for your everyday use in studying the Word. Later, we dive into a workshop where those of us around the microphone actually select, at random, some passages and see if these tools and tactics really help. This week it is particularly helpful to have the homework in front of you, that link is below.
If you are looking for a real-life approach to studying God’s word, this is the series for you! Write your comments below, let us know how you do with the tools we are discussing, or share some of your own!
I am going to leave Gary and Alysa to chat this out respectfully, as I feel sure they will both do.
My only comment is this: You don’t need a PhD to know the Bible is true.
Michael Behe would say God is found in the most complex (irreducibly complex) creations like the bacterial flagellum. The band Live, in their song ‘Heaven’ would say God is obvious in our children and a sunset (Calvin called this ‘General Revelation’ which means most of us look around and just know all this existence is not an accident). Gary, my prayer is not that a PhD or any condescending scholar would persuade you, but God Himself. That you would see truth with Spirit filled eyes, because I know that’s the only way to understand any of this, even in our small human way. We have to be in concert with the Holy Spirit through the saving work of Jesus Christ. As long as you are fighting against that, none of the rest of this will matter to you. I am praying for you and others like minded, because God loves you…..
whether you believe it or not.
You don’t need a PhD to know the Bible is false.
“Instead of reading scholarly responses to (Bart) Ehrman as recommended, he (Gary) renounced faith. …The pastors at Gary’s former church were concerned as he sparred with capable disciples of Ehrman that he had not yet come to an understanding of Lutheranism. His formation as a Lutheran required time and inculturation. So, yes, in this sense I failed to form him as a disciple of Jesus and for that I am sorry.” —my former orthodox Lutheran pastor
My former pastor is not alone in his assessment that my lack of knowledge is the source of my problem. Many a Lutheran pastor and layperson has accused me of not fully understanding Lutheran doctrine and teachings as the cause of my loss of faith and deconversion from Christianity. What’s fascinating is that many an evangelical pastor and layperson has accused me of not understanding “true Christian” (evangelical) doctrine and teaching as the cause of my deconversion. Both groups have given me long lists of apologists (from their respective denominational flavor of Christianity only, of course) to educate me in the truths of Holy Scripture (as they read and understand it).
But here’s the thing: I don’t need to understand the nuances of the Doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence, Predestination, or Justification by Faith Alone, to know that the Bible is a book of nonsense. All I need is a high school education and a functioning brain.
Here are the cornerstone beliefs of orthodox Christianity:
1. The first human was created by an ancient middle-eastern god blowing air into a pile of dirt.
2. Death, disease, and all the pain and suffering in the world are the result of the first humans eating an ancient middle-eastern god’s fruit.
3. This same ancient middle eastern god soon had pity on humans for inflicting horrific suffering and death upon them for eating his fruit, so he decided to send himself to earth, in the form of a human being, to sacrifice himself, to appease the righteous anger of…himself.
4. This ancient middle-eastern god sent himself to earth in the form of a human being by having his ghost impregnate a young Jewish virgin, giving birth to…himself….as a divine god/man.
5. This divine god/man grew up to then preach the news of eternal redemption and forgiveness for ancestral forbidden-fruit-eating; “good news” meant for all the people of earth…by going to one desolate, sparsely populated, backwater corner of the globe where he taught in riddles that not even his closest followers could understand.
6. Even upon his death his closest followers had no clue what he was talking about. This god/man left no written instructions regarding what he required of mankind, only his confusing, often contradictory oral riddles. However, he allegedly left the job of written instructions to four anonymous writers, three of whom plagiarized the first, and, one bipolar, vision-prone, Jewish rabbi, who concocted contradictory wild tales of resurrections and ascensions into outer space.
Dear friend: You do NOT need to read the books of Christian apologists, theologians, and pastors to determine if these assertions of ancient, middle eastern facts are true. No. All you have to do is use your brain. And what does your brain tell you: It is all superstitious nonsense.
NO ONE in the 21st century with a high school education should believe these ancient tall tales.
Hi Gary….I should have left my post as a reply, sorry for my tech mistake there. Please see my post today in response to yours.
With love and respect,
Thanks for your thorough, passionate comment. Since it addresses a few different topics, I will reply in parts.
You wrote, “You don’t need a PhD to know the Bible is false.” Actually, many well respected, prominent & accomplished scientists, philosophers, professors, etc with advanced degrees like PhDs disagree with you. Their study has led them to conclude decisively that the bible is quite true as the inspired word of God. For instance, past scientists like Pascal, Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, Doyle, Faraday, Mendel, Planck, Kelvin, Pasteur. More recently, people like Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox, Dr. Stephen Meyer, Francis Collins, and astronomer Hugh Ross, who was led to belief in Christ because of his scientific work. So it would seem that belief in God is ubiquitous quite regardless of background, training, scholarship and experience.
I gather that you have become a fan of Bart Ehrman, and presented your pastor with what you consider to be very compelling Ehrman-inspired arguments against Christianity, which he attempted to rebut by pointing you to scholarly critics of Ehrman. Your summary confused me a bit and I’m curious:
1) did you ever read the scholarly responses that your pastor recommended? Would you be interested in sharing what they are here?
2) Where your pastor says, “he had not yet come to an understanding of Lutheranism. His formation as a Lutheran required time and inculturation”…can you elaborate? How is your former pastor’s experience with Lutheranism unique enough to require additional time and inculturation? Does this somehow set it apart from the essentials of the Christian faith, outlined below?
3) My impression from your entire comment is that you have in fact renounced your faith, but why then do you refer to yourself as “Lutheranblogger?”
4)Would you be willing to share these apologists who were recommended by your former Lutheran pastor and laypersons, and which denominations they represent?
Most modern Christian apologists that I am familiar with adhere to basic essentials of the faith, and these are common across all Catholic and Protestant denominations. A quick summary of these would be (from http://www.equip.org ):
“-the authority of Scripture, which is another way of saying that the Bible is God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word. It’s the ultimate source for knowledge about God, as well as the definitive guide for our daily lives.
-we affirm the existence of a triune God or one God in three distinct persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This God is self-existent, eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omnipresent, holy, righteous, and loving. God created the universe from nothing and He rules over His creation sovereignly including both human and angelic beings.
-man is a physical and spiritual being who is created in God’s image. But because of his sin or transgression, man has lost his fellowship with God. The extent of sin is so great that its effects continue to this very day in the form of cruelty, suffering, and death.
-By God’s grace, Jesus Christ – Who is fully God and fully man – was sent to save us from our bondage to sin. We believe that Christ was born of a virgin, died for our sins, physically rose from the dead, and will one day return to judge the world and deliver His people. Faith in Christ is the only means by which mankind can escape eternal damnation and judgment.
-Finally, we recognize the church as God’s ordained institution headed by Christ. The church is composed of all believers, and is organized for worship, for fellowship, for the administration of the sacraments, for spiritual growth and support, and for evangelizing the world.”
I will address your summary of Christian doctrine in a later reply. Please feel free to engage in honest inquiry and respectful dialogue. Blessings, Alysa
Getting back to the rest of your comment, you wrote, “I don’t need to understand the nuances of the Doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence, Predestination, or Justification by Faith Alone, to know that the Bible is a book of nonsense. All I need is a high school education and a functioning brain.”
We really need to stick with the basic essentials before we get further into the “nuanced doctrines.” There are lots of nuanced theories in science, and scientists argue all the time about abstract concepts and evolving ideas and “proofs,” but they can do so because the underlying essentials are commonly agreed upon. It’s kind of the same in Christianity: there are various doctrines and nuanced ideas because like in science, there are unanswered questions with a variety of ways to approach them, leading to a variety of possible answers. But these nuances generally do not disagree with the basic tenets of the faith, and when they do, they become theologically problematic.
You also wrote, “1. The first human was created by an ancient middle-eastern god blowing air into a pile of dirt.”
It may surprise you to know that Christians have a variety of theories about the origins of humans, which range all over the scientific map. We have Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, theistic evolution/evolutionary creationists, and proponents of Intelligent Design (which is not the same as creationism). The differences between all of these theories have scientific distinctions with theological implications. Here’s a brief overview with a good list of resources to dig deeper: http://christianmomthoughts.com/18-recommended-resources-for-learning-about-creation-and-evolution-views/
“2. Death, disease, and all the pain and suffering in the world are the result of the first humans eating an ancient middle-eastern god’s fruit.”
Actually, pain & suffering are the result of deliberately rejecting the parameters of an all knowing, all powerful, loving and just God. The bible is full of examples, from front to back, of how God’s people rejected Him, suffered because of it, were rescued, offered mercy, forgiveness and grace repeatedly & faithfully, and ultimately provided with a way to salvation. God exhorts us over and over throughout scripture to repent and turn back to Him.
“3. This same ancient middle eastern god soon had pity on humans for inflicting horrific suffering and death upon them for eating his fruit, so he decided to send himself to earth, in the form of a human being, to sacrifice himself, to appease the righteous anger of…himself.”
God longs for restoration and communion with the children He loves. My kids reject my rules, disobey me and get themselves into trouble. In this way they bring suffering upon themselves. It’s no different with God. He has laid out clear parameters from the beginning, and we’re just really good at rejecting those parameters and truths, and then we reap the consequences. In order to spare us our own self-destruction, by His mercy & Grace, God sent His son Jesus to earth to provide a means of salvation from the curse of sin and death which are the result of rejecting Him. God is a just God, requiring atonement, which is for our benefit because it allows for our restoration & communion with Him. If my children were to continually reject my parameters, it would certainly affect their privileges & consequences, as well as our relationship and fellowship. This is not a hard concept to understand and it is a great metaphor for God’s atonement and Grace. He offers a way of salvation through Himself, and it is outrageously, wonderfully loving.
“4. This ancient middle-eastern god sent himself to earth in the form of a human being by having his ghost impregnate a young Jewish virgin, giving birth to…himself….as a divine god/man.”
If God created the universe, surely he could alter the genetic/biological situation of a young woman to accomplish His good purposes.
“5. This divine god/man grew up to then preach the news of eternal redemption and forgiveness for ancestral forbidden-fruit-eating; “good news” meant for all the people of earth…by going to one desolate, sparsely populated, backwater corner of the globe where he taught in riddles that not even his closest followers could understand.”
And yet, to this day thousands of years later, we have thousands of preserved manuscripts (vastly more than for any other work of antiquity) which are 99% textually accurate, and historically accurate, all saying the same thing, and having profoundly affected millions of people throughout the ages. That is miraculous evidence for God and testimony all by itself. This seems to testify very strongly against the notion that “not even his closest followers could understand” Jesus.
“6. Even upon his death his closest followers had no clue what he was talking about.” and “This god/man left no written instructions regarding what he required of mankind, only his confusing, often contradictory oral riddles.”
Please use scripture references to substantiate your claim about how his parables were “contradictory.” Again, see my comment above. God has left a scrupulously, miraculously preserved set of instructions, which are the fulfillment of many OT prophecies. Jesus himself is the fulfillment of OT prophecies. He typically quoted OT scripture, which hardly seems contradictory, but speaks to scripture’s wonderful consistency and completeness.
Here are some resources for further reading if you are interested:
-First is a little video of B.Ehrman himself, despite his atheism, dismissing Jesus mythiscism and arguing for a historical approach: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/01/bart-ehrman-on-jesus-mythicism.html
-Next is a great resource about current research into the resurrection of Jesus: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm
-a resource about the historicity of scripture: http://www.equip.org/article/biblical-archaeology-factual-evidence-to-support-the-historicity-of-the-bible/
-and finally a thought provoking piece on miracles: http://bigideas.slate.com/bigideas/are-miracles-possible/essays-and-opinions/timothy-mcgrew-opinion
I urge you to dig deeper and earnestly seek after Truth with intellectual honesty and serious inquiry. Blessings, Alysa
And finally (sorry to hog the comments!), an overlapping subject is the manuscript support for the bible’s reliability, along with what to make of all the inconsistencies or ‘variants’; this also addresses the Dead Sea Scrolls:
“There are more than 24,000 partial and complete manuscript copies of the New Testament. These manuscript copies are very ancient and they are available for inspection now. There are also some 86,000 quotations from the early church fathers and several thousand Lectionaries (church-service books containing Scripture quotations used in the early centuries of Christianity). Bottom line: the New Testament has an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting its reliability.” More here: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Manuscript.html
Here’s R.C. Sproul on the differences within the larger Christian church re: the canon, “Rome believes that the New Testament is an infallible collection of infallible books…The historic Protestant position shared by Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on, has been that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books.” More here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/qas/we-talk-bible-being-inspired-word-god-would-men-wh/
Here’s a very well-written and argued Catholic perspective on the canon: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/02/jesus-christ-and-old-testament-canon.html
Another excellent resource about canonization in video form, for those who prefer lectures, by Mike Licona. It’s 18 minutes long but covers a lot of issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Uu6jo7qCreI
Some more in-depth information on the canonization of scripture:
First let’s establish that,
“The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the formation of the New Testament canon (nor did Constantine). Nicea was concerned with how Christians should articulate their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. Thus it was the birthplace of the Nicean creed.” and “…a fundamental assumption about the New Testament canon that needs to be corrected, namely that it was (or had to be) decided by a church council. The fact of the matter is that when we look into early church history there is no such council. Sure, there are regional church councils that made declarations about the canon (Laodicea, Hippo, Carthage). But these regional councils did not just “pick” books they happened to like, but affirmed the books they believed had functioned as foundational documents for the Christian faith. In other words, these councils were declaring the way things had been, not the way they wanted them to be. Thus, these councils did not create, authorize, or determine the canon. They simply were part of the process of recognizing a canon that was already there.” and “Humans did not determine the canon, they responded to it. In this sense, we can say that the canon really chose itself.” More here – http://michaeljkruger.com/ten-basic-facts-about-the-nt-canon-that-every-christian-should-memorize-8-the-nt-canon-was-not-decided-at-nicea-nor-any-other-church-council/
Next, let’s establish along the lines of those officially recognized, affirmed books or ‘canons’ that,
“The first “canon” was the Muratorian Canon, which was compiled in A.D. 170. The Muratorian Canon included all of the New Testament books except Hebrews, James, and 3 John. In A.D. 363, the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative. The councils followed something similar to the following principles to determine whether a New Testament book was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit: 1) Was the author an apostle or have a close connection with an apostle? 2) Is the book being accepted by the body of Christ at large? 3) Did the book contain consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching? 4) Did the book bear evidence of high moral and spiritual values that would reflect a work of the Holy Spirit?” More here: http://www.gotquestions.org/canon-Bible.html#ixzz3HY4B6G00
Also, a different source with more on the inerrancy of scripture: “1. The Bible itself claims to be perfect. 2. The bible stands or falls as a whole. 3. The bible is a reflection of its author. 4. The bible judges us, not vice versa. 5. The bible’s message must be taken as a whole. 6. The bible is our only rule for faith and practice. If it is not reliable, then on what do we base our beliefs? Biblical inerrancy does not mean that we are to stop using our minds or accept what the bible says blindly.” More here: http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-inerrancy.html
Last week’s dialogue touched upon the canonization of scripture and biblical inspiration, which are also briefly addressed in that post’s blog comments. As we learn how to know the bible, it’s important to keep those issues in mind. For further thought on biblical inspiration, it “may be defined as God’s superintending of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities (and even their writing styles), they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs. Inspiration means that “the Holy Spirit of God superintended the human writers in the production of Scripture so that what they wrote was precisely what God wanted written. When you break the doctrine of inspiration down to its essential elements, there are seven key factors: Divine origin and causality; Human agency; Written verbally (in words); Plenary (all of Scripture is inspired, not just parts of it); Only the “Autographs” (the original documents penned by the biblical authors) are inspired; Because Scripture is inspired, it is inerrant; and Because Scripture is inspired and inerrant, it alone has final authority.” More here: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Inspiration.html
Today was a good discussion about how to approach the bible. I like the comments about the “big picture” and taking a broad perspective of the whole bible. Also, the comment about God’s character remaining consistent throughout all of scripture is so comforting. How do you think the different ways scripture describes God help to reveal His character? What are your favorite descriptions of God’s character?