Missionary Thought Experiment

The following thought experiment was inspired by a Facebook post by Andre van der Merwe.

*****

One day, a scantly clad dark-skinned man named Chruth (who you later find out belongs to a tribe living in the Amazon rainforest) comes knocking at your door with a translator, claiming to bring good news (actually, the way he put it was “the Good News”).

You ask Chruth what exactly this good news is. He begins to explain the nature of all that exists and how it came to be.

In the beginning, Chruth says, there was only Wonchrugad. Wonchrugad is the one true God; there is no other beside her. Wonchrugad created everything in existence out of love.

Humans were special, the crown of her creation. Unlike other creatures, Wonchrugad had designed human beings so that they could have a relationship with her. She loved humanity dearly.

In order to help humanity live the most pleasurable lives possible, Wonchrugad gave them some guidelines for life. One day, however, humanity decided to ignore her guidelines; they thought they knew better. From that point forward, humanity was on a morally downward spiral, further straying from what their consciences told them was good and right.

During this decline, Wonchrugad had reached out to humanity by speaking through shamans and performing miracles. Things only ever improved temporarily, however, and matters only became worse overall.

Thus, Wonchrugad decided to come to earth in human form and fix things directly. She showed people her love. She performed miracles. She exposed lies and explained the truth. Some people were for her; others were against her. In the end, those who were against her, unwilling to tolerate the disruption she was causing in society, succeeded in their plan to brutally murder her.

Yet Wonchrugad had seen it coming; this was part of her plan all along! Wonchrugad raised herself from the dead, appearing to her followers before leaving earth (although only in her human form). Through her death and resurrection, she was able to redeem all of humanity, if only they would repent and accept Wonchrugad into their hearts.

Her followers were given the mission of spreading this Good News. They were also endowed with the Spirit of Wonchrugad, enabling them to perform all kinds of signs and wonders. This Good News has been passed down throughout the ages, all the way to Chruth, a follower of Wonchrugad and a messenger of the Good News.

Curious, you ask Chruth how he came to believe in this story.

Chruth replies that his parents believed in this story and taught it to him growing up. He had also personally experienced the existence of Wonchrugad in various ways, such as communicating with her, feeling her presence, being healed by her, etc.

You tell Chruth that he has an interesting set of beliefs, but that, actually, you possess the true revelation and the real Good News (which, you point out, in fact has many similarities with his beliefs). You ask if you can share it with him.

Chruth, slightly surprised by your arrogant incredulity (but not too much because his scriptures predicted that such propagators of lies would show up), replies, “I see that your heart is unbelieving. I plead with you, do not reject Wonchrugad and consign yourself to eternal separation from her. Open up your heart and change your mind. Choose life, not death.”

You see that Chruth is genuine in his call to repentance, yet you struggle to find a reply because you would have liked to say exactly the same thing to Chruth. “But Chruth, you don’t yet even know the god I believe in. How can you be so confident that you are right and I am wrong?”

Chruth laughs and replies, “Whatever god you have been taught to believe in does not really exist; I guarantee you, it’s false at best and demonic at worst. For I have both experienced first-hand the reality of Wonchrugad and witnessed undeniable reasons for why my beliefs about her are correct.”

You ask Chruth whether he has any compelling evidence as to why his beliefs must be right.

“The holy writings say that the reality of Wonchrugad is evident in nature and plain for all to see. You are only stubbornly denying that which Wonchrugad has made obvious to all humanity.” Chruth then walks you through his apologetics for the historicity and validity of his holy writings, proofs for the existence of Wonchrugad, and demonstrations of the falsity of any other belief system.

You begin to give similar reasoned arguments for your own beliefs, but Chruth cuts you off. “Listen, I’m not interested in your arguments. I’m sure some of them are quite good, but that doesn’t matter to me because I already know the truth. And truth be told, so do you. Why do you keep resisting?”

Realizing that this conversation is going nowhere, you thank Chruth, tell him you’re not interested, and close the door.

*****

Now, let’s think about this thought experiment.

Firstly, that this isn’t a true story doesn’t detract from the lesson it communicates (it’s called a thought experiment for a reason…besides, there are plenty of belief systems that in fact do make competing claims to those of christianity). The point is this: what about your belief system do you have to show that distinguishes it from all others? What can you say about yours that no one else could ever say about theirs, how does that support its validity? Why should that be reason for someone to be convinced by it and agree with you?

Of course, every belief system has things unique to it. Precisely because of this, we must recognize that merely possessing a unique characteristic doesn’t make a belief system unique (unique, that is, in the sense that it is so profound or powerful that it must be the truth). For example, christians love to tout how, in christianity, God is Trinity, three in one, and therefore only he (as compared to gods of other religions) is capable of being love itself (rather than just being loving). (Incidentally, christianity is not the only religion with a trinitarian god; in fact there were many religions before it with trinities.) Even if this were the case, so what? Possessing a unique doctrine in no way proves that christianity is true or better than any other religion.

Imagine that the story above actually happened to you. Do you think you would be convinced? Even a little? To me it seems extremely unlikely. Most people would be inclined to think the person is a little crazy. Yet religious folks do basically the same and expect to be believed (the only difference may be that they are less aggressive in their approach).

This thought experiment doesn’t show that all or any particular belief system is ridiculous or false; that isn’t the point. What it shows is that expecting other people to agree with you or become convinced once you share what you believe is utterly unrealistic, particularly in the absence of compelling evidence. Indeed, the opposite should be expected.

Despite this fact, most christians (the religion I am most familiar with) believe that unless people become convinced of certain intellectual propositions (despite the lack of any compelling evidence, at least in many people’s minds) they will eternally suffer the consequences of their choices, both now and in the afterlife.

More significantly, christians are generally exceedingly confident that what they believe is true, despite the fact that there are plenty of other people with different upbringings, experiences, logical arguments, etc. that are just as credible as those of christians yet supportive of competing claims. What if you had experienced life in their shoes, being told about a different god(s), having different religious experiences (or having the same ones but interpreting them differently because you believe differently), and hearing different logical arguments in favor of the belief system you were brought up to believe in? Do you really think you would have turned out any different from them? Would you somehow be able to escape being affected by your experience and say, “no, it’s all wrong, christianity is the one true religion!”?

But if this is the case, and whatever true god exists requires that we “get the right religion” (or else…), honestly, he’s kind of a jerk. If so much of what we come to believe in is dependent on our various experiences, many of which we cannot control or choose, how can we reasonably be expected to believe in the right things?

Such belief systems require you to conceive of people that don’t agree with your “truth” as not merely mistaken but fundamentally evil. They aren’t just intellectually convinced otherwise; they are stubbornly resisting what they actually know to be true. Because what could be wicked about not being exposed to enough experiences to become convinced, and how could that be sufficient reason to spend eternity in hell?

The Right Religion

coincidenceAre you able to accept the fact that, had you grown up in a Muslim family, you would most likely be a Muslim now (and similarly for any other belief system)? You would be knowledgable of the scriptures, teachings, and apologetics of Islam, have had experiences that confirm the reality of your belief system (because you would be conditioned to interpret them in such a way), and be as ignorant as you are now of most other religions (except, perhaps, for their broadest details).

If not, you are likely ignorant of or downplaying the significance that your upbringing has on your beliefs (that is, you mistakenly think that your beliefs are relatively free from the influence of the limited languages, experiences, information, people, etc. you were exposed to growing up, thinking that the conclusions you have drawn are for the most part rationally based).

(Just consider the fact that almost no one believes in a religion they’ve never heard of (except for those who start their own). You might object, “well if they don’t know about it, then of course they can’t!” This demonstrates, however, that belief systems are generally not fundamentally rational but rather experiential. For if they were fundamentally rational, people should be able to arrive at belief systems deductively.)

If you are able to accept that fact, however, how is it reasonable for a god to expect human beings to get their beliefs exactly right (and punish them otherwise)? In particular, why do the gods of Western religions seem so obsessed with right belief, anyway? As expounded by the psychological theory situationism, it is not even clear that the person plays a more influential role in determining their behavior than the situation that person is in (in other words, what if beliefs are influenced more by external, situational factors rather than internal traits or motivations?).

Everybody wants to think that, by the grace of God, they happened to be born in a family that believed the “one and only truth” and belonged to the “right faith.” What often happens as a result is that people subscribe to whatever criteria for determining truth set forth by the group they belong to. The internally self-perpetuating cycle of self-validation of the group is thus continued.

religion

per person

Myth in the Scriptures

Would an inspired book necessarily be historically and scientifically inerrant? There is no particular reason to think so. One could not be sure, as fundamentalists would like to think, that an inspired book would not contain inspired myths and legends, even fiction. There are other non-factual genres in the Bible, after all, like the Psalms. Who is the theologian to tell God that he cannot have included certain genres in his book? If we know God’s literary tastes in such detail, then I suggest the Bible is altogether superfluous. We already know the very mind of God before we even open the Bible! – Robert M. Price

Today I’m writing about mythology as it relates to the scriptures.

First of all, let me clarify that when I say “myth” I don’t mean what it means in popular usage, namely a story or belief that is simply false. Rather, I mean the very specific meaning it has as a genre of ancient literature.

Historians of the Near East didn’t use the word “myth” to mean untrue or made-up. These ideas may be included, but it is actually used to get at something deeper. Peter Enns defines myth as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” Another good definition, given by Alan Dundes, is, “A sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind assumed their present form.”

As the quote at the beginning explains, we have no good reason to assume that the scriptures do not contain any mythical accounts. This is true even if we grant that the scriptures are inspired. There is nothing about the category of myth that could inhibit God’s ability to speak to us through it.

On the contrary, God speaking to people according to paradigms that were already held would significantly help their comprehension; otherwise his communication would have been incomprehensible (e.g. if God communicated to people thousands of years ago with our modern worldview, which, unfortunately, many people read back into their interpretation of the scriptures).

Many assume that a modern recording of history (with an emphasis on factual accuracy) is more valuable than myth, and therefore that’s what God did in the OT. But is God really concerned about us getting our facts straight? What if he only cares about our beliefs to the degree that it affects how we relate with him and others? What if he’s interested in the message that is communicated more than making sure the statements recorded are true propositions?

Ancient peoples did not attempt to describe the universe in scientific terms. Myths in the scriptures would not have the goal of telling historically and scientifically accurate stories; they wouldn’t derive value from catering to what is merely our modern worldviews and academic practices. Rather, myths have value because they have analogues in other civilizations. It was in the differences with those analogues, and thus in comparison, that the myths spoke its message. (So what happens when we lose sight of the analogues and there is nothing to compare it to? We simply take everything in it, enforce concepts of modernity on the text, and say “well, I guess all of it must be true.” This misses the purpose of the myth and therefore what it tries to communicate.)

Let’s look at some examples of myth in the scriptures.

The land Abraham came from (Mesopotamia) and that he was called to (Canaan) both expressed stories of origins in mythic categories for a long time. What makes Genesis unique is not that it is historically accurate unlike the similar mythic stories of its time but that it begins to reveal the God that is different from all the gods before him.

God adopted Abraham as the forefather of a new people, and in doing so he also adopted the mythic categories within which Abraham – and everyone else – throughout. But God did not simply leave Abraham in his mythic world. Rather, God transformed the ancient myths so that Israel’s story would come to focus on its God, the real one. – Peter Enns

Since the  ancient Near Eastern stories are myth and the Genesis stories are extremely similar to them, Genesis should also be understood as myth. This is expected since Genesis is an ancient document, not a modern one. Just because our culture does not understand origins in terms of myth doesn’t mean that we can make something that was written as myth fit our modern perspectives or judge them based on standards of modern historical inquiry and scientific precision.

The literal interpretation [of Genesis] is only about a hundred years old, and that approach to the Bible came out of the Enlightenment, which requires a Eurocentric post-scientific-revolution worldview that none of the writers of the Bible ever considered. I more favor a literary interpretation; understanding not only the cultural context but also the genre and style that certain sections of the Bible were written in. And the first eleven chapters of Genesis are written in the genre of a creation myth: fantastic imagery used to package the explanation of how we got here. I think reading the Bible like a textbook full of facts is not only quite silly, but also sucks out all the enjoyment of reading the Bible. – Andrew Love

Jesus’ claims are another good example (although perhaps not exactly myth in and of themselves, they were definitely derived from myths). Put simply, they weren’t unique. Indeed, Jesus wasn’t trying to be. He was making a comparison between himself and other people or objects that were the subject of the claims. When Jesus said the things similar to what others had previously claimed, he did so knowing that when he did so those people or objects would be brought to the minds of his audience.

The point isn’t that Jesus’ claims are false. Rather, their meaning is only revealed in light of their prior uses and meaning to which he was making comparative statements. And, truth be told, most people are ignorant of the historical contexts of certain phrases in the scriptures such as “so-and-so is Lord” or “such-and-such is the light of the world.”

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Also see:

Genesis and the Myth of Enuma Elish
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2014/01/09/part-5-genesis-and-the-myth-of-enuma-elish/

The Good News According to Rob Bell
http://www.viddler.com/embed/8b15da06/?f=1&autoplay=0&player=full&loop=false&nologo=false&hd=false

10 Christ-like Figures Who Pre-Date Jesus
http://listverse.com/2009/04/13/10-christ-like-figures-who-pre-date-jesus/

WTF – The story of Jesus isn’t unique? Of course it isn’t.
http://www.atheismresource.com/2010/wtf-the-story-of-jesus-isnt-unique-of-course-it-isnt

Is Jesus Unique?
http://reknew.org/2007/12/is-jesus-unique-2/

Mistakes in the Scriptures

“It is one of the advantages of the anthropology that I have been trying to set out that, by insisting on human alterity rather than some supposed imbued transcendental relation to God as constitutive of what it means to be human, it permits us to consider divine revelation as a process of human discovery. That is to say, it is not frightened of the utterly contingent, human, historical process by which cultures arose, and declined, events occurred, peoples were formed, previous events were reinterpreted, the texts themselves edited and reedited. It is not as though divine revelation needs somehow to be protected from all such happenings, in order really to be divine revelation.” – James Alison

Many people think that to concede that the scriptures contain errors (especially theological ones) would be a major problem because we would then not know how to determine what is true and what is not. (I have already written elsewhere how I don’t think the scriptures can be used objectively as an absolute basis for truth.)

When revelation is understood as progressive, however, mistakes cease to be problematic.

To consider errors as problematic implicitly assumes that errors are necessarily bad, that the purpose of the scriptures is to communicate true propositions, and thus to be factually accurate (at least theologically).

When the OT was written, recording royal history was a biased endeavor, and unashamedly so. For example, the number of men in a king’s army were often exaggerated to make the king look good, or kings would be portrayed as more benevolent than they actually were. But this was in fact what was considered to be good history (in stark contrast to today, where factually accuracy is considered to be the only thing of value).

So why should we assume that history in the OT wasn’t? Indeed, we would need good reasons to think so since that would be an anomaly. Who’s to say that unbiased, objective history is the best kind of history, anyways?

Regardless, there is no such thing as a completely unbiased and objective recording of history; anything written down is necessarily filtered through the subjective experience of the writer. For example, communicating historical events requires the communicator to select what to mention and what not to mention. You can’t say everything; there’s just too much. Thus, they will say only those things that are important to the point they want to get across. Further, those things will be said in such a way that it drives their point home, even if that may cause it to deviate from a more factually accurate description of events.

All that to say, the people who wrote the OT had no problem with not getting their facts straight, so perhaps we shouldn’t either. In fact, maybe it would do us good to quit going to bibles to tell us factual propositions. After all, it is by now well-known that the scriptures contain hundreds of inconsistencies and contradictions if they are read as a textbook of truth statements. Just try googling “contradictions in bible.”

The inspiration of the scriptures does not need to be understood as God temporarily influencing authors to be infallible and letting them be fallible human beings again when the writing was finished.

Why do we assume that, unless it is clearly declared to be a mistake, an action or belief recorded in the scriptures is good, right, and true? Why do we treat Acts, for example, as a historical record of things that people did right, even though it definitely contains some people’s mistakes (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira)? Just because it is recorded that someone, regardless of their status (apostle, prophet, believer, etc.), did something doesn’t mean that the thing they did was in accordance with God’s will. It’s not immediately obvious what things were good and right and which were evil and bad.

James is a case in point:

It’s interesting that the council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15) reveals to us that at this point in the early church’s life only Paul and Barnabas actually understood the gospel of grace, apart from the old covenant law, in its correct understanding. It was through this meeting we read all the other apostles and leaders accepted their error and agreed the good news truly was complete grace, apart from also keeping the law mixed in.

James was one of the men there who accepted he was in error. Now, it is also historically believed that James wrote his letter at least one or two years before this meeting. That means when James wrote his letter, he had a mixed theology and was still in error in his understanding of what grace truly was. Yet, his misunderstandings still made it into the Bible through his letter.

Next time you read the book of James think about this. It is entirely possible God allowed his letter into the Bible to give us a pattern of what a preacher with a mixed covenant theology would sound like? Very little about Christ.

Everything about works. No Holy Spirit. No flow of thoughts about God’s love. Fear being used to prove a point. Condemnation for not believing enough etc. – Mick Mooney

James, and every other biblical author, were on journeys of growth even when they penned their writings, and their understanding of reality was surely riddled with errors (as is ours). What they wrote should be interpreted accordingly.

Everything written in the scriptures does not need to be (and should not be) taken at face value. We can’t take everything stated as it is, assume it is good, apply it to ourselves, and model what we do after it. We can’t assume that God wishes us to do exactly what the people of the past did or think the way they thought. We can’t even assume that the underlying principles of what God told them to do apply to us, because those may be different too. What may not have been a mistake for them may be a mistake for us, and vice versa. Context, both of the biblical times and our current age, must always be taken into consideration.

The scriptures are a witness to how certain individuals interpreted God revealing himself to them in the past. When reading the scriptures we need to keep in mind that specific people wrote to specific groups of people who were experiencing specific things.

So how do we discern between what is true and what is not? Look to the perfect image of God, Jesus, and ask Holy Spirit. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

*****

Also see:

Symphony of Reflection (by Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/11/20/part-3-symphony-of-reflection/

Are the Scriptures Authoritative?

God in bible

biblicalI want to challenge the idea that the scriptures are the final authority on matters of practice and faith. (So in this post I will mainly be referring to people who believe that.)

What’s your basis for truth?

Most christians will probably say “the bible!” (although what they really mean is their interpretation of the bible).

But why do you trust the scriptures in the first place? Because someone told you you should. But why did they? Because someone told them they should. We can trace this tradition all the way back to a limited group of “elite” early church fathers. So you value their opinion regarding their choice of scriptures and use those scriptures to determine your theology.

Ironically, however, the early church believers chose the writings that aligned well with the theology they already held. They didn’t, like is commonly done today, go to the scriptures to determine their theology. It was the complete opposite. (I’ve written about this in greater detail here.) Furthermore, as scribes made copies of the scriptures they changed what was written to match up with their own theology (see Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman).

Most christians consider belief in a divinely authoritative bible a necessary belief to be considered an “insider.” But no biblical author claims that the scriptures are the source of truth, only Jesus, and the church as its pillar. It is not even included in any way in the creeds of the early church. The early church did, however, often refer to the scriptures. This tells us that the scriptures had value to the early church, but it wasn’t authoritative (until a few people said it was hundreds of years later).

The term “the scriptures” sounds very “holy”; in out time it definitely carries the connotation of embodying truth and being authoritative. In the Greek, however, it just means “writings.” So when 2 Peter 3:16 calls Paul’s epistles “other scriptures” it just means “other writings,” which doesn’t necessarily refer to sacred texts but writings that are read publicly in church gatherings. (The Jews did not consider all of their writings in their “scriptures” to be of equal value. In particular, they considered everything other than the Torah to be merely commentary on and subject to the Torah.)

GodInTheBoxThe scriptures have a lot to say about authority, but not once is authority ascribed to the scriptures themselves. Rather, it is consistently ascribed to Jesus.

Perhaps we can speak of Paul’s letters as being authoritative, but only in reference to the people to whom they were written; it was the “word of God” for those churches at those times. Paul didn’t claim authority over churches in which he hadn’t been the original sharer of the Gospel. There is no compelling reason to think that what God said through Paul to churches at that time was meant for all churches throughout the ages. God spoke to specific people in a specific situations, which is something he still does.

Therefore, we can learn from Paul’s writings, but they don’t have authority over us like they did for his original recipients. Yes, we can learn from what God did in the past, but God does different things in different situations at different times. The same is true today – God speaking through someone by the Holy Spirit is the word of God for the people it is intended for (while not neglecting to test the word by Holy Spirit).

The idea that the scriptures are the only authority stems from the mindset of the Reformation in which there was a major reaction against any kind of human authority in the church when it came to doctrine. Protestants wanted something more stable than fickle human beings, so they chose the scriptures.

When someone decides their basis for truth (for example, a combination of the scriptures, history, experience, and current community), it will merely be their opinion rather than something that can be argued to apply to all people. In other words, it will be a personal belief. Contrary to the hopes of Protestants in the Reformation, it is impossible to remove all subjectivity and have a common, fully objective basis for truth. Truth is a person (according to the scriptures, at least), and a person is experienced, which is necessarily subjective.

There’s a reason why Jesus (and not the scriptures) is called the “Word of God” in the scriptures; he (and not the scriptures) is the greatest revelation of who God is. When we instead deem the scriptures to be the “Word of God” (or even the “word of God”) we turn the scriptures into a puzzle-book of secret gnostic wisdom or a book of true answers to dogmatic and ethical questions. But that is backwards.

Bibles do not reveal truth about God; God reveals truth in bibles.

I find it funny when people claim that “anything God says will line up with the scriptures.” I used to say that all the time (and wholeheartedly believed it, too!), but I have become intellectually honest enough with myself to the point where I can ask, says who? The scriptures themselves don’t say that; therefore by the claim’s own logic God did not say that because it actually says to test things by Holy Spirit, not by “the Holy Bible.” This is merely a tradition of man that artificially limits what God can say (although only in people’s minds). The method for discerning truth that is demonstrated and taught throughout the New Testament is not to check if it says so in the scriptures, but communication with Holy Spirit and the handing down of the tradition of the apostles (of which adding canonical writings or sacred texts is not a part).

truth everywhereUltimately, bibles cannot escape subjectivity and be used in an “absolute” way as a basis for truth. You can choose to make the scriptures authoritative for yourself if you want to, and that’s fine. But to say that God has made it so for all humanity will forever remain an assumption.

*****

Also see:

What is the Bible?: Authority (by Rob Bell)
http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/70613417528/what-is-the-bible-part-28-authority

What is the basis of your faith? (by Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/11/15/what-is-the-basis-of-your-faith/

The Jesus Lens: Can we question the New Testament?
http://www.therebelgod.com/2014/01/the-jesus-lens-can-we-question-new.html#comment-form

What Does Biblical Inspiration Mean, Really? (Part 2)

circular

Part 1

The scriptures can only be used to prove its own inspiration if the doctrine is assumed to begin with

The source cited most often to support the idea of biblical inspiration (in the modern sense) are the scriptures themselves. But a simple observation invalidates this shallow way of reasoning.

Any idea about bibles that is supported by bibles is only valid under the assumption of divine inspiration.

Think about this. Suppose I say, “everything I say is true.” Is this true? You can only know this by either assuming that the statement is true or false. If you assume it is true, then everything I say is indeed true, but if you assume it is false, then I sometimes do not tell the truth. The point is that you must begin with an arbitrary assumption to determine whether the statement about my truthfulness is true or not.

Analogously, I could write, “this blog post is inspired by God.” Would that prove that it is inspired? Of course not. Would it even count as evidence to support such a view? Not really. Thus, any claims the scriptures make about themselves are pointless, at least in terms of proving claims about itself.

On the other hand, neither does this in any way prove that the scriptures are not inspired. But, of course, the same could be about my blog posts.

This reasoning should be enough to put to rest any appeal to the scriptures themselves to affirm their own inspiration (in the modern sense). Many people still do, however, reference such passages to support their claims about the scriptures. Yet the passages may not even be claiming to be inspired, as is popularly believed, and in fact may be affirming the exact opposite.

So, in the following posts we’ll take a look at some of the passages commonly cited in support of inspiration.

Part 3

What Does Biblical Inspiration Mean, Really? (Part 1)

inspired

Introduction

The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it. – Robert Ingersoll

Make no mistake – I believe the scriptures are inspired. My understanding of what it means for them to be inspired, however, may be different from how many people like to define it.

Although there are many nuances to how biblical inspiration can be defined, the most commonly held form, what I call the modern sense of inspiration, is something like the following: The authors and editors of the scriptures were led or influenced by God in such a way that everything written in (at least) the original manuscripts was intended by God; that is, although there may have been a human element in the process of the dictation of the scriptures, that had no bearing on the (especially theological) veracity of the things written – it is all completely truthful.

Let me share some preliminary thoughts.

For most people who believe that bibles are inspired in the sense above, it would be good to realize and acknowledge that the reason they believe that is because of the tradition they grew up in. It’s because the people around them told them that they are inspired that way, not because they carefully examined all the evidence and came to a conclusion. At the very least, they initially believed it because they were told so, and were then gradually strengthened in that belief not primarily because they confirmed it through an accumulation of evidence but by getting used to thinking of it as “obvious” and anything otherwise as “heretical.” Further, when they have positive experiences reading bibles, their belief in its inspiration is reinforced. They may have questioned this belief at some point in their life and began looking for answers, but often this is pointless because of confirmation bias (the way humans tend to only look for what will confirm what they already believe). Moreover, most people are satisfied with pat answers such as, “Well, little Johnny, see this verse here? It says that the scriptures are inspired. Proved!” It doesn’t matter that the answers were shallow because the people around them seem to be okay with such answers. Why should they think otherwise? “Surely it is not the case that so many people are mistaken,” they reason. So they take comfort in numbers. But, as history bears out, majority opinions have never been a reliable source for truth.

With that in mind, be prepared to reconsider what you believe about inspiration.

Part 2