Dluxe's World

Thursday, July 20

Under Attack - A prologue

It usually starts like this: "Oh, really? You really believe that the Bible is true? Well, then I suppose you think [insert one of several outrageous statements here]... It says that in the Bible, you know."

If you've had one of these conversations before, I imagine that the headache has already started to creep into your skull. It's time to go round and round with someone whose primary source of information on Christianity is the Skeptics Annotated Bible (SAB). You bounce from one odd, anti-biblical attack to another. Any statement you make to explain the so-called skeptic's misunderstanding is quickly diverted by another, often wackier, objection.

I've had enough of these conversations in the past months that I thought I'd do something about it. I want to take several of the typical 'attack passages' I've had thrown at me and attempt to explain them here. The truth is that these explanations still won't say what some people would like them to say. Nonetheless, I hope we can let scripture speak for itself through honestly evaluating what it says. If the message is still not palatable, at least we will disagree over the real message for once.

Before diving in, it strikes me that there are three things worth lopping off at the top.

First: Would you say we know more about ancient Egyptian culture today than we knew in the 1600s? Similarly, if you wanted to accurate information about what day-to-day life in Egypt was really like, would you rather read an Egyptian scribe's letter to his mother from 2300BC or a fifth-grader's paper from 1984?

The answers are obvious... Our modern, increased understanding comes from two simple benefits - more time and more resources. We've taken the knowledge of those before us and added 400+ years of scholarship on top of it. Every generation uses the knowledge of the one before as a launchpad to taller buildings, stronger textiles, a richer knowledge of history, and louder music.

But we also have found better sources of information. Over the course of the last 100 years, we have continued to find more and more original documents of increasing age. Using those, we can construct an ever clearer picture of language, culture, and history by letting the past whisper to us (rather than theorizing and guessing).

The same thing applies to Biblical studies. We have uncovered more and older source texts than the generations before us. Additionally, the level of scholarship has risen so that we are able to understand those documents better than we could in years past. With this in mind, I intend to set aside the King James Version of the Bible for the purposes of this discussion. Though it is the translation of choice for the SAB and other KJVO-fundies, it has some well known issues and is difficult (at best) for most modern readers to process. I'll probably alternate between the ESV and NASB translations as we move along.

Second point: Consider the following sentence:
Manute Bol, standing near his steed, called to everyone's mind such majestic images as Washington kneeling at Valley Forge.

Now, if you've actually seen Manute Bol, especially near a horse, you'd know that this statement could only be intended humorously or sarcastically. No one in their right mind, and I mean no one, would take this seriously. So, context and tone matter. In this case, proper context demands that you have knowledge of Manute Bol, a definition of the word 'majestic', and a mental picture/impression of George Washington. Tone would be indicated both by how the sentence is framed, the rest of the article (if any), and by applying your contextualized understanding to the sentence.

In this case, you would figure out our little sentence about dear Manute is meant to be a joke. In a similar way, taking any sentence of any book out of context and 'literally' can lead you down a rocky road. To use a Biblical example, consider the words of Paul to the Corinthians in chapter 4. Paul tells them:
Already you [Corinthians] have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us [apostles] you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. vv8-10, ESV

Did the Corinthians really have everything they wanted? Were they rich? Or was Paul jabbing them with a sarcastic stick. Try reading the whole passage and see what you think.

Or what about this quote that someone laid on me:
guess who else in the bible liked to order the murder of people[?] [J]esus. looks like he learned a thing or two from his old man.

luke 19:27 [KJV] "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." dont believe in my rule? my goons will bash your head in with a big [f-ruity] rock! doesnt that sound a bit too much like saddam hussein?

First of all, Luke 19:11-27 is part of a parable, as verse 11 clearly says. We use such illustrative metaphors and similies all the time to explain things. "Well, it's kinda like this..." Thus, equating Christ's parable to either a mob hit or the reprehensible conduct of a dictator is just over-the-top. If we're going to apply that level of 'literal interpretation' to the Bible, then you will be interested to know the Pharisees were blind camel-eaters who strangely crapped out gnats (albeit with some struggle).

So, when we tackle these passages we're going to read the text (plainly), honestly look at the mode of communication (narrative, illustration, hyperbole, analogy, etc), and synthesize meaning in light of both through the use of our brains. We do this every day when we speak, so it shouldn't be that hard.

Lastly: The person who provided that previous quote did make one very good point... These passages are often avoided by Christians. Pastors don't preach on them and so the average Joe probably doesn't know these things are even in the Bible. At face value they're intimidating, so often we avoid them purposely only to have them thrown in our faces at awkward moments.

I tend to like to be challenged, so I figure why not jump in with both feet? So, I'm tackling these versus instead of Romans or Galatians or some other passage that any number of good pastors have covered for me. Perhaps I'm in over my head, but I'm more than confident that God's Word can stand up to the honest scrutiny of anyone. I just pray I don't malign the Word but instead would do justice to it, by God's grace. I hope you'll pray that too.

Since there isn't a lot out there on some of these passages, I will be treading s-l-o-w-ly and carefully. The lag is not about wordsmithing or shaping meaning to suit my purpose. Instead, I'm just trying to do (in part of my time, largely untrained, only by God's grace) the responsible work that a that real pastor would do with in a 40hr work week with 3 years of schooling behind him.

So, bear with me... Be patient, and be prayerful. And let's see if together we can peer through the fog and see the truth.

Holy Spirit, make it so for Your name's sake! Amen.

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2 Comments:

  • while i appreciate that you quoted me, i would have to argue that you did what you claim that skeptics like myself do. you picked a small part of my vast argument to quote and then used it to say that i was wrong since in some versions of bibles it says the story of minas is a parable. i never claimed it wasnt. in fact ive said many times the whole bible is a parable. in the same conversation you quoted, i said: "for once we totally agree. its a story and it starts with genesis and ends with revelations. its not a list of orders. " there is no more reason to woship the bible rather than worship the iliad, cinderella, sherlock holmes or the koran.

    By Blogger veganerd, at 3:07 PM, July 20, 2006  

  • Wow! First to comment, even.

    you picked a small part of my vast argument to quote and then used it to say that i was wrong since in some versions of bibles it says the story of minas is a parable.

    Relative to the Luke text:
    First, find me one version of the Bible or recognized source text that doesn't refer to it as a parable.

    Second, if it wasn't a parable why didn't Jesus overthrow the Jewish leaders when he had a chance and then tackle Rome? They weren't 'submitting to his reign', and there were plenty of people who were looking for the Hebrew version of the Messiah - who they expected would come a conqueror and throw off the shackles of the Roman oppressors.

    Relative to the quote snippet:
    The comment thread was long and 'colorful', or I would've linked to it already.

    Since this is just post #1 for me, I figured I'd take things in chunks. I'm long-winded enough without making people read the entire history here...

    In the meantime, I would respectfully submit that I did give you a fair quoting, with enough context to adequately show your argument (God and Jesus are 'mean', according to the Bible) and specific, biblical data point you offered.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 3:20 PM, July 20, 2006  

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