The Accommodation Theory of the Bible

Today I was called an “idiot” and a “moron” for arguing that God should've told human beings a few things he didn't do, especially when it comes to the ancient superstitious problem for modern Christians about the evil eye. He said, “If you were this ignorant in the pulpit then I really feel sorry for your former congregation.” Am I an idiot? Let me respond.

I had asked, "Why must God accommodate to his creatures?" His one line answer was this: "So that we can understand what he's saying, you idiot."

I have read up on the “accommodation theory” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, and a few entries dealing sporadically with it in the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, The New Bible Dictionary, and the Anchor Bible Dictionary. But let’s use what Norman Geisler said, since I think he dealt with the topic the best in his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. In dealing with Jesus here's an excerpted part of what he said:
In apologetics, accommodation theory can refer to either of two views, one acceptable and one objectionable to evangelical Christians. It can refer to God’s accommodation of his revelation to our finite circumstances to communicate with us, as in Scripture or the incarnation of Christ.

Negative critics of the Bible believe that Jesus accommodated himself to the erroneous views of the Jews of his day in their view of Scripture as inspired and infallible.

Legitimate accommodation can be more accurately called “adaptation.” God, because of infinitude, adapts himself to our finite understanding in order to reveal himself. However, the God who is truth never accommodates himself to human error. The vital differences are easily seen when these concepts are compared (click on the image for a better view):

The Bible teaches the transcendence of God. His ways and thoughts are far beyond ours (Isa. 55:9; Rom. 11:33). Human beings are infinitesimal in view of God’s infinity. God must “stoop down” in order to speak to us. However, this divine act of adaptation to our finitude never involves accommodation to our error. For God cannot err (Heb. 6:18). God uses anthropomorphisms (a true expression of who God is that is couched in human terms) to speak to us, but he does not use myths. He sometimes gives us only part of the truth but that partial truth is never error (1 Cor. 13:12). He reveals himself progressively, but never erroneously. He does not always tells us all, but all that he tells us is true.

It is well known that Jesus expressed a high view of Scripture in the New Testament. He accepted the divine authority (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), imperishability (Matt. 5:17–18), divine inspiration (Matt. 22:43), unbreakability (John 10:35), supremacy (Matt. 15:3, 6), inerrancy (Matt. 22:29; John 17:17), historical reliability (Matt. 12:40; 24:37–38), and scientific accuracy (Matt. 19:4–5). To avoid the conclusion that Jesus was actually affirming all this to be true, some critics insist that he was merely accommodating himself to the accepted Jewish belief of the day without attempting to debunk their views. These erroneous views were a starting point for what he wanted to teach about more important matters of morality and theology.

Accommodation is contrary to Jesus’ life. Everything that is known about Jesus’ life and teaching reveals that he never accommodated to the false teaching of the day. On the contrary, Jesus rebuked those who accepted Jewish teaching that contradicted the Bible, declaring: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt. 15:3, 6b).

Accommodation is contrary to Jesus’ character. From a purely human standpoint, Jesus was known as a man of high moral character. His closest friends found him impeccable (1 John 3:3; 4:17; 1 Peter 1:19). The crowds were amazed at his teaching “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:29).
Now that I can at least claim not to be a moron, let me explain the problem, again, this time more forcefully, okay? I understand that if God exists he must adapt if he is to communicate with human beings, okay? I have no problem seeing this. I merely claim that what we see in the Bible goes far beyond mere adaptation. He has allowed us to believe in errors, both scientific and moral, and that’s what I object to in the Bible, if it’s a true revelation from God.

What Geisler says about Jesus must apply to God for obvious reasons, and I edited out a large chunk of text that went on and on about how Jesus’ actions and teaching would never allow him to accommodate for error. Point taken…or point to be consistently applied?

Apologists claim God accommodated to human beings in describing how he created the universe using timeless “phenomenal language.” See the Hebrew Universe diagram . And yet it is crystal clear God could have described the universe differently in order to teach human beings about the vastness and age of the universe. Apologists will claim that such an ancient cosmological description of our universe was not important for God to correct; since all he wanted to do was to let humans to know that it was HE who created it (others will try fruitlessly to defend it literally). But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe, one can only shake her head in utter amazement God didn’t foresee that because he didn’t do this it would make many of us doubt the Bible. I am an atheist because this very problem started me down the road of doubt. And I wrote a book and I now blog daily against Christianity, among others. Does God really not care about the fact that he didn't tell human beings the truth about the universe?

You see the problem now? What best explains this? If God exists, what was so wrong to tell these ancient people about the true age and vastness of the universe, or in giving them the knowledge of penicillin right from the start, or by unambiguously condemning slavery? By not doing so, God has produced many unbelievers who don’t see any true divine revelation in the Bible! And here’s where my previous comment applies, when I wrote, “I suppose then the Bible was also accommodating to its hearers when God never condemned slavery, or witch, heretic and honor killings either, eh? Can God justify all of this accommodating? Why must God accommodate to his creatures? Why can't he simply tell them the truth, especially since because he didn't, there have been so many problems, including the Galileo affair, and the fact that we who want to assess the Bible's accuracy in today's world doubt it's from God because of this. This God is not too smart for an omniscient being.

In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been written by a person without divine revelation in that era at all. Everything reflects the age in which it was written. Why is that?"

First published August 8, 2007

40 comments:

lowendaction said...

I am no theologian, nore do I command enough knowledge of the original (untranslated) bible to adequately satisfy all of your valid questions.

I would however like to offer how this pondry makes sense to me.

It should be quite clear by now, that for the Christian, our life on earth is viewed as a sort of test. I believe that the nature and function of the bible could be described in much the same way.

It is my belief that God does in fact NOT have an open door policy, but requires candidates to first prove their worth to Him. Assuming all this is true, I think that is not entireley unreasonable coming from the creator.

So that makes the bible less of a manual, or historical text book, but a journey or puzzle into the character of God. Parts of it may never fully be known to us. If you are struggeling with accepting God as the true creator, this can be an understandibly frustrating hurdle. However, if you can settle on God's presented reality, and be satisfied with the more eternally important things that DO make sense...life's pretty good!

You may easily dismiss this as a convienient excuse, but I see nothing convinient about it. In fact, it takes a great deal of effort and patients to decipher what and/or who He is described to be. It is that challenge that makes it worth while for me.

Assuming that the OT testament has even a shred of truth, we see a people who DID have the benifit of witnessing God first hand. For that matter, so did those in the mid 30's A.D. via JC. And yet we only see fleeting response at best, and of those, most wane in their belief and dedication to that which they witnessed. So I don't think that hard facts alone are going to cut it. I'm not saying they aren't helpful, but human nature shows us, that we need more to stick with the concept of God.

Darren said...

JF: He has allowed us to believe in errors, both scientific and moral, and that’s what I object to in the Bible, if it’s a true revelation from God.

He also allows us to tie our shoes wrong, you dope. Bible study is not for the stupid. That God might allow us to pursue our own (sometimes willful) ignorance to the bitter end says nothing about the truth that is revealed to those who look for it.

JL: Apologists will claim that such an ancient cosmological description of our universe was not important for God to correct; since all he wanted to do was to let humans to know that it was HE who created it (others will try fruitlessly to defend it literally). But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe, one can only shake her head in utter amazement God didn’t foresee that because he didn’t do this it would make many of us doubt the Bible.

Since the Bible makes no explicit claims about the size or age of the universe, I'm not sure why that knowledge would shake anybody's faith. Unless they didn't have much of a faith worth holding onto in the first place.

JL: In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been written by a person without divine revelation in that era at all.

I already told you that this is a begged question. Of course you deleted my earlier comments like the coward you are.

JF: Everything reflects the age in which it was written. Why is that?

What age would you expect it to reflect, you idiot? You really expect God to have spoken to the ancients in terms that would be foreign to them? That they would find impossible to understand? Or would you expect him to speak to his people using contemporary language that they would immediately understand and that could then be handed down and understood from one generation to the next?

Your basic argument seems to be that God must not exist because he didn't do things exactly the way you would do them. That's small-minded thinking.

Of course, it's probably easier for you to simply slap the "delete" button instead of responding to my arguments. That's fine. I'm talking to you, and if anybody else sees it, that's just a bonus, but you will continue to think on my words and ponder on my arguments long after they're gone, and that's the only reason I'm responding. The fact that you felt compelled to write an entire blog post just to respond to post of mine that you deleted is proof of that.

You can delete my words, but you can't ignore what I have to say. ;)

lowendaction said...

you know what darren,

This is a place for intelligent and respectful dialoge. Not only are you being rude in someone elses house, you are also underscoring the counter-Christlike behaviorisms of so many other Christians upon whom the authors of this blog have built many of their arguements.

I'm not perfect, nor do I claim to be. But if you can't learn to love first, please stop. You're not helping anyone here! You must be more aware of the consequences of your actions. By the fact that we both claim the same God, I am now lumped in with what you just spewed...thanks for that!

David B. Ellis said...

Hi, John, this doesn't relate to this post so feel free to delete it if you think it irrelevent. I came across an article today on the relationship between reading preference (in particular, for science fiction) and personality type.

It occurs to me that this might also be related to why some people raised in a religion become skeptics while most stick with what they were told when young.

Heres the relevent segment of the essay:


Why do I read science fiction and fantasy?

It turns out the answer may be in my psychological makeup. Paul Allen, a reader of science fiction and a practicing clinical psychotherapist for 22 years, says my temperament predisposes me to a love of science fiction.

Each of us has a temperament, that is, a part of our personality that may or may not be genetically based. A quick Myers-Briggs test has informed me that I'm a Thinking iNtuitive (NT), that is, a "Rational." According to the Keirsey Temperament website, "Rationals are very scarce, comprising as little as 5 to 7 percent of the population."

Allen says, "NTs are non-conformist critical thinkers. The NTs idolize the science fiction writer as the real architects of change. They can see the cleverness and competency in science fiction. Back in the day, when you could sell a book with a rocketship on the cover, you were selling to the NT."


Notice that statistic, this personality type comprises about 5 to 7 percent of the population. Coincidentally about the same proportion who identify as atheist/agnostic.

I think my own personality type fits this category. I'm probably the only one of that kind in my immediate family and also the only one to deconvert.

I think there may be something worth investigating here.

I suspect the sort of rational argumentation we engage in may only be able to reach people of this sort of personality---one inclined to rational inquiry in the first place.

Which makes me wonder---how do we reach the rest? Is it even possible? And if so, should we be approaching them differently from the way that was convincing to us?

John W. Loftus said...

Darren, I won't delete what you just said this time so I can briefly respond.

What age would you expect it to reflect, you idiot? You really expect God to have spoken to the ancients in terms that would be foreign to them? That they would find impossible to understand?

If Jesus (and by extension God) is as Geisler says he is, not afraid to correct people about their errors, and if believing that the universe is small in size has caused so many people to reject the Christian faith, then why didn't God simply say: "In the beginning God created an immeasurable universe of billions of stars through a process of billions of years out of which he finally created the sun, moon, and earth. On it he created water, the beasts of the sea and land, and eventually every living thing on it. Finally he created man to rule over everything he created."

I just don't see why God was scared to do this, or why ancient people couldn't have had a good grasp of what he said. It certainly would be easily understood, and would not be undermined by the findings of astronomy (it may have even speeded up what we know about the universe since it predated our discoveries).

When it comes to slavery, witch, heretic, and honor killings, God could've simply condemned these things...easily. In the case of slavery, God could've said, "Thou shalt not own, buy, sell, or trade slaves", and said it as often as needed until people understood what he meant, just like they understood "Thou shalt not kill."

Your basic argument seems to be that God must not exist because he didn't do things exactly the way you would do them. That's small-minded thinking.

Not at all. It's precisely because God kept his mouth shut that Christianity is under attack today by science. It's precisely because God was silent that centuries of killings took place in his name. Just tell me how you would feel if your whole family had been born in the brutal slavery of the American South. Tell me then if you would not question why God was not bold enough to do what Geisler said of Jesus, when it came to such immoral and hateful actions?

John W. Loftus said...

David, thanks. In the first place we have to start with good sociological data on agnostics and atheists. It's quite possible the following link is correct that there may be as many as 25% of us. Beyond that, I am indeed thinking how the best way to reach people might be, and I'm learning every single day with every single comment here at DC.

I'm getting better, but no breakthrough successes so far. ;-)

akakiwibear said...

Darren, it is rude to visit and abuse your hosts - while I can accept that you find the views expressed by JWL idiotic and that your frustration boils over you should conduct yourself with decorum and not indulge yourself in the conduct lowendaction so validly criticises. Now go and join Opus Dei and flog yourself thoroughly for your transgressions.

What I find interesting in this debate and in much of what is promulgated by the authors of this site is that it appears to me to be intellectual fraud.

Lowendaction’s comment that Darren fuels the fire is true. In fact without misguided Christian fundamentalists this site would struggle for material.

But why do I accuse you of intellectual fraud? Your pedantic appraoch is the red flag that at once draws my attention – a sort of “fraud alert”. I am always suspicious of an argument that hides its general thrust in minutia. Yes, you will be able to pick holes in what I say at a semantic level – but I doubt you can honestly refute the general thrust of my argument.

Much of your reasoning is deliberately based on a literal interpretation of a bible presented as inerrant, a position that any half serious biblical or theology scholar knows to be false. This might work in the ‘bible belt’ but it fails in the real world.

In the arguments I have read on this site (not all I admit – it gets boring) you take as your deductive starting point a flawed assumption and then build on it to get that which is flawed. Were I to take the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens and develop the position that as there are inconsistencies in their work atheism is debunked I would justly deserve your criticism.

But that is what you do!

Perhaps you are tempted to respond by saying that no one claims Dawkins or Hichens work to be divinely inspired – but that is irrelevant to your flawed deductive approach. You take the work of diverse scholars and biblical writers and seek out inconsistencies and build your polemic on them.

Should the works you delve into be consistent? Clearly no. Again you may argue that as the bible is supposed to be “inspired” it should be inerrant and internally consistent. If you were shallow enough to adopt this argument you would be ignoring centuries old Christian teaching that the bible is not inerrant nor the literal word of God. Certainly the Catholic Church does not consider it the sole source of Christian doctrine.

You also conveniently ignore the fact that theology is a field of ongoing study and as such old ideas are tested, perhaps discarded and replaced with new ones until they too are tested. This is the norm to be expected in any discipline. Yet the concept of it being valid in theology appears to be an anathema to you. I conclude that it is so because if you acknowledged that the fundamentalist views on which you base your reasoning are widely discredited in most formal Catholic, Eastern and Protestant teaching you would find yourself without a cause.

But wait I can almost hear you scurrying to find contradictory quotes from Christian scholars old or new to throw at me. Should I expect anything else? Your method is flawed by the bias you seek and ingrain in your argument. It is intellectual fraud.

Btsai said...

akakiwibear (love the name!),

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that articles like this one are attacking straw-men versions of Christianity when they attack Bible inerrancy. But if you look at the top of the page, it explains that Evangelical Christianity is the primary target here. And Bible inerrancy is a core Evangelical belief (look up "The Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy"), so I don't think the straw-men accusation is a fair one.

David B. Ellis said...


It's quite possible the following link is correct that there may be as many as 25% of us.


Thats true. The statistic of 5 to 10 percent is probably 20 years old or so. More recent statistics seem to show that religious skepticism is growing in the US.

And, of course, there are other countries where its as high as 50%.

lowendaction said...

david/john,

So I'm an INTJ...where do I fit in?

Do I have what it takes to be a skeptic...or am I just a fluke in your theory?

just curious...

Joe E. Holman said...

Darren said...

"Of course, it's probably easier for you to simply slap the "delete" button instead of responding to my arguments. That's fine. I'm talking to you, and if anybody else sees it, that's just a bonus, but you will continue to think on my words and ponder on my arguments long after they're gone, and that's the only reason I'm responding. The fact that you felt compelled to write an entire blog post just to respond to post of mine that you deleted is proof of that.

You can delete my words, but you can't ignore what I have to say. ;)"



My reply...

Darren, first off, calm down and quit flaming. You are only showing yourself intolerant, and in your words, "small-minded."

Second, your words are not bothering anyone here. John very regularly takes the time to repost quotes and responses from other topics. Look around and you'll see this. But know that we don't think as highly of your comments as you do--trust me on this one!

Thirdly, just admit that believers and unbelievers are not going to see eye-to-eye here.

When I was trained in seminary, one of the hallmark traits of "Bible inspiration," we were told, was anticipation of error. This is false because the Bible doesn't antipicate virtually any errors, much less the ones John and every thinking infidel has brought up.

Your deity could have revealed the truth about slavery, the age and size of the universe, and other things. It would have required nothing of him to do so, but he didn't. He accomodated us, and in effect, lied to us by allowing the truth to be misrepresented. It was god's decision, and problems resulted from that decision.

You have not, and indeed, CANNOT answer this objection. You must simply do what Lowendaction is doing by saying...

"Parts of it may never fully be known to us. If you are struggeling with accepting God as the true creator, this can be an understandibly frustrating hurdle. However, if you can settle on God's presented reality, and be satisfied with the more eternally important things that DO make sense...life's pretty good!"

Translation: admit you can't answer these questions and make it easy for yourself by just focusing on the available spiritual quandaries the word of God presents.

(JH)

JR335 said...

akakiwibear said
You also conveniently ignore the fact that theology is a field of ongoing study and as such old ideas are tested, perhaps discarded and replaced with new ones until they too are tested. This is the norm to be expected in any discipline.


How are the ideas "tested"?

Jospeh said...

Formulated into a simple argument that even the likes of Daren can understand: If God adapted to historic and scientific error when communicating with man and this God "cannot lie," then either widely accepted historic and scientific facts are wrong or the cannot lie part is.

Don't you think it is rather convenient for a religious book to make startling claims, demand the reader accept them as the word of God (without question) and then add, "This is from God and God can't lie. If you doubt this, you're putting your soul in danger of hell." Talk about circular reasoning!

If a Muslim came to you with the Koran and made that same argument, would you accept that book, too? Surely any book making divine claims should be able to measure up to those claims--including its conformity to what we know to be true about history and science.

Former_Fundy said...

Looks like we have another graduate of the JP Holding school of apologetics.

I have found that the people who need to use such insulting language do so to over compensate for their lack of substance.

Neil Turton said...

lowendaction wrote:
Do I have what it takes to be a skeptic...or am I just a fluke in your theory?

I can't answer for David and John, but I think you've got what it takes. I've got faith in you. ;-)

Seriously, I recommend being a skeptic whether you're a Christian or an Atheist. If Christianity is true, it will stand up to skeptical enquiry... and having tested your beliefs objectively you'll be clearer about what you know and more aware of what you only think you know.

Peace, Neil.

SteveJ said...

I have found that the people who need to use such insulting language do so to over compensate for their lack of substance.

That's true.

What really bothers me most about the nasty apologists is how they baptize their nastiness, making it an acceptable spiritual trait. Here's the reasoning: "Look at Elijah mocking the priests of Baal. Look at Paul calling the Galatians "foolish" and expressing his wish that the Judaizers would castrate themselves. Look at Jesus lambasting his opponents. In the same way, we can mock, berate and lambast our opponents."

I suppose if they can demonstrate their apostleship, messiahship or prophetic office, they might have a case. But to adapt Lloyd Bentsen's verbal harpoon of Dan Quayle: "Mr. Apologist, Sir ... you're no Jesus of Nazareth."

Another point is that such reasoning as "Elijah could mock his enemies" has dangerous implications, because Elijah also killed his enemies.

But hiding behind these arguments is disingenuous. These guys aren't creeps on account of some biblical argument. It's because being a creep is a lot easier than being gracious, patient, forebearing, courteous, civil, etc. You get more cheap thrills being rude. And as an added bonus, you can preen yourself for being so "zealous."

akakiwibear said...

jospeh – missed the point you did.

neil – I agree, be sceptical - - and I am sceptical of your dependence on the flawed teaching of the ‘fundies’. Why pick on the easy targets? It is sort of like bullying really.

jr335 – ideas are tested by debate. There is an appropriate test for most things – for instance to try to use scientific experiment to verify a unique event is silly.

Btsai – fair point about the target being ‘fundies’! So I take it you think the author would acknowledge that his arguments are limited and do not apply to mainstream Christian thinking.

Btsai said...

hi akakiwibear,

First, on further review, I don't see how this argument from John is reliant on Bible inerrancy. So I don't think your original criticism was on-target in the first place.

Second, the argument is specifically against the accommodation theory apologetics. Now, I have no idea if that represents mainstream Christianity or not. But since the argument is against this specific idea, it seems self-evident that those who do not believe in or agree with accommodation theory need not be concerned with this argument. So no, I don't see a need for John to acknowledge that this argument is limited and does not apply to all Christians.

Darren said...

Lots of catching up to do, so lets get started. First on the plate is "Doubting" John Loftus:

JL: If Jesus (and by extension God) is as Geisler says he is, not afraid to correct people about their errors...

*Doctrinal* errors that are critical to one's salvation. Being mistaken about the size of the universe won't get you sent to hell. And what would the ancients have done with that kind of knowledge anyway? It made little difference to them how big or how old the universe was. It's also worth pointing out that the Bible wasn't written for the purpose of convincing thick-headed skeptics, which is really the only reason you're demanding that it be more precise on certain matters. If you're dead set on rejecting the Bible then there's really nothing it could say that would prevent that.

JL: When it comes to slavery, witch, heretic, and honor killings, God could've simply condemned these things...easily.

Like I said, John, Bible study isn't for the stupid. If someone is too ignorant or lazy to look at those concepts in context and realize that, for example, the Bible did in fact *condemn* the kind of abusive practices that we know as "slavery" but approved the ancient practice of indentured servitude with strict guidelines concerning the care of one's servants then that's really not God's fault.

Now next up is akakiwibear:

a: Much of your reasoning is deliberately based on a literal interpretation of a bible presented as inerrant, a position that any half serious biblical or theology scholar knows to be false.

Actually, no, my arguments are not based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and my belief in inerrancy is consistent with the Chicago Statement (look it up) which is quite different from the flawed definition of "inerrancy" that many skeptics hold.

a: I conclude that it is so because if you acknowledged that the fundamentalist views...

And what "fundamentalist views" are those? Since you've not given specifics, I'm at a loss as what it is you're talking about. Since the rest of your comments are based on this false premise, we can move on.

Next up, we get a little nonsense from Joe E. Holman:

joe: Your deity could have revealed the truth about slavery, the age and size of the universe, and other things. It would have required nothing of him to do so, but he didn't. He accomodated us, and in effect, lied to us by allowing the truth to be misrepresented. It was god's decision, and problems resulted from that decision.

The slavery issue and the size/age of the universe have already been addressed. As for your claim that the truth was "misrepresented", again, the Bible makes no explicit or implicit claims about the size or age of the universe or other scientific matters largely because the Bible is not a science book and that information is quite irrelevant to its central message (man's rebellion from God and God's saving grace through the sacrifice of his Son).

Moving on to Joseph:

joseph: Formulated into a simple argument that even the likes of Daren can understand: If God adapted to historic and scientific error when communicating with man and this God "cannot lie," then either widely accepted historic and scientific facts are wrong or the cannot lie part is.

At worst the Bible commits errors of omission, if those could even be called "errors" or indeed "lies". As stated in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy:

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman's milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise.

So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called "phenomena" of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.

Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one Biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer's mind.

Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action.


Now former_fundy stands up for his smackdown:

ff: I have found that the people who need to use such insulting language do so to over compensate for their lack of substance.

Except when the insults are simply the icing on an otherwise substantive argument. Sorry, but some of us don't suffer fools gladly. I have found that those who focus on the insulting language do so to compensate for their lack of a substantive reply. ;)

Finally lowendaction:

low: This is a place for intelligent and respectful dialoge.

I am giving the material the respect I feel it deserves. Seriously, if someone started arguing with you that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it, or that the Nazi Holocaust never happened, or that the Apollo moon landings were faked by NASA, would you respectfully disagree, or would you be more inclined to say, "How is it possible for you to be so ignorant!"

low: ...you are also underscoring the counter-Christlike behaviorisms of so many other Christians upon whom the authors of this blog have built many of their arguements.

Read the Bible some time. You'll find that Jesus and the prophets weren't always nice to their opponents. Jesus was pretty nasty to the pharisees, Elijah openly mocked and insulted the prophets of Baal, and the Apostle Paul said that his opponents should castrate themselves. What I've done here is exceedingly mild by comparison!

I'll take a diversion to respond to SteveJ who wrote, I suppose if they can demonstrate their apostleship, messiahship or prophetic office, they might have a case. But to adapt Lloyd Bentsen's verbal harpoon of Dan Quayle: "Mr. Apologist, Sir ... you're no Jesus of Nazareth." Oh, so it's O.K. if Jesus or an "apostle" or a "prophet" insults his opponents, but it's not O.K. if a Christian does it? Should we not be following the examples of the architects of our faith? Where do you draw the distinction?

It's also worth pointing out that insulting one's opponent was a common rhetorical device used by the ancients (and indeed finds its way into modern honor/shame cultures) and was not exclusive to Jesus, the apostles, or the prophets. The intent is to make your point and shame your opponent. Why? Because someone who's "nice" can be easily dismissed, but when they challenge your honor, they deserve to be taken seriously; case in point, John Loftus felt compelled to restore his honor by responding to me with a dedicated blog entry, and this *after* deleting my original comments!

Now back to lowendaction:

low: I'm not perfect, nor do I claim to be. But if you can't learn to love first, please stop.

Look up the word "agape" to find out what the Bible really means when it talks about loving your enemies. (Hint: limp-wristedly "agreeing to disagree" is not consistent with agape love.)

low: By the fact that we both claim the same God, I am now lumped in with what you just spewed...thanks for that!

By the same token, I'm in danger of being lumped in with your weak showing here. Notice how your comments have been all but ignored while mine have generated considerable thought and debate. Now which of us do you think is doing more good here? ;)

John W. Loftus said...

Darren, identify yourself. You write like J.P. Holding. Are you Holding, yes or no? If yes, then let's proceed, since I know you cannot write any differently than to slam your opponents.

zilch said...

The "accommodation theory" of the Bible sounds a lot like plain old "relativism" to me, which is one of those things Christians often love to hate about atheists, as in "if you don't believe in absolute good and evil, what's to stop you from knocking down old ladies on the street?" After reading the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I would sum it up thusly: "the Bible is right, except when it's wrong." But beware Christians: too much accommodation, and you become atheists.

Darren: defending your rudeness, you say Notice how your [lowendaction's] comments have been all but ignored while mine have generated considerable thought and debate.. This is like a little kid running up to two chess players, knocking over the board and scattering the pieces, and then being pleased with himself that he's getting so much attention from the grownups. If someone calls me a "dope" and an "idiot", I don't need to defend my honor, because my challenger has none.

lowendaction said...

darren,

I'm sorry, but what scriptual backing do you have for using homosexual slander against a fellow Christian to make and inaccurate point about agape love?

Please reference the list of loves characteristics I left on lee's last post, and help me understand how you have applied those here? Again, this is not me implying that I am better or more Christian than you...far from it. I am simply responding to your heavy-handed claims.

We will see who's behavior last longer here in DC's house.

good luck with yours!

Let me know how your blog "Haters for Christ" works out for you.

SteveJ said...

Darren or whoever you are,

OK, so calling people "moron" is all part of your imitation of Christ. Are you this thorough in emulating him in all other areas -- even those areas that don't involve taking a verbal dump on other people?

Boy, what would you guys do if you didn't have these biblical examples to cancel out the "gentleness" texts (which aren't as much fun to follow anyway)?

John W. Loftus said...

Christians who think abusive language is something they have a right to use against apostates should think again.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

As usual, far more material worth comments than I'll have time for -- I'm trying to readjust my schedule. But when someone so begs for a few raps across the knuckles as does Darren, I can't resist.

Let's start with this quote:
"Bible study isn't for the stupid. If someone is too ignorant or lazy to look at those concepts in context and realize that, for example, the Bible did in fact *condemn* the kind of abusive practices that we know as "slavery" but approved the ancient practice of indentured servitude with strict guidelines concerning the care of one's servants then that's really not God's fault."

Now first, the idea that slaves can be treated abusively is important, but it is only a secondary evil. The primary evil is that
in slavery a human being is turned into property, which may be bought and sold and owned.

This is abhorrent from my humanistic perspective, but is equally horrible from a Christian one. Something 'made in the image of God,' the height of creation, something with the potential of eternal life in Heaven being treated as if it (used advisedly, a slave becomes an 'it') were nothing more that a piece of land, a garden tool, a car?

The fact that there were 'kindly owners,' -- and I point to Josephus, a 'war-prize' slave, whose owner allowed and encouraged him to write his great books -- does not take away from that evil.

But I have to ask you, was it stupidity, laziness, or simple ignorance that caused you to overlook Leviticus 25:

"44 Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life"

(To quote the 'tag-line' of the comedian, Jackie Vernon: "Pause for the sound of the laughter to die down.")

You also say
"It's also worth pointing out that the Bible wasn't written for the purpose of convincing thick-headed skeptics"

But don't Christians say that the Bible was God's Universal message to mankind, and that Christians should 'preach the Gospel to all men?" Doesn't that imply that it was written to convince everyone, including 'thick-headed skeptics' like John and myself? The fact that it does such a bad job of it, that it is, in fact, so unconvincing, may be part of my argument, but not yours.

As it happens, I agree that the Bible -- like any book -- must be comprehensible to its hearers so that if it is 'meant for the ages' it can survive long enough to reach future readers. But, as Lee has pointed out, there were any number of scientific concepts that would have been comprehensible to the times that could have been mentioned. Just ONE specific, indisaputable scientific statement that went beyond the knowledge of the times and would be proven would have made more converts through the ages than anything else. (This is why many Muslims attempt to twist the words of the Qur'an, some Orthodox Jews -- and probably some Christians -- attempt to twist the words of the Old Testament to show such an anticipation. They don't succeed, but they know how valuable it would be if they could.)

Maybe evolution, or the size and age of the Universe, would have been 'going too far.' But simply stating the world was round (which had already been proven by Greek scientists), or that the Earth went around the Sun, or the size of the earth, or the existence of the American continents and that they were inhabited, or the circulation of the blood, or the idea of zero and positional notation, any one of these could have been expressed in one simple sentence.

And God, were he to have been the 'author' or inspirer of the Bible, must have known how convincing this would have been. As I have argued elsewhere about the Resurrection, accepting the claims of Christianity about 'Divine Authorship' makes God look simply stupid.

In your defense of your arrogant obnoxiousness, you say something about 'not suffering fools gladly.' I do, which is why I'm glad you keep posting and hope John doesn't delete your comments. You evehn disgust the believers who see your infantile posturing, and you are so easy to refute, I hope you comment on every post.

Oh, and two brief things. I wouldn't expect you to get facts right, but you could at least get the names of those you refer to accurate. It's "Jospeh" not "Joseph." And before you riff on my nickname (an acronym of my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan line, chosen because there were too many other "Jim Benton"s on the net) -- it's been done before.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear Darren,

May I ask whether your name is a pseudonymn or not? And whether you're willing to be forthcoming as to your identity, schooling, denomination, intellectual journey?

Thanks if you can fill in any one of the blanks above concerning who Darren is.

Sincerely,

Ed

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Akakiwibear:
In your reply to jr335, you said "ideas are tested by debate." Doesn't this remind you, or others of the oft-repeated story of the man who was kicked out of philosophy class for the 'unpardonable sin' of that discipline. They were debating how many teeth a horse had, and he brought a horse into class and suggested they count the teeth.

The first way you test an idea is against evidence, in other words, against observed reality. The second way is to test it for logical coherence.

You are right that 'the Creation' if it occurred, was a unique event. But we are not testing its occurrence -- some of us are 'dubious agnostics' such as myself as far as that goes. What we are 'testing' is whether the 'God of the Testaments' is the same as the Creator.

In fact, I've said something at my usual exhaustive length. repeatedly. I'm now going to say it in a few shoryt phrases -- since I'll refer to it frequently, call it "Prup's Third Law."

Saying ANYTHING about the Creator

-- even that the Creator exists --

Says NOTHING about the Christian God

Unless you FIRST prove

That the Christian God IS the Creator.

(So far, no one has answered this challenge, or even realized they were violating it.)

Cole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

I'm a new atheist, having undergone an "unconversion" experience during 2009. As a life-long evangelical/charismatic (ministry leader, Bible teacher, three-times-a-week churchgoer, etc.) finding myself an unbeliever has been both unsettling and liberating.

Oddly enough, my unconversion happened because of my practice of daily Bible reading. I was happily reading along until I reached Numbers 5, with its "test for adultery" in which a jealous husband is given a procedure to force his suspected wife to drink dirty water, with the physical effects on the wife to be proof or disproof of her faithfulness.

I had an immediate reaction of "Hold on, this can't possibly be true. God would not give this kind of procedure to his people. This has to be some kind of Hebrew folk tale--it's like what a witch doctor would do. And what right does a jealous or suspicious wife have? Why is it one-sided?" My train of thought went on for a while, but after admitting to myself "I don't believe this", the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Because in evangelical thought the Bible in its entirety is the word of God, it stands or falls as a whole--and if I don't believe Numbers 5, I don't believe the Bible.

I have to say, after a lifetime spent studying the Bible, it is an unclear book, full of contradictory statements, that presents a cruel and unreasonable God. I feel like I've lived under a system of deception for most of my life . . . largely supported by theories such as accommodation.

Christians are highly selective about which parts of the Bible to truly believe, and are quick to use accommodation and other tactics to explain away the difficult or uncomfortable parts.

It's taken me a few months to get to the point where I'm comfortable saying "I am an atheist", but I'm solidly there now. I'm not interested in a religion that worships a God who permitted--even in the past--genocide, slavery, oppression, animal sacrifice . . . I finally "get it" when people say "how can anyone who really reads the Bible continue to believe it." I guess it just took me a long time to finally pay attention to what I was reading.

Rob R said...

But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe,

The harm wasn't irreparable precisely because we have saught a deeper understanding of Genesis beyond what hits us superficially. And it wasn't even unprecedented prior to Galileo since some of the church fathers also had a more abstract understanding of Genesis.

I am an atheist because this very problem started me down the road of doubt.

And because you didn't do what scripture warned us to do several times. You didn't persevere until you could have a deeper understanding. And furthermore, because you treated your understanding as as the focus of your faith and not the way you lived your life, your ability to persevere was reduced, though your loss of Christian community also was an important factor which was not entirely your fault (if at all), but that too was part of the situation to persevere through.

Does God really not care about the fact that he didn't tell human beings the truth about the universe?

He did tell us the truth. The problem for you is that he didn't tell us the truth in the way that modernists would approve.

Jim said...

He did tell us the truth. The problem for you is that he didn't tell us the truth in the way that modernists would approve.

Rob, all we ever have is the point in time where we are. That's why the Bible would need to have some "timeless" element for a skeptic to believe at any "future" point in time.

But, alas, the Bible has no timelessness to it's credit.

The Koran looks EXACTLY the way it would look if written by people OF THE AGE when it was written knowing what they knew at that time--with fictional elements tossed in and no supernatural guidance.

The Book of Mormon looks EXACTLY the way it would look if written by people OF THE AGE when it was written knowing what they knew at that time--with fictional elements tossed in and no supernatural guidance.

The Bible looks EXACTLY the way it would look if written by people OF THE AGE when it was written knowing what they knew at that time--with fictional elements tossed in and no supernatural guidance.

Repeat for all "Revealed Truth" documents.

Do you understand this concept?

For the language you use in your posts to actually have the meaning and importance you want it to have, you have to PRESUPPOSE the existence of God.

Regards.

Kilre said...

--The harm wasn't irreparable precisely because we have sought a deeper understanding of Genesis beyond what hits us superficially. And it wasn't even unprecedented prior to Galileo since some of the church fathers also had a more abstract understanding of Genesis.

The cool part about story books is, you can interpret them in as many ways as you can imagine. For instance, http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html

The Jabberwocky!

--And because you didn't do what scripture warned us to do several times.

Be like children? (Mat 18)

Impressionable, gullible, easily swayed by authority?

--You didn't persevere until you could have a deeper understanding.

Deeper understanding of what?

--And furthermore, because you treated your understanding as the focus of your faith and not the way you lived your life, your ability to persevere was reduced, though your loss of Christian community also was an important factor which was not entirely your fault (if at all), but that too was part of the situation to persevere through.

Living faithfully > understanding?

--He did tell us the truth.

Through interpretive dance and metaphor!

--The problem for you is that he didn't tell us the truth in the way that modernists would approve.

Modernists. That's new for me.

But still, is it really so hard to say, "Adam, this Earth here is older than you can imagine!"?

Well, I guess for God it is, sitting folded away, unreachable by knowledgeable folk that want to stick probes in him to find out what makes him tick.

Brad Haggard said...

Jim,

The Bible doesn't look exactly like we would expect someone from the ANE to write. God is distinct from creation and history is seen as real. You really need to read the Enuma Elish alongside Genesis 1 and see if they look like they're from the same age. They don't even seem like they're on the same planet.

magnumdb said...

Darren, why do you keep calling names? It just makes you look desperate.

Ok, so God has to stoop to our level. Why did he set this situation up?

I understand the metaphor of human parents dumbing down explanations of the world to their human children, because that seems to be the best way for a smarter human to relate information to a less smart human; a less smart human which they had no control over how they'd be born.

But this god apparently HAD the ability to create us however he/she/it wanted. So why create us with less brain power than he/she/it? If you want your creation to understand you, why not just make your creation as all-knowing as yourself? Or at least able to understand reality as much has his/her/itself?

And if this god is something we can't fully understand - how do we KNOW we can't fully understand him/her/it? If we don't know the whole story yet, maybe there is a way to understand this god at a level that the god understands him/her/itself.

What if this god is evil and is giving us false information? Misleading us? If we don't know all about this god, then this is a possibility. Anything can be going on behind the curtain that we don't know because our brains aren't equipped to understand it.

magnumdb said...

Lowendaction -

"[god ]requires candidates to first prove their worth to Him."

Your god is all knowing. He doesn't need to test you, because he already knows the outcome/answer.

Jim said...

Brad said:

The Bible doesn't look exactly like we would expect someone from the ANE to write. God is distinct from creation and history is seen as real. You really need to read the Enuma Elish alongside Genesis 1 and see if they look like they're from the same age. They don't even seem like they're on the same planet.

Sorry Brad, I really don't need to read the "Enuma Elish." All I need to do is read Genesis 2 and figure out they are different, mutually exclusive, and therefore uninspired.

Genesis 1 = Square Peg
Genesis 2 = Round Hole

They don't go together . . . and they don't match what we know about the world . . . they are not timeless.

I know there are barrels of ink spilled to provide a "theological explanation." When it takes more ink to explain something than it took to pen the original--it sounds too fishy to me to be supernaturally inspired.

Regards

Anthony said...

Here's a little question for all those jumping through thousands of hoops to prove that the Bible is inerrant. (By the way, I haven't really yet heard anyone make a good convincing argument; just keep pointing to the fact that we haven't read the relevant literature or don't understand the correct definition of "Biblical Inerrancy")

Anyway, let's treat this like scientists, historians, mathematics, etc. do and make the issue, at the very least, falsifiable. Predict something... anything... that we could find in the Bible, or between books of the Bible, or even something in the real world, that would invalidate the Bible. Anything will do.

Just like J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would invalidate evolution, quickly replied that the discovery of rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian would destroy the theory, so too, I ask all of you holding to the idea of divine inspiration and inerrancy, what would invalidate that claim.

This will certainly help narrow our discussion, and remove all the obfuscatory language and rhetoric. But, be careful, because if you offer something, and it's found, it would be quite disingenuous to recant later.

Anyways, that's just a thought.

Rob R said...

Rob, all we ever have is the point in time where we are. That's why the Bible would need to have some "timeless" element for a skeptic to believe at any "future" point in time.

We are historical creatures. It couldn't be more appropriate that God interacts with us through history. And that means that timeless truth is not the end all be all of the relational truth.

Jesus is the truth. Truth is not a timeless abstraction. Truth is a person, and nothing could be more important than that since personhood is the most important metaphysical category that is most available to us. In the New Testament, we come to learn that God is love, and love that is only in timeless abstraction is worthless. No wonder the trinity then becomes such an incredible enlightening concept that demonstrates to us that individuality isn't the highest aspect of personhood but rather relationality and community is.

Kilre said...

--We are historical creatures.

By which I assume you mean we're fascinated with long-dead things.

--It couldn't be more appropriate that God interacts with us through history.

Actually, it would be much more appropriate were this being to attempt to communicate with us now, when we're much more likely to be able to comprehend just what it is, not in the past when we didn't even know what micro-organism were and did, nor knew about the workings of the Earth and universe as we do now.

Of course, it leaves the door open for doubt more in this time, but then we don't accept authority at the drop of a hat, at least not without proof of the claims in question.

--And that means that timeless truth is not the end all be all of the relational truth.

Considering what little I know about the use of the term "timeless truth", that is unfortunately all that you have in this case of relative truth; and so I agree. It's not the end all of my relative truth, for whatever values of truth.

--Jesus is the truth.

Nnnnoooo, revolutionary end-of-the-world, anti-establishment Jewish preachers are not ambiguous philosophical ideas.

--Truth is not a timeless abstraction.

I agree, truth's definition changes quite often. One day it's about how we view facts about reality, the next it's about some ancient mythical deity.

--Truth is a person

I think you should tell the philosophical community about this important discovery, as I'm sure they would love to hear that someone has finally hammered out a definition of truth.

--and nothing could be more important than that since personhood is the most important metaphysical category that is most available to us.

Let me get this straight: because we as a species love to project our egos everywhere and in every which way, therefore the concept of truth, which is already hard enough to define, can now be given anthropomorphic form, so that one ancient Middle Eastern desert religion can claim to have the truth that everyone else is lacking, namely in the form of their deity.

Makes perfect sense.

--In the New Testament, we come to learn that God is love

Spinoza, damn you.

--and love that is only in timeless abstraction is worthless.

So "love" that can't be easily defined because of its tenuous grasp on historicity and reality isn't worth much.

--No wonder the trinity then becomes such an incredible enlightening concept that demonstrates to us that individuality isn't the highest aspect of personhood but rather relationality and community is.

So a deity with multiple personality disorder is the figure that we should all look up to; I'll go make up some imaginary personalities and get back to you on how enlightened I get.

That is, after all, what I get from the trinity. Where you get "community" from a three-headed god I don't understand.

Brad Haggard said...

Jim,

You aren't really that anti-academic, are you? Why the aversion to reading a contemporary creation account? Please don't be another example of the psuedo-scholarship of the New Atheism.

What are your reasons for saying Genesis 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive? (I happen to think they are not one continuous account, but I'm curious why you think so) And the second question is, if they are mutually exclusive, why did they get stuck together?

Finally, it seems like barrels of ink are spilled for all kinds of things. There has been as much recent literature, at least, on evolution as biblical studies. I'm not sure that says anything about it's truthfulness, though. What, then, is your criteria for inspiration?

Anthony,

Here are some things that would falsify biblical authority for me.

1. Jesus' remains (the classic one)

2. A complete overturning of the evidence we have for Iron Age Israel

3. A first century document claiming an alternate history of Jesus