Archive for the ‘new testament’ tag
This post stems from a conversation over at Bunch about biblical contradictions, particularly related to the creation story and man’s fall from grace in Genesis.
For simplicity’s sake, I am mostly going to be speaking here of the Judeo-Christian conception of God, known as Yahweh in the Old Testament and God the Father in the New Testament, but a good portion of this will apply to the God of Islam or any other deity that man has created with certain transcendent, otherworldy characteristics, such as omniscience.
The following is the first definition of “god” from the Merriam Webster:
capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: as
the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
I would wager that because of our general acceptance of religion in society, “goodness” continues to be part of our working definition of what we mean when we say God. But does this necessarily have to be the case? The ancient Greeks completely understood that although humans might label a being as a god does not mean that this being is actually good just because he commands powers that might appear mystical to us. Indeed, the Greek gods were in some cases capricious, childish and downright vile in some of their dealings with humans and each other. Take the rape of Europa, for instance (see illustration).
Yahweh, likewise, is certainly capricious, jealous — by his own admission — and overbearing, and thus, not much different than his Greek counterparts in being wholly a human creation.
In any case, let’s briefly take the Bible’s word for it and assume for argument’s sake that the Judeo-Christian god is basically good. The Bible directly tells us in many places that God is good, not the least of which are Psalm 100:5, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” and Psalm 107:1, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His loving kindness is everlasting” and Matthew 19:17, “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? (there is) none good but one, (that is), God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
But it seems these passages belie God’s actual actions if we look at the Jewish and Christian narratives in totality, which in turn, make the strong case, once again, that the Bible is wrought with inconsistencies. First, let’s take the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament. Since there doesn’t seem to be a coherent consensus in Judaism about the afterlife, and particularly, heaven and hell, we can just look at the behavior of Yahweh toward his “chosen” people. Although the argument that God is good may be up for debate, as I argue here, the notion that he is omniscient and all-powerful are not, otherwise, we must change what we mean when we utter this three-letter construction.
If God is omniscient, he would have known there in the black chaos before speaking anything into existence that man would be seduced by the serpent and ultimately fall from grace. He would also know, in his omniscience, the precise time and place that Satan would tempt Eve to eat the fruit. He knew there in the black chaos that man would be exiled from the Garden as a result of the fall (and his seeming lack of concern that Satan infiltrated Eden) and would be relegated to a life of toil and birth pains. He knew there in the black chaos that man would soon after the fall become wicked in his sight. He knew he would have to flood the entire earth, kill untold numbers and preserve only one pious man and his family. He knew there in the black chaos that his “chosen” people, Israel, would betray him time and time again by falling into idol worship. He knew his beloved Israel would become slaves in Egypt. He knew of the wandering, the despair and the bloodlust on display against rival tribes in his name. He knew there in the black chaos that someone claiming proprietary knowledge would advocate the burning of random women believed to be witches and of stoning gay people. He knew of the impending Inquisitions; he knew there in the black chaos that Hitler, wanting to purge the world of his own “chosen” people, would maim, starve and slaughter 6 million Jews.
Moving beyond the Old Testament into Christianity, God knew that he would one day send his son for the atonement of man. He knew of the intense suffering that Jesus would endure. He knew of the intense suffering and persecution that early Christians would endure. He knew that one day, he would have to watch as millions, exercising their “god-given” reasoning capabilities, would not be able to believe in the historicity of Jesus or accept his gift of salvation and thus be cast down to perdition to burn forever and ever.
Regardless of whether any of this is true in reality and if we take these stories at face value, God saw the misery, the suffering, the despair, the waste of life and loss that would ensue once he spoke creation into being. He saw it all in the beginning. His mind’s eye envisioned this vale of woe in the chaos, and with a poker player’s blank stare, he went about the business of creation anyway. This alone, notwithstanding any arguments we might make about unnecessary suffering and an all-loving deity, renders God evil at best and sadistic at worst.
So, I listened to a little bit of Dave Ramsey today on talk radio because, well, conservative talk is about the only option in East Tennessee, and I usually prefer talk with which I disagree compared with bad pop and worse rock. If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s basically a right wing pro-investment guy who, while mostly giving callers advice on money matters, periodically ventures into politics and religion. As you might imagine, Ramsey fits right in with a local radio station that gets most of its content from FOX News Radio.
Ramsey veered a bit off topic today during a segment in which he took some online comments from listeners. One person said that they did not see anything in the Bible about investing, saving money and amassing wealth, as Ramsey is well known to support. Ramsey then pointed to one of at least three passages in Proverbs that mentions storing up wealth. Some of the verses that at least implicitly reference this are Proverbs 13:11, 16:8 and 28:20.
Ramsey’s basic argument was that God actually wants believers to prosper financially and that all the arguments about the Bible contradicting itself (For instance, Jesus telling the disciples to sell everything they own and follow him) are bogus because of people take the passages out of context. Ramsey said God supports people investing and accumulating wealth because by doing so, believers are then better equipped to help others, and further, believers would be ill-equipped to serve and give back to the community if they were broke.
At least his spiel is consistent. Here’s what he had to say as quoted in an article from 2007:
Ramsey gets irritated when he gets emails and letters directing him to the scripture, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Ramsey believes in the inerrancy of the Bible but says such calls for poverty are “doctrinal nitpicking.” Ramsey contends that the Bible says the love of money (as opposed to money itself) is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10), and that God asked rich men (Moses, Solomon) to work on his behalf. “The Bible does not say that you’re supposed to be poor,” he says. “Most of the patriarchs in the Bible were wealthy. You’re managing money for God.”
Yes, Ramsey read a Tweet from a listener that again mentioned the “eye of the needle” passage in the New Testament. I’m not sure where Ramsey gets the logic that people are taking Jesus’ words out of context. Jesus tells his followers to take no thought for tomorrow (i.e. don’t plan or the future) at least twice, once in Matthew 6 and again in Luke 12. Jesus tells people to sell all of their possession and explicitly says not to store up treasures on earth. He tells them without compunction to give up everything they have and follow him (Matthew 19:21).
Here is Matthew 6:19-21
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is Luke 12:27-34
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alivetoday and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!29 And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For [n]all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here is the entire “rich young ruler” passage from 19:16-30:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Ramsey in his rant mentioned this passage directly and told people they should read all the way through rather than stopping at the “sell what you possess” part and read until the end. Well, OK, there it is. Jesus tells them that after they have given up everything, only then will they receive a “hundredfold” and will get to live forever. Ramsey is being intellectually dishonest, and as nearly all believers do, cherry picking parts of the Bible to assert his claim, while ignoring the totality of the book.
Also during this particular show (I don’t know how much of it was original and how much was just a piped in rant from years ago), but Ramsey also made this bizarre claim that since the Old Testament was supposedly written by Yahweh, that is, God the Father, and since the Old Testament predominantly mentions saving money and storing up treasure, then we should follow the OT on this particular issue and not what Jesus had to say. This is peculiar indeed because Jesus, of course, was claiming to be God himself and even said I and my father are one. So, presumably on this logic, anything that Jesus says in the New Testament gets the stamp of approval from the father.
But here is the crux of it and where it gets weirder: Jesus also said that he did not come to the destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. And this is why when people like myself say that the Bible contradicts itself, we mean that it is a serious and irreparable fallacy that simply cannot be reconciled. Yahweh presumably said one thing in the Old Testament, Jesus said something quite different in the New Testament, and Jesus, by claiming that he is fulfilling the law, leads us to believe that he is suffering from some kind of personality crisis because he, also as God, was present when the father said those things in Proverbs, and as God, he knew that he was going to utter something that directly contradicts it thousands of years later when he gets incarnated on earth. Such are problems that surface when one adds a dose of logic to a paradoxical and fallacious concoction like the Trinity.
Critics of the above video might say something like this: Well, Ehrman, a former believer, is asking us to take his word for it on the credibility of the gospels, just as the gospel writers ask us, implicitly, to make a decision about whether they are telling the truth or not. The difference is that Ehrman’s statements are based on mounds of research (“Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” and “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,” whereas the gospel writers were relying on memory and oral tradition. As John Dominic Crossan shows, much of the content of the gospels were later additions or embellishments to all-but-lost earlier works like the Q Gospel.
But even if, as Ehrman points out, some of the gospel content is indeed genuinely from eyewitness testimony, it still suffers from the human problem. That is, modern day testimony about events can’t always be trusted. How much less are we to trust testimony from someone living 2,000 years ago in a backward part of the Middle East? This problem is compounded by the fact that the gospels were written in Greek, not Aramaic. If we had stories about Jesus in Aramaic, they would be more believable, but only scantly so. And why couldn’t the Son of Man simply write the things he wanted us to know himself, rather than leaving that duty in the hands of fallen man?
I mean, the logical incongruities are so immense that each day that I contemplate Christianity (or any other religion for that matter), the more stunning it is to me that adults, who use logic in every other area of their lives, essentially shut off their brains once they open the Bible or enter the church.
In any case, here is a lengthier and more detailed lecture from Ehrman on the subject:
I’m currently reading, “Cleopatra: A Life” by Mary Schiff, and in Chapter V, she mentions a trip Florence Nightingale took to Egypt. Since she remained part of the Church of England, Nightingale apparently did not make the leap from merely observing similarities between the Jesus Christ stories in the New Testament and Osiris and many other gods of antiquity that predate Christ and most likely form the basis for our conception of him.
Here is what she has to say on a Sunday morning in an Isis temple:
I cannot describe to you the feeling at Philae. The myths of Osiris are so typical of our Saviour that it seemed to me as if I were coming to a place where He had lived — like going to Jerusalem; and when I saw a shadow in the moonlight in the temple court, I thought, “Perhaps I shall see him: now he is there.”
Of course, she was also apparently not astute enough to realize that all of them derive from sun god worship, which not surprisingly, has been recorded in most all times and locations in history, from ancient South American myths to Africa, the Middle East and even China.
The Christ myth is basically a hodgepodge of the various common themes.
If you didn’t catch it, last night’s Family Guy was one of the most controversial episodes (to some) in recent memory. Here is a clip and some reactions from Twitter:
"And that's how Jesus was born..." Family Guy's Jesus Joseph & Mary Xmas episode this is how my children will learn about Christmas.— Morpiedra Vasolez (@Morpiedra) December 24, 2012
This is honestly the funniest Family Guy ever #Christmas— Greg(@GShuster94) December 24, 2012
Last night's #FamilyGuy nativity episode was very offensive. Funny, but offensive.— Kevin Gomolchak (@Kevman7987) December 24, 2012
"It was probably very moving, and fictional." "Jesus lived with us for like a week, what else do you need?" #familyguy— John Thomas Cunha (@JTGayMe) December 24, 2012
@sethmacfarlane Last nights Family Guy, BRILLIANT!!! LOL— Paula B (@PaulaYankelove) December 24, 2012
im simply offended by The Family Guy's depiction of Christmas— avgchoe (@avgchoe) December 24, 2012
The last episode of #FamilyGuy was wrong in so many ways !!!!!!— AJ (@A_P_Jones92) December 24, 2012
@sethmacfarlane you are so going to hell for last nights family guy-freakin hilarious!!!— Tracie Wolfe (@tjsbandg) December 24, 2012
Warren seems to be attempting to make a resurgence by taking advantage of the 10-year anniversary of the work’s publication, which outlines the five “purposes” that people, specifically Christians, have in life. He is releasing a new edition of the book with a couple new chapters and well as some accompanying links to extra audio and video content, no doubt hoping to add more millions of dollars to the surge of book sales (and related instructional material) that he got from the first publication.
I was still a believer when “The Purpose Drive Life” first came out, and I can still rattle off the five main “purposes” off the top of my head: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism and ministry. Indeed, my particular church had purchased long-wise banners that were hung around the sanctuary walls, almost like — cough — a graven images.
In any case, at the time, I was really struck by this purposefully vague and simple first sentence of the book and continue to be, if only for a different reason and in a different context:
It’s not about you.
Now, obviously from a Christian perspective, the sentence takes on a spiritual nature, reminding believers that they should not adopt the faith exclusively for their own gain but that they should approach Christianity looking outward to find ways to reach out to their community by way of discipleship, evangelism, ministry, etc. But from a secular perspective, the idea behind this opening can’t completely be scrapped. While I realize putting a secular spin on it would lift it completely out of the context I just mentioned, perhaps we can rework the sentence to read something like:
“Live selflessly” or perhaps “Leave the world a better place than you found it.”
This is, in my view, the more noble cause than the one purported by Warren because living with other’s people’s interests at heart does not need to be muddied by the auxiliary goals of trying to coerce people to believe in the Christian god or wasting time in worship and squandering resources that could be used to feed hungry mouths. The marriage of secular goals like helping the poor, feeding the sick and bolstering communities with spiritual ones is really an unholy union of counter-playing ideals because there’s no secret which goals take absolute precedent from the Christian worldview: if people are bound for hell, what difference does it make whether they have their carnal needs met?
I realize there are plenty of faith-based organizations feeding hungry people regardless of their “spiritual condition,” but reaching people for Christ is the mandated purpose of Christians based on the Great Commission. If their primary goal is anything else, they are simply not living up to the commands in the New Testament. Thus, while Warren’s PEACE Plan (Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, care for the sick, Educate the next generation) and others like it may have some laudable goals, the work that will make concrete differences in people’s lives must necessarily take a back seat, and that is the danger of any Christian-based ministry, no matter how benevolent it may seem.
Next we move to the substantive “tests” to which Strobel subjects the gospel accounts. The first he calls the “intention” test to try to surmise whether the gospel writers actually intended to present an accurate account of the events. Blomberg mentions the passage in Luke in which the writer says his purpose was to “write an orderly account” of what he had heard from people who were eyewitnesses to the events portrayed in the book. Luke claims he has “carefully” investigated the stories.
Strobel then questions why Matthew and Mark don’t contain similar declarations. Blomberg makes this rather large assumption based on no evidence whatsoever:
They are close to Luke in terms if genre, and it seems reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs.
Blomberg has no idea what Matthew and Mark’s “historical intent” was; he just takes it, as it were, on faith that Matthew and Mark are not propagandists pushing a certain agenda about the claims of Christ. Strobel also asks about the gospel of John, to which Blomberg points out verse 20:31. The passage states that John was writing “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So, here is a clear declaration that John is writing with the purpose of advocating the authenticity of Christ as divine, or in other words, he has a clear motive and is far from unbiased. Strobel responded: “That sounds more like a theological statement than a historical one.” Blomberg concedes that point but notes that if a person is going to believe in Christ, the “theology has to flow from accurate history:”
… Consider the way the gospels are written — in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. You don’t find the outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies that you see in a lot of other ancient writings.”
If by “sober” he means drab, I’ll concede that point. Again, Blomberg would help his case by presenting some of the “incidental details” that apologists like to claim give the Bible validity. Of course, just the mere presence of incidental details in a text does not prove anything about the historicity of the stories themselves. Thomas Hardy’s novels include many “incidental” and real elements of what pastoral English life was like in the 19th century, but the characters and the plots were not real. Hell, even comic books and many video games often contain lots of authentic details about places like New York, Los Angeles or the Middle East. Just because a novel or other work has incidental details does not make its basic story true as far as history is considered.
As for his claim that readers don’t find “outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologies” in the gospels, I have to ask: are we reading the same books? Here I’ll argue not only with Blomberg’s claim but with this writer, who states outright that
… there are no “mythological elements.” Those who talk about mythological elements are clearly ignorant not only of the gospels themselves, but of what mythology actually consists of. What they usually mean by ‘mythological elements’ is the supernatural.
Well, no. That is not what is meant, and the writer seems to be putting words in the mouths of critics. What is meant by mythological is just that: elements in the New Testament accounts (not to mention the Old Testament) that appear eerily similar to other myths that were circulated throughout antiquity, namely and most prominently, redemption mythology, which forms the entire foundation of the biblical narrative.
Rudolf Bultmann in “The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of its Re-interpretation Part I” outlines this framework:
The mythology of the New Testament is in essence that of Jewish apocalyptic and the Gnostic redemption myths. A common feature of them both is their basic dualism, according to which the present world and its human inhabitants are under the control of demonic, satanic powers, and stand in need of redemption. Man cannot achieve this redemption by his own efforts; it must come as a gift through a divine intervention. Both types of mythology speak of such an intervention: Jewish apocalyptic of an imminent world crisis in which this present aeon will be brought to an end and the new aeon ushered in by the coming of the Messiah, and Gnosticism of a Son of God sent down from the realm of light, entering into this world in the guise of a man, and by his fate and teaching delivering the elect and opening up the way for their return to their heavenly home.
Indeed, elements of Gnosticism itself pre-date Christianity, and one could make the case that the basic premise of Gnosticism, attaining individual salvation of the soul from the carnal world through knowledge — replacing esoteric or intuitive knowledge with the knowledge of Christ — was borrowed by Christianity and adopted with its own twist centered on the divinity and saving power of Christ.
Of course, one needs only take a short trek through the “Dying god” entry on Wikipedia to research and identify the numerous life-death-rebirth myths that have inundated antiquity, Osiris in Egypt being one of the earliest and clearest examples to draw parallels. So much for the absence of “blatant mythologies.” As for the “outlandish flourishes” in the gospels, I won’t even get into the possessed pig, Christ’s temptation in the desert or the earthquake that supposed happened, depending on which account you read, when Christ died (with dead people springing up from the ground to boot) and again when an angel appeared at Christ’s tomb, which are “incidental details” that no historian outside of the Bible thought worthy to mention.
I am attempting to make this series more digestible by breaking it up into smaller parts. Since this section only covered one page of the book (p. 40), this may shape up to be a long series indeed (only 230 pages to go!). I’m sure there will be opportunities to move more quickly at the expense of repeating myself, and I will attempt to do so when it’s warranted. But given that the opening section of this book is so steeped in vague and unsupported claims, I feel it’s important to slow down and highlight as many of them as possible. I didn’t even know there would be a Part 3c, but that seems to be the case. Stay tuned as I plod through the rest of Chapter 2.
In Chapter 2, Strobel continues his interview with Craig Blomberg on the biblical evidence from eyewitness testimony. Strobel begins by identifying eight tests in which people can subject the gospels to get closer to understanding of whether they are trustworthy and credible. I won’t go through every single one because at least three of them, “character,” “bias” and “corroboration” are only given a few paragraphs each, which basically amount to Blomberg’s opinions on whether the gospel writers were of good character, recorded the events with integrity and used other sources to verify various places and events that they reference. I’ll only mention the five paragraphs Strobel calls “The Corroboration Test.”
When the gospels mention people, places, and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified? Often such corroboration is invaluable in assessing whether a writer has a commitment to accuracy.
Yes, they do, and the longer people explore this, the more the details get confirmed. Within the last hundred years archaeology has repeatedly unearthed discoveries that have confirmed specific references to the gospels, particularly the gospel of John — ironically, the one that supposedly so suspect!
Now, yes, there are still some unresolved issues, and there have been times when archaeology has created new problems, but those are a tiny minority compared with the number of examples of corroboration.
In addition, we can learn through non-Christian sources a lot of facts about Jesus that corroborate key teachings and events in his life.
Here, Strobel offers no notes that back up Blomberg’s claim about archaeological evidence, and Blomberg mentions no examples to support his claim either. Here’s a list of some of the Christian archaeological finds, none of which lends any credibility to Jesus or his miracles, just that select elements of the gospels, for instance, the pool of Bethesda and the historicity of Caiaphas, may have reflected actual people and places.
Further, Blomberg contends that non-Christian sources lend credibility to the gospels, but let me make this very clear: there is no contemporary source or bit of evidence that confirms the existence of Jesus. Not one. Here is a list, and here is former pastor Dan Barker on the subject:
There is not a single contemporary historical mention of Jesus, not by Romans or by Jews, not by believers or by unbelievers, not during his entire lifetime. This does not disprove his existence, but it certainly casts great doubt on the historicity of a man who was supposedly widely known to have made a great impact on the world. Someone should have noticed.
Christians sometimes like to claim that Josephus 37-100 A.D. was a believable non-Christian who wrote about Jesus, although he was not contemporary. This is the relevant passage:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law …
While this passage may be authentic, two problems exist. First, it’s hard to believe that an historian would mention the Messiah almost as an after thought and buried in a long section of text. Second, why would Josephus, an observant Jew or possibly a priest at one time, would admit that Jesus was the Christ? I wrote more about this here: Josephus and the historical Jesus. Here’s another explanation of Josephus.
Strobel, ever the “unbiased” journalist said Blomberg answer was “concise and helpful.” While it may have been concise, it was lacking on detail. Of course, I can’t blame Blomberg since he knows full well that there are no credible details that he could have presented to support the authenticity of the gospels, much less of the life and miracles of Jesus. Ever the go-getter, Strobel tells us at the end of this short section on corroboration that he is jotting down a note to himself:
Get expert opinions from archaeologist and historian.
I guess we’ll get to that in Chapter 5 when Strobel speaks with John McRay, one of his “experts” who also happens to be an apologist.
So these don’t run too long, I’ll address the rest of this chapter in the next post.