Four Ideas on What the Bible Really Is

 Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Like it or not, western culture owes a lot to the Bible. From views on law and human rights down to common phrases and vernacular, much of what is commonly accepted in current culture can be traced back to things written in scripture. 
That said, the Bible is arguably the most disputed book of all time. There are those who would like nothing better than to have it disappear entirely along with pagers and pet rocks. There are others who see it as inspirational, even if they don’t embrace or believe everything it has to say. But all of the contradictory views of scripture can be summed up in one of three categories: 

By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) (originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Grab Bag: 

The “Grab Bag” approach to the Bible is essentially an approach that assumes that the passages in the Bible have some sort of value, whether they see it as a prophetic code like the writings of Nostradamus, a book of inspirational sayings like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or even as a book inspired by God, this approach to the Bible is largely intuitive and involves taking passages out of context in order to prove a point. This is a process known as eisegesis-the interpretation of a text by reading into it one's own ideas. This approach is largely unhelpful because one could prove practically anything they wanted by reading whichever passages most closely prove their point, and a large portion of the in-house quibbling in Christianity results from this approach to reading scripture. 
Another example of the “Grab Bag” approach is The Bible Code. As defined by Wikipedia, the Bible Code is “…a purported set of secret messages encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah. This hidden code has been described as a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message. Though Bible codes have been postulated and studied for centuries, the subject has been popularized in modern times by Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code. 
“Many examples have been documented in the past. One cited example is that by taking every 50th letter of theBook of Genesis starting with the first taw, the Hebrew word "torah" is spelled out. The same happens in theBook of Exodus. Modern computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants, and published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 1994. Proponents hold that it is exceedingly unlikely such sequences could arise by chance, while skeptics and opponents hold that such sequences do often arise by chance, as demonstrated on other Hebrew and English texts.” 

By Anonymous (photo by Adrian Pingstone) (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Religious Mythology

The “Religious Mythology” approach to the Bible is a school of thought that takes the Bible as a patchwork product of various writers with a diverse set of superstitious or religious views. These writings, through their various copying and editing over the years were changed to reflect whatever religious beliefs were widely embraced at the time so that any uniformity in the teachings of the Bible is the result, not so much of beliefs that remained consistent across centuries of time, but rather of revisions to make earlier writings match current beliefs. The “Religious Mythology” view may give a nod to some historical details contained in the Bible, but usually considers these so obscured among mythological elements as to be largely unreliable. As an example, in the Old Testament/Torah, this view would cite the similarities between elements of the book of Genesis and Babylonian myths, and conclude that during the time that Babylon controlled the majority of the Middle Eastern region, Hebrew scribes worked the Babylonian beliefs into their writings. 
In the New Testament, this view would, among other things, cite the seeming dissimilarity between the teachings of Jesus – teachings about social reform and the coming of God’s Kingdom – and the writings of Paul who seemed to focus on the building of a church separated from culture and society and on a sort of “internal kingdom” wherein the believer is the vessel of an immaterial Spirit of God. They would say that these contradictory views, or re-interpretations of Jesus’ teaching reflect an evolution of the Christian religious ideas over the years. 
People in this school of thought tend to pick scripture apart using broad assumptions. If there is an apparent change in the style of the writing, then that section was added by a later author. If the text makes a clear “prophetic” reference to a later event, that was retroactively added to the text or that text was written after the fact. If a different name for God is used, then this indicates that this was a different group of writings that were spliced together with the other writings. 
To this view, scripture is an interesting historical study or a work of literature, but cannot seriously be regarded as conveying any meaningful truth. 

Valentin de Boulogne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unified Text 

This approach to the Bible takes the text to be, on the whole, the communication of a unified message that remains consistent across history. This view is largely held by orthodox Jews for the Old Testament/Torah, and Conservative Protestants for the entire Bible who believe the message is consistent because it was God-inspired. While most others would have difficulty believing that any text could remain consistent across a thousand years of time and thousands of re-copying, the Unified Text school takes the consistency of the scriptures as evidence of its inspiration. 

The “Grab Bag” method of interpreting scripture is inherently irrational. It has no real interest to what the text is actually saying; only what they can make it say. 
The other two methods are faced with two facts of scripture that have to be explained: some unity of message across the entire text of scripture, and the presence of the supernatural. The “Religious Mythology” approach begins with the assumption that the supernatural cannot exist, and so must find some other explanation for those things. The “Unified Text” method assumes that the supernatural is the explanation for these things. 

 

Book Giveaway

Book

My web page is fairly new. I am looking to see how many involved viewers I have attracted. So, as an encouragement, I will occasionally do a book giveaway to one lucky fan. 

Sometimes the book I give away will be from the Michael D. Furches Memorial Library, but this week it is a signed copy of my own book, Christ Centered Apologetics

Rules-

Simple. Just leave a 'like' and a comment on this blog asking me for the book in order to enter for the book giveaway. Anyone who 'likes' and comments will be entered for the giveaway, and I will contact the lucky winner by the end of the contest on 8/20/2017. Good luck, all!

-Joel

*This contest will end on 8/20/2017

*I will not ship the book outside of the U.S.

Three Things Jesus Taught About the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Those who are anti-Christian often claim that suffering and death are a real problem for Christianity as a worldview. While much has been written on the subject, it is difficult in a sound bite culture to answer a question such as “If a woman is brutally raped, or a child is dying of AIDS in Africa, and God has the power to stop it, why doesn’t he?” 

The argument is convincing because it is emotional. The framing of the question often seeks to stir immediate outrage against a God that would allow such a thing. 

To answer this question in brief, it is interesting to turn to what Jesus had to say on the subject. If any orator in history could say a lot with very few words, it was Christ. Here is a three-point argument that Jesus develops on the subject of suffering and death. 

Everyone dies

The book of Luke describes a situation where various people confronted Jesus with two sobering news items of the day. A recent tragedy occurred where the Roman Governor, Pilate, had a group of Jewish worshipers killed while they were in the temple offering sacrifices to God. In another contemporary catastrophe, a stone tower under construction toppled, killing eighteen people. These two stories effectively illustrate the two possible kinds of tragedy: that inflicted by other people, and that which is a natural occurrence. Jesus’ response was the same for both

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

Here, Jesus attempts to shift his audience’s focus away from the suddenness and seemingly tragic nature of these deaths to point out that all death is tragic for the unredeemed. 

Suffering points to the human need for God

Jesus was famous in his day for healing the sick and injured. Naturally, then, the sick and injured sought him out. In one such instance, a man who was paralyzed was brought to Jesus by his friends. The book of Matthew describes the scenario

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. 

The fact that this paralytic was healed was incidental to the story. Jesus’ act of healing did not grant this man immortality or invincibility. No doubt the man suffered illness and fragility after this, and he eventually died. The man’s suffering led him to Christ, and Christ met his real need first: he reconciled the man with God by forgiving him of sin. 

The world is temporary and corrupt

In speaking to the issue of human need, Jesus made this observation: 

Matthew 6:27 

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” 

Here, Jesus highlights what has already been stated: Everyone dies. Jesus’ recommendation to this problem is this: 

Matthew 6:19-20 

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Suffering and death are a very big problem indeed if this life is all there is. It is Jesus’ assertion that this particular life is a very brief experience that determines a person’s eternal state. If this is, indeed, the case, then any suffering that brings people to a realization of their need for God is beneficial to the sufferer. 

John 11:21-26 

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Book Mind Over Matter Says Science Requires God

Dr. Wayne Rossiter

While Dr. Wayne Rossiter currently resides in the modest position of Assistant Professor of Biology at a little Christian College in Pennsylvania, this young academic has still managed to gain some notoriety in the atheist community with his dramatic conversion story from atheistic Evolutionary Biologist to Christian Biologist – and some celebrity in the Christian community due to his no-holds-barred criticism of theistic evolution which he publicized in his 2015 book, Shadow of Oz.

Practically on the heels of his last book (published in October of 2015), Rossiter released a new book in January of 2016, coauthored with his brother. Straying away from his field of biology, this new book – titled Mind Over Matter – looks at the modern world and asks the question “The idea that matter and energy are all that exist, and that these two things alone are sufficient to explain everything about the universe – does this fit the facts?”

Interviewing Rossiter

This writer had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Rossiter about his new book and get just a few of these facts.

The seeds of this concept – that the material universe was poorly suited for explaining all of the facts humans knew about the broader spectrum of existence – were undoubtedly planted while Rossiter was still an atheist, as described in this excerpt from his first book:

“On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)”

However, it was not his conversion experience which inspired Rossiter to write this book. In the interview, Rossiter explained that this book was largely in reaction to another book: Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists. Boghossian’s book claims to offer what amounts to evangelism techniques to win religious people over to atheism in a similar way to how religious people evangelize unbelievers. Boghossian focuses largely on the fact that (he says) religion is blind faith in unverifiable, superstitious nonsense, whereas skepticism places its belief in confirmed scientific facts.

In response to this, Rossiter says:

“…arguments like his have been successful for all of the wrong reasons. The science vs. religion debate has been wildly popular in the media, but the content on the atheists’ side has been fairly empty. My brother and I wrote Mind Over Matter as an attempt to offer quick and easy responses to the most common objections raised against belief in God. We basically got tired of well-meaning Christians getting bullied by bad arguments. This book represents a partial antidote.”

The Biologist and the Philosopher

Mind Over Matter was written in equal parts by both Wayne and his brother, Brian. The book contends that the universe requires both the material aspects – such as energy and matter – and immaterial aspects – such as number sets, principles of logic, morality and minds. Fittingly, Wayne is a Biologist while his brother is a Theologian. Between the two of them, they provided insights on both the material and immaterial functions of the universe. Says Rossiter:

“When my brother and I get together, all we do is discuss these issues. The book emerged from several years of those discussions. The process was completely organic. We just started keeping notes on the ideas we’d discuss, as well as the types of objections that were most common in the mainstream debate circuit. It was also surprisingly egalitarian. I’d say the book is really about a 60/40 split in effort, which is incredibly gratifying. It really was a joint effort.”

Despite the fact that the book stands in broad disagreement with atheism – as well as most of the presuppositions people in the modern world hold – the book is not, Wayne assures, disagreeable.

“…we start with shared facts about reality, and work towards a rational case for God. For example, most atheists don’t realize that they must assume the existence of immaterial things like numbers or logical relationships before they even begin to do scientific experiments or engage in debates. The quantity pi (3.14) has no volume, mass, charge or spatial location. Yet, it is a real attribute of our material world. So, clearly reality is not just matter. Likewise, many fields of science routinely infer the actions of intelligence in causing physical phenomena. If a behavioral ecologist goes into the field and sees a conspicuous pattern of bramble in the grass, they will rightly identify it as something intelligently and purposefully made (in this case, a nest made by a bower bird). When you put observations like these together, you begin to get an answer to why there is this 'unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics' in describing the natural world, and why the universe is both logical and comprehensible. While such features of reality continue to befuddle atheists, they fit nicely within the worldview of the theist. This was our approach in writing Mind Over Matter.”

As challenging as the subject matter may seem, Rossiter’s heart for the work was for the average Christian reader, and so he has kept the work digestible:

“…it’s a really short book that’s intended for 'on the street' use by any believer. Sure, some of the jargon is unavoidable, but basically, this book offers sound responses to objections like 'Who made God?,' 'We can replace God with science,' 'We have the fossils, we win,' etc. Right now, atheists are winning debates in the public sphere using arguments that are easily knocked down. Our book shows you how (and why).”