Featured Post

The Essentials of Christianity

Most of the various groups/organizations which call themselves Christian have formulated some kind of official statement/summary of their b...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Conclusive proof that God didn't have anything to do with writing the Bible?

Gavin Rumney posted a chart the other day on his Otagosh blog which originally appeared on the Yuriy & Inna blog. The article can be viewed here: http://www.yuriyandinna.com/ The chart highlights differences between the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Masoretic Text relative to how the authors of the New Testament used certain passages from the Old Testament in their writings. The chart appears as part of an article entitled "Why I don't trust the Bible," which is itself the fourth part of a series of articles that underscores "a clearly human writing history" for the Scriptures.

While I agree with Yuriy that many Christians are unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible (what is actually said in its pages) and how it came to be (how it was written and the history of how the canon was put together), I do not agree with him that an awareness of those things will lead one to the inevitable conclusion that God didn't have anything to do with the writing of the Bible - that it is an entirely human enterprise. Yuriy's conclusions are based on naive notions about the Bible (and, once again, I'm not disputing that these notions are widespread within the Christian community). Yuriy summarizes these notions as "1. God inspired people to write divine revelation, without error; they wrote this down in Greek or Hebrew, put it together in a book called the Bible; and 2. This Greek and Hebrew Bible was translated into English, and you have a copy in your hands."

As long time readers of this blog will readily acknowledge, this blogger does not subscribe to such notions about the Bible. My overall beef is not with Yuriy's scholarship (although I do have a few observations to make about the chart later) or his conclusions that Scripture was written by humans, edited by humans, translated by humans and put together by humans. No, Yuriy and I part company in our determinations about what that evidence means in terms of God's involvement in the process.

I am reminded here about the different perspectives of the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist sees the glass as being half full, and the pessimist sees the glass as being half empty. Same glass of water perceived differently by two independent observers.

Yuriy and I do not disagree that Scripture is full of errors, contradictions, additions, deletions, obscure, crude, bigoted and disputed texts. We do disagree that these features lead to the conclusion that God had absolutely nothing to do with the writing of Scripture or the formation of the canon. Think about it, Yuriy's conclusion is only warranted if one accepts the traditional understanding of what inspiration is (which I do not). I do not believe that inspiration takes away our human propensity for making mistakes and bad decisions. If we allow all of Yuriy's evidence of human involvement in the process, are we truly being objective if we disallow any evidence of God's involvement in the process?

There is a considerable body of evidence that there is a remarkable degree of harmony and continuity in the writings known as the Bible. I hope that Yuriy would be willing to acknowledge that one is able to find great beauty, love, compassion, mercy, hope and spiritual insight in the pages of the Bible. Where did those things come from? If Yuriy was willing to acknowledge the presence of those things, he would probably point to the same source - humans. I, however, see these things as evidence of a different set of fingerprints - what I characterize as Divine fingerprints. Yes, I can see the human fingerprints all over these documents, but I also can clearly discern that there is another set of fingerprints all over the evidence.

As for the chart referenced above, we must admit that such a chart could be dangerous in the hands of those who are unfamiliar with the history surrounding the Septuagint and Masoretic Text. It is a fact of history that the Western world (including the Jews) was heavily influenced by the Greeks during the period between the later prophets and just before the events described in the New Testament. The fact that the New Testament was composed in Greek is itself evidence of this phenomenon. As the Jews spread out from Palestine and established communities in areas that were even more directly influenced by the Greek culture and language, it became necessary for them to translate their scriptures into Greek (many Jews adopted the language of the intellectual and commercial elite). This happened during this period between the Old and New Testaments.

As Yuriy points out in his article, the earliest Greek manuscripts (the more complete ones) date back to the Fourth and Fifth Centuries of the Common Era. The earliest complete Masoretic Text (Hebrew) manuscripts date to the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (it has also been demonstrated that there are significant differences between these and the Dead Sea Scrolls). Which one is more authoritative? Which one is closer to the original? (Yuriy points out that we don't have ANY of the originals) If we based our answer on age, we'd have to give the edge to the Septuagint. Is it possible that the Jews who were responsible for the Masoretic Text had an incentive to discredit the Septuagint and the New Testament? (After all, they didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah - Which came first: the chicken or the egg?)

Finally, take another look at the different translations. Doesn't the Greek version appear to make more sense within the context sometimes than the Hebrew? Hence, while it is safe to look at this chart and conclude that there are discrepancies between the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament, one would be on shaky ground to conclude that the human authors of the New Testament consulted an inferior source for their quotations from the OT.

Yuriy concludes his article with this statement: "Your Bible is the best possible scientific recreation, based on a scientific theory (yes, just like the theory of evolution, which also attempts to reconstruct the past based on available evidence, without access to complete evidence). I agree with that statement, and I am comfortable saying that's good enough for me. I accept the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory based on incomplete evidence (as does everyone who accepts them). Isn't it just a tad hypocritical to dismiss those of us who accept the Bible based on the same rationale?

11 comments:

  1. Do you believe Jesus was divine or merely human?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I believe that the available evidence points to the conclusion that Jesus was of Divine origin, but I would say that the evidence suggests that about all of us. I share some of your "minimalist" predisposition - to try to define or characterize what exactly that means in any greater detail would not be supported by the available evidence. That's why I don't discuss concepts/teachings/doctrines like Unitarianism, Binitarianism or Trinitariansim on this blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, being a Christian - albeit a Liberal one -, do you believe Jesus' divinity is efficacious for your salvation?

      Delete
    2. I believe that Jesus Christ's humanity was the most important element in procuring my salvation.

      Delete
  3. But it is necessary that Jesus had dual nature - divine + human - in order that his sacrifice can secure your release from the penalty of sin and eternal life?

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is essential to Christian theology as I understand it that, whatever he was/was not prior to his birth as a human, Jesus played some part/role in the creation of mankind. Many folks have interpreted the writings of the author of the Gospel of John, along with some other early Christians, as characterizing that nature as dual (Divine and human). However, as I said before, I am not going to elaborate on what I think that means - the truth is that I am personally undecided about what that means.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for participating in my diagnostic assessment of your present religious faith. I'm detecting cognitive dissonance with your transition to Liberalism.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I must not have given the answer you wanted.

    ReplyDelete



  7. Miller JonesAugust 5, 2015 at 4:25 PM
    "I must not have given the answer you wanted"

    Why would you think I'd care about what you believe?
    Your beliefs appear to be confused vis-à-vis orthodox Christianity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No offense, Minimalist, but you obviously care what Miller/Lonnie believes or surely you wouldn't be interrogating him. --D. Cartwright

      Delete
  8. My beliefs definitely do not conform to those of traditional/orthodox Christianity, but I don't feel confused. Moreover, there are some things about which I don't feel comfortable expressing an opinion. I don't think that makes me confused, just deliberate, careful and open-minded.

    ReplyDelete