A Bad Reason for Disbelieving the Bible

A commenter on this blog recently wrote the following about the Bible:

“It’s clearly cobbled together in order to try and make a complete statement, but the sources are so diverse that it does not succeed. If Roman Catholics accept this mess cobbled together by committees (“OK guys, which books should we include? What do we want our Christianity to be? If there is a God then he hasn’t made that clear so we better do the job for him.”) It’s history has no more credibility than the Book or Mormon or the Scientology story – all made up by men.”

I’ve run into this argument a few times before. It denies the credibility of the Bible because of when and where it was put together (or “cobbled together,” for those who prefer emotive language). In other words, “the Bible obviously isn’t the inspired word of God, because we know that it was put together cobbled together by committees somewhere around 400 A.D.!”

This cold, hard logic comes as a crushing blow to all those silly Christians who believe the Bible (King James Version!) fell from the sky on a silver platter.

Except Christians don’t believe that.

Seriously though. I’m pretty sure there are exactly zero Christians who believe that.

Christians believe the books of the Bible were written over the span of hundreds of years by numerous individuals who were directly inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians believe God worked through these writers to deliver His message. So it’s not at all unreasonable to think that God could have worked through men on committees to ensure that the correct books were included in biblical canon.

TL;DR – Christians believe the Bible was inspired by God. And penned by human authors. And collected and distributed by humans. None of this is surprising or disturbing.

Advertisements

Reckless Self-Endangerment and Christianly Courage

“The rise of the internet must ultimately kill off organized religion”…or so the common wisdom goes. Thanks to a new generation of fedora-clad Redditors equipped with Microsoft Paint and rich imaginations, new Bible loopholes are being uncovered that threaten to expose the absurdity of Christianity. These Valiant Defenders of Truth and Reason are sagely raising critiques that somehow escaped the attention of two thousand years of systematic theology. Or something. Take this gem:

20090223reckless

The image makes three implicit assertions. I’ll respond to each.

1. The Christian belief in heaven ought to entail an eagerness to die. (Corollary: Since most Christians don’t appear eager to die, their belief in heaven lacks sincerity.)

This assertion baldly ignores Scripture’s robust teachings on virtue, suffering, sacrifice, and meekness – opting instead to project a simplistic brand of secular hedonism onto the Christian’s conception of heaven. The idea seems to be something along the lines of, “heaven will be pleasurable, therefore Christians should be trying to seize this pleasure as quickly and directly as possible.” This kind of reasoning may be the marching song of our modern age, but it is so bluntly at-odds with the teachings of Jesus as to be an absurdity.

2. A Christian can conceal his motives from God. (Corollary: Reckless self-endangerment with the sole intent of achieving death isn’t, therefore, equivalent to suicide.)

Psalm 139:1-6. And I think that about covers it.

3. Scripture is silent on the matter of “reckless self-endangerment”. (Corollary: Reckless self-endangerment isn’t immoral.)

Scripture actually does touch on this issue (Matthew 4:5-7).

Tightrope walking over shark-infested waters for the purpose of dying cannot be justified on the Christian view. Even so, this assertion raises some interesting questions. Under what conditions, if any, can reckless self-endangerment be morally justified? How do these conditions differ from those of an individual who lacks a belief in the afterlife?

Again, Scripture provides us with answers. Christians are called to emulate Christ (Matthew 16:24-25), who himself laid down his life for humanity (Mark 10:45). In stark contrast with the man who believes that existence ceases with death, the Christian actually has rational justification for placing his life in peril to aid his fellow man. He feels compelled – joyously compelled – to throw himself into a churning river to save the life of a stranger. He fights for noble causes and he bears the burden lightly, knowing that life is a precious yet fleeting thing, and that everyone will ultimately be held accountable for their actions. The Christian must, in the words of Chesterton, “desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.”

Many are quick to point out how faith can be perverted (“religion flies planes into buildings” and so forth), but slow to acknowledge the abundant examples of faith being harnessed to advance the causes of liberty, justice, and equality. Genuine faith entails a love of life and peace with death. Hence the soft-spoken Christian woman who casually purchases a one-way ticket to a leper colony.

Of course, none of this is to say that nonbelievers can’t also act heroically (or that Christians will always act heroically). What it does show is that Christianity, by its very nature, lends itself to heroism.

And speaking of heroism, happy Independence Day!

Paul on Slaves

Note: The following guest post was contributed by Kyle Hendricks, a really bright guy that I met blogging. You should check out his site HERE

__________

Slavery is something we’ve been learning about here in America since we started school.  We learned about the horrors of the colonial American slave trade and how wrong slavery is in general.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone in America who does not think that slavery is a moral evil.  That is why pictures like the one below are so troubling.

billboard

To make matters worse, Paul seems to say the same thing in Ephesians

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling… (Ephesians 6:5)

It is unclear what this picture is supposed to convey since it doesn’t state an actual argument. But the intuition that I believe this picture is supposed to give the people that see it may be 1) Christians are inconsistent with their own beliefs, 2) Paul would have endorsed the slavery in colonial American history, and more broadly 3) the Bible commands something immoral. Christians claim to get their moral values from the Bible, but the Bible teaches values that are obviously outdated and evil.  Christians are, supposedly, being inconsistent because they claim to believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God, but they pick and choose what to follow and what not to follow.  The issue of slavery is something they choose not to follow.  People may also get from the word “slaves” and the African American man bound in the right that the Bible would fully support the horrendous institution practiced in colonial America.  The power in this picture is in the fact that we 21st century Westerners already have preconceived ideas of what “slavery” is, what “masters” are, and the relationship between masters and slaves. We then plug those ideas and definitions into the biblical text. My goal here is to significantly diminish the force of this picture by responding to these concerns.

Notice that the picture above is emotionally manipulative.  First, it uses a single sentence from the entire passage in Colossians without considering its context.  In fact, the statement in the picture isn’t even the entire sentence, which is strange considering they put a period at the end.  Second, the picture of an African American man bound by the neck gives off the impression that Paul is talking about or morally approved of this kind of slavery.  Many people are going to be emotionally swayed by this picture, but few will actually research it for themselves.  Does this passage endorse the kind of slavery that we think of today?  Not at all.  What Paul says to slaves here is an extension of what he teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)

Paul teaches here that people should seek to live as best as they can in the circumstances they’re in.  The world is fallen, and some of us are not necessarily in the most ideal situations, but Paul calls Christians to live in obedience to God in whatever situation they’re in rather than fret about trying to get out of the situation.  Making our lives about getting out of our current circumstances can distract us from making our lives about serving God and being examples to the world.  This includes slaves.  Slaves certainly could seek freedom if they had the opportunity (v. 21), which would have been perfectly possible in the first century (1), but they were encouraged not to let that get in the way of living for Christ in the situation they’re in.  Some people were slaves when they became Christian, so Paul encourages them to be examples of faith to their masters.

Let’s look at Colossians 3 again in full.

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:22-25)

Paul has a slave’s character in mind.  A slave glorifies God by being a hard worker, just like any of us glorify God when we work hard in our jobs or circumstances.  This provides a good example for non-Christians to see and to be attracted to the faith.  Paul has the same thing in mind in Ephesians 6

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

This does not mean that masters can mistreat their slaves.  After each of these passages, Paul tells masters how they should treat their slaves.

Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)

Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:9)

Paul seeks to transform the relationship between masters and slaves. Even though they are masters, they have their own Master in Heaven, God.  Paul considers himself a slave to God (Romans 1:1(2), so Christian masters are also slaves to Him. God treats them well and will judge their actions against other people made in the image of God, so masters should treat their slaves as God treats them.  He even explicitly tells masters to stop threatening their slaves.  God cares about the characters of masters just as much as he cares about the characters of slaves.  Masters, if they’re Christian, are slaves to a good Master, so they should seek to be good masters of their own slaves.

In his shortest epistle, Paul appeals to Philemon that he accept back Onesimus, who likely ran away from Philemon, “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord,” (Philemon 16).  He tells Onesimus to “receive him as you would receive me,” (v. 17) and was confident that Onesimus would “do even more than I say,” (v. 21).  This is another example of Paul transforming the relationship between masters and slaves.

Paul also condemns slave trade.  In 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul lists “enslavers” in a list of sins that are “contrary to sound doctrine.”

Why didn’t Paul try to end slavery?  Why didn’t he tell Christian masters to release all of their slaves or tell Christian slaves to run away?  I think much of it is that Paul was more concerned with how Christians lived in their fallen situations than with overthrowing earthly institutions.  There’s also the fact that many freed slaves found it difficult to make a living, so they may have had a more stable situation under their master. (3)

So we see that Paul is against the mistreatment of slaves and taught that enslaving others is wrong.  His teaching that slaves should obey their masters and work hard for them is simply part of his teaching that all Christians should image God and be witnesses for Christ in whatever situation they’re in.  There’s also no indication from the Bible that this kind of slavery ought to be practiced in our society today, since these passages only address how slaves and masters ought to act rather than command that slavery occur.  When you consider all of this, what Paul says about slaves doesn’t come off the way the picture above is supposed to make us think.  The whole context diminishes the force of the picture.

(1) See chapter 11 of The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers.

(2) The word translated “servant” in Romans 1 can also mean “slave”.  See here

(3) See chapter 11 of The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers for more information on this.

Jewish vs. Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53

Christians have been citing Isaiah 53 as an example of fulfilled messianic prophecy since the first century AD (see Matthew 8:17 and Acts 8:26-40).

The passage is remarkable because it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus…yet if you were to read it aloud on a street corner, most people would probably assume it was a New Testament passage describing Christ’s crucifixion after-the-fact:

Who has believed our message
   and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53 (NIV)

I think it’s important to be familiar with both the Christian and Jewish interpretations of this passage. Instead of trying to be overtly persuasive, I’ll just report both perspectives with minimal commentary of my own. You can draw your own conclusions.

But first, just to give you a flavor of the controversy, I was kind of amused by the slanted terminology used on Wikipedia (and the one-sided use of citations). The following screenshot was taken on March 20, 2013…but I’m guessing it will be re-worded for neutrality sometime in the future:

isaiah 53 wikipedia

The Jewish commentary that I’ve read concerning this passage isn’t always 100% in agreement, but you can check out some credible resources HERE and HERE. The following excerpt is taken from SimpleToRemember.com, an online resource for information on Judaism:

“Christianity claims that Isaiah chapter 53 refers to Jesus, as the “suffering servant.” In actuality, Isaiah 53 directly follows the theme of chapter 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. The prophecies are written in the singular form because the Jews (“Israel”) are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun. Ironically, Isaiah’s prophecies of persecution refer in part to the 11th century when Jews were tortured and killed by Crusaders who acted in the name of Jesus.”

You can check out some Christian resources HERE and HERE. Jonathan McLatchie writes:

“Some might point to the fact that contemporary Jews reject this passage as being messianic. However, having read the conventional views among them, I think such a view is untenable. Firstly, if the passage — as most contemporary Jews maintain — is really a personification of the nation of Israel, then the passage makes no sense when it says “…for the transgressions of my people [i.e. Israel] he was striken…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The term “the servant” is also used of the messiah in other parts of the Bible, such as in Zechariah 3:8 (“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch”).”

Regardless of where one stands on the religious spectrum, I think we owe it to ourselves to investigate claims of fulfilled prophesy. When considered in light of other evidence, I find that passages like Isaiah 52-53 speak for themselves, and strongly reinforce the larger truth claims of Christianity.

On Raising Children Without God

I read something on CNN today that I found really unfortunate (crazy, right?). It was written by a blogger, TXBlue08, who is the mother of two teenagers. The essay is entitled, “Why I Raise My Children Without God”, and you can read it HERE.

The author begins,

“When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask. For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven…One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.”

The parental tactic of “making up stories” is probably pretty common – even among parents who DO believe in heaven, but who take artistic liberties with the details. So I support the author’s (eventual) realization that it isn’t wise to lie about spiritual matters to our children. (Quick aside: the mention of Santa Claus raises another interesting question for Christian parents.)

Once we get past the issue of being honest with our children, the author begins listing reasons for why she now raises her children without God.

“God is a bad parent and role model. If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.”

The problem of evil is one of the oldest and most common objections to the existence of God. I wrote a brief post on the issue over a year ago, but there are plenty of other great resources out there.

The author correctly provides the most common Christian response. Christians believe the existence of evil is compatible with an all-powerful, all-loving God…IF God has sufficient reason to create creatures with free will (and thus, the ability to rebel against Him by committing evil acts).

The author’s response to the “free will defense” is perplexing, however. It’s true that our children have free will, and it’s true that we still step in and guide them. But that isn’t the same as depriving them of free will! As C.S. Lewis points out, “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.”

“God is not logical…”

“…If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?”

Not really, no. Check out what Jesus says in Mattew 24:6-9 (NIV): “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

Christ tells us – rather bluntly – that life will involve suffering.

He tells us to persevere despite these trials and tribulations. He promises that good will ultimately prevail over evil. But He doesn’t say anything about intervening, in the meantime, to actively prevent all evil by overriding man’s free will.

Continuing on:

“God is not fair…If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.”

The author again appeals to the problem of evil – this time citing a couple examples of natural evil (i.e. birth defects). For a quick overview of how Christians handle the question of natural evil, I recommend THIS POST from Clay Jones.

The author’s view of “fairness” completely fails to account for the existence of sin. Evil (including natural evil) exists as a product of man’s rebellion against God. If it seems “unfair” that we suffer the consequences of our sin, perhaps the problem might be that we’re failing to confront the seriousness of our own, personal rebellion against God.

“God is not present. He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.”

This paragraph only makes sense if one begins with the assumption that God doesn’t exist. If He does exist, then using His physical absence as a reason for not telling our children about Him is simply preposterous. Consider the young children of soldiers serving overseas (or detained as prisoners of war). Should these children not be taught to love the missing parent, merely because they cannot “see, smell, touch or hear” him?

“God does not teach children to be good. A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents.”

Here the author reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian’s motivation for doing good. The idea that Christians act morally simply to avoid God’s wrath is woefully incomplete. If it’s true that Christ – the second person of the Trinity – actually entered into the world to destroy sin by sacrificing Himself on our behalf, then we have a multitude of reasons (aside from eternal punishment) to live morally.

1. Christ, being sinless, stands as our model of moral perfection. We’re specifically called to “live as Jesus did”. (I John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21)

2. Aside from just making us “feel good”, following God’s moral commands becomes an act of love and gratitude. (John 14:15)

3. Also…yes. Acting morally comes with perks. (Psalm 55:22; Proverbs 11:8)

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to question how one can derive a meaningful system of morality in the first place if one rejects the existence of God. In the absence of an ultimate Moral Lawgiver, doesn’t “right” and “wrong” simply become a matter of social convention and/or personal preference? While attempts have been made by the likes of Sam Harris and Michael Shermer to ground moral values in “science”, they’ve failed pretty badly.

The author continues:

“God teaches narcissism…”

skeptical baby

“…Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control.”

That’s…no. Not what the Bible teaches.

The author closes by arguing that belief in God is illogical, and that religion should be “kept at home or in church where it belongs.” Obviously I disagree with her sharply regarding religion’s place in the public square…but that issue probably deserves its own post. Instead, I’ll close with an insightful quote from a friend of mine:

“A mind capable of forming an argument against God is itself compelling evidence of Him.”