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The Bible Is Not Like Any Other Book

Lerk

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"The Bible isn't like any other book!" When someone is trying to convince you that the god they call "God" is real, that Jesus was/is this god's son and is deity himself, and that you should reconsider the things that made you finally conclude, after months or years of intense Bible study, that there's nothing to the religion after all (after having been a believer since you were old enough to believe anything at all), this is one of the arguments they often think you can't possibly have an answer to.

 

So, let's look at that argument. Is the Bible unlike any other book?

 

This post, an article called "Why Reading the Bible Straight Through is Usually a Bad Idea," makes the point the the Bible is unlike any other book because it isn't actually a book, it's more like a library. That's true, but it isn't a reason to believe it. In fact, as the article points out, "the books have different genres, written in different styles with different purposes."  What's more, the books were written over many years by people who had different beliefs about the nature of God.

 

You've no doubt heard the statement (made by the folks at "Answers in Genesis" here) that "despite forty authors writing from three continents over nearly two thousand years, it maintains a perfect consistency of message" (or something similar). The usual scripture that Biblical inerrantists like to use is 2 Tim. 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."  They interpret this to mean that everything from Genesis to Revelation is 100% true and 100% consistent. They assert that because this god is omniscient and omnipresent, he could have made it that way, and therefore he would have.

 

This post on cfaith.com states that explicitly. And unlike the first article linked above, if this reason it's unlike any other book were true, it would be a reason to believe it and to be a Christian. But is it true?

 

The books of the Bible comprise something more than just different genres with different purposes. They comprise a range of beliefs, showing us how the beliefs of the various "inspired" authors (in the Old Testament, the spiritual leaders of the nation of Israel, and in the New Testament the proponents of Christianity) changed over the centuries. Inerrantists try to impose the ideas in the New Testament upon the Old Testament, but those ideas don't really fit. In fact, the Old Testament itself shows quite a bit of evolution of beliefs from the beginning to the end.

 

Take the ideas of eternal reward and eternal punishment: This is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. We see Enoch and Elijah being taken up and never dying, but other than that, there's nothing about people going to be with God. Nothing in the Law of Moses or in the books of the prophets threatens the Children of Israel with eternal punishment if they're unfaithful. The only threat is that their nation will be taken away from them. We see a few non-specific mentions where someone who died is said to have gone to "be with their fathers" (referring to the burial place in their homeland, not to the hereafter), and David, when the child of Bathsheba dies, says "he can't come to me, but I will go to him," but we can't infer that the place he thought he would go to was Heaven. In fact, when the witch of Endor summons Samuel (I Samuel 28), Samuel comes up, not down. Up from where? The "underworld" seems the most likely place, as most ancient people believed there was a place that departed spirits went that was below the Earth. That's what the Hebrew word Sheol means. Both the good and the evil were thought by the Israelites to go there when they die.

 

This is wholly inconsistent with the New Testament. Somewhere between Malachi and Matthew, the Jews picked up a belief in not only being rewarded by going to live in Heaven, but of the possibility of being punished eternally in Hell. The Sadducees did not believe this: This article from Britannica.com states "the Sadducees refused to go beyond the written Torah (first five books of the Bible) and thus, unlike the Pharisees, denied the immortality of the soul, bodily resurrection after death, and the existence of angelic spirits."  We see this in the Bible as well. In their view, the idea of life after death was unscriptural! But it was widely believed in the first century, and thus became part of Christian doctrine. We can clearly see that this is a change in doctrine from the beginning to the end of the Bible.

 

My favorite example of evolution of beliefs is that found in the "Song of Moses" in Deuteronomy 32. Here we see how the Children of Israel believed that The LORD came to be their god. You should read this in the English Standard Version because it uses older manuscripts as its source than most other Bible translations. It states there that the Most High god divided the people of the Earth into nations -- one nation for each of his sons -- and that "The LORD's portion" were the descendants of Jacob. In other words, they believed at that time that The LORD (probably "Yahweh" originally) was one of the sons of the Most High god. He was far superior to his brothers, who ruled the other nations, but at this time he was not believed to be the only god. The belief that The LORD was the only god, and the same as The Most High, came later, and you can see this change in beliefs as you read through the Bible. In fact, in Psalm 82 we see these other sons of God losing their divinity and being told that they will eventually die. They can't lose their divinity if they never had it!

 

An interesting thing in the case of Deuteronomy 32 is that when the Masoretic text was compiled (600-1000 AD, not BC), the scribes/scholars changed the wording here! (Most Bible translations use the Masoretic text as their Old Testament source, so compare any other version with the ESV.) Why would they do this? Well I wouldn't suggest that they were being dishonest. They may well have thought that the phrase "sons of God" was an idiom. After all, they didn't believe that Yahweh had sons, so they tried to figure out what the original author meant. They came up with "children of Israel." In making the assumption that the original wording represented an idiom, they unknowingly imposed their 7th century beliefs upon the ancient text. They tried to force the entire library that is the Bible to be consistent, but it wasn't.

 

There are many other examples of inconsistencies in the Bible, not just differences between the beginning and end, but irreconcilable differences within just the Gospels which were written within a period of only 40 to 60 years. These that I've pointed out are enough to prove that the claim of the inerrantist is false.

 

There's a tendency by inerrantists to blame the reader for not being able to ignore the contradictions, as in this article, which states " if we cannot resolve a difficulty, that is a problem with our understanding, not a problem with the Bible." The truth is that there is often no way around the discrepancies. The truth is that there are prophecies in the Bible that didn't come true, such as the conquering of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar in Ezekiel 26 -- Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years but failed to take it. The outline linked here is from a Biblical inerrantist who explains in section IV that Nebuchadnezzar failed, but in section V dismisses this failure and states that the specifics of the prophecy eventually all came true. If they weren't fulfilled by the one prophesied to do it, then the prophecy was wrong. Of course, this isn't a book written by Ezekiel, it's a book written about Ezekiel. This is a story about a prophecy, written many years later. The error here is that the author got his history wrong, not that an actual prophet predicted an event that failed to come true.

 

The truth is that the Gospels contradict each other. In John 20, Mary Magdalene tells Peter and John that someone has taken Jesus' body out of the tomb, and the two of them run to the tomb to see that it is empty. In Luke 24 the women were told, right there at the tomb, that Jesus had risen. They go tell the 11 remaining apostles, and Peter runs to the tomb to see. Both stories cannot be true, and it is not a failure of the reader to understand. These stories are very clear!

 

There is a sense in which the Bible is unlike other books, but it isn't true in the claimed way, and that should be enough for anyone who has believed this to change their mind. Perhaps it doesn't mean they would no longer believe in this god, but they certainly ought to change their views about the nature of the Bible and their religion. Most Christians are not fundamentalists. Those who are need to learn that Fundamentalist Christianity is based on assertions about the Bible that are demonstrably false, and then begin to search for the truth. Whether that leads them to mainline Christianity or to the belief that Judaism and Christianity are simply mythology like all of the other religions that are practiced now or are long dead, they'll be better off.



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You've no doubt heard the statement (made by the folks at "Answers in Genesis" here) that "despite forty authors writing from three continents over nearly two thousand years, it maintains a perfect consistency of message" (or something similar). The usual scripture that Biblical inerrantists like to use is 2 Tim. 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."  They interpret this to mean that everything from Genesis to Revelation is 100% true and 100% consistent. They assert that because this god is omniscient and omnipresent, he could have made it that way, and therefore he would have.

At the time 2 Timothy was written, the only scriptures that existed were the ones that make up the old testament. So, its not possible that the new testament would be included as part of this scripture. Another mistake often made by Christians.

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22 hours ago, Storm said:

At the time 2 Timothy was written, the only scriptures that existed were the ones that make up the old testament. So, its not possible that the new testament would be included as part of this scripture. Another mistake often made by Christians.

 

That's true, but they might point to II Peter 3:15-16. (It says that the unstable will twist Paul's words, just like they do the other scriptures.) Of course, most scholars don't believe that Peter wrote this epistle. It wasn't accepted in the 2nd century, and was only added to the canon later. See here.

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