Five Big Rocks (part two)

To help Christians understand why I left the Christian faith, I am writing a series of articles about the obstacles that dissuaded me from belief. I call them the Five Big Rocks:

1. The Problem of Evil & Suffering
2. The Problem of Communication.
3. The Problem of Scriptural Errancy
4. The Problem of Theological Incoherence
5. The Problem of Religious Toxicity

I dealt with the first rock here. Danger! Falling rocks ahead!

2. The Problem of Communication.

Jim Benton (aka Prup) is the first one I know of to name this argument in this way. I won’t attempt to articulate it as Jim would, because I probably won’t do it justice (he’s got some great insights to share, though, and I look forward to reading his comments a little later).

One Christian article I read recently asks, "Have you telephoned God today?" Would that it were that easy! The article continues, "Every endeavor on earth requires proper and clear lines of communication, otherwise, there would be chaos." And chaos there is. If there is a God, why does he have such a hard time communicating with his creation?

If God exists and if communication originated with him (as Genesis and John's Gospel imply), then he should be able to communicate far better than any communicator who has ever lived. According to communication experts, a good communicator:

• Knows his audience
• Knows his purpose
• Knows his topic
• Anticipates objections
• Achieves credibility with his audience through good argumentation
• Takes different learning styles into account
• Presents information in several ways, using multiple communication techniques
• Communicates as little or as much as it takes to be properly understood
• Follows through on what he says
• Develops practical, useful ways to obtain feedback

If God exists, it is imperative that he communicate with us in a way that encompasses all of these things. He should convey his will in a manner that anyone, anywhere, anytime can recognize, understand, and respond to without significant barriers. You might suppose God would have little trouble delivering a message to the human race. Yet, if Christianity is to believed, God chose one of the worst channels of communication possible: a 2,000+ year old book, full of factual & historical errors, antiquated cultural nuances, confusing & conflicting teachings, and translation difficulties. This, as it turns out, was a sure-fire way to be MISunderstood--just look at the myriads of Christian denominations today who can't agree on such basic Biblical issues as salvation, election, worship, baptism, etc.

Neither is evangelism (the one-person-at-a-time model of spreading the Word) the most efficient way of communicating God's will. Millions will die without ever hearing the Gospel; many millions more will hear the Gospel but not understand it because of cultural and intellectual problems inherent in the message itself. Christians, how often have you virtually beaten your head against the wall, frustrated because people don’t "get" the Gospel? You really shouldn't blame yourself. After all, isn’t it God's responsibility to make sure that his point of view is both apprehended and comprehended? As one Christian recently commented, "But in the end, it's really not my job to convince people of God's existence. If he can't provide proof himself, he's not much of a God." Amen to that.

Here's what might work better: God could initiate a personal conversation with every man, woman, and child, tailored to their unique needs and situations. As a Christian, I always wondered why it was that God spoke so very long ago, but didn’t bother speaking today. And why did the miracles come to a halt? If the purpose of the signs, wonders, and healings of Jesus and the apostles was to confirm the word of God (Hebrew 2:4), then surely miracles would do the same today. Think of the wonderful PR for God! Think of the victory against skepticism! God could speak through his actions--cleaning up the evil and corruption flooding the world at large.

Speaking of the apostles, why was there no succession of apostolic authority? The early church started departing from the teachings and traditions of the apostles shortly after they died (leading to the horrible monster of a church-state that was the Roman Catholic Church).

Bottom line: if God wants us to follow him so badly--and if there is an eternity of either heaven or hell at stake--there are innumerable ways that God could make himself known to us. We could all have a vision (like Saul of Tarsus) or a dream (like Joseph of old). God could commandeer all telecommunications ("Stay tuned for a special message from the Intergalactic President of the Universe"). He could stop all traffic and machinery (like the visitor from outer space in The Day the Earth Stood Still) so that we'll stop and listen. The possibilities are almost limitless for an omnipotent God. Instead, we are left with copies of copies of copies of a very old collection of religious writings (the originals were long ago lost to antiquity), with so many variants that the science of textual criticism has developed to try to piece together the "authentic" text of the Bible.

In the end, perhaps George Benard Shaw was right: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”


WoundedEgo said...

One thing I find amusing is the fact that the deity always calls secret meetings. With much fanfare at the base of the mountain, only Moses has interview with God. This, of course, conveniently explains why no one actually sees God! Just Moses, who speaks face to face, friend to friend. For everyone else, it is just one man's word...

From my book, "Bible Shockers!":

Why you should believe me
Well, the reason you should believe me has everything to do with my credentials as an ambassador for God. You see, while my motorcycle gang and I were riding horses one day out to kick some Christian butt, about noon, we saw a great light coming from the sky. This light was called “the mid day sun.” I fell off my horse and bonked my head. I had a vision of many glorious stars. Suddenly I heard a voice – and music! The others saw the bright light BUT DID NOT HEAR THE MUSIC OR THE VOICE. The voice clearly said “You and I – just the two of us.” The next thing I knew, some guy named Ananias (with a chariot of the gods that had a word from some heavenly language written on it that read “ECNALUBMA,” having many flashing colored lights) was removing my iPod headphones and shouting in my face, “Saul, how many fingers am I putting up?” I wondered why he called me by that name, but I told him that there were “more than could be numbered.“ Ananias took me to meet God, whom everyone clearly worshiped and obeyed. He, and all his attendants, were dressed in white, and many wore veils to hide their fading glory. God infused me with something that brought on a deep slumber and made me drool and He said “My son, you are going to be okay!” OH! Those words of comfort and joy! When I awoke, an angel pushed me along in a personal chariot, out the door to a waiting Taxi. The Taxi driver was clearly from the Middle East, wearing a white turban! He was trying to tell me something about “traffic” but I could not make out the revelation because of his accent. Now, with this new commission, I teach the scriptures (and occasionally say “I’m sorry” when I don’t really need to) so you absolutely HAVE to recognize my divine authority, right?

Isn’t that how religious authority works? Paul claims he heard something no one else did and “wham,” his every word is taken as inspired all around the world! If someone came to you with this story today, wouldn’t you have merely suggested that s/he just increase his/her medication?

Bill Ross

Joseph said...

Good one, Bill.

Shygetz said...

It's the nature of revealed truth that is its very weakness--it's slow, prone to the Chinese whispers phenomenon, and wholly unverifiable.

All Your Base Are Belong To Us has spread many times faster and more successfully than the supposed Word of God.

Joseph said...

Shy, LOL. I just showed that to my step-son. "Have you heard of this?" "Yeah, where have YOU been?"

Shygetz said...

Thus proving my point.

Coca-Cola probably has greater market penetration than Christianity, and it has certainly had more success as a function of time.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Thank you for the kind words. While your comments about God's failure to communicate are very valid, for me, the 'Problem of Communication' is even more powerful when we look at Christianity. In fact, it is a loaded gun, loaded with at least four bullets, and every shot creates a mortal wound in the body of Christian belief.

I am, rather than creating one interminable comment, going to devote a separate comment to each 'bullet.'

And the first one is "The Problem of Paul."

If Jesus was real -- and I believe he was -- and if there is even a fragment of truth in at least the Synoptic Gospels -- and again, I think there is much myth but a core of truth in them -- then we know a few things.

Jesus spent some months in the company of disciples, wandering around Galillee, preaching. We know we have only a small fraction of his preaching -- because all the words attributed to him in Gospels can be spoken in one evening. But the disciples heard all of his preaching at least after they began to follow him.

But they didn't just 'follow him.' They lived with him, traveled with him, ate with him. Most of all they talked with him. We don't know what they said. Certainly some of it was trivial, discussions of the scenery, the meal, whatever. But much of the conversation must have centered around his day's preaching. He had those months to speak with them -- and if one of the disciples was, in fact, his brother, they had had years spent together.

And, supposedly, after his resurrection, he met with them again and spoke with them, now free to discuss in detail all he wished to say that all mankind would hear.

And then, according to Christianity, some time later he appears to a rabbi who had been his persecutor, and commissions him to preach in his name. But he doesn't say, "Paul, go to Jerusalem, meet my disciples, listen to them, and learn what I spoke to them. You are so great a preacher that you can take what they tell you and go forth and preach it to the Gentiles."

No. Paul is proud to say (in Galatians 1) he did not get his gospel from any man; that he did not go to Jerusalem and speak to 'those who were Apostles before I was. No, he went immediately off preaching. Only three years later did he decide to meet Peter, and spend all of fifteen days with him. Even then, he says as if it is proof of his own special knowledge, he didn't see any other Apostle except James, the Lord's brother.

Fourteen years later he finally goes back to Jerusalem but 'as to those who seemed to be important... those men added nothing to my message.'

And later 'when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face.' (And in Galatians you see his contempt for the false message of James -- the Lord's brother -- the one who had deceived Peter and even Barnabas until Paul -- who had never met Jesus or heard him preach -- came along to set them right.)

Think about how poor a communicator Jesus must have been. Months to convey his message, publicly and privately, and still he needed Paul to come along and set everyone straight. (And it wasn't just an accident that people misunderstood, not according to Paul, who modestly tells us he had been chosen by God from birth to do just that.)

And he was so needed. So much of his writing is explaining to people how they got the message wrong, attacking all sorts of errors that were prevalent even in those first thirty years. (And this was, as Christians like to remind us, a basically pre-literate society, where people's memories are so much better.) How could someone with as vital a message as Jesus' was have managed to convey it so utterly incompetently? You'd think the Son of God, True God of True God would be able to do a better job than that?

(Of course, you could simply dismiss Paul as a meddling know-it-all, a mystic who imagined this vision was the truth, who created his own version of Christianity. But that doesn't exactly blunt the bullet either, does it?)

Jason said...

The unwillingness to follow the commandments and lessons of Christ is the fault of the audience, not the teacher.

Eastern medicine trumps Western medicine. In the East, a cure for the common cold is found in the root of a plant while in the West, the best we can come up with is a new cough medicine. There are brilliant minds out there all supporting natural medicine but it's not made so much of a dent in the West. Who's fault: the brilliant minds for not communicating 'better', or the general public for refusing to listen?

Shygetz said...

The unwillingness to follow the commandments and lessons of Christ is the fault of the audience, not the teacher.

Jason, please explain to me the chemical mechanisms for superoxide formation in human mitochondria. What do you mean, you don't know? That's your fault, not your teachers'!

Eastern medicine trumps Western medicine.


In the East, a cure for the common cold is found in the root of a plant while in the West, the best we can come up with is a new cough medicine.


There are brilliant minds out there all supporting natural medicine but it's not made so much of a dent in the West.

And why has it not made a dent? Everyone say it with me...evidence?

Who's fault: the brilliant minds for not communicating 'better', or the general public for refusing to listen?

What "brilliant minds"? The efficacy of various kinds of woo has been measured and found in almost all cases to be sorely lacking (there may be some slight evidence that acupuncture has benefit, but it has nothing to do with chi; you can put the needles in all wrong and still get the same effect).

At least you've shown that religion is not the only area in which you are gullible (although I'm not sure that consistency is a virtue in this case...)

Jason said...

chemical mechanisms for superoxide formation in human mitochondria

Shy, if your analogy is correct, then either Jesus' teachings are incredibly difficult and complex in which case 'poorly communicating' wasn't the issue OR his teachings aren't that difficult at all and the analogy is invalid. The latter would seem more likely. Consider Mat 16:24 "...If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." What's so complex about this?

Shy, the eastern medicine analogy is a simple example. Take it the other way if you want, it doesn't matter. My point is a simple one: Christ's message wasn't difficult - the audience simply didn't want to listen.


Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

And now for Bullet #2:
The Problem of the Missing Book.

Most Christians have to accept that Jesus, as Divine, foresaw the writing of the Bible. (Those who, like Jason, do not consider Christ as true God merely kick this problem up to God, who, somehow, forget to pass this on to Jesus.)

He foresaw there would be three gospels written, pretty consistently giving some of his teachings -- and a fourth that would contradict the story in almost every detail. (And a dozen others that would also purport to tell his story, but which would be rejected by the Council of Nicea, even though they had been used by the many different and competing groups that called themselves Christians.)

He foresaw that Paul would, on the basis of the vision Jesus was to give him and his special selection 'from his mother's womb' by God, then come along to 'set everybody straight.' And that others would, in Paul's name write further Epistles that would be included, like Hebrews, the Timothys and Titus. And that other writers would write in the name of Peter, and Jude, and John. (And again there were many others that would be written in the names of the other Apostles that would be rejected -- hundreds of years after he had died.)

He probably foresaw -- and since he is shown with a sense of humor, probably laughed loudly -- at the various 'infancy gospels' that so hilariously tried to tell his early story.

He foresaw the narrative of Acts, and the other novel-like stories that again failed to be included.

And he saw a writer use the common format of 'apocalyptic stories' that had started with Daniel to tell a story to hearten the Christians when they were being persecuted -- and the vast confusion it would cause when future Christians, not understanding the type of literature it was, or the standard imagery it used, saw it as a prophecy of the future instead of a simple statement about the Roman Empire. (And again, we can see him foreseeing the other apocalyptic stories, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the vision Peter had of heaven that didn't get included in the final list.)

And of course, he saw how people would get so confused over the various writings, how they would dispute the meaning of every verse, how they would even kill each other in great numbers because of how they differed over what the words meant.

(He probably even foresaw a 'renegade Irish Anglican priest' named Darby, 1 3/4 millenia later, taking half a verse from one epistle and building the magnificent absurdity of 'the rapture' on that one snippet. And he probably shook his head in sadness that people would actually believe such nonsense.)

And somehow he never had the following, simple idea.

"Hey, I could avoid all this hassle. I don't need to count on the faulty memories and confusion of my disciples. I don't need a Paul. I don't need to witness people killing each other because they misunderstood what I said, or what Paul thought I meant, or because they weren't sure whether or not I started a Church that would last though the centuries that would protect my ideas -- or if instead everyone should understand what i said on their own.

"I have this wonderful message, from God, from myself, that will tell all of mankind the secret of salvation, the truth about heaven and hell, what God wants them to do, and what it is wrong for them to do.

"Hey, why don't I write my OWN book??"

There was no reason for him not to. No one claims he was illiterate -- like some branches of Islam claim Mohammed was. No one claims he was unfamiliar with the idea of scripture, since he was Jewish and knew the writings of the Prophets. In no way would this 'hinder man's free choice whether to believe him or not,' it would only tell them what it was he wanted to make that choice about. He had no problem, supposedly, in having his words quoted. He told his disciples to go out and preach his message to all nations.

But somehow he failed, as the person who best knew his message, to do the simple thing of writing it down.

(And again, you can argue that he didn't because, as a prophet predicting the immediate coming of the end of the world and the coming of the new -- within the lifetime of his hearers -- he saw no reason to write his message down for the benefit of those who he never thought would be born, for a time he never expected to happen. But that interpretation too is its own bullet.)

Bloviator said...


Nicely stated. I agree with you that the problem of communication is the weakest link in the chain, as it doesn't follow that god would deliberately let millions perish due to mistranslations, misunderstandings, misuse, and general misery owing to a faulty "handbook". Only possible answers are:

1) God doesn't want us all to be saved (as per strict Calvinist belief).

2) God is not omnibenevolent.

3) God is not omniscient

4) God is a big jokester who, at the last minute, is going to say "GOTCHA" to everyone and have a good laugh at our expense.

Indeed, it is the very reason I came to fully reject my belief in christianity. Thanks for explicating so well.

Shygetz said...

My point is a simple one: Christ's message wasn't difficult - the audience simply didn't want to listen.

There is considerably less controversy regarding the generation of superoxide in mitochondria than there is regarding the best way to baptize, not to mention the rest of the religion. When you pretend it is simple, you insult Christians who are OBVIOUSLY too dense to get it, seeing as they all disagree on many points.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Thanks for the kind words, but I don't think omniscience or omnibenevolence is a major factor. It's a simple matter of competence -- unless, as you point out, the Calvinists are right.

It's just like the way Creationists -- of any religion -- are, in fact, arguing that their God is a hopelessly poor and dumb designer, giving humans feet, sinuses, and a digestive system better suited for four-legged animals and including an appendix, and other vestigial features of no use whatsoever.

If Jesus was who Christians say he was, he must have been boneheadedly dumb, totally without foresight, and addicted to doing things the most inefficient and least sensible way possible, someone totally incapable of getting his ideas across, and delighting in contradicting himself right and left. Some God!
The real Jesus, as far as we can tell, would have thrown a table at these idiots, not just for calling him divine, but for so insulting the God he believed in.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I concede that Jesus did fail to promote and enable a lifestyle addicted to the seeking out immediate, self-gratification or arrogance and pridefulness - in that respect, He definitely is a failure.

Bloviator said...


Agreed that omniscience and omnibenevolence aren't major factors, but in the 'greek ideal' of god, they are supposed to be. I also like your description of the problem of Paul, in that today, were such a person to come forth (David Koresh, anyone?), he would be pilloried by the populace as a liar, lunatic, and definitely not LORD. I can't conceive of an entity as powerful as a god should be who would willingly be as obtuse as the NT god is given to be. "Hey, here's a message from my son, Jesus." "Wait, never mind, I think I'll redo the whole thing and send my message through this regular guy named Paul, or Saul or whateverthefuck he calls himself." "What's that? It's not the same message? Well, whaddya want from me?" "Sure, I'm God and because of that it's none of your godammed business what I do."

If this god exists, he needs a therapist.

Brother Crow said...

Joseph, awesome post. I wasn't sure where you were going with that topic, but you hit it out of the park. As a communicator, one who earned his living speaking and writing, I understand the frustration of the communication problem. As a pastor, I often grew frustrated with the bible for its lack of clarity and confusion...wondering "why did God choose this way to do communicate?" Of course, the excuse is his way of testing and building faith, and a seekers heart. "Seek and you shall find, when you search for me with all of your heart." How else can we prove "all of our heart" is in the search unless you make the message confusing as hell and see how hard we work to sort it out.

Joseph said...

First of all, Prup, exellent articulation of the Problem of Communicaton--in all the nice detail and nuance that you're known and appreciate for. I hope to read some thoughtful Christian response.

Second, MMM, could you not think of a more original reply? Are you in high school? Boring!

Third, good observations, Bro. Crow. If there is a God and he has a message for us, certainly we have a right to ask for some credentials. Evangelicals expect us to swallow their message like starving kids choking down brown rice (to steal a recent Jennifer illustration). For a Christian to say, "The Bible says this..." and expect reasonable people to immediately snap to it is naive at worse, insulting to our intelligence.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi Joseph - thanks for sharing your perspective of my being boring and in high school - I'm sure it was heartfelt.

Not that I am impugning your motives here, but I hope that was not an attempt at an ad hominem argument - especially since I love many who are in high school (even though I myself am not) and also a number of boring people (which I may well be).

At any rate, I suspect that you are by far, the superior person in conducting lively discourse, so I concede to you to lead the way and enlighten us all here. The best to you, Joseph. MMM.

Joseph said...

Again, something of substance and on-topic would be appreciated. Why not simply address your comments to counter (or confirm) something specific in my article or the resulting comments? Hey, you might even help me to strengthen my argument by exposing its weaknesses. I openly invite that because I know that I am not superior to you or anyone else.

Joseph said...

p.s. the "high school" reference was not meant to offend anyone in high school. But, as we all know, this is the time when annoying, juvenile sarcasm is at its worst. I'm all too familiar with this these days, bantering back and forth with my step-son about his many expert opinions. For example, that the movie we saw on TV last week was "the worst ever made." When I press him to back up his statement with reason, he has nothing but more sarcasm in store. While it makes for entertaining conversation it does not, in the end, prove that Matthew Broderick's "Godzilla" was the worst movie ever made.

zilch said...

Joseph- you and your stepson are both sillies. Everyone knows that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst film of all time.

richdurrant said...

You know the interesting thing is, god used to use a person to communicate his will to us. That is what the stories contained in the bible are about after all, God speaking to a prophet. Not all of coarse, but a great number. And since he was here in the first century, he didn't need a prophet. It seems to me that if the bible is all we need, can't we just pout one in every home in the world and call the preaching complete? Since it is such a clear book that everyone can easily read and understand, I don't see a problem. But then history show us that people can't seem to come to the same conclusions about what the bible tells us. Maybe we should go back to a prophet so someone can tell us what it is that God wants us to do.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Joseph, I am growing more and more to consider you a sweetie pie (no sarcasm intended there). I am glad to hear you say that you are not superior to anyone else but I hope you also know that you are not inferior either! As a believer, I view you as one who is well loved by God, but also as one who isn't exactly seeing and loving Him in return.

I'm glad that you have challenged me about your arguments but they are not weak - on the cntrary, they are understandable and I held them in my heart at one time myself. I understand them and they are powerful insights. I just don't let them govern my life anymore. And BTW, it isn't a crime to question God's Way - His Way is antagonistic to the way of the world. I've come to a point where I quit justifying myself and promote God's Way instead. So, Joseph, I have to say that I am softening my heart towards you even though you and I will never be on the same page as far as nonbelief is concerned. I know I am rejected here, which saddens me a lot because I really have grown to like you guys.

Take care! The best to you, MMM

Joseph said...

zilch, I happen to LOVE Plan 9 and all of Ed Wood's movies! Yeah, my wife thinks I have eccentric taste in movies--and I do. There is a sincerity about them which I find charming.

Joseph said...

Hi, MMM. I appreciate you clarifying your intentions. It's so hard to put words into the context of the human being writing them...and so easy to read attitudes and motivations into words that don't belong! I'm prone to do that as much as the next person. I appreciate you trying to keep us on our toes!
....and yes, I am a sweetie-pie :)

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John W. Loftus said...

Andrew off topic posts are not allowed. You know that. And I deny your accusations.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

MMM: I hope you will not feel you are 'rejected here.' We disagree with you, certainly, and some of us -- I am particularly guilty of this at times -- tend to respond harshly to some types of comments. (But remember, I have 'responded harshly' to people on both sides of the question, which is one reason I'm no longer a member of the group, just a commenter.)
You are one of several Christians who we may disagree with, but whose presence is welcomed, along with Sandalstraps, Jennifer, richdurrant, and others. We may never share your view of the world, nor may you ever share ours, but we want you to challenge us, to question us.

(After all, there are many atheist blogs out there whose purpose is just 'rallying the troops' and talking with each other. The difference between them and DC is the presence among the regular commenters of welcomed opponents like you and the others I've mentioned -- I'd include Jason as well, and Jim Jordan, and the others I've forgotten.

The only people who are 'rejected here' are the trolls and personal insulters like the multi-named one.

Please stick around.

zilch said...

Joseph- when I said that "Plan 9 from Outer Space" was the worst film of all time, I meant that in the best possible way.

And I know exactly what you mean about the charm of sincerity. Heck, I'm even a sucker for stuff like "Mister Bass Man", by Johnny Cymbal, which wouldn't stand a chance of becoming popular today because it's cute and not cool.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Bullet #3: The Problem of the Simple Solution

To show this bullet, I'd like you all to use your imagination and journey with me back in time. (This is meant to be an impressionistic description. I may have gotten some details wrong, but I hope you'll only dispute me if they are relevant to the conclusion.)

Come with me to the Tenth Century, to a small abbey and imagine yourself as a monk, working in the Scriptorium, making copies of the precious manuscripts, most especially those of the Bible.

It's cold, first of all. No 'central heating' and the Abbott doesn't want to take the chance of a large fire in the room, for fear of burning up the precious contents.

It's dark too, lit only by candles, carefully shaded for further protection. There's no window letting in sunlight, not for many years to come.

You're hungry. You know some monasteries have -- comparatively -- ample diets. Some even supply meat twice a week. But your abbot is a pious man, shunning such corrupting luxuries. Besides, it is a fast day today, and you haven't eaten yet, even though you've been up since 3:00 AM.

Its true you are so used to the stench of unwashed bodies that you don't notice it, and you do wash your hands before touching the precious words.

You settle in on your backless, unpadded bench. The pains in your back and your rear, you have long since 'offered up to God,' a minor price to pay to assure yet another copy of his priceless words - or the words of the wise Fathers of the Church that interpreted them -- exist in the world.

And so you set to work. And you groan as you see the book you must copy. Yes, it is precious because of its words, and also because it had been, itself, copied by the Blessed Anselm, the companion of the Abbey's founder who the Abbey was already referring to as a Saint. Sadly, his renown was more for his piety than for his penmanship, and the visions he was known for frequently came here in the Scriptorium. Surely it was understood that they were a distraction, but the result, from your point of view was that he occasionally dropped lines from his work.

At least you were luckier than your fellow Monk, Brother Theodore, who had been put to work correcting Brother Rollo’s manuscripts. Rollo -- you’d known him briefly before he had been requested to leave -- had been the younger son of a local Lord, and had been accepted into the Abbey as a favor to his father. Rollo had not considered it a favor, and he had particularly hated his work here, so much so that he had needed fortification -- by use of the Abbey’s wine cellar -- before he set to work, and, it was said, even during his time at work. The wine did not affect his penmanship or his considerable learning, it must be said. But it added to his ‘playfulness.’ He would deliberately miscopy words, putting heretical thoughts in the mouths of the Fathers. He even, for which, you know, his soul would pay a fearsome price, tampered with God’s Word itself. And so subtly that there had been many manuscripts sent on with his ‘corrections’ before he went too far and deliberately left the ‘not’ from several of the Commandments. But now it had taken years to check the books he had worked on, to recopy them and burn the pages he had so amended.

Before you began, you walked to Brother John, the aged, who had spent many years at the work you were about to do. It had cost him much of his sight, but not his memory, and he had come up with an ingenious method of guiding his hand as he formed the letters and words of the Prophets without the ability or need to consult the manuscript he was ‘copying.’

You pick up your goose feather -- once again marveling at God’s ingenuity in using such a common animal to provide the tool for preserving His words, and begin the task. Over and over you dip it, read a few words from the original, and inscribe them on a virgin surface. Then again, dip, read, write, creating yet one more copy of the Word of God for a new Church to own. Someday, you dream, every city, every town might have its own complete copy of the Holy Book, that even the more pious of the rich might be able to own one. And you go on, dip, read, write, even being able to complete a whole sentence with one quill-full of ink.


Is it any wonder that every manuscript we have of the Bible differs from another in small or serious ways? That books about the ideas of Christianity were lost forever because there were such few copies? That even the works of Aristotle -- so important to later Christian philosophy -- disappeared from the consciousness of the West for hundreds of years, until they were retransmitted to Christendom by the scholars of the High Muslim Empire?

It didn’t have to be this way. True, Gutenberg’s invention required many discoveries before it was possible, but the used of carved wooden blocks for printing did not. (In fact, the Chinese were using it -- though for pictures, not words -- a hundred years after the Bible was complete.) The Israelites, the Greeks and Romans, any of them could have pioneered the technique. The lack was imagination, not means.

The God of the Old Testament spends time describing the building of the Ark. Later the minute details of the Temple are put down. How easy for Jesus, who was a worker in wood, to describe, briefly, the technique of preserving his own words, so that his message, in its original form, would have been spread to so many hearers, so much more accurately.

(And think, for a minute, how much respect he and Christians, would have gained throughout the Empire had they given this great gift to man. Not just a preacher, not just a teacher, but Jesus would have been esteemed as well as an inventor. How much more convincing would his other words have been if they were preserved through this brilliance.)

But no, he refrained from giving man this gift. He knew, supposedly, as ‘Son of God,’ what would happen to his message, how it would be argued over, how it would proceed so slowly to be transmitted. He apparently didn’t care enough to make sure, in this small and great way, that it would be heard. And if he was merely an ‘inspired prophet’ conveying God’s word, teaching mankind a lesson through his death, why didn’t the Designer of the Ark, the Architect of the Temple, be the inventor of printing?

(Or again, he didn’t give this idea because he didn’t know of it. That he was no more knowledgeable than his contemporaries, that his idea of God was his own and not God’s. But again, that is another bullet.)

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

C'mon guys, won't anyone even try to answer the first three challenges, before I put up the fourth?

I'll eliminate the build and put them in the form of simple questions.

A: Why was Jesus such a poor communicator that he needed Paul to reinterpret his message?

B: Why didn't Jesus write his own book to convey what he had to say?

C: Why didn't, in some way, God or Jesus 'give man the gift' of printing, to ensure the words of the message would be transmitted uncorrupted.

I'd really like to see someone try and deal with these before I 'fire' the 'fourth bullet.'

Jason said...

A. There was nothing wrong with Jesus' communication methods. The problem was with the people listening to him (a la the Jews and Pharisees who wanted to kill first, ask questions later.) Paul encountered the same problems during his ministry (Acts 7:51-57, 13:45, 28:27). People refusing to listen to the message isn't anything new - God told Adam & Eve not to eat the fruit, they did it anyway. God told the Israelites not to worship idols but they did it nonetheless. It's been going on since the beginning of time.

B. Good question but it's trivial. Christians believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. The words of Moses, the words of John the Baptist and the words of Luke all come from the same source. The author is secondary to the message.

C. What part of the message has been corrupted?

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, you can't just say we have the words of Jesus and so forth. We don't.

Jason said...


I can and I did.

Shygetz said...

jason: Surely you've read "Misquoting Jesus". Do you claim Ehrman (and many other scholars) lied?

Jason said...


I'm answering the questions Prup put out there. If you have a problem with something I've said or want to talk about something else, start a new post elsewhere to make it easier for everyone to stay on topic.

Shygetz said...

My comment was entirely on topic. Ehrman clearly points out in a very influential and well-received book that the most ancient manuscripts we have of the Bible differ in significant ways, and that the methods we have for trying to determine the words of the original manuscript are imperfect at best. He points out specific instances when manuscripts were both intentionally and unintentionally mistranscribed, and demonstrates how the originality of several theologically important passages are seriously in doubt. This speaks directly to your reply to john loftus, where you affirm your assertion that we have the words of Jesus. Scholars who actually do research in the field strongly disagree. This also responds directly to your answer to prup's point "C", where you asked what parts of the message were corrupted, and is therefore eminently on-topic. Scholars insist that we do not know what the original manuscripts said, much less what they meant in the vernacular of the time. If you wish to disagree with them in an intelligent fashion, I would expect to see equal rigor applied as the people who do this for a living used.

Jason said...


I'm prepared to respond to Prup's comments and rebuttals alone. Thanks for your input.

Shygetz said...

jason, this is a public forum. If you want to hold a private conversation with prup, you are welcome to arrange to do so; I know of several people who have held fruitful private e-mail conversations that began in the public comments on this blog.

However, if you post an comment on this blog, it is generally considered to be open to all takers unless specifically set up otherwise by the blog administrators. Perhaps John would be willing to setting up a thread private to you and prup; you should ask him if that's what you are interested in.

This is not that thread. If you wish to take part in public discussion on a public thread, you should be prepared to answer all questioners. You would surely expect the same from our side of the table--if I only allowed Dan Marvin to reply to my ideas, you would rightly call foul (and perhaps more than just "foul").

I also noticed that you did not object when John commented; only when I did. If you harbor a personal animosity toward me, that's really unfortunate. However, I will not refrain from commenting on the topics here that interest me, and neither should anyone else (although you are, of course, free to ignore me).

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

First, Shygetz' comments to you are much what I would say, only shorter and more direct.

Second, I would be more willing to respond to you if you had shown you read the original comments that my questions were based on -- the 'three bullets' I've posted so far. Particularly, your response to point A shows you do not understand what I mean by my question about Paul.

Finally, because of a visit from my wife's sister, who she hasn't seen in six years, my time will be very limited until Wednesday. I'm going to try and get my 'fourth bullet' up after I check the recent comments in other threads, but can't do much mor until then. In the meanwhile, I hope you will respond to Shygetz' comments. He at least gets what I am trying to say, enough so that if you ignore them, I'll merely copy them as my own.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Oh, and I, unfortunately, hadn't read this particular work of Ehrman -- a lapse I hope to correct soon.

His work probably contains more sense on the g8iven topic than anyone else writing on it, and I would strongly suggest that you read some of what he has written, particularly this and LOST CHRISTIANITIES. Might open your eyes if they are, in fact, openable.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

But lets get to the important part -- and I specifically ask anyone commenting -- after the Jason problem -- to at least read over the earlier 'bullets' above so they can at least understand the overall points I am making.

Bullet #4: The problem of the resurrection.

Jesus, according to almost all Christians, came to Earth with a message for all mankind. (They may believe there were other purposes as well, but there was certainly a message -- even though they don't agree what it was.) And the resurrection was the 'clincher' to prove that message was from God, the one irrefutable proof. Think about how wonderfully he used this proof to get his message out.

Think about that scene in the Sanhedrin. It's true that the Sanhedrin, despite the Gospel, wasn't involved in Jesus' death, but it was the central body in all Judaism, and certainly they must have been aware of Jesus' preaching and crucifixion.

How wonderful it was when Jesus appeared in front of that meeting and showed his resurrected body. How incredible it must have been, seeing all these great thinkers and leaders bowing down to him, and then going out to spread his message to all Judaism. Oh, some did not believe them, but so many did that almost all the Jews throughout Jerusalem and then the world came over, en masse, to Christianity, with only a minor fragment holding out and refusing to believe.

What a wonderful idea to appear there. Only, somehow, Jesus never had the idea to make such an appearance.

But there was the appearance before Herod, who might, in fact, actually have been involved in Jesus' death. He wasn't the ruler his father had been, but he was still a powerful leader, and he was already shown -- according to the Gospels -- to accept the possibility of a resurrection. So when Jesus stood before him, showing him that death could not prevent the message from getting out, his temporal power and connection with Rome lent the entire weight of the monarchy to the support of Christianity.

Or it would have, had Jesus thought to appear before him, but -- oops -- he somehow didn't do that either.

But maybe he'd given up on the Jews, and realized the true place for his message was to Rome and the gentiles of the Empire. Paul thought so -- despite the fact that Jesus specifically ordered his apostles not to preach to the gentiles or Samaritans, yet another of those 'corrections' Paul made.

So picture the look on Pilate's face when Jesus walked into his chamber. (If there is any truth at all to the crucifixion story, it must be that Pilate signed the order for it to be done.) Pilate, that weak, corrupt, credulous man, how shocked he was when Jesus appeared before him. "I'm baaack!" His centurions had told him that Jesus was dead and buried, but here he was, still showing the wounds he had received, the whole in his side, the marks of the nails.

Picture how Pilate fell prostrate before him in terror. Picture how eagerly he ccepted Jesus' forgiveness, how glad he was to follow Jesus' command: "Gather the centurions who witnessed my death, come with them and me to Rome, and testify to the Emperor what you have seen and done. Tell him that my Father is the True God."

What a wonderful idea. Even if the emperor had been dubious -- and that is unlikely if the date is accurate and Tiberias was still alive -- the roman nobility would have heard the story. No need to wait 30 years for Paul to get there, almost 300 years for Constantine's conversion. The appearance was the thing that immediately made Christianity a major religion throughout the Empire, led to the conquering of it 'through the cross.'

Throughout the 'known world' the banner of Christianity would have been carried by the Roman soldiers, convinced by the Emperor's story of his own Prefect's testimony, his own sight of the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

Another wonderful opportunity to spread the message to the world.

Another missed opportunity.

But, of course, Jesus wasn't interested in rulers and kings and emperors. He wanted to speak to the common people, to spread his word through their witness and testimony. He didn't want to appear before the emperor -- tough he changed his mind on that one too, if you accept Constantine's vision.

So he just appeared in the central square of Jerusalem, in the temple -- still standing, it was thirty years before it would be destroyed -- and spoke to the people, telling them the wondrous news of the Gospel. And how they listened, seeing him there, radiant, yet still with the mortal wounds showing on his body.

There were people from all the lands -- Jeruslaem was the center of Jewry, but Jews had spread throughout the Empire. All of them went back to spread the word. Even the man 'from the highest of priestly ranks' who was to father Josephus, that greatest Jewish historian, might have been there, and could have told his son the story, so that it would have been written down.

If only Jesus had gotten the idea to make such an appearance.

This is why the resurrection is such a problem. Not because it is 'miraculous.' (I don't accept miracles, but believers do, and saying it was 'miraculous' is an argument, in their minds, in its favor.) But because, if it happened, jesus must have been so totally cluelessly, unthinkingly dumb to have missed every single opportunity to use this great miracle to spread the message he supposedly had.

(Either that, or the whole thing was an invention based on a brief, misunderstood, glimpse -- in the early morning -- by Peter, of someone who looked like Jesus. That one scene -- as Guignebert argues -- could have been the entire inspiration for the myth that only later was added to with stories of the empty tomb and the meetings behind closed doors with the disciples.)

Either way, that bullet is the fatal one.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

As I said above, I probably won't have a chance to most anything substantial on this until Wednesday at the earliest. See you all then.

Jason said...


I was just responding to the questions you had posted but I guess you'd rather hear from someone other then me. Good luck with finding answers.

Karl Betts said...

prup I hope this affirmation does not get lost in the nearly 50 responses, but I really, deeply appreciate the Communication rock. You summarize years and years of struggle that I have as a Christian pastor and student of philosophical theology and philosophical problems as they relate to religion.

A very substantial concern and objection -- probably the strongest of the 5 in my opinion. Perhaps you can write a book on this and the related issues of biblical authority.

Very well done!


Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Remember that my comments are merely additions to the main 'rock,' which is Joseph's, and deals with his personal experiences. Sadly, I have neither the academic credentials nor even the 'life credetnials' -- as someone like Joesph would have -- to write a book that anyone would either publish or by, even imagining I could do the editing necessary to bring it to professional standards. I am combining the four sections into an article which may appear elsewhere, I'll let you know if it does.

(I'll admit that, were I to be in a position to write a book or could I convince myself that such a study could -- or should, since I agree with the necessity of 'credentials' -- get published, this is one of the two topics I'd love to do one on. The other is the Zoroastrian influence on Christianity.)

But again, it's Joseph who created the whole 'five rocks' structure, I just chipped some pebbles off the rock and shaped them as bullets. But thank you for the kind words.

Karl Betts said...

Hats off to both of you, then. For a religion based on revelation, this is an absolute zinger!