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Is The Bible Trustworthy?

Hi Pascal and friends!

Short summary

Pascal, would you be willing to take another stab at Inerrancy? and my comment on When to give, Where to stand?

Long version for Pascal. I won’t ask anyone else to suffer through it. Sorry, Pascal. 🙂

Thank you for your last post, Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1. I have deep respect for the steps you’ve taken to listen to and understand the skeptical point of view about the trustworthiness of the Bible. The lengths that you’ve gone to do validate what I wrote of you in Why I Respect Pascal. Seriously. Thank you.

Thank you for providing a rough sketch of where we are on this issue. As I recall, the bulk of the posts on “biblical trust” occurred in May and there was a comment you were going to consider before responding. However, your last post doesn’t pick up from that comment so I wanted to bring it back up. For context, here’s my outline on where we’ve been.

What we’ve discussed regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible

  1. In How Trustworthy Is The Bible (a question, not an answer) I tried to ask whether you think the Bible is trustworthy, why you believe your answer, how certain you are in your belief, and what (if anything) you wish were different about how the Bible was formed. I may have worded it poorly (I probably shouldn’t have mentioned inerrancy or infallibility since it tends to bring up a different conversation), but I was really interested in why you trust the Bible and where that trust comes from. I’m not asking because I want to challenge your position. I’m asking because I want to believe but I don’t know how without first finding a path to trust in the Bible.
  2. In your post called Inerrancy you responded by saying that you support the view of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and you agree with John Piper’s conclusions that the Bible is inerrant, which he discusses in What Is Inerrancy? In that post you said “The [Chicago] statement made sense to me and helped me to reconcile my love of science with my love of scripture. It helped me to attain the cognitive resonance that you desire.” You also said you are open to different evidence and changing your position on this issue. I admire that humility. Thank you, again, for the references.
  3. After listening to Piper’s audio and reading the full Chicago Statement you linked to, I responded with a post called Inerrancy? It was long but I felt it was crucial in explaining why I distrust the Bible. The Chicago Statement contains many logical problems, and to me, isn’t supportable. It demonstrates the type of reasoning I see being used when many believers (my previous-self included) try to justify their support for the authority of scripture – which only makes me more skeptical. Piper explains (in the clip you linked) that he believes the Bible is true in the authors’ (including God’s) original intent, if only we could properly understand it. In the Inerrancy? post, I also responded to his claims and the issues that prevented me from accepting his conclusions. Piper’s reasons, like those of the authors of the Chicago Statement, seem fatally flawed. At that point I was looking for some other way to justify trust in the Bible that didn’t suffer from what I viewed as obvious biases and logical fallacies.
  4. In When to give, Where to stand you wrote a response to my concerns over Piper’s view and The Chicago Statement. You offered that Piper’s arguments are circular and may not be as convincing to a skeptic. Then you pointed to N.T. Wright as one who may be more helpful.  You quoted Wright discussing a sentiment that I’ve seen quite often. It’s something like this. “When we focus on examining the Bible for accuracy we are being distracted from its meaning.” Examples that follow usually include phrases like strong rationalism, fundamentalism, post-modernism, Epicureanism, Protestantism, the Enlightenment, naturalism, literalism, science and the imagined limitations of science, or some other label that we like to place on a cultural worldview. After that the reader is usually led to imagine the worst aspects of those world-views and then encouraged to believe that these bad ideas are what led to either an unnecessary and unreasonable skepticism of scripture or an “insistence” on infallibility or inerrancy. I see this approach of “blaming bad philosophy X for the insistence on being critical of the Bible or overly trusting it” as a distraction, and every time I hear it I feel sad. It is definitely useful to consider history, philosophy and context, but there is a danger of missing the underlying question. It’s easier to knock down the straw men on the edges than to clear up the muddy waters in the middle of an issue. Your Wright quote concludes with, “Such debates, in my view, distract attention from the real point of what the Bible is there for.” From where I stand, the question of the authority of scripture is the primary issue. Debates about the cause for the questions are the distraction. Later you said Wright’s quote represents your heart more fully than the Chicago Statement. This is an example of the ambiguity I’m noticing. I understand some of the reasons you don’t want to commit, but please commit as far as you feel comfortable here for clarity. Are there parts of the Chicago Statement that you disagree with? You said you want to pretend that Romans is true. What does that mean? How confident are you that it is true? In the end, you asked me to “start by listing my objections to Romans 1… and if scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident.I provided several posts that followed from Romans 1:1-7. I believe the result after discussing these issues was that you trust the Bible for the same reason you believe in Jesus – because you’re in love, the same way you’re in love with your wife. CC and I responded to this. I respect it. It just doesn’t help me. I can’t love my way into a belief that my mind thinks is more likely to be make-believe. I mean no offense by that. I say it in envy, not in mockery.
  5. At the bottom of When to give, Where to stand I wrote this comment. That’s where we left things when you said you were going to think it over and get back to me.
  6. Your last post was largely a restatement of the position you mentioned in When to give, Where to stand, and was not a response to that comment. Here are a few points from my comment that are equally relevant to your last post.

N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.

So what are you giving? Where are you standing? Is the Bible inerrant or not? If so, how are you getting past the objections raised in the Inerrancy? post? Are you willing to take a closer look at those claims and justify your own position? That really would help me. Even if you don’t support the Chicago Statement fully, the objections in my post still apply. Until you attempt to confront those objections it sounds like your answer is something like, “Inerrancy doesn’t really matter, let’s move on.” I don’t think that’s what you believe…

…If inerrancy doesn’t resonate with you, what about concepts like “reliable, trustworthy, truthful?” It all seems to end up in the same place to me. I want to be able to trust the Bible, but I find I only really could when I thought the whole thing was inspired and trustworthy. Maybe there’s a way to trust it and acknowledge errors. I think some have done this. Maybe there isn’t but full biblical reliability is [still] somehow justifiable, even in the supernatural claims. I just don’t see how. Please teach me. Show me where my questions are misguided or my answers are unjustified. Show me the right way to consider this topic, but please back it up with reasons that are objectively meaningful. I appreciate your time and willingness to confront these very difficult topics.

Ultimately, it’s not about labels like “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” “biblical literalism,” “post-modernist rhetoric,” etc. It’s about trust. As I mentioned in The Real Reason I am not a Christian:

The real reason I am not a Christian is that the Bible has errors. Therefore, the Bible is either not divine or the divinity behind the Bible is deceptive. In either case, I do not find it possible to trust the Bible’s description of God or Jesus. It is not a choice. I’ve tried trusting it after becoming aware of these issues. Despite my best efforts and desire, I simply cannot believe something I don’t believe. With the cracks I found in the Bible, the faith that would have been required to overcome doubt became diminished to the point that it is now insufficient to push me from doubt to belief.

In your last post you said that after hearing my reply in Inerrancy? and reading more more, you reconsidered. You seemed to indicate that you changed your mind. However, this is where your position seems ambiguous again, and where I’d like clarification. You quoted 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as your new stance, but I’m pretty sure that was also your old stance. It’s confusing because it is the primary verse that the church uses to support inerrancy, infallibility, Biblical trustworthiness, truth, etc., insert your term. Right away, it sounds like a difference without a difference. I’m not sure what you believe now that you didn’t believe before, or vice versa. Then you said:

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.

I’m trying to see this another way, but I honestly feel that, like Wright’s comments, it’s more of a red herring than anything else. Where the question came from isn’t as relevant, and my deeper question, “Why should we trust the Bible on supernatural claims,” is not limited to American fundamentalism. You mentioned that you’ve taken a stand on a different hill, but I’m not sure your feet ever moved. It looks more like you erased the name, “Inerrancy/Infallibility Hill” and wrote “2 Timothy 3:16-17” in it’s place (which is what is claimed to justify inerrancy/infallibility/trust/etc.). Read your definition of infallibility from your last post and then read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. You also said:

What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

I agree. It’s also less fun. 😦 It’s not about inerrancy or infallibility, though, and I apologize for letting us get onto that train. Those terms are justifications for believing that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and the fact that it is without error or that it is wholly true are sufficient reasons to trust it. As we know, when we’re talking to skeptics, biblical trust must be established before the assumed authority of divine edicts can be meaningfully applied to how we love our neighbors. I don’t see it as “arguing inerrancy or infallibility” but as “justifying why we doubters should believe what this book says.” It looks to me, right now, as though one can’t get there unless they start there. If we’re not brought up in Islam, or if we come to it already aware of logical fallacies and the tricks our mind plays on us, we’re unlikely to believe that what the Quran might say about its own perfection is true, just because it says it. The same goes for the Bible. These texts need to demonstrate they are free from error by actually being free from error. If they are not, we lose the safety net at step #3 that I’ve described in Same Verses, Different Conclusions. Essentially, despite its claim, I see no quality that the Bible possesses which would justify my desire to take its word on seemingly contradictory or very unlikely claims.

Later you said,

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.

I am inspired by your change of heart. However, I’m not sure where, exactly, you changed. What does it mean to say you’re not “married to the terms?” Is that just another way of saying, as Wright does, that you don’t think the Bible is not inerrant, but you do think that talking about inerrancy misses the point? You said:

For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.

I read it. In short, Wright was very dodgy on the issue. Rather than answer why he doesn’t think the Bible is free from errors, he takes the common approach of saying that he’s not not an inerrantist, and the question of inerrancy came out of this and that motivation which has these problems. None of that addresses the fundamental questions with which I began this enterprise in How trustworthy is the Bible? According to Wright, he never claimed that he’s not an inerrantist and he appreciates what people who claim that label are trying to do. He just doesn’t engage in that debate because he thinks it’s ill-formed. So where does that put you? Do you believe that the Bible is error-free in any sense? If so, in what sense, and why do you believe that? How can I believe it? How, specifically, has your stance changed?

Inerrant, infallible, authority, trustworthy, it doesn’t matter. Insert your word. It’s easy to get caught up in the words – words which seem to have such heavy baggage that the bags get more attention than the question. Let’s leave the labels aside for a moment because I really think they’re confusing the issue.

Why does inerrancy and infallibility matter?

When I wrote that the Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible as my first reason, what I meant was, “Since the Bible obviously contains some errors (which decreases my confidence in the Bible), how can I trust it enough to believe it is accurate when discussing the supernatural?” And I do want to trust it.

If the answer is that one of the early follower’s claimed that everything he considered scripture was “breathed out by God…,” that just isn’t enough evidence to justify trust in supernatural claims, especially given the apparent errors or misleading concepts in the Bible that seem to discredit his claim.

The assumption of implicit trust in the Bible colors everything, and it is fundamentally why we disagree. I outlined this in Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions. What you’re claiming is that the Bible is trustworthy. I’m asking you, or anyone else, to help me see it. If someone can justify why we should trust the Bible, and trust it enough to believe that we can accept what it says about supernatural, one time, non-repeatable events in ancient history – I will give my life back to the Christian God in that moment. Until that happens, for me, an exegesis of Romans is barely relevant. I do want to talk about how to live without a God-belief, if I must, while trying to carve out some meaning in life – but I’d much rather return to the simple answers to those questions which I once firmly held.

If the Bible was without error, that would be astonishing. It’s such a vast and complex book full of so many claims. The odds that none of the ones we could test would be false is very low. If we could find no issues, that would indeed be strong evidence for what is claimed – that some guiding hand was behind it. That would give us higher confidence that we could trust it, perhaps even in supernatural claims. If it does have errors, is there any way to avoid losing some confidence in the other claims of the Bible and sliding into deep uncertainty?

Questions

  1. If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself? How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?

  2. If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?

Pascal, I know that you care and you really want to help me (and other’s here) find the way back to belief (if they’re interested). I think it would be more helpful to focus on the challenge of helping us justify trust rather than focusing on distancing yourself from the baggage driving the inerrancy doctrine. If you can find a way to explain a) why it’s reasonable to assume that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and b) how to logically maintain that belief in the face of apparent errors (and copied themes), I will join you in faith. Since you know that biblical trust is the main stumbling block for me and some of the skeptics here, I wonder if you’d consider revisiting Inerrancy? and this comment, then clarifying your position on biblical trust?

See you soon! 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

48 comments

  1. Wow Russell, you did an awesome job getting to the heart of the issue here. I didn’t notice that Wright avoided saying he thought the bible was errant, but you did take notice of that and also noticed the distraction of using philosophical labels.

    I’m not sure I have a lot to add after this excellent post of yours – (I read the long version as well as the short summary). I’m mainly commenting to subscribe to future comments. The only short thing I’d add is that proving that the bible is 100% accurate and true is not sufficient to get me to follow, in the same way that proving that the Quran or Mein Kampf is 100% accurate and true would not be enough to convince me to follow along.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pascal,
      Really enjoyed this blog on the question of the accuracy of the Bible. This may have been the first time I read every word in your blog. 😊 I grew up with an understanding that the bible had no errors and was the word of God. It was very cult like my commitment to it being gods word for me. The question for me is why would I ever need to get to the place to question the bible. Today I am at a personal conclusion that no one is ever at peace with their relationship with their God. The struggle is always in needing to know more how to please this god. If you pray more, give more, forgive more, study more, etc. I am confident that there is no such man alive who has come to total peace with his creator. It is that struggle that caused me to consider maybe I had built the wrong stage for me to live on. Today I am off that bible stage, the gulf is so wide, I no longer have any longing to get back on it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Russell,

    You’ve done an impressive job laying out the importance of inerrancy/infallibility. I couldn’t agree more with your take on it, and I look forward to seeing whatever discussion might follow.

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  3. I also am excited to hear responses to this post. I am curious if anyone has read F. F. Bruce’s book “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” It is a Christian book but tries very hard to evaluate the New Testament documents from a historical text standpoint. Also, I am curious what books people have read against the historical accuracy of the bible or books about the reliability of the bible that they felt was highly meaningful to them. I am very interested to learn more. I am sorry if these have been commented on in the past. I just recently found the blog and am still trying to catch up. Feel like I jumped into the very middle of a good group of friends having a great conversation.

    Seth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Seth,

      I don’t want to point any traffic away from Russell and Pascal’s blog, but I happen to keep a list of the books I’ve read since I started questioning Christianity here:
      https://findingtruth.wordpress.com/books/

      Some were better than others. The ones that stand out the most to me (at least as far as the textual reliability of the Bible) would be Neil Lightfoot’s How We Got The Bible, which is from a conservative Christian’s perspective and two books by Bart Ehrman: Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted.

      There’s one more book that I found very useful. Instead of dealing with the Bible as a whole, this one solely focuses on the book of Daniel: H.H. Rowley’s Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel.

      Hope that’s helpful to you in some way. 🙂

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      1. Hi Nate,

        We would love to share traffic with your blog. I copied the way your present your book list and frequently visit your site as a reference on how to use html codes in comments!

        Sharing books is fantastic way to share our lives of the mind. I’m so glad that you are here to add to our dialogue and I thank your for maintaining a booklist, blog, and attitude worthy of imitation.

        Pascal

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Seth,

      Thank you for the comment. Great questions! I’ve gone through a few books on both sides of the issue. I’m not sure about all the titles at the moment and we’re about to leave for the afternoon. I’ll outline them a little more later. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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    1. Hi Scott,

      Welcome! I hope you’re right. The difficulty is in having confidence in that conclusion. I still wrestle with it. It also depends on what we mean by “well” and what frame of reference we’re using. Faith gives a certain strength that I miss, and I may long for even more strongly in a future time of great difficulty. Still, I like the spirit of your comment. Please continue to jump in with any thoughts. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Russell! I agree with your comment on what we mean by “well”.There are many issues involving perceptions of concepts like faith,spirit,truth to name a few.This is why I will always start with myself and go forward from there.Good talking to you-I like to share ideas that form healthy relationships!Bye for now.

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  4. Thanks Russell, a great article. What has become clear to me is that one’s presuppositions accept how things are evaluated.

    Take the matter of errors in the Bible, it may seem straightforward, but in reality it is more nuanced.

    A good starting point is the differing Jesus birth narratives between Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. Now a the ‘skeptic’ says that they are clearly in conflict, it is an ‘open and shut’ case. Every aspect of them is different, except one, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The clearest ‘direct’ contradiction is that after the birth of Jesus, Matthew has the family going to Egypt whereas Luke said they went to Nazareth.

    To the skeptic this is a clear contradiction. But how does the person of ‘faith’ respond. Their faith tells them the Bible must be true, so when they come across such a ‘difficulty’ their faith says that there must be another explanation. They might argue that both Luke and Matthew only give partial accounts and that in both cases Jesus ended up living in Nazareth, Luke chose to leave out the Egypt visit because it was extraneous.

    So with the eyes of ‘faith’ an apparent contradiction is explained away.

    Even clearer errors like Luke referring to a census that is not recorded in any history book and a method of registering for a census that is clearly illogical (‘a ploy device to get Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem?) is rationalized. Like the argument from silence concept.

    Perhaps a better way to frame the debate is to change it entirely. Ask Christian organisations that believe in the power of prayer and the abundant provision of God to trust God for their finances and no longer issue any appeals. That would be a great way to test how much people really trusted God. To ensure God has the full credit they should not tell any one about this change in strategy. Just rely on God and his ‘provision’.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think arguing over if the bible is true, or reliable, or infallible or what ever, misses the point. What evidence is there for Abraham’s god is there? Not just for existence, but why not Brahma, Marduke, or Odin?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Showmeskeptic!

      Welcome! I agree with what I think is your point. I want to mention that I don’t agree with the common phrase I hear from my fellow skeptics that sounds like, “There is no evidence for god.” I think we do our point of view a disservice when we have that outlook, because it simply isn’t true. For each God claim, there are many evidences. There is the person claiming the thing (their beliefs and experiences count as evidence), the group of people who believe similar things or have throughout history, claims of prophecy, miracles, and often most pivotal, claims of divine authority or inspiration from their holy book(s). These are each evidences that should be examined and weighed to see if they are convincing enough for personal belief in the proposition.

      I used to think the Bible was inspired and sufficient for belief. When, as a young teen, I learned of other religions and the conviction of their followers, I began to see how they could generate similar evidences and they couldn’t all be wholly correct (with mutually exclusive points of view). When I learned about The Problem and other things that might explain all God-beliefs on earth without the need for any of them to be True, I doubted further.

      So there is evidence for these gods, and the holy books are some of the strongest evidences. We should assess them as we would anything else to see if they provide enough weight to support the hypothesis and reject the null hypothesis. This means evaluating the claim that the Bible is inspired by a deity that is good, trustworthy, and omniscient, and omnipotent. If the Bible itself does not appear to be the inspiration of such a God, it fails to support the hypothesis of that God’s existence. It makes the natural explanations hinted at in The Problem more likely, at least to me.

      Does that make sense?

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  6. “The same goes for the Bible. These texts need to demonstrate they are free from error by actually being free from error.”

    Russell, I could not agree more. I think the sheer amount of apologetics material pouring off the Christian presses on a daily basis demonstrates the acrobatics to which people will go to prove that the unbelievable is quite believable, and that the unreasonable ones are those of us who expect reasonability. But then, it’s necessary, because once we admit the presence of inconsistency, we open up the entire book to very legitimate (and uncomfortable) questions.

    Speaking from my experience as a former dealer in biblical interpretation, it’s not that we don’t actually see the contradictions and inconsistencies. We do. We’re just either afraid to admit that they’re there, or we’re willing to pretend they don’t matter. The problem is that, given the extent to which proof-texting rules the hermeneutical roost, and the extent to which we prove the Bible’s veracity by referring to other parts of the Bible, the burden of proof is on the inconsistencies rather than the consistencies. A circle with a hole in it isn’t really a circle, after all, and it’s that hole that all the circular arguments fall through, in my mind. I can’t use a text that disagrees internally with itself to prove that that text is in every way true. Which means I can’t use it to prove it’s in any way true, either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One key part of your comment here Vance: “… it’s not that we don’t actually see the contradictions and inconsistencies. We do. We’re just either afraid to admit that they’re there, or we’re willing to pretend that they don’t matter.”

      Two responses come to mind as I’ve thought about this for several days: believers should be forthright about contradictions and inconsistencies that bother them. They could also be honest about contradictions and inconsistencies that do not bother them and be willing to explain why.

      So – – don’t be afraid to discuss difficulties in public. I agree. I used to think that these issues were only for the family room of mature believers. I no longer think that. I’m willing to struggle in public.

      Then – – willing to pretend that they don’t matter. Some really don’t matter to me. I suppose that tilts the terminology away from inerrancy and towards infallibility. Is it fair to use scripture to defend scripture and use 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as my anchor? That is a fair question open to reasonable discussion.

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      1. The use of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 can be a double edged sword. It is making a claim for the text. Isn’t it then reasonable to test that claim?

        Because a writing claims to be inspired does not automatically mean it is. I could write my own book and make a similar claim, but clearly no-one would take it seriously. Likewise I suspect there are similar claims in the texts of other religious traditions. So you need more than a base claim, you need a reasonable basis for believing the claim to be trustworthy.

        The claim to trustworthiness is best supported by some evidence of a supernatural stamp. These might include, clear predictions of future events (does one need a 100% success here?), internal coherence and profound wisdom, promises that work, that can be put into practice.

        Some would argue the Bible passes all three of these tests, but others also argue it fails all three tests, But I would suggest those who support the supernatural origin of the Bible should at least agree that these sort of tests are reasonable. After all a person in an insane asylum claiming to be Jesus is not believed, because there is no supporting evidence.

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      2. Have you read “The Bible: a biography,” by Karen Armstrong? I’m listening to it right now. (Well, not right now, but you know what I mean.) It’s got some fairly interesting things to say vis-a-vis this particular conversation, about original intent versus progressive or continuous revelation…

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  7. I recognize that I am coming to this post and comments rather late and so may be dragging your thinking backwards. And I also recognize that I am not an intellectual so may have a rather simplistic view. And to remove doubts, I am a Bible-believing follower of Christ and hope a couple of perspectives will help.

    First, the Bible was not written in English, or any other modern language for that matter. Some discrepancies could, therefore, be the result of inaccurate translation. This is not to denigrate the translators but to explain that either lack or experience or lack of exposure to content or context could be a cause. I have found that, where a discrepancy is seen a quick look for the original word and its meaning in a concordance can provide the remedy…and then there’s not really a discrepancy.

    Second, discrepancies between the gospels are often cited as biblical errors, however, the four gospels were written about Christ from four different perspectives. A bit like looking at a mountain from four different angles and apparently seeing four different mountains. I offer this as food for thought:

    Matthew – Christ as The Messiah – the genealogy traces Jesus’ origins back to Abraham – very important for His credibility as a Jew
    Mark – Christ as The Servant – no genealogy mentioned. After all, who cares where a servant comes from?
    Luke – Christ as The Son of Man – genealogy traced back to Adam – fulfils His credentials as the perfect man before God
    John – Christ as The Son of God – no genealogy mentioned, but then God doesn’t have a beginning or end because then He wouldn’t be God, would He?

    I hope this helps and that you’re happy to dig deep because the answers are there. Please don’t omit faith, too, because The Bible is not just a book that can be figured out by intelligence alone. If it were then the great scholars would have got it sussed ages ago!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi NLJS,

      Thank you for the comment. Welcome!

      I definitely agree that many verses that appear to be in error are just misunderstood today because we don’t have easy access to the original context. That’s why I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt wherever I can. However, if we have 1000 problems that have a possible solution, 20 problems that have no solution we can see, and 10 problems that have no possible solution because they are contradictory in every conceivable context, we don’t need to focus on the 1000 we can fix. It’s the 10 that move me from the ability to “trust” to the need to reject the trustworthiness of the Bible – and thus the confidence in the existence of the God it describes.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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      1. Hi Russell
        Is there a risk that we expect God to conform to our thoughts and ideas (and limitations)? From the little I’ve read on this blog I wonder if your reluctance to believe is because God hasn’t proved Himself to you sufficiently? Does He need you (or me, for that matter) to believe? Probably not. He will continue. Does He want you to believe? Absolutely! Romans 5:8 …God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

        Keep digging – the answers to those 10 are there!

        Greetings!

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        1. Hi again!

          I think that you, I, and everyone else expects (either consciously or subconsciously) that a God conforms to our thoughts, ideas, limitations, etc., in some way because we are limited beings observing the world from a very limited perspective. Even if we think we’re above placing such constraints upon a God, we must admit that the limited range of our own thoughts constrain, according to our ability to understand it, what a God might be.

          In my view, my reluctance to believe is the same as everyone else’s. Belief in any claim is based upon the combination of 1) the result of evidence in favor vs evidence against (good), and 2) some level of desire (I view this as bad because desire is misleading and irrational in epistemic evaluations so I try hard to prevent letting it weigh heavily one way or another – lest it lead to the enemy known as motivated reasoning which used to ensnare me on this topic).

          I want to join you in stating that “He exists, He wants us to believe and the answers to those 10 are there,” but the answers are not logically possible as I see it – so I either cannot believe He exists or I cannot believe He wants me to believe.

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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          1. I’m not sure that I agree with this Russell. Very early in our conversation I claimed love as a trump card. You were indulgent and did not cry foul too stridently. Love is neither a pro/con list nor a selfish desire. It is other focused and willing to suffer. As such, it is rare. When I felt loved by God and apprehended by Christ it changed everything for me. You once told me that you used to feel that too. We all have liberty to evolve our thoughts and processing over time. You’re in your thirties, I’m in my forties, neither of us would claim to be the same as when we were in our twenties. Yet I feel as if my changes over twenty years were less about finding the veritable way to know and more about learning that life is hard and that this narrative best explains my experience and offers me hope. See you soon.

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  8. Hi NLJS

    Thanks for your perspective. What you say is relevant and reasonable. Up until recently I would have fully supported what you have written but I am less confident now.

    If we accept that the Bible is God’s Word, one matter to consider is how much latitude did God give to the human writers? Did God dictate what they wrote? Perhaps God gave them a broad message and let them express it in their humanity?

    Paul Davidson has a interesting website looking at aspects of the Bible. I was especially interested in his comments on Luke’s Gospel:
    https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/how-editorial-fatigue-shows-that-matthew-and-luke-copied-mark/comment-page-1/#comment-392

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Peter,
      What undermined your confidence? If you’re able to share I’m interested to know.

      And on the subject of latitude – does it matter whether He dictated or allowed writers express themselves? And if it does matter, why – how does it change anything?

      I apologize for so many questions, but I have just one more… the questions around scriptural discrepancies – are they simply a distraction from the point that God asks us to just trust/believe/have faith to be saved, while our inclination is to figure out our own way, to use intellect and reasoning? I believe it makes a difference to where we’ll spend eternity, and how easy we find the way.

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      1. In 2011 I started theological study. What became clear very early on was that my naive view of the Bible (closer to the dictation model) was not sustainable. I was able to accommodate that, much as I had already developed an uneasy accommodation between science and the Bible.

        But what really started to trouble me was when I started to examine Church History in depth in 2013. This caused me to ask myself some profound questions of whether or not God was behind the Church. I managed to develop a sort of theory that worked for me, being that God stood back somewhat and intervened at various times to correct the mess that humans were making of things in the Church. So I saw God operating mainly through individuals. like Athenasius, Augustine, Patrick, Francis, Luther and the like. It was almost that God prevailed despite the Church rather than through the Church.

        But it was earlier this year in February when I suddenly was prepared to broach the subject, that I had never dared ask myself before, ‘what if all of this is not true’?

        Suddenly I looked at all the issues that had troubled me in the past from a new perspective. I found the non theist explanation consistently seemed to provide a better explanation of the facts. My principle areas of consideration were:
        – The Bible;
        – Church History;
        – the observed lives of Christians;
        – the current Church;
        – Christian supernatural experience;
        – the viability of a non theistic world view;
        – what science tells us.

        It was the supernatural Christian experience that was the most challenging area to consider. But as I started to consider what others had learnt about the human mind I found there was considerable evidence for it all being in my mind.

        I have not got to the end of the road yet. It is only emotion that has stopped me making a final break. Virtually everything I have learnt over the past two months supports the view that God is not there.

        Once one has considered a possibility it is not possible to unconsider it. How can I believe and trust in the Bible unless I have confidence that it is a divinely inspired work?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m really not sure if I can help at all in this situation. I offer a little of my own background because it formed my attitudes and made things simple for me.

          I accepted Jesus as my savior in November 1981. This came about after several years of problems in my life. I suppose you could say that I had struck out, not finding help or reassurance anywhere else. The place that I heard the gospel and accepted Christ was a conservative Christian church – not a part of regular church circles. Here I embarked on a weekly diet of fellowship, Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship and so forth. There were no ministers or priests or vicars. Simply Christians gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus.

          I think this simple approach suited me well. I believe in God, I trusted Christ, and I’m happy to accept The Bible as God’s word. When questions arise, I’ll go dig in and around it until I find an answer.

          A couple of people I know started theological studies but both stopped after a short time because they felt that God was not in it, that the studies were man’s intellect applied to scripture without the Holy Spirit’s guiding. I wasn’t there so I don’t know but perhaps, Peter, you can comment on this?

          Anyway, today I occasionally host Bible studies for a small group and I find myself giving the following advice regularly – read the scriptures first, if you then need further help read a good commentary written by someone who knows Christ as their savior and not by someone who has simply made a study of The Bible, next (to dig deeper) look at the original words in Hebrew and Greek because they will likely provide clarity beyond the English words, and finally (certainly last) look at historical context. I find that history only helps if I am interested in knowing why something mentioned in scripture prevailed at that time. It doesn’t necessarily help me to see God or His ways any more clearly.

          Sadly, a look at church history reveals the dreadful way that Christendom has been used by men to their own ends. There are examples, however, throughout history of men and women who have shown outstanding faith and trust in God. You mentioned a few above, but they don’t appear to have existing at the center of the established church and have lived outside it. Perhaps this is because God’s church is (in the new testament) actually made up of individual believers (living stones; 1 Peter 2:5) and not represented by buildings and corporate structure?

          I wonder if God wants to provide any more proof that He exists or The Bible is His word, or whether He is looking for faith in us? Two scriptures come to mind.
          1. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17
          2. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

          Faith seems to be the starting point and not knowledge or intellect. Even then, faith is a gift from God.

          I hope this helps.

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        2. Thanks for this Peter. I don’t want to convince you which path to take. You’ll have a home here either way. Your areas of doubt align with what I thought was a fair taxonomy for anyone’s doubt: Scripture, Supernatural, Saviour, Saints. Russell’s main point of departure was Scripture, not the impossibility of Supernature (he entertains physics theories that while not supernatural, are certainly difficult to understand). So I’ll validate your concern and only offer one man’s story – – I shared several of your concerns and have reconciled them in my life. My studies are less theology and more history, psychology, and evolutionary biology. Those studies have brought me closer. Russell might call that confirmation bias. He might be right.

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          1. Hi Pascal

            I appreciate your accepting and considered response. Confirmation bias and presuppositions are significant factors in how we interpret evidence. It is virtually impossible to put them aside. When I studied Biblical Interpretation my lecturer said all we can really do is be aware of them.

            An example that spoke eloquently to me on how this works was gun control debates in the U.S (I come from Australia, it is less of an issue here). When I hear of a mass shooting my immediate thought is that it is evidence that guns should be subject to greater restrictions. I was initially taken back when I heard some people in the U.S. arguing that such massacres were caused by there being too few guns. My initial reaction was one of astonishment. But as I reflected on the matter I came to realise that there was a certain logic to the point, being that if everyone was armed then they could shoot back (though my view still is that it is a case of the cure being worse than the disease).

            So coming back to the issue of confirmation bias, at present it seems to be pointing very strongly in one direction. Should I conclude that reflects what I want to believe in my heart?

            P.S. it has always struck me as strange that religious folk seem to so like guns. Paul had said ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord’. (Romans 12:!9 NIV)

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  9. Right now I am confused. I have spent a lot of time listening to Bible teachers such as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He tends to emphasise the Calvinist doctrine of God choosing people for salvation. The problem with this whole concept, much like faith being a gift of God, it works fine to keep the Christian humble but it is a very bitter pill for the non Christian, the person struggling to believe. In essence it saying you can’t do anything about it, it is all dependent upon God.

    Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes to great lengths to say that a person can never make themselves a Christian. It is a sovereign work of God. So if God has not given one saving faith, what do you do?

    I have read so many stories of people who had thought they were Christians, but for various reasons their faith crumbled. Often they would testify to praying and praying, to seeking God with all their heart and eventually giving up forlorn, shattered and broken. God never responded to their impassioned pleas.

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    1. Yes, topics like pre-destination and foreknowledge can be confusing. The way that I look at it is that God, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, is not limited like we are by time and sense. He can see the whole of our future so the notion that He selects who will be saved does not mean that that others are discarded but that He knows who will trust and be saved before they do anything. It’s rather beyond us to try and see and think like God.

      God gives us the means to be saved:
      1. The Savior – Jesus, who paid the price due to us when He died on he cross
      2. The gospel – Christ died, defeated death, and rose from the dead, and is now in heaven
      3. The faith – gift of God, as mentioned before, freely available to all who will believe
      4. The response – Roman 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

      As for humility – God doesn’t force it on a man but the man wears it like a coat, willingly putting it on…1 Peter 5:5/6 …all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.

      When Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that a person cannot make themselves a Christian, I think he’s right. Many people determine their own route to God and wish to omit Christ. Naturally I think we’re inclined to be self-sufficient. Hence atheism is popular (denies God exists, presumably because to accept He does exist leads to accepting that we have a responsibility towards Him). Also, people that accept God’s existance then define their own way to Him. Simply trusting in Christ doesn’t seem to be enough – we want to DO something. I’ll leave you with two verses:

      2 Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus [note: therefore Christ now stands for us before a holy, righteous God]

      Eph 2:8/9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast [note: I know I quoted verse 8 already but verse 9 follows and gives God’s reason – we are inclined to claim we contributed or did it ourselves, but if faith is the gift of God then my salvation, including the faith required to believe, really does rely wholly on what God provided and not on anything I bring]

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      1. First – – welcome! I’m glad that you’re here and willing to interact.

        Second – – I really liked what you said in this:

        It’s rather beyond us to try and see and think like God.

        This is where I settled on the issues of election and foreknowledge. The leverage of 100 years and eternity is still beyond me. That’s okay. I love God and trust him. It doesn’t mean that I don’t study, wrestle, and have open conversations. It does mean that many of the answers I have read escape logical consistency. I yield my insistence on finding the answer in my lifetime, but I won’t stop looking.

        Third – – there is no third, may I just say welcome again?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. This, yes! This is me, and others here I know. After years of praying, reading, seeking, pleading, calling, doing, I am at the end. Though my end isn’t as an atheist, there are things I just can’t get my head around, but as a deist. This works for me. And for the first time I have a level of… I’m not sure on the word… comfort? peace? something… I wondered around with the calvinist for awhile. Though as a christian I would have leaned more on the side of arminianism thinking. But I think it was part of the process working through my beliefs and thoughts.

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        1. Hi Peter, the realisation that I could come under the deistic umbrella only happened relatively recently. In reality I have probably had this view point for a bit longer, just didn’t know there was a ‘name’ for it. I can only explain in extremely simple language, I’m no scientist or academic. And it is purely my belief, other deists have other beliefs.
          This is the first time I’ve had to sit and think about how I would describe my beliefs. I may come up with a better way of describing, or I may change how I would describe them, but for now…
          For me, I believe in a creator god. One who created all, humans, animals, the world etc, within the first of these I believe creator god provided everything for the continued and further development of the world. I believe we can know of creator god by what we see around us. Not revealed in religious books and such.
          I don’t believe that creator god interacts with us in a personal, relational way.
          I don’t believe morals are a ‘God’ thing. But that we are guided by our conscience.
          I believe the world, earth, universe and all it holds out there most have a designer. But he/it/she is absent from direct involvement with its design.

          I hope that makes sense.

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          1. *must – have a designer… not most as I have incorrectly put.

            I should also say, that I’m not 100% confident in this spot. I miss some of the aspects of Christian belief. I wish I could have had that personal relational God that my friends seem to have. I’m open and still exploring. This is just what fits most at present. And in a lot of ways I can’t really see it changing in a hurry.

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            1. Hi JJ
              It’s good that you believe in a creator God, but I implore you to go further because the creator God, I believe, does want to have a relationship with you (indeed with everyone).

              Back at the beginning there was communion between God and Adam but, in Genesis chapter 3, it says “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.” Sadly, they had sinned by this point and their communion with God was broken. A little later Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

              Then God chose Israel as His people and they sacrificed animals so they could have a relationship with God. The lives given and blood shed appeased God for a short time, but the sinful nature of man (keeps sinning) meant that sacrifices had to be offered continually.

              Finally, Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. Sin is a barrier between God and man but God found a way that He could still be righteous and have a relationship with us (sinners). We just need to trust in Christ to do this. Acts 16:31 says “…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…”

              I do hope this is helpful.

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          2. Hello JJ – – this does makes sense to me. You don’t need a name for it. You don’t need to be a scientist or academic. I’m more content to describe myself as a husband, father, and friend. I think that you need to be understood. If that is true, then you’re in the right place.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you Pascal! I needed to hear this right now, at this very second. Even a pinch of understanding would go a long way. I do wish though that some understanding closer to home was forthcoming. From someone I didn’t have to pay each week.
              I am thankful for this place. I know I am welcome. Even if I don’t feel I belong.

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                1. Thanks Peter, I have looked into the UU church. I live in a small-ish town, closest one to me would be 4-5 hours away.
                  And I do like my church. And I think I like it more now I feel ‘real’ after coming ‘out’ about where I stand in terms of my belief.
                  But the minute I hear of a UU or anything even remotely similar I’ll be checking it out.

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    3. This comment means a lot to me Peter. If compassion leads you to ask these questions, to question a Calvinistic interpretation of faith then perhaps remember – – we follow Christ, not Calvin. I’m getting to know Howie and Vance in person – – they are exemplary men. No more or less perfect than me, but exemplary men. You seem to be expressing part of what brought them to grief and what brought me to tears. Thank you for that. I did start the book by Crossan that you recommended. I’m not sure that it will answer my questions or yours, but I’m very thankful that we’re still asking. One concept fans my hope – – ignorance as to what happens next. I see through the glass dimly.

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