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13 September 2019

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.

But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.

  1. We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.
  2. We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.
  3. These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.

The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist insists the bible has no such contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies?

Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. Contradictions would be errors; therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books about bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times Fundies really stretch reality in order to defend their doctrine.

12 September 2019

Our error-free, perfect bible?

INERRANCY ɪn'ɛr.ən.si noun. Belief the bible contains no errors of any kind.
[Inerrantist ɪn'ɛr.ən.tɪst noun.]

We Christians put a lot of trust in the scriptures. We trust their authors to steer us right when it comes to God, to Christ Jesus, to salvation, to eternal life. We use them as confirmation the stuff God tells us personally, the stuff he reveals to Christians as we follow him, is valid. We’re basing an awful lot of our beliefs on the bible. It had better be up to the task.

I believe it is. As far as God and Jesus and salvation is concerned, the bible’s infallible: It’s an accurate, trustworthy, truthful description of the stuff we need to know to connect with God, and corrects us when we go astray. That’s why God inspired it, why Christians kept it, and why we read it. 2Ti 3.16

Inerrantists claim this isn’t good enough. They insist the bible has no errors. At all. Period.

In order for the bible to be truly authoritative, inerrantists figure it has to be perfect—as they define perfect. Errors would make it imperfect. Therefore it can’t have any. And anything which appears to be an error or discrepancy in the scriptures, simply isn’t. Can’t be. There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation for it, and with a little investigation they’ll find it. But it doesn’t matter how much it may look like an error: There are none.

Why do they believe this? Mostly because humans are creatures of extremes. “You believe the bible’s trustworthy? I believe the bible’s absolutely error-free. Hah. In your face. You don’t have faith. I have faith.” Of course that’s not faith. That’s dick-measuring.

But that’s not the only reason Christians insist the bible’s inerrant. Really it’s because they’re putting a lot of trust in the bible… which really, properly, oughta be put in the Holy Spirit instead. See, when we read bible, if we’re reading it with wrong or ulterior motives, we’re gonna lead ourselves astray, despite having the bible’s fully accurate testimony of who God is and how salvation works. Doesn’t matter how perfect the bible might be; in the wrong hands we’ll go so wrong, as heretics and cults demonstrate all the time.

Whereas when we’re following the guidance of the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of the bible—he’s gonna steer us right. And even if the bible were full of errors and factual inaccuracies (and it’s not), the Spirit can steer us right around every landmine and lead us to truth. If you’re gonna put your faith in anything, put it in him.

Well, inerrantists don’t. They put it in bible. Then they fight anyone who says, “Waitaminnit.”

11 September 2019

The fake fruit of fidelity.

So as I wrote previously, the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians is πίστις/pístis, “faith.” Not, as too various bible translations render it, “faithfulness.” Like the ESV.

Galatians 5.22-23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Faith is also a supernatural gift of the Spirit, and various Christians wanna make a distinction between gifts and fruit. (Usually ’cause they have some problematic beliefs about the gifts.) So they prefer the interpretation “faithfulness.” By which they mean fidelity—you can be depended upon to do as you say, to stand up for those you love.

And hey, fidelity can be an admirable trait. But that all depends on whom we show fidelity to. As humanity has demonstrated lots of times, we can show fidelity to some really godless people, ideas, and institutions. We can do profoundly stupid or evil things in their support—because we value them more than we do wisdom or goodness.

Should Christians be loyal? To Jesus, absolutely. To family members, friends, fellow Christians, and the suffering, sure: Part of love is not giving up, and enduring all.

But is it what Paul meant by pístis? No; he meant faith. It’s a lot harder to trust God, than it is to stand up for people. Humans can pretty much stand up for anything. Doesn’t take the Spirit’s power to do so. People can be loyal, dependable, steadfast Christians our whole lives long… yet when the Holy Spirit expects us to put our doubt on hold and trust him, often we can’t. We might be loyal to the Lord, but we don’t entirely trust him. And which of the two is more important?

Likewise we Christians tend to be just like everybody else in the world when it comes to loyalty and fidelity: It has a cut-off point. We love and support one another in good times and bad… until somebody violates something to which we show more loyalty. We’ll eat Big Macs every day… till that giant heart attack. We’ll love our kids no matter what… till they declare they’re gay. We’ll love our spouses through thick and thin… till they cheat on us. There’s nearly always another line in our minds, whether we realize this or not, and once it’s been crossed, that’s the end of our fidelity. We cut ’em off.

True fidelity among fellow Christians is hard to find. Oh, it exists. But you won’t see it unless we’ve done something that’ll alienate nearly everyone. Like murdering your parents: Most of your so-called Christian friends won’t stick around after that. (Even if they think you’re not guilty!—they’re too afraid of what others will think when they associate with you. Jesus might eat with sinners, but they would never.) The few which remain are truly loyal; the rest, not so much. We tend to only be loyal to the righteous. And sometimes the popular.

10 September 2019

The prayer of faith. Or not.

James 5.13-18.

There’s a blog I follow. A few weeks ago the author wrote about how he no longer believes in prayer: He no longer believes it heals people.

’Cause he’s tried to heal people. He’s a pastor; he’s been in thousands of situations where he’s prayed for the sick and dying, or been asked to pray for them. He’s led prayer vigils and prayer chains, and begged God over and over and over again to cure people or let ’em live. He hasn’t got the results he wanted: Either God didn’t cure them (or didn’t cure them enough), or didn’t let them live.

So he’s figuring prayer must not work that way: It’s not about making our petitions known to God, on the grounds God might intervene in human history and do us a miracle. It’s only about being God-mindful, and letting that personally transform us and our attitudes.

He’s not the first Christian to claim this. I grew up in cessationist churches, and heard it all the time from Christians who don’t believe God intervenes; that praying for the sick to become well is a nice idea, but it’s the act of desperate people who can’t accept reality. You just need to accept reality, accept that God’s allowing this to happen, and just slog it out. Hey, suffering builds character.

I might be inclined to believe this too… if I never read James.

James 5.13-18 KWL
13 Do any of you suffer? Pray!
Is anyone cheerful? Make music!
14 Are any of you unwell? Summon the church’s elders.
Have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the Master’s name.
15 The believer’s intercession will save the sick person; the Master will lift you up.
And if you committed sins, they’ll be forgiven you.
16 So confess sins to one another, intercede for one another, so you can be cured!
A right-minded person’s request is much more powerful.
17 Elijah was a person like us, prayed a prayer for no rain,
and it didn’t rain on the ground three years and six months!
18 Elijah prayed again, and the skies gave rain,
and the ground sprouted its fruit.

Apparently James bar Joseph believed if mature believing Christians pray, sick people get cured. Based on what? Duh; based on personal experience. Read Acts. In his day, Christians prayed for one another and for strangers, and got straight-up cured. Cured like when Jesus cured the sick, ’cause it’s the same Holy Spirit who’s empowering the curing. This wasn’t for “back in bible times”—this wasn’t stuff which happened in Elijah’s day, but no longer. This was for now. It’s still for now.

I’ve had this same personal experience. I’ve seen sick people get cured, right in front of me. Prayed for them, and the Holy Spirit cured them. They prayed for me, and the Holy Spirit cured me. No I didn’t psyche myself into thinking the Spirit cured me; I was honestly skeptical he’d do anything, but he graciously cured me anyway. Wasn’t my faith that cured me; it was the person praying for me. That’s all the Spirit wants to see.

So why do I have experiences which jibe with the bible, and this blogger doesn’t?

09 September 2019

The Adulterer Story… if it even happened.

John 7.53 – 8.11.

Today’s passage is called the Pericope Adulterae, the Adulterer Story, about a woman caught committing adultery, and Jesus was expected to judge her, and didn’t. It’s a really popular story in Christendom, and even pagans know the line, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jn 8.7 KJV It’s used as the basis for a lot of live-and-let-live, “who am I to judge?” beliefs.

Two things though.

  • That’s not what Jesus meant by “He that is without sin.” I’ll get to that.
  • This entire story isn’t found in the earliest copies of John. Nor the gospels. It got added in the 300s. It’s a textual variant.

That second thing tends to really freak out Christians when I point it out to them. But just about every copy of the bible but the KJV points this out. The whole passage is put in brackets, or prefaced by “The oldest copies of John don’t have this story.” Some more daring bible translations even put the whole thing in the footnotes, and John 7.52 is immediately followed by John 8.12.

Here’s the story as the UBS has it. Lighter-text parts come from the Textus Receptus, which is where the King James Version’s translators got it.

John 7.53 – 8.11 KWL
53 Each person went to their house, 1 and Jesus went to Mt. Olivet.
2 At dawn Jesus went again to temple, and all the people came to him. He sat to teach them.
3 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught red-handed in adultery.
They stood her in the middle 4 telling Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultering.
5 In our Law Moses commanded us to stone such people to death. Lv 20.10 So what do you say?”
6 They said this to test Jesus, so they could have an accusation on him.
Stooping down, Jesus was writing on the ground with his finger,
as if he weren’t listening, 7 while they continued to question him.
Then Jesus stood and told them, “Whoever among you haven’t sinned: Throw the first stone at her.”
8 And again Jesus bent down to write on the ground.
9 The listeners, one by one, convicted by their consciences, left, beginning with the elders.
Only Jesus, and the woman in the middle, were left.
10 Standing, seeing no one but the woman, Jesus told her, “Woman, where are they?
No one condemns you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus told her, “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t sin from now on.”