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Old 10-15-2001, 05:51 PM   #41
Gringo
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cracker:
<STRONG>1 Chronicles 21:1 - "Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel."
1 Chronicles 21:7-8, 14 - "But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. David said to God, 'I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray to you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.'" ...(God, through Gad, offers David a choice of three punishments to make up for his sin)... "So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel."

2 Samuel 24:1 - "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'"
2 Samuel 24:10 - "But afterword, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.'" (Then God plagues the people)

1 Kings 15:5 - "[B]ecause David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite."

James 1:13 - "No one, when tempted, should say, 'I am being tempted by God;' for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one."

Questions:
Who made David do it, Satan or God?
Did David sin in doing it or not?
Why the hell does God kill 70,000 Israelites with a plague because of David's sin? Be sure to reconcile this answer with your first two.

Any Christian who can satisfactorily reconcile these verses gets eternal salvation (maybe). And a cookie.

Cracker
"O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia—what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, “Somebody up there likes me.” And no longer can a tyrant say, “God wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.” O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!" - A minister of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent</STRONG>
My faith is a bit rattled on other issues, but let me attempt to explain this one away. First of all, the phrase "anger of the Lord" could be a synonym for Satan. Secondly, the 70,000 people were not being punished per se. God gave them all the Breath of Life and can take it away at any time. This punishment was on a king, reducing the number of his subjects, for having taken a census (not trusting God). I know this answer may not be satisfactory, but it's the best I could do. Do I at least get a stale cracker?


Gringo

[ October 15, 2001: Message edited by: Gringo ]
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Old 10-16-2001, 11:38 AM   #42
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Scrutinizer:

Sorry for the delay.

I'll reply here to your latest post to me. I also plan to post soon some comments about your quarrel with Brighid.

Quote:
The Gospels were written as a record of the sayings and movements of the Son of God
This is begging the question. The evidence that Jesus was the Son of God comes from the Gospels themselves, and my question is why you consider them to be authoritative enough to find this evidence compelling.

The stark reality is that even if you start with the assumption that Jesus was the Son of God you have no rational grounds for believing that the Gospels are a record of his sayings and movement. The Gospels are works of unknown provenance. No one knows who wrote them, or when, or where. They were obviously modified many times by unknown hands before reaching the form in which he have them today.

Quote:
The rest of the New Testament was the foundation for the doctrine of the Church as it was written shortly after Jesus' time, by those who knew Jesus or knew those who knew Jesus. These books, therefore, are very important, as they are much closer to the event.
The Epistles of Paul, which are doctrinally crucial, are not by someone who knew Jesus, or knew anyone who did. And all of the Epistles are largely devoted to doctrinal questions; the opinions they express obviously cannot be, and were not, derived from anything Jesus said. They don’t even make any such claim, and no such claim has ever been made by the Church on their behalf.. So the closeness to events which they do not even purport to describe is irrelevant. And we are again up against the embarrassing fact that we have no idea who wrote most of them. What evidence we do have is from the Epistles themselves, but a work cannot authenticate itself. Finally, we have no independent evidence that Paul is a reliable source; again, we basically know nothing about beyond what can be found in the NT. And even if the Epistles of Paul (for example) really were written by Paul, end even if he was completely honest, it is impossible to get around the fact that Paul is mostly just stating his opinions on various doctrinal matters. What grounds do we have for taking these opinions seriously, much less considering them authoritative?

Quote:
The Old Testament has important things like the 10 commandments, and I see no reason to dismiss that story.
Why? What grounds do you have for believing anything in the OT books? What gives them special authority? Why are the 10 commandments important? Did God really carve them in stone for Moses on Mt. Sinai? Did Moses really write the first five books of the OT? What reason do you have for taking the Ten Commandments story seriously, given that it is found only in a book of unknown provenance: no one know who wrote it, or where, or when?

I would really like to have you deal seriously with this question, since this thread was originally about an OT story. You have so far given no reason to take anything in the OT seriously. do you think that it was a mistake to include the OT in the Bible? Would it be better to remove this embarrassment from the canon? If not please explain why the Bible is a better book for including a story (twice, in slightly different versions) about how God killed 70,000 innocent people because a king took a census.

Quote:
Whilst the books you mentioned above may be very useful and may also have parts that were inspired and authorized by God, the Bible is very important in that most of the books contained therein have some special significance - whether it be prophesy, an account of Jesus, the first Christian doctrine, etc.
Well, many of them might have some special significance if we knew where they came from and knew something about the authors. But we don’t. Lots of the OT prophecies are clearly false; the ones “predicting” Jesus birth, etc. are obviously about other things entirely and can only be made to “fit” by mangling their meaning to the point of absurdity. And why should we have any interest in the “first Christian doctrine” as opposed to later ones unless we have some reason to think the first thoughts were likely to be correct? (Actually, as you may know, there were lots of other “first Christian doctrines” and writings supporting them. But after they were declared heretical, the Church systematically destroyed all copies that it could find.)

Quote:
bd:
And on the basis of a book whose authority is questionable we are supposed to believe that a man walked out of his tomb after being dead for two days? Don’t any of you liberal Christians see the problem here?

Scrutinizer:
Would the credibility of a Resurrection increase in your mind just because a Christian claimed that it was written in a book entirely inerrant from the lips of God? Surely the very claim that it was inerrant, etc., would require a very high level of verification...
Absolutely. If I were arguing with an inerrantist, I’d be saying: Since your claim is based on the Bible, on what basis do you claim that the Bible has authority? But since you apparently don’t claim that the Bible has authority, I ask: on what basis do you claim that the Resurrection really happened?

So your answer to my question is...?

Quote:
The credibility of a story is ... based upon ... whether or not there is evidence to support it.
Actually it depends on several factors, including the quality of the evidence (if any) and the inherent plausibility of the story itself. I covered this in my post to Warheit on October 11, 2001 12:02 PM . If you want to argue seriously that the Gospel accounts (or any other part of the Bible) should be believed, you’re going to have to deal with this question of what evidence is required to justify rational belief.

Quote:
Well, as I said earlier, I am strongly considering becoming a presuppositionalist, and I can almost tenuously declare myself one now, so if it becomes "official", my house isn't built on sand at all - it is built upon the necessary foundation of Christ.
Actually, for a presuppositionalist it’s built on a quicksand: the ridiculous claim that Christianity is self-evidently true; that all other metaphysical systems are self-contradictory. Presuppositionalism is the last refuge of the Christian who finally realizes that the case for Christianity is hopelessly inadequate but isn’t willing to respond rationally to this realization by renouncing Christianity.

Frankly, presuppositionalism is a form of insanity. It is the formal, conscious rejection of the whole concept of basing beliefs on reason and evidence. No sane person can really believe that the truth of Christianity can be known on the basis of pure logic. This is a desperate retreat to the never-never land of fantasy and wishful thinking.

Quote:
Regarding the "occasional moments of falsity", I take the view that something should not be presumed errant until it is shown to be errant.
Do you believe everything found in anonymous texts unless you have proof that it’s false? Do you believe everything that a five-year-old tells you unless you have proof that it’s false? You must really be a sucker for urban legends.

Quote:
I don't, however, simply assume that something is false because it is miraculous.
Neither do I. I assume that it is highly implausible a priori because it is miraculous and therefore that extraordinarily strong evidence is required to justify rational belief. So do you, in the case of all alleged miracles except for the few that are central to the Christian faith. These you choose to give a pass for no discernible reason.

Quote:
Becoming a presuppositionalist does not mean rejecting the evidence. Becoming a presuppositionalist means that interpreting the evidence in any way other than on the presupposition of the Christian God is futile.
But the Christian God exists only if Christianity is true, so presuppositionalists refuse on principle even to consider positive evidence that Christianity is false, much less arguments to the effect that the evidence is hopelessly weak. To a presuppositionalist, evidence that Christianity is false is in the same category as evidence that two plus two does not equal four. Since he knows in advance, independently of all evidence, that Christianity is true, just as I know in advance, independently of all evidence, that 2 + 2 = 4, it’s a complete waste of time to even look at such evidence.

Also, your comment here doesn’t even pretend to answer my points:

Quote:
And how do you detect the “occasional moments of falsity”? What assurance do you have that they don’t come at critical moments?

On your showing nothing is written in stone anywhere. There is no rock of truth on which you can rely. Your house is built on sand.
These were based on your position (as I understand it) that the Bible is not divinely inspired (in any sense that I can make out) and that it contains errors. They are valid even on the assumption that Christianity is true. You still have to figure out what it means; what is the nature of the God you worship. Thus you must have some criteria for distinguishing the true parts of the Bible from the false.

Quote:
A presuppositionalist can still point to the historical evidence for the Resurrection...
But only for the purpose of converting others. To the presuppositionalist himself, it’s irrelevant.

Quote:
Divine hiddenness theodicies do not say that God wanted to remain so hidden that we would never be able to understand him at all - they simply explain why the current level of hiddenness exists.
You mean that they attempt to explain it. I have yet to see an explanation in terms of “divine hiddenness” for why God would allow basic moral principles to be “hidden” from us, much less mislead us about them. Do you intend to take this argument seriously at some point?

Also, “divine hiddenness” theories involve a serious epistemological problem. To illustrate it, suppose that McDougal claims there are leprechauns in Ireland, but they always hide from humans. How does one go about testing this claim? Say we search Ireland thoroughly and find no leprechauns. McDougal will say: “See! I’m right. I told you they always hide from humans!”. Thus McDougal’s claim, like any hypothesis involving “hiddenness”, is untestable and therefore meaningless. A claim that leprechauns exist is meaningful (i.e., it can be distinguished from the hypothesis that they do not exist) only if there is some means of detecting them. Similarly, the claim that God exists is meaningless unless there is some way of detecting His presence. That is, there must be some test or experiment that will come out one way if God exists and another way if He does not. And the interpretation of the possible outcomes (in terms of God’s existence or nonexistence) must be specifiable in advance. Do you know of any such test or experiment? If not, God’s “hiddenness” is epistemologically indistinguishable from His nonexistence, just like McDougal’s leprechauns.
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Old 10-17-2001, 03:00 PM   #43
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Scrutinizer:

Now I have a few comments about your quarrel with Brighid.

It’s understandable that Brighid’s initial reaction to your argument about
“reliable oral transmission” of the Gospels struck you as rude. But I suspect that you have no idea how preposterous this argument sounds to nonbelievers.

You do understand, don’t you, that we are talking about books whose mode of production we know nothing about, written by people we know nothing about except that they were mostly ignorant, illiterate, superstitious, credulous peasants? Under these circumstances it takes a robust faith indeed to suppose that a text was settled on quickly after Jesus’ death, and that it was then transmitted accurately for several decades before being committed to paper. The existence of a rabbinical tradition of memorizing sacred texts is a thin reed indeed to support such a preposterous idea.

The argument also displays a total lack of understanding of the quality and quantity of evidence needed to support claims of miraculous events. Given the uniform experience that all such claims capable of being tested have proven false, it boggles belief that anyone should think that mere unsupported speculations and conjectures about how the Gospels came into being might be sufficient to justify rational belief that a dead man walked out of his tomb.

To understand why nonbelievers have a hard time dealing with such arguments with a straight face, let’s imagine that Garrett is trying to persuade Everett that Thomas Jefferson threw a dollar across the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, VA. (Note: Washington is reputed to have done this. It’s doable but difficult.) His evidence is a certain document. Let’s listen in:

Everett: What is this document?

Garrett: It’s a complete, detailed account of Jefferson throwing the dollar across the river.

Everett: Where did you get it?

Garrett: It arrived one day in the mail.

Everett: Where did it come from?

Garrett: Can’t say. There was no return address.

Everett: When was it written?

Garrett: Uncertain. It looks fairly old.

Everett: Who wrote it?

Garrett: I have no idea.

Everett: Does the writer claim to be an eyewitness?

Garrett: No.

Everett: I don’t get it. Why do you think this document has any evidentiary value?

Garrett: Well, you see, I have a theory that someone who witnessed the event told someone else, who told someone else, who told someone else, and so on. And I believe that all of these people were scrupulously honest, memorized the story accurately and transmitted it unchanged all the way down the line. Eventually someone wrote it down. And what I have in my hand is, in my opinion, a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of that document!

Everett: Remarkable! And what do you base this belief on?

Garrett: Why, you know very well that there are some people living around here who make it their business to memorize certain texts that they value highly. So it seems entirely reasonable to me that it happened that way.

Everett: Is there any reason to suspect that the people who you believe passed this story along verbatim might have had a motive to change or embellish it in any way?

Garrett: Well, yes. It’s my belief that all of them are relatives of Jefferson and are committed to the opinion that he could do anything that Washington could do. But I’m convinced that their basic, bedrock honesty would prevent them from altering the story in any way, much less make it up.

This is essentially your theory. No one in his right mind would accept such a document as evidence, much less proof, even of a trivial and intrinsically plausible claim. Yet this is the basis on which you consider it reasonable to believe, not that a man threw a coin across a river, but that a dead man walked out of his tomb! Are you surprised that many of us treat this theory with disdain? Frankly, we feel that you are insulting us by treating us like five-year-olds. This isn’t a theory; it’s a fantasy.
__________________________________________________ _____

But if you insist on a respectful argument, here goes.

The argument that you present is not taken seriously by any but the most committed inerrantists. The suggestion that the Gospels were produced by scrupulously accurate eyewitness accounts that were preserved by careful, meticulous memorization is utterly inconsistent with a careful examination of the texts themselves, which show clear evidence of extensive editing and later additions.

But let’s imagine for the moment that we do not have the texts themselves and are theorizing in a vacuum. How plausible would this theory be under these conditions? Not very.

You quote Witherington as saying:

Quote:
Disciples in early Jewish settings were learners, and, yes, also reciters and memorizers.
Maybe so, but those disciples were literate, educated men. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen and the like. It’s highly unlikely that they were even familiar with rabbinical traditions, much less practiced them.

You quote Gregory Boyd as saying:

Quote:
Related to this, contemporary psycholinguistic studies have served to confirm that the techniques that characterized Jesus' oral teaching methods would have made for 'very accurate communication between Jesus and his followers' and would have 'ensured excellent semantic recall.'
That’s remarkable, considering that we have no record of what Jesus’ oral teaching methods were. What we do have is some books that purport to be records (among other things) of things that Jesus said. The problem here is that any purported “saying” that entered the oral tradition in a form that promoted “excellent semantic recall” would tend to be preserved (whether or not it represented an authentic saying of Jesus), while those that didn’t would tend to be lost. So the final product would predictably include mostly such material, regardless of whether Jesus’ actual teachings were in such a form or not.

Now let’s take a quick, superficial look at the texts themselves. We find major contradictions between the Gospels, and huge omissions of important events related in some of the Gospels from some of the others. All of this is so well-known that it is pointless to rehash it here. All of this speaks strongly against accurate eyewitness accounts scrupulously preserved.

Another major problem with this type of theory is the striking difference between the Jesus depicted in the Synoptics and the Jesus depicted in John. In the latter, Jesus’ language is stilted and formal; he does not use parables, and His statements have a heavy theological content not found in the synoptics. It looks very much as though either John or the synoptics is not based on any actual recollection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings at all.

Finally, some of the stories found in the Gospels are so absurd as to defy rational belief. For example, take this story:

Quote:
Matthew 8:28-32 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.
Later the same Gospel records that while Jesus was on the cross:

Quote:
Matthew 27:45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
And when Jesus died:

Quote:
Matthew 27:51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. people.
Shall we believe these ridiculous stories on the grounds that they are the product of a “reliable oral tradition”?

If you want to argue that the gospels should be believed because they are the product of a reliable oral tradition, you must apply it to the Gospels in their entirety. It’s no good, for example, to apply it to the Resurrection but then reject stories like those above that were (on this showing) a product of the very same “reliable tradition”. But if you accept such tales, you might as well go all the way and become an inerrantist. This is why this argument (which is rarely made at all) is offered almost exclusively by fundamentalists.

Now let’s take a slightly more realistic look at the kind of culture and society that produced the NT. Richard Carrier’s essay, Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire is illuminating. He points out that:

Quote:
The historian Josephus ...tells us that [first-century Palestine] was filled with "cheats and deceivers claiming divine inspiration" ... The most successful of these "tricksters" appears to be "the Egyptian" who led a flock of 30,000 believers around Palestine... This fellow even claimed he could topple the walls of Jerusalem with a single word ... yet it took a massacre at the hands of Roman troops to finally instill doubt in his followers... Twenty years later, a common weaver named Jonathan would attract a mob of the poor and needy, promising to show them many signs and portents ... Again, it took military intervention to disband the movement. Josephus also names a certain Theudas, another "trickster" who gathered an impressive following in Cyrene around 46 A.D., claiming he was a prophet and could part the river Jordan ...

Miracles were also a dime a dozen in this era. The biographer Plutarch, a contemporary of Josephus, engages in a lengthy digression to prove that a statue of Tyche did not really speak in the early Republic ... He claims it must have been an hallucination inspired by the deep religious faith of the onlookers, since there were, he says, too many reliable witnesses to dismiss the story as an invention ... What is notable is not that Plutarch proves himself to have some good sense, but that he felt it was necessary to make such an argument at all.

But above all the "pagans" had Asclepius, their own healing savior, centuries before, and after, the ministry of Christ. Surviving testimonies to his influence and healing power throughout the classical age are common enough to fill a two-volume book.
And on it goes. Carrier goes on to describe at length the remarkable cases of Apollonius, Peregrinus, and Alexander, and concludes:

Quote:
From all of this one thing should be apparent: the age of Jesus was not an age of critical reflection and remarkable religious acumen. It was an era filled with con artists, gullible believers, martyrs without a cause, and reputed miracles of every variety. In light of this picture, the tales of the gospels do not seem remarkable at all. Even if they were false in every detail, there is no evidence that they would have been disbelieved or rejected as absurd by a people largely lacking in education or critical thinking skills...

The fact that pagan miracle working is not much heard of today is in large part due to the more effective Christian propaganda during the Empire and, of course, a thousand years of censorship afterward.
Robert Price, in his book Beyond Born Again (Chapter 5: Evidence That Demands A Mistrial) describes a number of more recent examples of myth creation that show how easily and quickly this sort of thing has happened. Here’s a short excerpt:

Quote:
In any case, if McDowell, Montgomery, Buell and Hyder, et al. are right, biographical records of similar religious figures written within a comparable time span should also be free of legendary embellishment. What do we find? Gershom Scholem's study of the seventeenth century messianic pretender Sabbatai Sevi provides a productive parallel here. Sevi was able to arouse apocalyptic fervor among Jews all over the Mediterranean during the 1660s. The movement suffered a serious setback when the messiah apostasized to Islam! But still it did not die away. The history of Sabbatai Sevi is more readily accessible to the modern historian than are the gospel events. Sabbatai Sevi lived much closer to our own era and much documentary evidence of various kinds survives him. Here, too, according to the apologists, legends should have waited at least a couple of generations till they reared their heads. But Gershom Scholem speaks of "the sudden and almost explosive surge of miracle stories" concerning Sabbatai Sevi within weeks or even days of his public appearances! Listen to his description:

“The... realm of imaginative legend... soon dominated the mental climate in Palestine [during Sevi's residence there]. The sway of imagination was strongly in evidence in the letters sent to Egypt and elsewhere and which, by the autumn of 1665 [the same year] had assumed the character of regular messianic propaganda in which fiction far outweighed the facts: [e.g.] the prophet was 'encompassed with a Fiery Cloud’ and ‘the voice of an angel was heard from the cloud.’"

Letters from December of the same year related that Sabbatai "command a Fire to be made in a publick place, in the presence of many beholders... and entered into the fire twice or thrice, without any hurt to his garments or to a hair on his head." Other letters tell of his raising the dead. He is said to have left his prison through locked and barred doors which opened by themselves after his chains miraculously broke. He kills a group of highwaymen merely with the word of his mouth. Interestingly, the miracle stories often conformed to the patterns of contemporary saints' legends. The spread of such tales recalls the statements by the synoptic evangelists that many of their miracle stories came from popular reportage.
Price later quotes Scholem as saying:

Quote:
The transition from history to legend took place with extraordinary rapidity in what are practically eyewitness accounts. Already the earliest documents confuse dates and chronologies, and abound in legendary accounts of miracles.
Price’s conclusion is a classic understatement:

Quote:
So it seems that an interval of thirty or forty years could indeed accommodate the intrusion of legendary materials into the gospel tradition.
It seems that the rabbinic tradition of careful memorization and painstakingly accurate transmission was not always scrupulously followed, even by Jews in Palestine.

I could cite lots more sources showing how gullible even educated people were in Jesus’ day, how widespread were lying, forgery, and pious fraud, and how commonly the Christian fathers themselves used these techniques to gain converts, but I will content myself with one. Carrier, in his review of Beckwith’s chapter of In Defense of Miracles, gives many examples of such phenomena, and he concludes his discussion of the so-called "rain miracle" which rescued the army of Marcus Aurelius in 172 A.D. by saying:

Quote:
This is the historical reality. So little is known, and the sources we have are so biased and flawed, that it would be ludicrous to set our belief too firmly on any version of events, much less on whether a genuine miracle occurred that day. Fowden, a real historian, knows full well the ubiquity of propaganda, falsehood, rumor, error, credulity, and agenda which plagued all sources of the time, especially in the sphere of religion. We can learn far more about the politics and mindset of the people who wrote and believed such accounts, than we can about the events themselves, which are shadowy and inaccessible to us. This is why miracle accounts from antiquity cannot be proved miraculous - for we can barely be sure they even happened, and we have no chance at all of proving any natural explanations false.
I would urge you to read these articles in full to get a better understanding of the folly of believing accounts of miraculous events found in ancient texts.

A far more realistic discussion of how the oral tradition developed after Jesus’ death and eventually produced the Gospels as we know them can be found in James Still’s essays, The Pre-Canonical Synoptic Transmission: Who Was the Historical Jesus? and Critique of New Testament Reliability and "Bias" in NT Development.

This may seem to be using an elephant gun to kill a gnat, but there is a larger point here. If you don’t at some point invoke Divine intervention to guarantee the truth of at least the essential elements of the Bible, it is impossible to offer any reasonable justification for taking it seriously. Anonymous books written in primitive, barbaric times by superstitious, gullible, ignorant people cannot be a rational basis for beliefs about the most important questions that anyone will ever deal with unless those books were written under God’s guidance. It’s not enough to say that they were “divinely inspired” merely in a sense that applies to thousands of other books; God must have intervened in such a way as to ensure their essential truth. This is the problem that the Biblical inerrantists see clearly, but which you seem to be totally blind to.

[ October 17, 2001: Message edited by: bd-from-kg ]
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Old 10-17-2001, 09:05 PM   #44
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Bd-from-kg,

Sorry for the delay in this post btw, but unfortunately it might be a month or more before I will have time to respond to anything you post in response although I will do my best to make it less.

Quote:
You seem to have entirely missed the point of several of the questions I asked in my last post. Essentially I was asking what, in your opinion, is the status of the Bible; what distinguishes it from other books; what makes it sacred; in what sense it has special authority. For those who consider the Bible inerrant, the answers to these questions are obvious. In your case it's completely obscure.
I'm sorry if I've failed to explain clearly my position on the matter. I'll try a slightly different tack then...

Quote:
In other words, the books of the Bible are pretty much like any number of other religious books.
The books of the Bible are a priori the same as any other writings about God.
The Christian Church choose its cannon as what it felt was most authoritative and accurate out of all the writings about God which it could choose from. (When skeptics try to date the cannon late and non-canonical books early and thus more "authentic", it only seems to me to beg some serious questions because the Church chose what it chose because it could trace those books back to authoritative writers)
Therefore in addition to being normal writings about God the cannon has the authority of the Church behind it. (As much or as little as that entails)

Finally, I am a Christian and as a result of this I credit the Christian Church and Christian writings with much more authority than I would give to say the Muslim leadership and the Koran. I can then consider that it is possible that God inspired the writers to some extent and I can consider the possibility that God inspired to some extent the Church in their choice of cannon.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that the Bible, although it contains natural human error as does any other writing, is authoritative with it's authority backed at least by God's Church and probably God Himself. In addition to being authoritatively authored and authoritatively recognised by the Church, the Bible would seem to be probably inspired by God to some extent or another. It is clear that God didn't dictate the Bible because it has errors, but it seems to me eminently possible that God worked through the authors often to reveal truth about Himself and His workings.
Thus I regard the Bible as mostly true to the extent that given any passage, unless there is a contradiction with known fact or other Bible passage, I take it as being correct - or at least being so close to correct that for all intents and purposes it doesn't make any difference.

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So the Bible consists of pieces of what the authors were able to observe about God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who brings us the knowledge of God and reveals the truth about God. Yet it is unsurprising that they were often mistaken!
I don't see a problem with that. What truth the authors' knew was revealed by God to them through His revelation of Himself in both actions and through the Spirit. The people were still human though and they screwed up occasionally.

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Indeed, given that the Biblical authors made plenty of mistakes, isn't it possible that others, such as Augustine, Kempis, or Merton perhaps, observed more about God, and more clearly and accurately, than people who thought it reasonable that God might kill 70,000 Israelites because David took a census?
It's possible. Anything's possible. The works of later Christian writers such as Augustine do have a very high standing. But we have little reason to believe them to be more correct that the cannon. Such writers normally draw heavily from the Bible at any rate, eg Augustine quotes the Bible extremely often, so to raise such writings above the authority of the Bible begs some serious questions in the way of circular logic. In general the reason we recognise such writings as "good" or authoritative in the first place is because they line up with the truths already revealed upon in Scripture.

I don't know how to make my position any clearer.
The Bible is authoritative, its authority comes from its apostlitic (in the NT) and prophetic (in the OT) authorship, from the Church, and possibly from God acting through both.
It is inspired in so far as the Bible forms an integral part of the way that God has revealed Himself to us.
And finally it contains occasional mistakes and factual inaccuracies because it was written by humans and they were human in every way.

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<STRONG>I am a Christian... It seems to me logical then to accord the Bible with a reasonable degree of authority.</STRONG>

Now of course if you are committed to a belief system which entails that the Bible has a reasonable degree of authority you will naturally believe that the Bible has a reasonable degree of authority. But do you take this as an a priori, self-evident truth, or is it based on beliefs that are themselves derived from the Bible, do you have evidence independent of the Bible that it's so? Or in other words, how do you justify your adherence to this belief system in the first place?
That's another qualm I have about fundamentalism: It so often descends into circular logic in this instance.
For me, evidence justifies my faith and my faith justifies the Bible.
I am a Christian because I think the Christian worldview is internally consistent, extremely plausible, and corresponds better to the actual world than does any other worldview. This involves a number of rational and evidential arguments and I think it is reasonable to conclude that the Christian God does act in the world in the present day and has done so in the past. These basic arguments are things like arguments from the Resurrection (I have yet to read a moderately plausible alternative scenario), miracles and healings in the present day, responses to prayer, tongues, etc.
I therefore find it entirely reasonable that the Christian God can and does act in the present day and that He acted in the Resurrection of Christ.

Once I actually believe in the Christian God, taking the writings about Him (which have already shown themselves true in general because of His existence) as generally authoritative is simply logical. Since the Christian Church backs them as authoritative too, it gives them even more authority.

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<STRONG>The Church choose what they choose because they believed the books to be authoritative.</STRONG>

Actually this is false. The Church chose the books it did because they were already in widespread use.
How did they get into use in the first place? Because someone believed them to be authoritative. And why were they already in widespread use? Because they were generally believed to be authoritative.
The Church formalised the cannon by declaring authoritative what was generally in use and already accepted by the Church as authoritative.

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Why should this fact carry any weight with you? Why shouldn't you look at the evidence (including a great deal of evidence that was not available to them) with fresh eyes and decide for yourself what books you consider to be authoritative?
A great deal of evidence that was not available to them? That should be the other way around. They had a great deal of information in both oral tradition and early writings that is now completely lost to us. The ability of anyone today to determine the authority of the cannon is a joke when compared to the ability of the early Church to do so.

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Why this reverence for the opinions of some people most of whom we know nothing about who lived over 1500 years ago - especially when the decisions were far from unanimous: they were made by majority vote, and many of the votes were close.
I'm quite prepared to doubt a select few of their decisions, especially the ones that they were seriously divided on. But to doubt their ability to decide in general, is simply ludicrous.

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That's it? What gives the Bible special authority is that some people most anonymous, all superstitious - who lived a very long time ago believed the books it contains to be authoritative?
I don't see your problem with "a very long time ago". To me it simply indicates that they were a lot closer to the real events and thus knew what they were talking about. After all, who would you think would know better about the second world war: people today (almost 60 years after the event), or people living in 2000 years time?
Equally, do you think Church writers like Papias (wrote cAD130) and Polycarp (AD 69-155) living very close to, if not during, the time of writing of most of the NT books (especially if we are at all inclined to believe Michael’s insanely late dates) - or even writers like Irenaeus(120-200 AD) and Clement of Alexandria(155-220 AD) who lived less than 100 years or so afterwards and were well educated and heirs to all the history and traditions of the Church - are less likely to be right that somebody 2000 years later when the vast majority of the information and sources they had access to is lost to us forever?
In one of the few fragments we have today of the writings of Papias, he comments that he was not much interested in the written Gospels because he could talk to people who had seen the apostles and ask them about what each apostle personally said and taught. Nether the less in the fragments that have survived to us, Papias gives some invaluable comments as to the author of a Gospel being Mark, the interpreter of Peter.
What we have is NOT some random and anonymous ancient writers of unknown education, authenticity and authority.
The more I study it, the more amazed I become at the quality of the early Christian Tradition with regard to the authority of the NT. Despite the Roman persecution and burnings of Christian books we still have a clear, consistent, early and authoritative assertion of the authority of most of our NT.

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That the Church at the time believed the NT books to have been written by the apostles or people who had heard the stories from them firsthand? (By the way, the latter type of evidence is commonly known as hearsay and is not generally considered to have much authority because it is notoriously unreliable.)
By the way, that's not true. Hearsay is what you get when I tell my neighbour and he tells the man down the street and he tells his friend. These are the companions of the apostles we are talking about here: People who (apart from being normal Christians and probably knowing half the stories anyway because of that) have travelled with the apostle and heard them tell the stories God knows how many times and could thus, if not repeat it word for word, could at least convey the gist of it accurately. In such instances it is not hearsay, but is instead known as quotation from a known and authoritative source, and considered perfectly reliable.

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As for the Old Testament, you point out that the Jews regarded it as authoritative. But the Jews have never regarded the books of the New Testament as authoritative. It seems that the judgment of the Jews as to what books are authoritative is according to Christianity itself severely defective. Why should we give any weight to their opinion?
You forget that the first Christians were Jews. Saying that the Jews do not regard the books of the NT as authoritative is circular because the Jews are defined as not Christian and therefore clearly won't regard the NT as authoritative.

But I agree that it is difficult to find reason to give authority to the OT to quite the same level as the NT. The best I can offer is that Jesus seemed to take the OT as authoritative.

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<STRONG>Of course my trust in the accuracy changes depending upon what book of the Bible I am reading. E.g. I trust the writer of Luke/Acts (he appears to be a competent writer and a thorough researcher) to a degree which I would not do to Matthew.</STRONG>

But what is it about Matthew that makes you question its accuracy more than Luke's?
Luke makes a claim to "having searched out diligently and followed closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first" and he writes "an orderly account for you... that you may know the full truth, and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed." (Luke 1:3-4)
Luke claims to know what he's talking about and claims to be so authoritative that after reading his account the reader will have "certainty and security against error". Is he lying through his teeth here, or does he really know what he's talking about? In the light of the fact that he so often gives historical details like "In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tectrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas..." (Luke 3:1) we might well believe that he really is a well-researched historian who does know entirely what he is talking about. Then when we check the hundred or so references he makes in his two books to checkable historical details such as the names and titles of rulers or the status of Roman provinces at the time of the events (which were constantly changing) or the details of the cities at the time, we find archaeology and other writings prove him accurate again and again.
I could go on, but I'm not an expert in this area, so I suggest you talk to Nomad if you want to know more.

Matthew on the other hand I have queries about raised by Church tradition. The early Church writers state that Matthew wrote the sayings of the Lord in Aramaic, where as we don't possess any such manuscripts and the oldest copies of the Gospel of Matthew we have are in Greek. This of course raises questions of who did the translation, is it an accurate translation, and was anything from other (less authoritative) sources added during the translation?

Given that I trust Luke to a very high degree and have vague doubts about the authenticity of Matthew, what do you think I believe in areas where they disagree? eg Acts has Judas falling to his death while Matthew has him repenting and hanging himself; or Matthew and Luke's birth narratives are extremely different with Matthew including a trip to Egypt.
Because of the above, I think it most likely that Luke's right in both instances and Matthew's wrong.

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Is it that Matthew relates a number of implausible occurrences not found in Luke? But by this criterion you should doubt all of the Gospels, since all of them relate totally implausible events.
I tend to be extremely skeptical of any events described in Matthew which are not in the other gospels. Matthew seems to exaggerate things beyond the reality as evidenced by the trip to Egypt, the repentance of Judas, earthquake at the tomb and the stone rolled away while the women watched which disagree with the other gospel's more believable accounts.
Thus when Matthew mentions that many people rose to life and were seen by everyone when Jesus died, I'm inclined to be skeptical about it because: it's a MAJOR miraculous event - yet Matthew devotes a whole two sentences to it and none of the other gospels even mention it, and Matthew is already noted for his tendency to exaggerate / improve the story.
I do however think Matthew is a very worthwhile Gospel because it gives us large portions of Jesus's words (which I think are the authentic original Aramaic Matthew) not found in the other Gospels.

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In any case, in judging Luke to be more reliable or authoritative than Matthew because the former appears to be a competent writer and a thorough researcher you are judging the books of the Bible by the standards of professional historians. But this involves a fundamental contradiction. One of the most elementary standards applied to all historical works (with the possible exception of the Bible) is that any accounts of highly improbable events are automatically discounted, and accounts of clearly miraculous events are dismissed out of hand.
You're playing semantic twisting games on the concept in order to get a contradiction. The first twist is equating believing someone who is more thorough and competent over someone who is less so with the standards of professional historians. It is not any standard except common sense. Professional historians also use common sense upon occasion I would imagine and so I wouldn't be suprised if they use this idea as part of their methodology. However the fact that they happen to use one sensible principle I happen to be using, in no way binds me to use all their principles. I am not trying to write a history here, I am trying to determine most likely truth. There is a big difference. A professional historian will treat all miracles like they didn't happen because no one believes they did. But in a case like that of Christianity where the truth of the miracles is debated, the use of any normal historical methods is all but inappropriate. Meier discusses the situation at the beginning of his first book of his Marginal Jew series and concludes that what the historical-critical method can give us is a minimalistic thing that everyone including Christians, Jews and Agnostics could all agree with.

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This is not a minor points: works from this period are full of such accounts.
True, and it doesn't take much thought to work out that since we have no non-miraculous works from the period it might be entirely possible that miracles really did happen. If we had one perfectly reasonable non-miraculous account of the period we would have reasonable grounds for suspecting the miraculous ones to be false. But we don't have any such accounts. Even the enemies of Jesus are portrayed in all our accounts as accepting that he did miracles, but claiming that he used the power of the devil to do them. If there's one thing we can be sure of, it is that everyone believed Jesus did miracles.

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You won't find any such miraculous events depicted as fact in history books; you won't even find debates in scholarly journals as to whether any such events ever occurred. It is simply taken for granted that they didn't happen. Moreover, the presence of such accounts (especially in large number, and most especially when they form an essential element of the narrative) is considered to undermine the credibility of a work.
Agreed. As I explained above, in situations where no one believes miracles happened, historical sources which include miraculous accounts are obviously given less weight than those which don't.

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Thus if we are going to evaluate the Bible by the standards used by professional historians, we must question seriously all accounts of improbable events and reject outright all accounts of miraculous ones, and must consider that the presence of the latter, and the fact that the plot turns on many of them, casts serious doubt on the reliability of the Bible as a whole, or at least of those books of the Bible that contain them. If you are not willing to do this, you must explain why the Bible should be exempted from this otherwise universal criterion.
Any methodology which rejects miracles outright when there are people around who believe they did happen is a methodology which begs major questions in the realm of circular logic.
Why do we want to take the Bible by the standard of the professional historians? Any methodology involving rejecting miracles a priori is clearly inappropriate for use on the Bible.
Nether the less people can and do modify the methodology somewhat appropriately to give us the historical-critical method. Use of it almost invariably confirms quite a large number of the major events in Jesus life - except for any miracles, of course, on which it can't comment except to say that everyone believed that Jesus performed miracles.
But in general I'm not a big fan of the historical-critical method, if you want to discuss it more I suggest you talk to Nomad.

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The admission that the Bible is fallible is a devastating blow to any claim that knowledge of God (or anything else) can be obtained from it. If, as you say, What we have is a group of pieces of what various people have been able to observe about God. Unsurprisingly some of them were mistaken in some places... we have no anchor of Truth in which to ground our beliefs. If the Bible itself consists entirely of the opinion of fallible men like ourselves, we have no objective way to determine which are the false opinions and which the true.
If we can accept the assertion that the writers on the whole knew what they were talking about more than not then we can read the whole Bible and accept any themes agreed upon by all or a vast majority of writers. Not only that, but the NT has apostlitic authority behind it and thus it is even more unlikely to be seriously in error.

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But in reality there is no general gist of it. The Old Testament and the New depict God in such radically different ways that it is hard even to find a point of contact between them. And the differences within both the OT and the NT are cavernous.
Do they, really? Not that I'd noticed. True, God is more immanent and personal in the NT that He had been in the OT: but that's obviously explainable by the Incarnation and Pentecost. And the final judgement theme from the OT is expanded upon and put into more detail, hardly a large change. And we get a few more doctrines as a result of Jesus' death and resurrection, which is obviously unavoidable. Hardly "radically different" I would have thought. The NT writers quote the OT writers often to demonstrate that Christianity is a continuation of the OT revelation.

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But even supposing that there are any such general trends, what grounds do we have for supposing them to be accurate? Isn't it possible that a majority of these fallible humans were wrong on certain points? After all, all of the writers were immersed in the same culture. If this culture had certain misconceptions about God wouldn't it be natural for all of the writers to share them?

This problem is illuminated by a simple example. Imagine that you are a Jew of the first century B.C., and that someone suggests to you that God consists of three Persons, one of which is fully human, and that your hope of eternal life will depend on your accepting this Person as a savior. Wouldn't you be justified in replying that this is nonsense, that this does not agree in the least with the nature of God as depicted in Scripture? And you might well argue further that, since all of the writers of Scripture agree in their general depiction of God as a unity, Who cannot be imagined or represented as a creature of any kind, and that His favor depends entirely on one's faithful adherence to the laws that He has laid down, we can be sure we are on solid ground in rejecting this ridiculous notion of a triune, partially human God. Would this argument be sound? How would this differ from yours?
That's not really entirely sound as there are several suggestions of God's Triune nature in the OT. And there are plenty of prophesies of a fully human Messiah who was also super-human.
Furthermore the person you're talking about is obviously lacking the NT and therefore would have had a lesser range of material to find the gist of. But the main problem with this example is that while the Jew wouldn't have any belief in the Trinity, if he had the doctrine explained to him, he should be able to recognise hints of in the OT and recognise it as a new and consistent revelation of the nature of God.

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In reality there are a great many questions about God's nature for which a great number of Biblical passages can be found to support each of two diametrically opposed points of view. For example, does God consider vicarious punishment just? It would be child's play to find dozens of passages in the Bible that clearly imply that He does. Others perhaps a comparable number imply the opposite. Which set represents the general trend and which the aberrations?
This is where you pull out a few theological volumes and have a look at the authors' discussion of the situation. Christian doctrine doesn't get magiced out of nowhere and in any case where there is a serious conflict there will be a few hundred volumes discussing the matter. The reason the denominations exist is not simply because the Christians can't get on together, but because there are some real differences in theology.
But you're looking at the whole question backwards. I've suggest a general method for finding truth in the Bible where the authors widely agree. You are countering that by giving an example where the authors don't agree and pointing out my method doesn't work.
In any borderline cases we have to decide using logic or already clear doctrine to clarify the situation. In some cases (though I dispute your "great number") there seems to be no sufficient solution and as a result we get two different denominations each believing an alternative system. In such situation I prefer, to try to hold both the opposing principles as a paradox (It works suprisingly well sometimes) or if that is completely inconceivable and I lack anything at all clear to decide on I prefer a revered agnosticism on the subject.

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You bring up another excellent example of this problem in you comments abut salvation by works vs. salvation by faith:

"Final Judgement will be based on our deeds in this life, that is a crystal clear testament of Biblical revelation. (Which is what makes Fundies, with their "everyone who doesn't believe will go to hell" crap, so funny)"

But this is far from crystal clear. Here are just a few passages from the NT that appear to flatly contradict it:
You're making the mistake of confusing salvation and judgement.

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It's transparently clear that you consider your opinion on this question to be crystal clear, not because it represents the general trend or the general gist of the Bible as a whole, but because it agrees with your preconceptions of how things ought to be.
I see, so because my beliefs are not prey to the usual atheist attacks I instead get attacked for making up my own beliefs.
The idea of judgement based on the things we do in this life is prevalent throughout the whole Bible. Even the OT which reveals very little in the nature of the afterlife still shows a definite belief in works based judgement. eg Ecclesiastes 12:14 'God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret'.
The NT expounds this theme also and Paul echos Ecclesiates with 'For all of us must appear before Christ, to be judged by him. Each one will receive what he deserves, according to everything he has done, good or bad, in his bodily life.' (2 Cor 5:11). Similar thoughts appear often in the NT, but they are most clearly presented in the teachings of Jesus. We learn that how you treat others is how you will be treated:
'Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you. Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands - all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.' Luke 6:37-38
We learn that judgement will be based on the amount of knowledge people have of the truth:
'The servant who knows what his master wants him to do, but does not get himself ready and do it, will be punished with a heavy whipping. But the servant who does not know what his master wants, and yet does something for which he deserves a whipping, will be punished with a light whipping. Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.' Luke 12:47-48 Paul also echos the idea also several times in early Romans.
Judgement will be based on how we treat others based on what we ourselves have:
'There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man's door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven. The rich man died and was buried, and in Hades, where he was in great pain...' Luke 16:19-23
We will be forgiven as long as we forgive others (Matthew 18:23-35).
Judgement will be based on what we do with what we are given: Matthew 25:14-30.
And finally clearest of all, judgement is based on how we treated others: Matthew 25:31-46.
There are plenty of other supporting passages, but these ones should do for now at least. Judgement by works is simply a basic and repeated doctrine, it's not something I'm making up.

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But why do you recommend this only in very extreme instances? Look. Imagine that you are examining a book (not necessarily the Bible) written by a great many authors, all of them fallible humans like yourself, many of them all but uneducated, and which you know (unsurprisingly) contains plenty of errors. Now suppose you come upon a passage that seems on its fact to conflict with many other passages and with the general trend of the book. Isn't it more reasonable to simply conclude that this particular writer is wrong on this particular point than to find some strained, implausible interpretation that was consistent with the remainder?
The real question is: What type of passage are we dealing with? If it is a passage which asserts something factual eg that Judas died by hanging, which contradicts other more reliable sources then complete rejection is plausible.
If however the passage is theological in nature eg has God performing some action, and we find such an action improbable on God's behalf - based on what we know of the nature of God - then complete rejection probably isn't the best option. In such cases an agnostic approach of "I don't think God would do that, but then I don't propose to know everything about God" would be better. Complete rejection is only appropriate in such situations if we have some other grounds to suspect the passage on.

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Isn't the point of reading a book to understand the intention of the author? Isn't it far more likely that an ignorant writer from a tribe of primitive, bloodthirsty, barbaric desert warriors living in a remote corner of the world made a mistake rather than that he was right, but expressed himself in such a subtle manner that advanced scholarship is required to tease out his intended meaning?
Of course the intention of the writer is important. Advanced scholarship is not there to rewrite the intention to make it more acceptable, but instead to make sure we do accurately know the intention and we are avoiding confusion in the translation and making sure we know any background details needed to make complete sense of the story etc.

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In short: ambiguous, errant revelation is in practice the same as no revelation at all.
No revelation at all would mean we would know nothing about God. As it is, anyone can read the Bible with a reasonable belief that what they read is in general true and correct and thus learn a lot about God and His actions in the world.

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It's easy to point out the "to err is human", so that in the absence of Divine intervention mistakes are to be expected in anything produced by human hands. But this doesn't address the main problem, which is why God did not intervene to ensure that the text was inerrant.
Because He decided not to. Free will? To give people enough doubt to disbelieve if they wanted? Your guess on why is as good as mine. Just because God hasn't told us the reason in no way precludes there being a good and sufficient reason.

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(and for that matter, why He chose to allow all of the original manuscripts to disappear, additions and deletions to be made by unknown hands, and innumerable translation errors to occur)
We posses so great a number of copies of the books of the bible, especially the NT, that discerning the originally text very accurately isn't a big problem. There's a whole branch of scholarship devoted to ensuring our Bibles contain the most accurate possible text. Why would God want to stop any such errors happening when they pose no real problem?
In any event, such an act on the part of God would be a major, public, and ongoing miracle which would sort of defeat the whole purpose of God hiding Himself in the first place...

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<STRONG>He doesn't want to make it too easy.</STRONG>

But what possible reason could He have for making it so difficult for those who honestly and devoutly seek after Him to discern His true nature? Why did He choose instead to lay so many traps for true believers?
I think that God makes sure there is enough doubt about His existence so that those who don't want to believe are able to justify their unbelief.

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In summary, you have not even begun to suggest a plausible reason for believing that a book as sloppy, ambiguous, self-contradictory, and error-filled as the Bible could possibly be the "Word of God" in anyrecognisable sense.
The Bible as the "Word of God" in any sense you would be familiar with, is a very recent extremist fundamentalist idea which I - along with the rest of the Church - reject utterly in its entirety.

Tercel
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Old 10-25-2001, 10:00 PM   #45
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Tercel:

I won’t apologize for taking so long to respond to your latest post, because it was over 6,000 words and covered a lot of ground. Here is a reply at last. Again I have tried to organize it by topic, but it isn’t always possible to do so cleanly since there is some overlap.

1. In what sense is the Bible special?

In response to my question of what makes the Bible special, what distinguishes it from other books; what makes it sacred, you say, in effect, that nothing makes it distinctively sacred or distinguishes it from other books except the fact that it has special authority. So we move on to the second topic.

2. Where does the Bible’s authority come from?

Or to put it another way, what grounds are there for supposing it to have any special authority?

To this question, so far as I can make out you offer two answers:

(1) It “would seem to be probably inspired by God to some extent or other”.

(2) “The Christian Church chose its canon as what it felt was most authoritative and accurate out of all the writings about God which it could choose from.”

As for (1), since you offer no evidence or reason to believe that this is so apart from (2), there is no particular reason to consider it separately. Presumably you think that the internal evidence suggests that it is, but the thread began with a direct challenge to this which you have chosen to ignore entirely. So I have to conclude that, with respect to the OT at least, you are not prepared to argue seriously that the Bible itself gives any indication of being divinely inspired. With respect to the NT, no one has given any arguments on this thread casting doubt on it divine inspiration, so you’ve been given a free pass on this so far. But the absence of disproof is not proof. Can you offer any internal evidence of divine inspiration for the NT? If not, let’s pass on to other arguments.

As for (2), you offer no reason to regard the early Church as having had authority of any kind other than the formal authority to declare what books were canonical. To be sure, as you pointed out, it may have had a more intimate knowledge of the oral tradition than we have today, but this is significant only if there is reason to believe that the oral tradition was factually accurate. You also suggest that the NT books may have had “apostolic authority”, but what little evidence there is for this idea comes entirely from the early Church. Thus this claim itself rests on the supposed authority of the early Church.

Besides this, even the alleged “apostolic authority” consists largely of hearsay. Regarding this, you say:

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By the way... hearsay is what you get when I tell my neighbour and he tells the man down the street and he tells his friend.
Wrong. Hearsay is what you hear someone say happened, as opposed to what you witnessed for yourself. I’ve heard so many Christians recite this completely false notion of what “hearsay” is that I’m beginning to think it’s taught in Bible school.

You say:

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Finally, I am a Christian and as a result of this I credit the Christian Church ... with much more authority ...
But as I pointed out earlier, this is circular. You believe the Jesus was God on the authority of the Bible. As we have seen, your belief in the Bible rests on the authority of the early Church. Now you say that you accept the authority of the early Church because you are a Christian – i.e., you believe that Jesus was God. The circle is complete.

You say:

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For me, evidence justifies my faith...
Yet you offer no real evidence. For example:

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I am a Christian because I think the Christian worldview is internally consistent...
Questionable and irrelevant. Lots of worldviews are consistent, but only one of them can be true.

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... extremely plausible ...
Highly questionable and irrelevant. Lots of implausible ideas have turned out to be true and lots of very plausible ones have turned out to be false. Surely relativity and quantum mechanics have cured all educated people of the notion that plausibility of a theory has much to do with its truth.

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...and corresponds better to the actual world than does any other worldview.
This is the very question under discussion!

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These basic arguments are things like arguments from the Resurrection (I have yet to read a moderately plausible alternative scenario)...
This argument is hardly worth the time of day. Of all explanatory hypotheses, the Resurrection theory is the least plausible. If such a explanation were proposed in any other situation, you would immediately see the absurdity of arguing that it should be accepted because other proposed explanations were implausible. For example, say a dead body is given a thorough autopsy, then placed in a steel vault in a locked and well-guarded morgue, and then disappears. Does the “theory” that the dead man transported himself through the door of the vault, then through the roof of the morgue, and then levitated to the ground and walked away, strike you as the most plausible explanation? Now suppose that you don’t know that this happened, but have only some anonymous reports that it did. Which theory would you consider the more plausible: the one above, or the theory that the reports are false?

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...miracles and healings in the present day...
Surely you are aware all “miracle claims” in the present day that have been subjected to serious scrutiny have turned out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural events. As for “healing”, let me know when a faith healer succeeds in regenerating a severed hand or restoring an Alzheimer’s victim to normal brain function.

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...responses to prayer, tongues, etc.
Get serious.

You also replied to my point that the Jews did not accept the NT as authoritative by saying:

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You forget that the first Christians were Jews. Saying that the Jews do not regard the books of the NT as authoritative is circular because the Jews are defined as not Christian and therefore clearly won't regard the NT as authoritative.
Nice try. But as everyone knows, very few Jews in first-century Palestine accepted Christianity. (The great majority of the earliest Christians were gentiles converted by Paul.) If we are going to accept the OT as authoritative because the vast majority of first-century Jews in the first few centuries after Christ accepted it as being so, then by the same logic we should reject the NT as authoritative because the vast majority of Jews living at that time rejected it even if we include Jewish converts to Christianity.

In your continuing but futile effort to disassociate Christianity from the OT, you say:

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But I agree that it is difficult to find reason to give authority to the OT to quite the same level as the NT. The best I can offer is that Jesus seemed to take the OT as authoritative.
Have you already forgotten your own reasons for accepting the authority of the NT? they apply equally to the OT. For example, it “would seem to be probably inspired by God to some extent or other.” Surely this applies as well to the OT as to the NT? And “the Christian Church chose its canon as what it felt was most authoritative and accurate out of all the writings about God which it could choose from.” But the OT is an integral part of the Canon chosen by the early church. Or this: “Once I actually believe in the Christian God, taking the writings about Him (which have already shown themselves true in general because of His existence) as generally authoritative is simply logical. Since the Christian Church backs them as authoritative too, it gives them even more authority.” Quite so. A better argument for the authority of the OT would be hard to find. And finally this: they were “already in widespread use...because they were generally believed to be authoritative”. Absolutely.

Face it. You can give no reasons for accepting the authority of the NT which do not apply at least equally well to the OT. And there are additional reasons for accepting the OT which don’t even apply to the NT. You just gave one. Another is that the NT draws on the OT prophecies as evidence that Jesus was really the Messiah. This would make no sense unless the OT were authoritative.

You’ve been running away from discussing the OT at every opportunity, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with it. If you are going to defend Christianity you must defend the OT. It’s a package deal.

Finally, you argue rather desperately:

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... it doesn't take much thought to work out that since we have no non-miraculous works from the period it might be entirely possible that miracles really did happen.
I think you mean that, since we have no surviving accounts saying that Jesus did not rise from the dead, etc., maybe He really did. This is a very weak argument. Few people if any who were not members of the Jesus cult would have been interested enough in it to even know what these people believed, much less put a statement on the record that their beliefs were false. In the same way, you would have trouble finding statements on the record challenging the beliefs of the Branch Davidians or Heaven’s Gate cult – especially ones dated before these groups got into the news. In the case of Christianity, by the second century there were apparently people who were publicly challenging their claims (although there was no way of disproving them by that time). It’s worth noting that we know about this only because early Christian apologists tried to refute their arguments, and these works have survived. The early Christians destroyed a number of works that they didn’t like for one reason or another.

3. The value [or rather the uselessness] of fallible revelation

This section has become so large that it seemed advisable to break it into subsections.

3a. The reliability of Matthew

Here you made some very interesting comments about your judgment of the reliability of Luke as opposed to Matthew that are worth considering in detail, since they also bear on the question of whether there are any good grounds for believing any of the more striking claims made in the NT.

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bd:
But what is it about Matthew that makes you question its accuracy more than Luke's?

Tercel:
Luke claims to know what he's talking about and claims to be so authoritative that after reading his account the reader will have "certainty and security against error".
Oh. Well, I’m convinced.

[He] often gives historical details like "In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas..."

The cogency of this argument is overpowering.

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Matthew on the other hand I have queries about raised by Church tradition.
But Matthew is canonical, which is to say that the Church says that it is reliable. The Church fathers were well aware of any such queries, but they also had evidence not available to us, which was good enough to answer them to their satisfaction. How can you, who do not have the evidence that the early Church had, second-guess their decisions on such matters?

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Matthew seems to exaggerate things beyond the reality as evidenced by the trip to Egypt, the repentance of Judas, earthquake at the tomb and the stone rolled away while the women watched which disagree with the other gospel's more believable accounts.
This is not only beyond rational argument; it is beyond parody.

You have no problem with the stories in Luke about an angel of the Lord appearing to announce pregnancies; a baby leaping in the womb to greet someone; a virgin giving birth; a great company of heavenly host appearing to shepherds. You accept the story about the heavens being opened and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice coming from Heaven saying “You are my Son...”, and the claim that when Jesus went into the desert He was tempted for forty days by the Devil, who showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to Him. You are not troubled by numerous tales of demonic possession, including the ludicrous story of the Gadarene swine; the stories of instant cures of leprosy and other diseases; and even raising people from the dead; or the claim that His disciples were able to do likewise. You find the story of Jesus calming the wind and water, and the tale of the loaves and fishes, entirely plausible. You believe the story of the Transfiguration. You see no reason to distrust the report of darkness descending over the whole land for three hours while Jesus was dying, and the curtain of the temple being rent in two at the moment of His death. You trust the statement that two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning appeared suddenly beside the women who went to Jesus’ tomb. You see no reason to doubt the claim that Jesus appeared to the disciples, walking and eating with some of them, after He had been dead for two days. You judge that the account of the Ascension has the ring of truth. But the story of the trip to Egypt, the repentance of Judas, and the stone being rolled away at the tomb are too much for you to swallow!

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I do however think Matthew is a very worthwhile Gospel because it gives us large portions of Jesus’ words (which I think are the authentic original Aramaic Matthew) not found in the other Gospels.
So you agree that Matthew is wrong about all sorts of things large and small, but you’re confident that he got Jesus’ words right?

Next you discuss the proper criteria for judging the credibility of Biblical stories and suggest that they are quite different from the standards of professional historians:

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The first twist is equating believing someone who is more thorough and competent over someone who is less so with the standards of professional historians.
You don’t know whether Luke is more thorough and competent than Matthew. Your opinion to that effect is based on a judgment that Luke’s narrative is more plausible than Matthew’s. This judgment, in turn, is based on the fact that Matthew reports events that are unlike anything observed in the present day. For example, the trip to Egypt seems implausible because it was undertaken to escape an alleged massacre of infants on a large scale by Herod. But we are reasonably sure, based on human nature as we observe it today, that such a massacre would have provoked a revolt, and would certainly have been recorded by historians such as Josephus. The earthquake at the tomb and rolling away of the stone is a natural event that occurs conveniently at a crucial juncture – a deus ex machina. Such things are very rare nowadays, so we conclude reasonably that they were probably very rare back then as well. Similarly for the saints who were raised from the dead at Jesus’ death and were seen by many people. From our knowledge of how the world works today we not only are reasonably sure that such things could not have happened, but are certain that if they had they would have been so extraordinary that they would have been widely reported.

But this reasoning is based on the principle of analogy: the assumption that the past was essentially similar to the present in fundamental ways. If an event of a certain kind is not observed to occur in the present day we are disinclined to believe that it occurred in the past: since water doesn’t run uphill today we suspect that it didn’t run uphill in the past. Similarly, if people don’t behave in a certain way today, we find it unlikely that they did so in the past. On the other hand, since superstition, gullibility, and fraud are common today we are inclined to think that they were common in the past.

This principle is a mainstay of professional historians. When I said that you were applying the standards of professional historians I meant primarily that you were applying this principle. But it is inconsistent to apply it to the events mentioned in Matthew, but not to those reported in Luke. And it is especially inconsistent to refuse to apply it to the Resurrection, which is even more unlike anything observed to occur in the present day than anything else found in Matthew or Luke.

3b. The criteria of professional historians

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It is not any standard except common sense. Professional historians also use common sense upon occasion I would imagine ...
The methodology of professional historians is nothing but common sense informed by extensive knowledge and experience.

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A professional historian will treat all miracles like they didn't happen because no one believes they did.
No, a professional historian discounts accounts of miracles because no miracles are observed to occur today. He also discounts them because he knows that such accounts are extremely common in ancient texts. (And I am not referring here only to the Bible, but to ancient works in general.) Common sense tells him that the most plausible explanation of this is that people in those days were even more superstitious, gullible, and ignorant than they are today. There is plenty of evidence that this is so in the ancient texts themselves. Once again, the historian is simply applying the principle of analogy – the same principle that led you to conclude that Luke is more reliable than Matthew.

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But in a case like that of Christianity where the truth of the miracles is debated, the use of any normal historical methods is all but inappropriate.
Why? If a methodology for evaluating the likelihood that a proposition is true could only be applied when everyone already agrees about it, it would be completely useless. The point of a methodology is to provide an objective way of resolving disputed questions.

But if you really believe what you say, you should refrain from applying the principle of analogy to conclude that Luke is more reliable than Matthew. After all, tens of millions of people (at least) believe that even the miracles that he alone records really occurred.

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Any methodology which rejects miracles outright when there are people around who believe they did happen is a methodology which begs major questions in the realm of circular logic.
The opinion of the masses is really irrelevant. The fact that lots of people believe in astrology, UFO’s, ESP, and levitation doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with a methodology that simply rejects any such claims without extremely strong evidence. The evidence to date is clear and overwhelming that these beliefs are false; it would be absurd to consider each specific instance as if such things had never been looked at before.

But it is a mistake to think that professional historians “reject miracles outright”. They discount accounts of unlikely coincidences and other implausible occurrences, especially miracles, for the reasons explained above, but they are open to being convinced by sufficient evidence. However, what would constitute sufficient evidence to convince a historian that, say, Herod ordered every infant in Palestine killed is quite different from what would constitute sufficient evidence that a Roman official visited Gaul in 43 BC. And what would constitute sufficient evidence that a dead man walked is a very different matter again.

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... in situations where no one believes miracles happened, historical sources which include miraculous accounts are obviously given less weight than those which don't.
Such sources are given less weight regardless of whether anyone happens to believe the miraculous accounts. You yourself apply this principle in all cases but the bible. for example, the Koran records that the moon was split in two and the sun could be seen between the two parts. This fact alone would shake any confidence I might otherwise have in the Koran’s historical accuracy. Doesn’t it affect yours?

Similarly, the completely implausible claims in the Book of Mormon make me doubtful about its historical accuracy. Should I have a different reaction because millions of Mormons take this stuff seriously?

The plain reality is that you want certain miraculous claims (apparently not all) found in the Bible to receive a special dispensation from the treatment that you, like everyone else, give to all other miracles.

3c. Does the Bible provide a clear, consistent portrayal of the nature of God, or clear, consistent moral guidance?

Quote:
bd:
The Old Testament and the New depict God in such radically different ways that it is hard even to find a point of contact between them.

Tercel:
Do they, really? Not that I'd noticed.
Try reading the OT. It’s impossible not to notice. It’s easy to say there’s little difference as long as you refuse to discuss the OT,. but it’s impossible to maintain this claim once you start treating it seriously. The “census” story that began this thread is an excellent example of how God is portrayed throughout the OT.

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bd:
In reality there are a great many questions about God's nature for which a great number of Biblical passages can be found to support each of two diametrically opposed points of view.

Tercel:
This is where you pull out a few theological volumes and have a look at the authors' discussion of the situation.
Missing the point once again. I’m not interested in how you personally resolve such questions. The subject here was “the value of fallible revelation”. Of course you may manage to arrive at some belief on a given question no matter how ambiguous or contradictory the Bible is on the point. But Bob may well arrive at a different belief, and Sue yet another. All but one of you must be wrong, but there is no objective way to decide who, if anyone, is right. “Theological volumes” are all over the lot, I’m afraid. In fact, the reason they were written is that the Bible is ambiguous or contradictory on so many important questions. Essentially you decide these questions by deciding which ones to pull out.

And the questions about which different Christians sincerely hold different beliefs (all of them, of course, supported by their reading of the Bible) run the gamut, beginning with which passages of the Bible should be taken literally and which (if any) should not. They run from the meaning (or even the existence) of original sin, the meaning and significance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the nature (or even the existence) of Hell and whether the damned are punished eternally (or even at all), whether salvation is by faith or works or some combination, predestination, and so on. Many Christians believe that the vast majority of people will be damned; others think it will be only a few; still others believe that none will. The reality of demonic possession and the existence of witches is controversial. Some say that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality; others deny it. The Bible seems to clearly condone slavery, and this fact was widely used to defend slavery for centuries; today most people appear to think that this was a misinterpretation. Some say “thou shalt not kill” means that war and capital punishment are wrong; others dispute this. Some say the Bible clearly implies that abortion is wrong; many others claim the opposite. The meaning of “love your enemies”, “turn the other cheek”, etc. is hotly debated. The list goes on and on.

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The reason the denominations exist is not simply because the Christians can't get on together, but because there are some real differences in theology.
No kidding.

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You're making the mistake of confusing salvation and judgement.
Enlighten me. (Keep in mind that your reference was to Final Judgment.)

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bd:
It's transparently clear that you consider your opinion on [the question of salvation by faith vs. salvation by works] to be crystal clear, not because it represents the general trend or the general gist of the Bible as a whole, but because it agrees with your preconceptions of how things ought to be.
Tercel:
I see, so because my beliefs are not prey to the usual atheist attacks I instead get attacked for making up my own beliefs.[/quote]

Nope. I’m perfectly happy to discuss the problems with either the inerrantist or the errantist position. However, what I’m criticizing at the moment is not your belief in salvation by works, but your belief that it is “crystal clear” that this is what the Bible teaches.

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The idea of judgement based on the things we do in this life is prevalent throughout the whole Bible.
As I said, there are passages that appear to support both positions. That’s the problem.

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If however the passage is theological in nature e.g. has God performing some action, and we find such an action improbable on God's behalf - based on what we know of the nature of God ...
But how do we “know” whatever we know about the nature of God? And if the answer is that we should go by the “bulk” of the Bible, we must conclude that God is arbitrary, tyrannical, bloodthirsty, vengeful, sexist and racist, since that’s how He is depicted through almost all of the OT.

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... then complete rejection probably isn't the best option. In such cases an agnostic approach of "I don't think God would do that, but then I don't propose to know everything about God" would be better.
Oh, I don’t know. When God is said to order or approve of the massacre of an entire people, or all of the residents of a city, don’t you think complete rejection is the most reasonable option? In fact, isn’t it the only morally acceptable option?

More importantly, the option you never consider is: “ I’m pretty sure that God would never do that ... or that ... or that ... or that ... Hmm. Maybe the Bible is not portraying God very accurately. Maybe the authors were not really inspired after all. Maybe the Bible is just what it appears to be: a record of a primitive, barbaric, superstitious, ignorant tribe of ruthless, bloodthirsty warriors.”

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... anyone can read the Bible with a reasonable belief that what they read is in general true and correct and thus learn a lot about God and His actions in the world.
Heaven forefend that anyone should read the Bible in the belief that they are getting a generally true and accurate portrayal of the nature of God, or that He really did most of the things the Bible says He did. The Old Testament is even worse than the New in this respect, and since it is the bulk of the Bible, according to your theory it must be given greater weight than the New.

And finally, we have the remarkable claim that at least we have the text right:

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We possess so great a number of copies of the books of the Bible, especially the NT, that discerning the original text very accurately isn't a big problem.
I hope this was a joke.

4. Why does the “Word of God” contain errors?

You observed:

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And finally it contains occasional mistakes and factual inaccuracies because it was written by humans and they were human in every way.
True enough. Given that the Bible was produced by humans and that God did not intervene to prevent errors, it’s natural that there are errors. But you’re misinterpreting the meaning of the “why” in the question of why the Bible contains errors. To this question you apparently have no good answer, as we shall see. Thus:

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bd:
...this doesn't address the main problem, which is why God did not intervene to ensure that the text was inerrant.

Tercel:
Because He decided not to ... Your guess on why is as good as mine. Just because God hasn't told us the reason in no way precludes there being a good and sufficient reason.
Missing the point yet again. The question is whether it is plausible that God would give us an errant “revelation”.

Here’s an analogy. If you tell me that Smith, whom I believe to be an exceptionally decent and virtuous person who never hurts a fly, knocked down an old lady and stole her purse, I’ll be very skeptical. If you can prove to me that he did, I’ll believe it. If my faith in Smith’s goodness is strong enough I will believe that he must have had a good and sufficient reason. But in the absence of such proof, I am going to evaluate your assertion in the light of what I believe to be Smith’s nature.

But to be fair, you did offer two tentative hypotheses:

(1) To give people enough doubt to disbelieve if they wanted

(2) Free will

As to (1), why might it be desirable to leave so many really important questions (such as God’s nature, the true principles of morality, or what we must do to be saved) in so much doubt that a rational person with the best will and intentions will be left bewildered?

And as for (2) at best it could explain why God might want to leaves some room for doubt as to His existence. It doesn’t begin to explain why He would leave us in doubt as to the principles of morality or the numerous other important matters that are left in a muddle by the Bible.

You also suggested that ensuring an inerrant text would compromise God’s “hiddenness”:

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In any event, such an act on the part of God [i.e., preserving original texts and ensuring accurate translations] would be a major, public, and ongoing miracle...
But this won’t wash. We are talking about the God who is alleged to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc., aren’t we? Heck, I can think of several ways to do this without anyone being the wiser. God could think up thousands more.

And we have the following exchange:

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bd:
But what possible reason could He have for making it so difficult for those who honestly and devoutly seek after Him to discern His true nature? Why did He choose instead to lay so many traps for true believers?

Tercel:
I think that God makes sure there is enough doubt about His existence so that those who don't want to believe are able to justify their unbelief.
One more time: I get it. I understand this argument. But I’m not talking about God’s existence. I asked why He would conceal His true nature and His moral principles from those who devoutly sought after Him. Why would He provide us with a “revelation” that’s so ambiguous and contradictory?

For example, why doesn’t the Bible make it clear which passages (if any) are not meant literally, and in what sense these passages are meant? Why doesn’t it say whether abortion and slavery are acceptable? Whether there are really demons that should be exorcised and witches that should be burned? Whether capital punishment is ever justified, and whether there is such a thing as a “just war” (other than one ordered by God)? What exactly is meant by “turn the other cheek”, etc.? What exactly is necessary to get to Heaven? whether the damned will suffer eternal torment in Hell or be annihilated? Whether we are predestined to Heaven or Hell?

Finally you attempt to portray your errantist view of the Bible as being the traditional one:

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The Bible as the "Word of God" in any sense you would be familiar with, is a very recent extremist fundamentalist idea which I - along with the rest of the Church - reject utterly in its entirety.
Far from being an historical aberration, the view that the Bible is inerrant was held by nearly all Christians held for almost the entire history of Christianity. It is only in modern times that the idea that the Bible might be errant has been considered remotely acceptable by any significant number of people who call themselves Christians. The “fundamentalist” position that the Bible is not only inerrant but literally true throughout was the view of the masses but for most of this time was not the official position of the Church. Fundamentalism was a reaction to the accelerating trend in the nineteenth century of interpreting more and more of the Bible metaphorically. Even the virgin birth and the resurrection were coming to be treated by many theologians and clergymen as being “spiritual” rather than historical truths. Fundamentalists feared that the essence of Christianity was being lost, and could only be preserved by rejecting the whole idea that any part of the Bible was meant to be understood metaphorically.

So I’m quite familiar with more than one way of considering the Bible the Word of God. I find it insulting that, after I have patiently debated your more modern, errantist view of the Bible at some length, you would suggest that I know nothing about it. If you think I’m that stupid or ignorant, why are you taking the trouble to write 6000-word replies to my posts?

[ October 25, 2001: Message edited by: bd-from-kg ]
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Old 12-19-2001, 12:50 PM   #46
Tercel
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Post

And here’s another installment in the large-post saga... this one’s pending 7000 words. Enjoy.

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1. In what sense is the Bible special?

In response to my question of what makes the Bible special, what distinguishes it from other books; what makes it sacred, you say, in effect, that nothing makes it distinctively sacred or distinguishes it from other books except the fact that it has special authority. So we move on to the second topic.
Fair enough.

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2. Where does the Bible's authority come from?

Or to put it another way, what grounds are there for supposing it to have any special authority?

To this question, so far as I can make out you offer two answers:

(1) It "would seem to be probably inspired by God to some extent or other".

(2) "The Christian Church chose its canon as what it felt was most authoritative and accurate out of all the writings about God which it could choose from."
Also (3) The authority of the writers.
You clearly see this as subsumed under (2) (since you state that later), but I see the two things as being quite distinct. (2) is with reference to a large group of people (the Church) making a statement ("This is authoritative") about the books of the Bible. This is a pronouncement of authoritativity coming from an external source. The writers themselves being authoritative on the subject on which they were writing I see as clearly distinct since they are not declaring their work an authority so much as the authority of their work derives from their own authority.

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As for (1), since you offer no evidence or reason to believe that this is so apart from (2), there is no particular reason to consider it separately. Presumably you think that the internal evidence suggests that it is,
Indeed, there are several internal references to the Scripture being divinely inspired. eg "Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instructions for right living" 2 Timothy 3:16.
However I see little point in concentrating on this because of the circular logic involved. We cannot give the Bible authority simply because it says so.

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but the thread began with a direct challenge to this which you have chosen to ignore entirely.
I chose to ignore it because in my experience posters on these board are unable to understand the difference between inspiration and inerrancy and in the past my discussions to try and clarify the matter have been useless. Therefore I wished to avoid and down-play the subject of inspiration as much as possible and concentrate more on the authority of Scripture as it derives from the Church, an angle which I feel is often overlooked by fundamentalists and subsequently those sceptics here who were previously fundamentalists.

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So I have to conclude that, with respect to the OT at least, you are not prepared to argue seriously that the Bible itself gives any indication of being divinely inspired.
I am prepared to argue it if you wish since there are a few passages like the 2 Tim 3:16 one I quoted in the NT which convey divine inspiration on the OT and if memory serves me correctly there might be a couple in the OT itself somewhere... I can try and dig them up if you so wish. However I seriously object to the idea that this divine inspiration means inerrancy, or no contradictions. If that is what you mean by divinely inspired then I have no wish to argue it. Basically, I can see there are errors and contradictions in the text and I also feel I have reasonable warrant to think it divinely inspired. That leaves two options: Either God deliberately created those errors and contradictions or the divine inspiration is of a subtle degree and not omni-inspiration. I don't know the answer but either one is fine with me.

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With respect to the NT, no one has given any arguments on this thread casting doubt on it divine inspiration, so you've been given a free pass on this so far. But the absence of disproof is not proof. Can you offer any internal evidence of divine inspiration for the NT? If not, let's pass on to other arguments.
The NT writers obviously didn't believe at the time that they were writing Scripture and thus would not have believed their writings to stand on the inspiration level of the Scriptures. The exception is of course 2nd Peter 3:16 when Peter calls Paul's writings Scripture. I do not think it is possible that the real Peter would ever have thought of them as such and therefore I there has most probably been a small alteration in the text by a well-meaning copier who thought of Paul's writings as Scripture or that the book itself is not Petrine.

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As for (2), you offer no reason to regard the early Church as having had authority of any kind other than the formal authority to declare what books were canonical.
It seems that this discussion is in danger of being circular: Clearly to a Christian, the Christian Church is quite authoritative while the non-Christian might well take that sort of authority of the Church with a grain of salt.
In this discussion the more significant part of the authority of the Church on the Scripture is twofold:
* Its tradition of apostlitic authorship.
* Its universal consensus that its canon is generally true / authoritative in theology and history.

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To be sure, as you pointed out, it may have had a more intimate knowledge of the oral tradition than we have today, but this is significant only if there is reason to believe that the oral tradition was factually accurate.
Of course.

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You also suggest that the NT books may have had "apostolic authority", but what little evidence there is for this idea comes entirely from the early Church. Thus this claim itself rests on the supposed authority of the early Church.
Well it rests on the ability of the early Church to tell as accurately who wrote the books it believed were authoritative.
Even so, people who don't give 2 figs about what the Church said still are willing to accept Pauline authorship of at least 7 of Paul's letters.

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<strong>By the way... hearsay is what you get when I tell my neighbour and he tells the man down the street and he tells his friend.</strong>

Wrong. Hearsay is what you hear someone say happened, as opposed to what you witnessed for yourself. I've heard so many Christians recite this completely false notion of what "hearsay" is that I'm beginning to think it's taught in Bible school.
Probably Christians say that in an attempt to distinguish quotation from a known source from legendary hearsay. "Hearsay" in the general case is bad an unreliable since anyone who's played Chinese whispers or heard urban myths knows just how much the truth can be distorted by going through 30 or even 5 people. By contrast stating that X said Y when X was in a good position to know Y, although technically hearsay is still quite reliable - especially if it is apparent that everyone in a position to know is saying the same thing - ie a universal tradition. I know I get sick of the statement so often made on these boards that "it's hearsay therefore it's unreliable".

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<strong>Finally, I am a Christian and as a result of this I credit the Christian Church ... with much more authority</strong>

But as I pointed out earlier, this is circular. You believe the Jesus was God on the authority of the Bible. As we have seen, your belief in the Bible rests on the authority of the early Church. Now you say that you accept the authority of the early Church because you are a Christian – i.e., you believe that Jesus was God. The circle is complete.
No. I am a Christian because I see the Christian worldview as most likely being true based on evidentiary arguments, I personally find personal testimony the single most compelling. (Unfortunately it's not particularly suited to internet apologetics) Once I am a Christian it logically follows that the Christian Church probably knows what it's on about since it obviously teaches the truth (Christianity). The Church says the Bible is authoritative, and both say Jesus is God so I believe Jesus was God. (I am of course simplifying it a bit here and there's still as much room as ever for evidentiary arguments for each of these things)

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<strong>For me, evidence justifies my faith...</strong>

Yet you offer no real evidence.
You want me list all the arguments for the Christian faith I think are supportive? Isn't this thread long enough already?!!
Especially since I find no single argument compelling, but find the cumulative case extremely so. The strongest argument in my opinion is that of personal testimony, which as I have mentioned already is impossible by nature to reproduce here.

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<strong>These basic arguments are things like arguments from the Resurrection (I have yet to read a moderately plausible alternative scenario)...</strong>

This argument is hardly worth the time of day. Of all explanatory hypotheses, the Resurrection theory is the least plausible. If such a explanation were proposed in any other situation, you would immediately see the absurdity of arguing that it should be accepted because other proposed explanations were implausible. For example, say a dead body is given a thorough autopsy, then placed in a steel vault in a locked and well-guarded morgue, and then disappears. Does the "theory" that the dead man transported himself through the door of the vault, then through the roof of the morgue, and then levitated to the ground and walked away, strike you as the most plausible explanation?
It clearly depends upon the state of the other evidence. If the vault was indeed well guarded and it is not reasonable to believe the body was removed from the morgue normally, then a supernatural explanation is certainly worthy of consideration. However I would be unwilling to seriously consider a supernatural explanation unless there was some "meaning" to the event which went with it. Any supernatural intelligence which interferes with reality is clearly going to have a set purpose in mind. If the event or surrounding context gives no hint of a purpose then I think we can reasonably rule out the supernatural explanation. However if a supernatural "purpose" is clear and there is no decently plausible natural explanation then it seems there is good reason to consider seriously the claim of a miracle.
But the Resurrection of Christ goes one step further in that we have the attestation of the Apostles that they saw the risen Christ. It is not simply the case of an empty tomb with the Apostles saying "well you see God raised Christ up to heaven from the tomb when nobody was looking." Rather there is the double and agreeing evidence of the empty tomb + resurrection appearances, both of which argue for the same conclusion.

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Now suppose that you don't know that this happened, but have only some anonymous reports that it did.
Anonymous reports says you. The 4 gospels have names, whether you in your great wisdom believe those names to be accurate is another matter...
But Paul certainly believes in the resurrection appearances and he's not anonymous. He also names Peter the rest of the 12 apostles and James as receiving resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) and we know who they are. Paul is certainly in a position to know about Peter since he had spent two weeks with him 'obtaining information' (Galatians 1:18)

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Which theory would you consider the more plausible: the one above, or the theory that the reports are false?
Any conclusions would substantially depend on the reliability of the reports. -Something that we appear to be in vast disagreement about.

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<strong>...miracles and healings in the present day...</strong>

Surely you are aware all "miracle claims" in the present day that have been subjected to serious scrutiny have turned out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural events.
No I'm not, because that's not true. The Catholic Church does many investigations into alleged miracles as part of its saint-making process. It has laudably strict criteria yet has concluded a large number of such miracles as real. In Lourdes (France), a historic site of miracles, the Catholic Church has set up a separate body to establish the truth of the healing miracles claimed by pilgrims to Lourdes. Their criteria for the determination of miracles is detailed on the Lourdes website at <a href="http://www.lourdes-france.com" target="_blank">www.lourdes-france.com</a> (After selecting english as the language, go to the sitemap and find the section on cures and miracles). Its criteria for concluding a miracle are rather impressive yet it has concluded a number of healings miraculous over the past 50 years.

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As for "healing", let me know when a faith healer succeeds in regenerating a severed hand or restoring an Alzheimer's victim to normal brain function.
Why these two things exactly?
I have to say I'm not aware of an allegation of a healing with regard to either one... although that hardly proves anything since there are quite a large number of conditions I can think of for which I have not heard an alleged healing regarding: My experience is limited after all.

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<strong>...responses to prayer, tongues, etc.</strong>

Get serious.
Wow, that's a thorough logical refutation of the question!

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You also replied to my point that the Jews did not accept the NT as authoritative by saying:

<strong>You forget that the first Christians were Jews. Saying that the Jews do not regard the books of the NT as authoritative is circular because the Jews are defined as not Christian and therefore clearly won't regard the NT as authoritative. </strong>

Nice try. But as everyone knows, very few Jews in first-century Palestine accepted Christianity. (The great majority of the earliest Christians were gentiles converted by Paul.) If we are going to accept the OT as authoritative because the vast majority of first-century Jews in the first few centuries after Christ accepted it as being so, then by the same logic we should reject the NT as authoritative because the vast majority of Jews living at that time rejected it even if we include Jewish converts to Christianity.
My point is that the Christian Church as a result of it having its roots in Judaism, naturally takes the OT as authoritative since the Jews - and thus the early Christian Church and thus the later Christian Church accepted it as such.

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In your continuing but futile effort to disassociate Christianity from the OT, you say:
I'm trying to disassociate Christianity from the OT?!? I think not...

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<strong>But I agree that it is difficult to find reason to give authority to the OT to quite the same level as the NT. The best I can offer is that Jesus seemed to take the OT as authoritative.</strong>

Have you already forgotten your own reasons for accepting the authority of the NT? they apply equally to the OT. For example, it "would seem to be probably inspired by God to some extent or other." Surely this applies as well to the OT as to the NT?
Yes, but the whole idea of authoritative authorship is missing from the OT. In the NT we have a strong tradition telling us about the books, and generally know approximately when each was written and a reasonable amount about the authors who wrote them and good reason to think that the authors knew what they were talking about. The OT on the other hand we have all but zero knowledge of anything about them outside the books themselves and that they were accepted as Scripture by the Jews and early Church.

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<strong>... it doesn't take much thought to work out that since we have no non-miraculous works from the period it might be entirely possible that miracles really did happen.</strong>

I think you mean that, since we have no surviving accounts saying that Jesus did not rise from the dead, etc., maybe He really did. This is a very weak argument.
Actually, if you look at the context of the point you are replying to, you will see that I am arguing here for the authenticity of Jesus' miracles not the resurrection. (After all the Jews denied the resurrection and said the disciples stole the body) However, on the subject of Jesus' miracles, there are no accounts which give us a non-miraculous Jesus. Even the non-Christian accounts variously say that he did great deeds, that his miracles were of the devil, and that he was an Egyptian magician - none of which deny that everyone believed he performed miracles.

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Few people if any who were not members of the Jesus cult would have been interested enough in it to even know what these people believed, much less put a statement on the record that their beliefs were false. In the same way, you would have trouble finding statements on the record challenging the beliefs of the Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate cult – especially ones dated before these groups got into the news.
The Jewish authorities had every motivation to prove Jesus' miracles false. If they could prove that one of his supposed miracles wasn't really miraculous I'm sure they would have leaped at the chance. Instead they resorted to "Satan-did-it".

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bg: But what is it about Matthew that makes you question its accuracy more than Luke's?

<strong>Luke claims to know what he's talking about and claims to be so authoritative that after reading his account the reader will have "certainty and security against error".</strong>

bg again: Oh. Well, I'm convinced.

<strong>[He] often gives historical details like "In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas..."</strong>

The cogency of this argument is overpowering.
Your sarcasm is appreciated.
However the logic remains: Luke makes a declaration of accuracy and follows it through with impressive and numerous attentions to historical detail as exemplified above. We can check these external historical references against what we know from archaeology about the period and find that it agrees with Luke time and again. Hence we can reasonably conclude that Luke knows what he is talking about.
Alternatively, we could argue that Luke had done really thorough and dedicated research into the historical background of the time of Jesus, but on the subject of Jesus himself he knew didly squat and had done no research whatsoever on that and was lying about it.

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<strong>Matthew on the other hand I have queries about raised by Church tradition.</strong>

But Matthew is canonical, which is to say that the Church says that it is reliable. The Church fathers were well aware of any such queries, but they also had evidence not available to us, which was good enough to answer them to their satisfaction. How can you, who do not have the evidence that the early Church had, second-guess their decisions on such matters?
I have no problem with Matthew being canonical. Matthew usefully preserves for us many sayings of Jesus which I believe are authentic and which do not appear in any of the other gospels.
What I question is "reliable in what sense?" The writer of Matthew is clearly not a historian and seems a little prone to exaggeration when the miraculous is involved thus in these spheres I would say Matthew is less reliable than Luke.

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<strong>Matthew seems to exaggerate things beyond the reality as evidenced by the trip to Egypt, the repentance of Judas, earthquake at the tomb and the stone rolled away while the women watched which disagree with the other gospel's more believable accounts.</strong>

This is not only beyond rational argument; it is beyond parody.

You have no problem with the stories in Luke about [many different miracles...] But the story of the trip to Egypt, the repentance of Judas, and the stone being rolled away at the tomb are too much for you to swallow!
Yup. The difference is that those accounts I listed from Matthew contradict those found in the other gospels and in all cases Matthew is the one exaggerating. For example instead of the women merely finding the stone already gone when they get to the tomb, Matthew has the stone being rolled away in their presence and throws in an earthquake for good measure. The story when compared to the other, to me, clearly smacks of legendary development. (Which is the primary thing we want to be keeping a lookout for in stories involving the miraculous) The other stories you list however seem on a general basis remarkably free from any obvious legendary development. (Apart from being miraculous of course, but using that as a criteria would beg the question )

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<strong>I do however think Matthew is a very worthwhile Gospel because it gives us large portions of Jesus' words (which I think are the authentic original Aramaic Matthew) not found in the other Gospels.</strong>

So you agree that Matthew is wrong about all sorts of things large and small, but you're confident that he got Jesus' words right?
I think Jesus' words are coming from an earlier tradition - I believe it's the Aramaic Matthew mentioned by Papias. The narrative part on the other hand I think is a later addition.

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<strong>The first twist [of your argument] is equating believing someone who is more thorough and competent over someone who is less so, with the standards of professional historians.</strong>

You don't know whether Luke is more thorough and competent than Matthew. Your opinion to that effect is based on a judgment that Luke's narrative is more plausible than Matthew's.
No, I've already argued that Luke gives us good reason to believe his overall competency whereas Matthew does not. When we find that in cases of disagreement, Matthew's account looks like legendary development on top of Luke's narrative, the conclusion becomes obvious.

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This judgment, in turn, is based on the fact that Matthew reports events that are unlike anything observed in the present day.
Not at all: I never even considered this with regard to the above conclusions. I make only the basic assumption that people then were approximately like people today (if a bit less civilised, educated, technologically advanced etc). Ruling out unusual events a priori because they are not observed to happen today is question begging.

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For example, the trip to Egypt seems implausible because it was undertaken to escape an alleged massacre of infants on a large scale by Herod. But we are reasonably sure, based on human nature as we observe it today, that such a massacre would have provoked a revolt, and would certainly have been recorded by historians such as Josephus. The earthquake at the tomb and rolling away of the stone is a natural event that occurs conveniently at a crucial juncture – a deus ex machina. Such things are very rare nowadays, so we conclude reasonably that they were probably very rare back then as well.
Again I have not been considering this at all in this discussion.

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Similarly for the saints who were raised from the dead at Jesus' death and were seen by many people. From our knowledge of how the world works today we not only are reasonably sure that such things could not have happened, but are certain that if they had they would have been so extraordinary that they would have been widely reported.
I find it difficult to believe that such a major event manages to achieve only one sentence in the entire New Testament. It is extraordinary that nowhere else does any writer see fit to mention such a huge and public miracle and given Matthew's already noted tendency to record things that weren't exactly true I see little reason to believe in the supposed resurrection of saints.

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But this reasoning is based on the principle of analogy: the assumption that the past was essentially similar to the present in fundamental ways. If an event of a certain kind is not observed to occur in the present day we are disinclined to believe that it occurred in the past: since water doesn't run uphill today we suspect that it didn't run uphill in the past. Similarly, if people don't behave in a certain way today, we find it unlikely that they did so in the past.
I do not mind using such an idea in general as it is simply common sense and reverse induction. But sometimes it is clearly unreasonable and question begging eg "I think no miracles occur now, therefore no miracles occurred ever".

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On the other hand, since superstition, gullibility, and fraud are common today we are inclined to think that they were common in the past.
Very nice. But consider the other side of the coin:
The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of [the disciples] had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, torture and death, and they would all have been lost -Blaise Pascal

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This principle is a mainstay of professional historians. When I said that you were applying the standards of professional historians I meant primarily that you were applying this principle.
It seems to me that the principle is so obvious and trivial as to not be worth stating and certainly not worth any grand title as a standard, but whatever.

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But it is inconsistent to apply it to the events mentioned in Matthew, but not to those reported in Luke. And it is especially inconsistent to refuse to apply it to the Resurrection, which is even more unlike anything observed to occur in the present day than anything else found in Matthew or Luke.
But that would beg the question. Historians can normally ignore the miraculous stories they come across because no one believes it was miraculous. For example, no one believes Alexander the Great was a god or that there were any miracles associated with him and so historians are quite justified in simply assuming the falsity of such claims for the purposes of their work.

The claim about the resurrection is that it is a singularly unique event in the history of the world. The resurrection is not supposed to be something that happens normally. It's unrepeated today - but so what?
On what basis can we possibly assume it false? -That such things do not happen??? The question is immediately begged.

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<strong>A professional historian will treat all miracles like they didn't happen because no one believes they did.</strong>

No, a professional historian discounts accounts of miracles because no miracles are observed to occur today.
No miracles occur today - says who? You? "Scientists?" "Historians?" (Whoever they both might be) Popular vote?

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He also discounts them because he knows that such accounts are extremely common in ancient texts. (And I am not referring here only to the Bible, but to ancient works in general.) Common sense tells him that the most plausible explanation of this is that people in those days were even more superstitious, gullible, and ignorant than they are today.
Alternatively it could be that there were more miracles back then, or that because so many of us have embraced sciencism and we think that "science" explains the world we miss miracles when they do happen. Can we ever really know the truth of the matter? I think no, but am I being pessimistic or simply realistic?

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<strong>But in a case like that of Christianity where the truth of the miracles is debated, the use of any normal historical methods is all but inappropriate.</strong>

Why? If a methodology for evaluating the likelihood that a proposition is true could only be applied when everyone already agrees about it, it would be completely useless. The point of a methodology is to provide an objective way of resolving disputed questions.
But such methodologies work on probabilistic grounds and the question of whether it is possible for miracles to occur and how likely they are to do so is a question that must be decided before we can use any probabilities.

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<strong>... in situations where no one believes miracles happened, historical sources which include miraculous accounts are obviously given less weight than those which don't.</strong>

Such sources are given less weight regardless of whether anyone happens to believe the miraculous accounts. You yourself apply this principle in all cases but the bible. for example, the Koran records that the moon was split in two and the sun could be seen between the two parts. This fact alone would shake any confidence I might otherwise have in the Koran's historical accuracy. Doesn't it affect yours?
I would be interested to know whether any other civilisations in the world observed this phenomena and directly based on that I would draw conclusions as to the story's accuracy. Discounting the historicity of miracles simply because they are miraculous is as circular as believing the Bible to be true because it says so.

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Similarly, the completely implausible claims in the Book of Mormon make me doubtful about its historical accuracy. Should I have a different reaction because millions of Mormons take this stuff seriously?
I think you should certainly take the fact that many believe into consideration especially if you know any of them to be intelligent rational people. If it makes implausible claims then I also agree you should have doubts about its accuracy. But then I suspect we disagree as to what constitutes implausible.

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The plain reality is that you want certain miraculous claims (apparently not all) found in the Bible to receive a special dispensation from the treatment that you, like everyone else, give to all other miracles.
Nope, I'm perfectly happy to apply my standards for the evaluation of miracles consistency. The difference between us is that I am not happy to apply your standards of evaluation of miracles, either to the Bible or anything else.

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3c Does the Bible provide a clear, consistent portrayal of the nature of God, or clear, consistent moral guidance?
It all depends on how "clear" and "consistent" you mean. 100% clear and consistent? Clearly, no. Overall a generally clear and consistent picture? I think, yes.
Is it actually possible to discuss this topic beyond stating our respective opinions?

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<strong>If however the passage is theological in nature e.g. has God performing some action, and we find such an action improbable on God's behalf - based on what we know of the nature of God then complete rejection probably isn't the best option. In such cases an agnostic approach of "I don't think God would do that, but then I don't propose to know everything about God" would be better.</strong>

Oh, I don't know. When God is said to order or approve of the massacre of an entire people, or all of the residents of a city, don't you think complete rejection is the most reasonable option? In fact, isn't it the only morally acceptable option?
I think no to both. To positively and absolutely state that God would not do X requires knowledge about God to an extent which we clearly do not have. The most I think we can say is that it appears extremely unlikely that God would ever do X.
There have been several discussions on the subject of what God can and can't morally do on the Existence of God board recently: My opinions are amply stated and defended there. To summarise I believe that since God created us, sustains us by his continued will, defines the law, is the judge and the one who has been offended against: He should be morally entitled to do most anything. I further argue that morality itself has no claims on him since he is completely beyond any human morality and that he sets such morality as exists between humans.

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And finally, we have the remarkable claim that at least we have the text right:

<strong>We possess so great a number of copies of the books of the Bible, especially the NT, that discerning the original text very accurately isn't a big problem.</strong>

I hope this was a joke.
I see...
There are 6000+ extant biblical manuscripts and pieces thereof plus numerous quotations by early Christian writers, compared to say 5 copies of the works of Aristotle and 10 of Caesar's. Also the timespan between the writing and the earliest manuscripts and quotations in the case of the New Testament beats most other ancient writings of the time by an order of magnitude.
However you seem to have some objection to my conclusion here so perhaps you would like to state it rather than calling my position a joke?

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4. Why does the "Word of God" contain errors?

You observed:

<strong>And finally it contains occasional mistakes and factual inaccuracies because it was written by humans and they were human in every way.</strong>

True enough. Given that the Bible was produced by humans and that God did not intervene to prevent errors, it's natural that there are errors. [...]

To this question you apparently have no good answer, as we shall see. Thus:

<strong>bd:
...this doesn't address the main problem, which is why God did not intervene to ensure that the text was inerrant.
Tercel:
Because He decided not to ... Your guess on why is as good as mine. Just because God hasn't told us the reason in no way precludes there being a good and sufficient reason.</strong>
True, I have no certain answer as to why God did not intervene to ensure that the text was inerrant. I can merely offer what thoughts I personally have on the subject. No theory on the subject has ever been a tenant of Christian belief or even been historically discussed much that I am aware of, so I imagine many other Christians might differ from me and you might wish to ask some of the others who post here if you find my suggestions unsatisfactory or wish to examine some diverse opinions.
Personally, I am ultimately quite happy to opt out with the "God's ways are greater than our ways" if necessary... (just a warning in advance )
But on to my thoughts on the matter:

[quote]But to be fair, you did offer two tentative hypotheses:

(1) To give people enough doubt to disbelieve if they wanted

(2) Free will

As to (1), why might it be desirable to leave so many really important questions (such as God's nature, the true principles of morality, or what we must do to be saved) in so much doubt that a rational person with the best will and intentions will be left bewildered?[/quoted]I do wonder whether these "many really important questions" are really so very important, especially from God's point of view. But even from my own point of view it might be nice to know completely for sure and without a doubt the exact nature of God and the true principles of morality... on the other hand it might be a bit boring to already have all the answers and I think I know more than enough -thanks to the errant bible- of each of the two to get by on. I suppose from my point of view I would probably prefer these questions to be answered completely, clearly and without contradiction in the Bible but I certainly would not regard them as really important questions who's lack of 100% clear answer has really hurt me.
The question of what we must to be saved is a slightly different kettle of fish since that is clearly an important question from the point of view of both God and us, and I admit is not answered clearly and without later contradiction or -at least confusion- in other parts of the Bible. For example, my personal belief (I was discussing it not long ago on the Existence of God board) that basically salvation is available to all through Jesus (even to those who didn't know about him or are skeptics) based on their repentance and acceptance of renewal before the judgement seat or prior to that, blatantly contradicts Mark 16:16 which has Jesus pronouncing condemnation on everyone who hears the disciples preach the Gospel and refuses to believe. (I argue that since the longer ending of Mark is unsupported by our earliest manuscripts and my interpretation does the best justice to the majority of the rest of NT thought, that I am justified in my opinion.)
So I agree with you that the matter is far from clearly answered in the Bible. However given my interpretation of the nature of salvation, it is no longer important that everyone knows the answer to the question.

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And as for (2) at best it could explain why God might want to leaves some room for doubt as to His existence. It doesn't begin to explain why He would leave us in doubt as to the principles of morality or the numerous other important matters that are left in a muddle by the Bible.
By "Free Will" I mean that for God to write the text (or control the copiers) would be a compromise of the free will of the writers. The inerrantists seem to have this rather absurd idea that God can dictate the text at the same time as having the writers still having free will. Clearly if God is doing the writing then the human writers are not and are merely physical puppeteers here. But if the human writers are writing what they want to write then God is clearly not dictating the text and so there will be errors.
Since most inerrantists don't seem to like the idea of God using the writer's as puppets they end up with the impossible idea of God and the writers both deciding the words to write. (I'm sure some of the skeptics here could have a field-day with that one)
But my point is that if we follow the logic that God would not use puppets (ie "free will") to its sensible conclusion we get the result that humans wrote it and thus it has errors.

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You also suggested that ensuring an inerrant text would compromise God's "hiddenness":

<strong>In any event, such an act on the part of God [i.e., preserving original texts and ensuring accurate translations] would be a major, public, and ongoing miracle...</strong> --

But this won't wash. We are talking about the God who is alleged to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc., aren't we? Heck, I can think of several ways to do this without anyone being the wiser. God could think up thousands more.
All the ways I can think of would involve God continually deceiving the world. But once we start alleging that God is deliberately deceiving the world in any major way we run into serious dangers with epistemology... is the world really like the Matrix and is God deceiving us? Since that line of thought is not particularly useful, it seems rather pragmatic to assume that God does not perform any major deceptions. (Perhaps the text of the Bible is really inerrant and God's just deceived us into thinking it isn't!!)

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One more time: I get it. I understand this argument. But I'm not talking about God's existence. I asked why He would conceal His true nature and His moral principles from those who devoutly sought after Him. Why would He provide us with a "revelation" that's so ambiguous and contradictory?

For example, why doesn't the Bible make it clear which passages (if any) are not meant literally, and in what sense these passages are meant? Why doesn't it say whether abortion and slavery are acceptable? Whether there are really demons that should be exorcised and witches that should be burned? Whether capital punishment is ever justified, and whether there is such a thing as a "just war" (other than one ordered by God)? What exactly is meant by "turn the other cheek", etc.? What exactly is necessary to get to Heaven? whether the damned will suffer eternal torment in Hell or be annihilated? Whether we are predestined to Heaven or Hell?
Because, in the case of the Bible, it's humans who are doing most of the providing here, not God. I don't think of the Bible as so much a revelation "from God" as one "about God" and about how God has acted in human history from our point of view: It is God's 'public record', to quote Calvin. Hence the fact that the Bible doesn't give precisely clear answers to many of your questions is hardly surprising. I don't know why God doesn't give us clear answers to all our questions, perhaps he thinks letting us work them out ourselves is better or perhaps he doesn't think it's of paramount important that we know the answers... I don't know: the Bible says that God has ways and reasons we cannot fathom and perhaps this is one of them.

Tercel
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Old 12-19-2001, 01:09 PM   #47
CX
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I wanted to make one comment about a proto-Matthew. There is no evidence whatsoever that such document ever existed. All we have are the words of Papias, who is known to be somewhat unreliable, quoted from a no longer extant writing, by Eusebius in the 4th century, (As I recall Irenaeus quotes Papias as well, but I'm not sure if the semitic Matthew comment is in there) that Matthew wrote down something in a semitic language. The sayings material in GMt, however, does not look translational in nature but looks as though it was written originally in Greek. I think most scholars conclude that AMt was using a Greek source document (in addition to GMk) and possibly oral tradition which he wrote down in Greek. In any case the evidence for a semitic Matthew is extremely flimsy and comes from an unreliable source.

[ December 19, 2001: Message edited by: CowboyX ]</p>
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Old 12-22-2001, 12:59 AM   #48
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CowboyX,
You assert that Papias is an "unreliable source". Why?

You say "There is no evidence whatsoever that such document ever existed" and then proceed to tell us about the evidence: If you were a Bible writer and I a skeptic that would count as a contradiction you know.

I would think worthy of note is that fact that at least the idea of an Aramaic Matthew has some external support, unlike "Q".
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Old 12-22-2001, 09:17 PM   #49
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tercel:
<strong>CowboyX,
You assert that Papias is an "unreliable source". Why?

You say "There is no evidence whatsoever that such document ever existed" and then proceed to tell us about the evidence: If you were a Bible writer and I a skeptic that would count as a contradiction you know.

I would think worthy of note is that fact that at least the idea of an Aramaic Matthew has some external support, unlike "Q".</strong>
Have you read Papias? There are a number of problems with his testimony. Firstly, we have nothing of his original writing. We only have excerpts in later Church Fathers. In the case of the proto-Matthew reference it is an excerpt in Eusbius who is quoting perhaps 200 years later.

Secondly, is the fact that Papias, in the fragments we do have, makes it clear that his only interest is in word of mouth anecdotes. He himself states that he places no importance on written documents. He basically puts all his stock in people who claim to have known someone who knew an apostle. A third reason to doubt Papias is that several Church Fathers themselves (who would have every bias and reason to hold up Papias as a reliable source) show obvious disdain and contempt for him.

Lastly there IS no evidence whatsoever for a semitic version of the gospel of Matthew. I stand by that statement. The only thing even close is very late 3rd hand (Eusebius quoting Papias quoting someone else)information that Matthew might have written something in a semitic tongue. This says nothing about a semitic GMt. For a long time scholars asserted that Papias is referring to "Q", but even that theory has been largely abandoned. As such I really don't think I contradicted myself at all.

Finally the biggest problem with supposing GMt was originally in a semitic tongue (if it existed it would have been Hebrew more likely than Aramaic) is that the canonical GMt we have is clearly composed originally in Greek. There are no signs of it being translational, it uses Greek idioms, style and literary structure and there are no traces of a semitic tongue in it. I think most scholars think that even if "Q" existed as a written source it was in Greek.

[ December 22, 2001: Message edited by: CowboyX ]</p>
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