Clarifying Doubts About Romans 1:1-7

Hi Pascal,

You recently finished an excellent series on Romans 2. I plan to take a closer look at each of those posts and write a follow-up or two. Before I do that, I want to wrap up a final response to your series on Romans 1 that I put on hold for too long.

Where we left off in Romans 1

In April of 2014 you began an introduction to Romans 1, followed by seven posts relaying your interpretation of subsequent portions of that chapter. Interspersed between those were a few posts on Humility, Wrath, Sexual Orientation, etc.. I wrote a response to your first post on Romans 1:1-7 which I called A Skeptical Response to the Bible – Romans 1:1-7. That kicked off a back and forth dialogue over several months which I won’t attempt to recount here. For interested readers, the links are below this post (or in the sidebar if your device has a wider screen). Most of my posts between 5/14/2014 and 8/16/2014 were responses to Pascal’s rebuttals to that post.

I believe you only had one final post that I felt I still needed a follow-up. It was The Fourth Small(er) Bite. I was avoiding it because our dialogue had moved on to other subjects while my blogging time was very limited. We had also both grown a bit weary of picking at the Bible. With that said, here’s my attempt to bring my responses to your feedback from my Roman’s 1:1-7 issues to a close – in Russell’s line-by-line style (sorry). Most of this was written back in June. I just didn’t finalize and publish then.

Responses to The Fourth Small(er) Bite

Tiring of exegesis

You said:

I’ve been thinking more about small(er) bites and why to take them.  I ran for an hour last night with this topic on my mind.  In truth, it can become tedious.  I’d much rather talk about why and how to live. Why don’t I hate gay people?  Why do I love work?  What do I think about time and money?  All of these answers are informed by my faith in Jesus Christ.  It is a faith that gives me reason to live and to love others; a faith that has been useful.  I want to know why others do useful things too.

Well said. I completely agree. 🙂 I’ve written some long, tedious posts in an attempt to explain why I distrust the small portion of the Bible tied to just your first post in Romans. I think the last few exchanges have clarified some of our primary differences, but I’m also getting burned out on such topics. As you know, it is not my aim nor a joy for me to criticize the Bible. I don’t like the fact that it has issues, or the idea that I may be causing others to doubt by illuminating those issues.

There are still problems hinted at in A Skeptical Response to the Bible – Romans 1:1-7 that are serious roadblocks in the way of faith for me. It’s okay that we won’t be addressing them, because they are just a small fraction of the issues I have with the Bible (and most others are much more serious than those in Romans).

A potential misunderstanding about my philosophy

This may be my last small bite for a while because I think you get the point.  I don’t embrace strong rationalism nor do I accept dialectical materialism.

There’s an implication here that I believe reveals another fundamental misconception that we need to sort out. It’s seems to be a common one. This is related to the question of what my philosophy actually is, and what yours is, and how they affect or justify our beliefs on the Bible, God and faith. When I was a believer I was taught by the church that non-believers required proof so I had that assumption (and I can understand why many of the faithful still see skeptics that way). As I mentioned in several posts and in person, I do not require proof, empirical or otherwise. I’m not a strong rationalist. I actually doubt our epistemological philosophies are very different, but I have a hypothesis about why and where we do differ.

I searched this blog for all posts containing “proof” or “prove” and the only references were either in response to your claim that I’m requiring proof, or my mentioning of the burden of proof. This may have caused part of the problem. Talking about burden of proof doesn’t mean I require empirical proof of God or the supernatural. Rather, according to Wikipedia, “the philosophical burden of proof or onus (probandi) is the obligation on a party in an epistemic dispute to provide sufficient warrant for their position.” When I said burden of proof I was just highlighting that the responsibility is not on one rejecting the claim to demonstrate why it is false, but on the one positing the claim to demonstrate that it is true. I often speak of proving things false, because that’s what science does. I never speak of requiring proof that things are true, because that is not a requirement in my epistemological philosophy. I’m definitely not a strong rationalist. Let me know if that makes sense. I’ll be happy to make a follow-up post about it if you’d like more details about my philosophy – which seems to be close to critical rationalism.

Supernatural, Scripture, Saints, and Savior

I do accept reason and answer the call to explain why I believe what I believe with gentleness and respect. For a man who believes that a supernatural is likely, that scripture is reliable, that saints can point to grace, and that there is a saviour, these views are internally consistent and reasonable.

I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll briefly share my thoughts on these topics. I think supernatural is possible, but I can’t point to any claimed event and say that the weight of evidence is in favor of that event having a supernatural cause (again, with the possible exception of existence itself). When you say supernatural is likely, even if I granted that for the existence of some intentional agent behind “creation,” I’m not sure how I could say that any specific supernatural biblical event was likely, since neither of us could probably say it was likely if the claims were made by a new religion that started in modern times. That’s happening all around the world. There are about a dozen movements following people claiming to be messiahs today. My guess is that your belief that a supernatural is likely probably doesn’t make their claims any more likely to you than it does to me. I know you’re not claiming that it does. You’re just showing how your views are consistent with each other. I just wanted to explain how the likeliness of some supernatural existing wouldn’t compel me to believe the Bible’s specific supernatural claims over others (all things being equal).

I think that much of scripture is reliable, but much of it also is not. I trust it on some claims and not on others, so I can’t force my mind to trust it enough to validate its supernatural claims. For me, scripture is only somewhat reliable, which is to say, not very. If only this were different. I’d be in a very different place in my life and we’d be having a very different conversation.

Yes. I think we agree that followers of the Christian message, like any message that focuses on socially acceptable values, can point to grace.

I want to believe there is a savior, but I’m struggling. The story of the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man, God’s redemptive plan in Jesus, and God’s character, desires, expressed reasons and actions throughout, do not sit well with me on many levels (philosophical, scientific, etc.) that I won’t get into here. That’s not a moral judgement on God. That’s a judgement on the coherency, and thus the believability, of scripture. The biblical concept of salvation is honestly difficult to trust. If we’re talking salvation from sin/pride/selfishness, there are many saviors for that which seem to work equally well. If we’re talking about salvation from extreme suffering and physical death, there is no current savior, but science is a decent path to place our hope in. If we’re talking about salvation from death after death, that’s seems unlikely. And yet, my natural human superstitions that no amount of meta-cognition can ever fully shake coupled with my childhood-to-adult indoctrination is always there, urging me to reconsider. That’s a lifelong internal debate raging in most former believers – one well described in CC‘s Gravity post. The forever unanswered question: on top of the known causes of this urging, is there also a supernatural Holy Spirit adding its voice the call?

Call me out if I misinterpret or misrepresent

Next, you invited us to read my original post and respond with any misrepresentations.

What about the virgin birth?  Here is an excerpt of Russell’s words from the excellent post A Skeptical Response to the Bible.  Please read it in context and call me out if I misinterpret or misrepresent.

I know my posts are too long for anyone but you (and sometimes CC) to read. 🙂 So I’ll highlight what I can remember, or at least where your response didn’t match my intent (which may be my failing rather than yours). Now we get into the biblical analysis again. 😦 Here’s the first miscommunication between what I intended and what you responded to.

The virgin birth issue – revisited

You said:

Biblical evidence of contradiction?  Hmmm.  Paul says early in Romans 1 that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh.  Then he says that he was declared to be the son of God in power according to the Holy Spirit.  How does this sketch of God-man mitigate or contradict the claim of Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born of a virgin?

Sorry. Please bear with me if you can while I try to explain what I meant a little better. And remember that all this is trivial.

According to Paul it was Jesus’ resurrection that solidified Paul’s belief that Jesus was the son of God in power. So when Paul declared Jesus to be the son of God in power, that was in reference to his resurrection demonstrating that he was God’s son “in power.” As I read it, the belief of Jesus’ resurrection is a separate issue from the belief in the circumstances of his birth. Someone could claim that a person is the Son of God without believing that God was his literal biological father. It was a phrase commonly used at the time all over the known world (not always tied to belief in a deific union between a God and a human) and even by earlier, non-Messianic people in the Bible. So Paul’s usage of that phrase in the context of affirmation due to his belief in Jesus’ resurrection does not mean to me that Paul would have no reason to mention, as Matthew and Luke do, that it was a supernatural, divine conception. His further emphasis on fulfilling the lineage of David prophecies, which according to Jewish custom needed to be in the male line, casts further doubt on the idea that Paul believed Jesus’ father was God himself rather than a male in David’s line.

Paul seems to have written before Matthew and Luke and he says Jesus was a descended of David according to the flesh, but doesn’t mention a supernatural conception in which his actual father was the spirit of God himself, leading to a virgin birth. If he believed God was Jesus’ literal father yet without union, there were several places where he could have mentioned this and doing so would have helped his case. Romans 1:3 says “which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The Greek root says “sperma” which is used in these ways in the Bible. Paul seems to be explicitly saying the Jesus is a physical offspring of a male in David’s lineage in order to fulfill Paul’s understanding of Jesus being descended directly from David to fulfill the prophecies. I think I wrote in another post about the dubious nature of other possible interpretations for what Paul might have meant.

Given the Biblical account, in my interpretation, it seems likely that if Paul believed it was a virgin birth, this would be worth mentioning and his lack of mentioning (in any of his letters) is evidence against Paul’s belief in a virgin birth. That seems to be the best explanation for his failing to write about Jesus’ miraculous conception, which is a very small part of why Matthew and Luke’s claims give me pause. As I’ve mentioned, this has very little to do with why I doubt the Bible. It’s just another example of the many uncertainties that make it difficult. There are many more potent issues than this one.

Doubt, not contradiction

If I understand Russell’s argument correctly, this was too important for Paul not to mention if it was true.  So, if Paul doesn’t specifically state that Jesus was born of a virgin, the lack of that statement contradicts with the claims of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  By that standard, if I fail to assert something important here, I would contradict another author who did so.

My friend, I think you may be misunderstanding my argument here. I admit that I was a little surprised that you thought this was an accurate representation of my intent. Perhaps we both grew weary of the Bible challenges. Either way, I probably should have been clearer. I’ll add emphasis to what I wrote.

Paul gives no indication anywhere in any of his writings that Jesus was born of a virgin. Nor do the writers of Mark or John. He is clear that Jesus was descended from David “according to the flesh.” I don’t have a problem with this. What challenges belief is that Matthew and Luke both think he was born of a virgin and each tell of strange conflicting stories to explain his birth and the place of his birth. Both [Matthew and Luke] contradict each other and archeology, and each [Matthew and Luke] conflict with Paul’s view. If the virgin birth happened, why wasn’t it important enough for Paul, Mark, and John to mention it? This is extremely suspect for me.

Notice I didn’t say that Paul’s not mentioning the virgin birth is a contradiction with Matthew and Luke’s mentioning it, which is what your argument seems to be about. The contradiction is not because Paul didn’t mention it. His failure to explicitly mention the virgin birth only fails to support the idea that Paul knew of it or believed it. That doesn’t mean he necessarily didn’t believe it, just that it’s less likely that he did. The contradiction I mentioned was that Matthew and Luke contradict each other in their statements about Jesus’ genealogy (and specifically his parentage) and birth. The fact that Paul, Mark, and John make no reference to the outstanding claim of his father being God, not Joseph, is not a “contradiction.” It is just cause for even further suspicion. Matthew and Luke seem to conflict with Paul’s idea that Jesus was a descendent of the male line of David’s lineage in the flesh when Matthew and Luke claim his father is God himself, who is not in David’s lineage. That’s why I felt it worth pointing out, but so trivial that it probably isn’t worth all this time on it.

Not a contradiction, we agree 🙂

We clearly interpreted the first few verses of Romans 1 differently.  I saw the according to the flesh and son of God dichotomy to be completely consistent with virgin birth.

Did Mark and John mention the virgin birth?  No.  There is no birth account in either gospel.  Is that a contradiction?  I’m not seeing it.

Correct, that is not the contradiction. The genealogies seem to be in contradiction because they do not match, nor do we have a good way to reconcile them that doesn’t require some awkward multi-layered assumptions (I covered this in other posts). And there are other contradictions between their different birth narratives. Failing to mention a virgin birth is not a contradiction with an author who did mention it, it’s just unlikely in this context. A virgin birth where three out of five people writing about it (each of whom have a specific aim of demonstrating that this person is holy, righteous, the son of God in power, etc.) fail to even mention it, is less likely still. A virgin birth where one of those three people says that Jesus was descended from David “in the flesh” is even more unlikely and “may” be a contradiction (we can’t say for sure since we don’t know Paul’s mind but it has the appearance of a possible contradiction). Either way, it’s not that relevant. I was just highlighting some of the minor problems I have with that portion of the text since you started there and asked me to explain my issues.

Maybe other writers just didn’t talk about the virgin birth

It’s possible that these other writers just didn’t mention it because they didn’t talk about Jesus’ birth. That’s the reason I used to give as a believer. But it doesn’t seem very strong. They wrote about what was important. Why wouldn’t they talk about it if they believed it and they intended to demonstrate his authority from God? From what I understand, Paul wrote first. No mention of virgin birth. Then Mark started the gospels. No mention of the virgin birth. Then Matthew copies Marks version and adds to it (there’s a steady picture of embellishment between the gospels of Mark and the others – for a small example, see the actual ending of Mark vs what was added to Matthew and Luke and then updated in Mark). Then Luke, who also copies much of his text from Mark, also adds it. Then John who uses little of Matthew and Luke’s works doesn’t mention it (though he does make more abstract claims about God that could be interpreted to be in agreement with the claim that God was his literal father). If Paul, Mark and John believed it, it was worth writing about. They didn’t write about it, so I’m suspicious and I find it less likely to be true. That’s my only claim about the virgin birth. Again, my issues are not with supernatural claims, but with supernatural claims where we expect to see X amount of corroborating evidence but we see significantly less than X.

Were there conflicts in the birth narratives?

Did the birth story in Matthew and Luke conflict?  If so, I missed something.  Both say Bethlehem and explain it by the census called by the Roman authority.  Luke accounts that shepherds visit there.  Matthew says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem too.  Matthew interjects the visit of wise men, Luke does not.  Matthew describes the flight to Egypt, Luke does not.  Luke describes the dedication of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, Matthew does not.

I see different events recorded by different authors, but I don’t see conflicting chronology.  Do you?  There are words like after and then.  I don’t see words like, “two weeks (or years) later”. Natural reading of the scripture hasn’t caused me to see one author contradict the other.

Yes. There are several. The stories aren’t consistent with one another about the reasons for when Jesus’ parents had to take him where and why. Both stories were big/important enough to be mentioned in both gospels. As I understand it, the slaughter of innocents wasn’t recorded by the prominent anti-Herodian writers who, at the time, were feverishly recording everything vile Herod did. The town was only a few miles outside of Jerusalem and the slaughter would have been big news and should have been recorded, but wasn’t, by the Romans or the Jews. It also fails to support the taxation reasons given in Luke’s account.

The tax/census should have been recorded as others were at the time, but doesn’t seem to have been. Like the slaughter, it would have been a huge deal. We have records of censuses around that time, before and after. It was supposedly a worldwide (entire world, known world, or Romans world is unclear) census where people had to return to their city to register. The bible said Joseph had to return to his ancestral home (fulfilling the prophecy of where Jesus would be born) which meant he was forced to travel from Nazareth up north, down past Jerusalem, to Bethany, in order to register (over 100 miles). He lived in Nazareth and returned there (after a brief stop to Jerusalem) afterwards, and it is clear he only went there because the census forced him to. This means that in this census, citizens were required to leave their place of residence and work to return to their ancestral home for registration. In the Old Testament David sinned by requiring a census and God killed 70,000 people to pay for his sin. Such a census surely would have upset the Jewish people for multiple reasons and been recorded in their writings. According to records, as I understand it, the first universal census supposedly didn’t happen until 74 C.E. So I’m doubtful.

These two stories do not seem to go together and in each case we have no corroborating evidence when we’d expect to see it. Further, there is obvious motivation for the stories to have been fabricated if that was the author’s intent. One of them claims to have fulfilled a “prophecy” that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (which isn’t found explicitly in the Old Testament, so it’s hard to know if it is reasonable to believe it was a prophecy from God or not). Matthew’s slaughter story claims to have fulfilled the “out of Egypt I will call my son” “prophecy.” Here it is from Hosea 11:1 and the verse after it.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me….”

Like many other prophecies claimed by the New Testament writers/editors, (and the rest of the Bible), this doesn’t seem to be a prophecy.

One question has to be whether it’s an open and shut case that both writers (and/or subsequent editors) told a story that is 100% accurate. I think there are enough issues here to raise doubt. Is it possible that these supernatural stories were invented (maybe not by the writers but the early believers, as rumors and stories of Pagan Gods often are) over time and then recorded or edited to encourage faith and fulfill “prophecies?” I think it’s at least possible, and probably likely. But it’s not that relevant to me. Whether he fled to Egypt or his mother was a virgin or an odd census happened means almost nothing to the faith I had. Trust in the bible, though, means almost everything. The stories tied to Romans 1 do not promote confidence in my mind, but nor were they instrumental in my deconversion.

There are several other issues surrounding the birth narratives, but I’ll just ask this question. When was Jesus born? Why don’t we know that? Not only do we not know the correct year – which is odd – the accounts between Matthew and Luke do seem to contradict each other and archeology in that aspect. Was it “during the time of King Herod” (Matthew 2:1) who died in 4 BCE or during the reign of Ceasar Augustus while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2), which seems to have been at least 10 years later? They also disagree with John on what day he died. It’s also extremely odd that we don’t even know the year for any events in the biblical writings about Jesus’ earthly life.

There are many other conflicts later in Jesus’ life, especially around the time of Jesus’ trial, death, resurrection, and ascension. I’d rather not get into those. I think we’re both ready to agree to disagree about the appropriate level of objectively rational biblical confidence. I still have a strong dislike for bringing up biblical problems. I do not like the idea of contributing to another person’s doubts. I only mention them to answer your request for me to explain my thought process behind my biblical doubts surrounding Romans 1. What we’ve talked about so far is barely scratching the surface and probably not worth the words, but it’s as deep as I want to go for now. I’ll leave this alone unless you bring it up and want specific answers. If you honestly want to look at this seriously and get an idea for some of the more difficult things that keep me from faith, please read Nailed.

Wild supernatural claims

Why is the claim of Matthew or Luke a wild supernatural claim?  Because it’s a wild supernatural claim.

This is not what I meant by a wild supernatural claim. By wild supernatural claim I mean ones which require supernatural intervention and we’d have very high expectation of corroborating evidence but we see very little supporting evidence outside of the single claim. The example I provided was Matthew’s later claims of the resurrecting saints. This is one of the more extreme claims with the smallest support despite expectation. The saints rising from their graves and marching on Jerusalem without a single comment from any non-Biblical historian at the time is what I meant by a “wild” supernatural claim. But I shouldn’t have used that term. I just meant an unlikely claim that is on the end of the bell curve for plausibility given the, “evidence / expected evidence” equation. For example, Mat 27:51:

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion…

That was odd. An earthquake removing the stones from the tombs and many dead people leaving the tombs to walking around in the city, appearing to people only – this only gets one sentence of comment, and nothing from the other gospels. These are some of the questions I ask myself. Wouldn’t this be a big deal supporting the faith and worthy of mentioning by the other gospel writers and secular writers at the time? Wouldn’t this miracle be at least as big as any other done in the Bible? If the other writers believed it happened and it was so significant to the faith, why did they choose not to mention it? What did the dead people do? What was their purpose?

Another potentially highly unlikely supernatural claim I didn’t mention is Luke’s claim of what sounds like an eclipse at Jesus’ death. As I understand it, there were historians writing about eclipses, omens, and other stellar events in Jerusalem and neighboring states at the time. None of them record this event.

“Seneca the Younger (c. 3 B.C.E. – 65) Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Stoic philosopher, writer, statesman, and de facto ruler of the Empire for many years, had three compelling reasons to mention Jesus at least at some point in his many writings. First, though regarded as the greatest Roman writer on ethics, he has nothing to say about arguably the biggest ethical shakeup of his time. Second, in his book on nature Quaestiones Naturales , he records eclipses and other unusual natural phenomena, but makes no mention of the miraculous Star of Bethlehem, the multiple earthquakes in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, or the worldwide (or at the very least region-wide) darkness at Christ’s crucifixion that he himself should have witnessed. Third, in another book On Superstition, Seneca lambasts every known religion, including Judaism.1 But strangely, he makes no mention whatsoever of Christianity, which was supposedly spreading like wildfire across the empire.” – Excerpt From: David Fitzgerald. “Nailed.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/FsRwA.l

In each case, my point was that if an author (or later editor) makes claims that we find extremely dubious, then it’s difficult for me to trust him on other supernatural claims.

A false dichotomy

Is it true?  Either it is or Matthew and Luke (or whomever wrote in their names) lied.  I don’t think they did, so I say yes.

Lying isn’t the only alternative. They could have been mistaken or deluded. It could have been an embellishment – as was common of other popular figures throughout history – that spread and found its way into folk-lore and into the ears of the people whom the Bible writers (or any of the later editors) interviewed. It could have been a simple mistake in subconscious pattern matching attempt to fulfill an older Bible prophecy, another one that didn’t quite match. The authors are quoting from the Septuagint which, according to many scholars, misquotes the Old Testament passage in a way that turns “young woman” into “virgin.” There are any number of other possibilities, which is why I don’t see “it was a virgin birth” and “the writer(s) lied” as a true dichotomy.

Trusting ancient books

In one of our audio books, I don’t remember which one now, the author talked about a single historian (probably a biblical one) who advocated trusting ancient text unless there’s a reason to doubt it. The author explained how that’s a bad strategy and very few historians use that approach. We should always be skeptical of claims, even those made long ago in an ancient, weathered text. This advice is largely heeded in every historical domain except for historians who already believe in the religion they’re researching.

Biblical uncertainty

I don’t question the integrity of the writers of Matthew and Luke as much as I question the following. Over thousands of years many people have touched the New Testament text. We don’t know who the original authors were (that alone is extremely odd) or how they came by the material they wrote. The original authors copied from one another and their writings were in turn copied and translated many times after that. We have no certainty about what those texts said for the first 150 years or so. It’s a black box to us, and this is during the main period of time when the faith was being introduced, responding to criticisms, and evolving itself into a growing system of belief. We have an idea of when Paul and the gospel writers wrote, but we don’t have any copies of these manuscripts that supposedly came from them until much later. The truth is, we don’t know what they said, or what the intent of the original authors was. It doesn’t have to be that they lied. But it’s far more likely than alien abductee’s are mistaken than that they actually were abducted. In some cases it’s a waking dream. I’ve had two of those and they were extremely convincing during my youth. We don’t know who these authors were or what their intents were. I don’t think they were lying, but I don’t believe all the claims we see attributed to them today actually happened (based on my honest, as unbiased-as-possible, assessment of the text). It has nothing to do with my view on the likelihood of the supernatural. Even if I thought the supernatural was likely that might not change my view on this particular claim. It’s not about proof. Between the 5 authors writing about Jesus, there is not enough evidence in support of the claim to outweigh the evidence against it. That’s it.

Souls

Here’s another wild supernatural claim.  We have souls.  We cannot be reduced to neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones.  We have souls that last forever.  That worldview, that we have souls and that every person included in the we is precious to God, influences everything in my heart and life.  How can I prove that we have souls?  I can’t.

That’s just a supernatural claim, not a wild one. 🙂 A soul is something which could exist without necessarily manifesting itself in a way that we could measure. The eclipse that was not recorded by any astronomers at the time, and the resurrected saints (neither of which are mentioned by any other gospel writer or any other ancient contemporary texts) is a wild supernatural claim (because we should expect to see some evidence and we do not). I regret that phrase, though, so I’m going to stop using it. 🙂 And then there’s Jesus’ claim:

“… you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” – Mat 10:23.

The arguments I’ve seen which attempt to explain this as meaning something else seem to each be extremely implausible.

Souls. I freely admit we may have them. I just don’t believe we have them because our consciousness can be explained sufficiently with a much more likely (by definition) natural, material interaction of matter/energy. You posit the likely sufficient explanation but go further and say it must be this “plus” something else. Something supernatural. It seems that, for most people, the reason for this “plus,” (the “extra” unknowable supernatural requirement) is to maintain the consistency of the ideas they were given as a child – ideas which have formed the structure of their life. I’m completely okay with that. I don’t mean that to sound callus and it probably isn’t even accurate in every case. What I mean is that I understand the process and it’s always right there pulling at me. I can’t fault people for believing what I myself believe from time to time. For me, the problem – and the natural resistance – comes in the certainty. In the statement “We have souls.” That’s not a statement I can objectively justify. It’s presently unknown and provides no additional explanatory power. One could say, “I believe we have souls.” Or perhaps, “We might have souls and I hope we do.” That is a statement I can stand behind. 🙂

Conclusion

This post series started with an acknowledgement of your challenge. In When to Give, Where to Stand, you said:

Are you willing to start in the center of the bullseye before working outward? Show me your objections to Romans 1 and the interpretation that I’ve offered. Start there. If scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident.

I knew there was going to be too much content in the whole of Romans 1, so I just stuck to issues tangential to the concepts surrounding the first post on Romans, Romans 1:1-7. In some ways, I regret that I began voicing doubts about Romans 1. Most of these topics are so minor that it looks like I’m nitpicking. If we pick up biblical criticism again (and I hope we don’t), there are many passages outside of these topics that deal with more substantial issues. Thousands of words into the topics under discussion, I believe I’ve provided evidence to demonstrate that scripture may not be as reliable as we hope. But the issues I’ve raised thus-far are minor compared to those in other books. Even so, I hope it’s clear that my doubts are not spurious.

Please remember that this is not where I want to be. It’s very difficult losing faith. I used to read Luke 2 aloud to my family as a child and I longed to see my future child doing the same. The Christmas season is especially difficult. I’m honestly seeking a way to trust the Bible, but unfortunately, the reliability of scripture is still deeply in question for me.

Once again, I apologize for the length. I was doing better at keeping things short, but I just had to get this one behind me. If you read this far, sound off in the comments so I can congratulate you. If you’re a skeptic, is Christmas a hard time? Why or why not? If you’re a believer, do you read the Luke 2 story out loud during Christmas? 🙂

Pascal, I’m looking forward to breakfast next week!

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Image of Mary and Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius, by Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments

  1. I read it all! Took 20 minutes, but it was time well-spent. Excellent post, Russell. I suspect that you actually wrote it last night and only scheduled it for the time that it posted this morning (your time stamps often end in :00)—which means that we were writing at the same time. You asked about Christmas, and I was writing about a Christmas tree.

    I didn’t get into this in my most recent post because I am saving it for a later one, but YES—Christmas is hard. And yes, we read Luke 2. Our home will be filled with scripture this season because of two books I bought for my family to work through together. Why? Because this just hurts too much. Despite the cold, hard exterior I might seem to put up in my recent post, it hurts when the glass shatters. It’s hard to get excited about Christmas without Jesus.

    I’m glad we’re in this together!

    Liked by 2 people

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