Little-Known Bible Verses: The Holy Kiss

Fred Clark of Slacktivist has been on a tear lately, posting some outstanding articles about the theological roots of dominionism and its influence in American politics. And today, he wrote another post that inspired me.

This post was about a new book by the sociologist Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, which deplores a group whom Smith dubs “biblicists” (I’d probably just call them fundamentalists). These are Christians who believe that the Bible is a perfectly self-sufficient guide to humanity which needs no outside authority to interpret it; that all one has to do is read the plain and literal words of the Bible to find God’s clear and unmistakable plan for what to believe and how to live. Yet, somehow, Christians who all say they believe this keep coming to opposite conclusions on a bewilderingly huge range of theological issues. The review lists some of them:

For example, biblicists differ over human free will and divine sovereignty; penal satisfaction and Christus Victor; creation and evolution; sprinkling and immersion; divorce and remarriage; complementarianism and egalitarianism; just war and pacifism; pretribulationism and posttribulationism; amillennialism, premillennialism, and postmillennialism; everlasting torment and annihilation; soteriological exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism; and on and on.

This is just what I wrote about in “The Aura of Infallibility“: people who say they believe that the Bible is infallible really mean that their own interpretations of it are infallible. It ought to be incredibly embarrassing to people who consider the Bible a clear and authoritative guide that they can’t agree among themselves on what guidance it actually gives. This has been noted by other Christian writers, most notably C.S. Lewis, who wrote that proselytizers should try to hide the existence of differing Christian sects from potential converts, because a person who was aware of this fact about Christianity would be less likely to become a Christian.

In any case, this brings me (finally!) to the subject of this post, which is a Bible verse coincidentally pointed out in the review of Smith’s book. The Christian fundamentalists we’re all so familiar with claim that the Bible is holy, inerrant and authoritative, and contains advice applicable to all Christians at all times, including divine ordinances on how to organize and behave in a church community. So why don’t they obey this verse from Second Corinthians?

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

—2 Corinthians 13:11-12

This isn’t the only verse in the Bible that teaches this custom, either. In fact, no fewer than five verses from five different books of the New Testament all order it – Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14, in addition to the one cited above – which implies, given the strength of their recommendation, that the biblical authors saw it as essential. St. Augustine even says that the kiss should be on the lips to be done properly:

This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments.

Needless to say, the vast majority of evangelical churches politely ignore this. Even the fundamentalist churches that practice snake-handling tend to find this one a bridge too far. (It actually is practiced as part of worship in some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, though not usually on the lips as far as I know.)

As silly as it is, there’s an important point here. The next time you encounter someone who claims to interpret the Bible “literally”, ask them if they do this at their church. If the answer is no, as it most probably will be, you’ll have made your point: even supposedly “literal” interpretations are driven and shaped by the believer’s culture and by their own ideas and prejudices, and not simply by doing whatever the text says.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Zionhiker

    Actually, this commandment is practiced by the members of the Old Order German Baptist church in the United States. Members greet one another with a kiss on the lips, men to men and women to women. I’ve witnessed the practice many times.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    I noticed the kiss verses as well. Doesn’t Judas betray Jesus with a kiss? I wonder if they’ll be doing this at the Christian Men’s Conference that Hemant mentioned on his blog the other day…I doubt it. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/08/30/if-this-is-what-it-means-to-be-a-christian-man/)

  • paradoctor

    Since the Bible is contradictory, and the product of many writers, anyone who tries to live by it must pick and choose. This is inevitable. But since the Bible is contradictory, and the product of many writers, then for many things in life something in the Bible is bound to apply – provided that you pick and choose right.

    So the Bible can’t give you a plan; but it can give you an excuse; and usually people need an excuse more than they need a plan.

  • paradoctor

    Please note that a sufficiently devoted fan can get the same self-reassuring effect from Shakespeare, or Star Wars, or sports.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    What a fabulous idea! Let’s kiss everyone we meet on the lips!

    @paradoctor Not Star Wars, surely you meant to say Star Trek :)

  • RipleyP

    When ever I quote a verse and its disharmony with other aspects of the bible or reality I get accused of taking things out of context. I am not sufficiently well read in the bible to even think of a context for this one.

    I would love to see this one incorporated into the abstinence only programs and see how they deal with it as a temptation issue. Even a chaste kiss could inspire improper thoughts when you are having to abstain I would imagine.

  • karen

    people who say they believe that the Bible is infallible really mean that their own interpretations of it are infallible. It ought to be incredibly embarrassing to people who consider the Bible a clear and authoritative guide that they can’t agree among themselves

    I was raised with this teaching and I agree, it’s just garden-variety fundamentalism.

    No, they’re not embarrassed about the disagreement. They’re utterly shameless. If someone points out the disagreement, they’ll just say that THEIR version is the right one and if it’s not exactly right, they’re sure God will decide the argument appropriately once we all get to heaven and everything becomes clear.

    As to the kissing, that’s easily explained away by talking about “the customs of the times” and how certain customs (i.e. any verse that’s inconvenient or uncomfortable, such as holy kissing or living communally or giving all your money to the poor) are not meant for today, they were only for biblical times.

    Of course, that doesn’t apply to the verses that they want to apply to today, like anti-gay verses, etc.

  • http://krissthesexyatheist.blogspot.com krissthesexyatheist

    It sounds like a good line to me…”Baby, it’s biblical.” So awesome buddy,

    Kriss

  • http://www.theelectoralcollegestudent.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Speaking of the conflict between anti-sex teachings and Christianity, you haven’t even mentioned the existence of the entire book of Songs of Solomon. You ask, oh, but how could there be a book of “The Bible”, dripping with sex from every page? It’s all there…read the good book – it’s a dirty book.

  • Brett K.

    people who say they believe that the Bible is infallible really mean that their own interpretations of it are infallible.

    I had this discussion just the other day with a christian I work with. His response was, “The Bible takes faith.”

    Discussing further seemed pointless, but I’d really like to put myself into those shoes to see what it’s like to believe something with this degree of confidence (arrogance?). Anybody have any ideas for thought experiments?

  • Eurekus

    If this is God’s will then I’m converted. That is, into a church of lady supermodels.

  • paradoctor

    Teleprompter: Never mind the Bible’s X rating; watch out for the V.

    SuperHappyJen: I mentioned Star Wars rather than Star Trek to indicate that comfort is independent from quality. I myself like Babylon 5 best.

    Brett K.: Self-infallibilism is pride disguised as faith. It’s easy and fun to draw out a fundamentalist’s self-contradictions; but only do this with a witness present. You’ll never convince a fundamentalist, who will use protective stupidity in defense of the dogma; a false triumph that will draw the witness to your side.

  • karen

    It’s all there…read the good book – it’s a dirty book.

    Teleprompter, your mention of Song of Solomon brings back a particularly embarrassing moment from my fundie days.

    I was in a campus Christian group in college and we arranged to do some prison visits where our group would go into the local federal penitentiary and conduct some services for the inmates.

    The “service” consisted of myself and a couple other college co-eds sitting in chairs in the prison gym, surrounded by jump-suited inmates sitting on the floor around us. We had no idea what we were supposed to do (badly organized event) so we opened our bibles to read some favorite verses to the men.

    A few guys requested specific verses, and then one guy who obviously knew the bible well tossed out a request for a verse of Song of Solomon. I looked it up, smiling, and immediately turned beet red. I don’t remember the exact cite, but it was all about breasts like two does and a mouth dripping with honey.

    I shut the bible, mumbled something about our time being up, and walked to another group amidst a bunch of laughter. One of many ignoble moments on the “ministry/witnessing” circuit!

  • John Baptist

    OK, where’s the bleach? I need to get this visual of Fred Phelps giving the Holy Kiss to Barack Obama. HAHAHAHAAAA

  • BruceH

    So, is the holy kiss wholly unlike the kiss in The Godfather?

  • Drewa

    I wouldn’t classify this as a little known verse 2 Corinthians is a very commonly read book by most christians. And it’s not a surprising statement because that was the custom of their day just as it is in many cultures today. Paul was writing to a group of believers in Corinth and wanted them to greet their fellow believers warmly. If the bible were written today it might say to greet them with a hug or handshake.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Your point Drewa, or were you just agreeing with Ebon that they don’t take it literally – even though those same people will claim they follow a literal interpretation?

  • Drewa

    When people say they take the bible literally it usually doesn’t mean they take it in a “wooden literal sense” that disregards all metaphors, historical context, etc.   What matters is the authors intent, just as it does with every other piece of literature.  The bible is no different.  In this verse’s immediate context  Paul was no doubt talking about a literal kiss. But this was not a command for all people everywhere throughout all time. It’s a personal closing statement in a letter written to group of believers in Corinth. His following statement says “all the saints greet you”; I doubt he meant that he traveled the globe to make sure every believer truly sent their greetings to them. He was simply speaking on behalf of them. 

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    When people say they take the bible literally it usually doesn’t mean they take it in a “wooden literal sense” that disregards all metaphors, historical context, etc.

    It means that they take as literal that which they want to take as literal and take as metaphor that which they don’t wish to take as literal.

    What matters is the authors intent…

    No, what matters is the reader’s desire that the authors intent be.

    In this verse’s immediate context Paul was no doubt talking about a literal kiss.

    And here you prove the point. Thanks.

  • Drew

    You’re right that people twist scripture to make it say what they want. I see atheists do it to strengthen their arguments and Christians do it to try to justify odd unbiblical doctrines. But it’s irrelevant how people try to change it, what matters is what the author intended to say. We need to follow the basic rules of grammar just as we would for any other piece of literature.  

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Then you agree, Xians should greet each other with a kiss on the mouth. That they don’t do so means they are not following a literally proscribed greeting that is written in the Bible.

  • Drew

    Wether their custom was to kiss on the mouth or not doesn’t really matter. Paul never said tomkiss on the mouth anyway  That’s trying to making the text say what you want.  I recognize there are cultural differences in the world and I don’t look down on those who have them just because they happen to seem odd to my 21st century western mind.  Not sure where you’re trying to go with this. 

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Where are you trying to go? The text says that Xians should greet each other with a kiss. You even said that that’s the clear intent of the author. Those who claim to literally follow the Bible do not do this simple act. They are not following the Bible. It’s as simple as that, which is what the OP pointed out. You seem to be agreeing (although, what’s this stuff about cultural differences, which don’t matter as to whether people are literally following the Bible or not nor matter as to whether one should follow what the Bible says to do or not?)

    So, what is your point, as I asked you in my first comment to you? Were you just trying to agree with the OP, or were you trying to make some counterpoint and utterly failed?

  • Drew

    Paul told the Corinthians 2,000 years ago greet eachother with a holy kiss. I am not part of that original Corinthian church and the large time gap between us makes it impossible for me to greet them with a holy kiss. .

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    If that’s your criteria (that Paul wasn’t speaking directly to you and/or that the people he spoke to are long dead so you can ignore what he said) then you may as well toss out the whole of the Bible. Of course, you said yourself that the author’s intent plays a role and he is pretty clearly saying that Xians should greet each other with a holy kiss. In fact, he says it outright in Thess. So, if you’re a Xian and you aren’t kissing your Xian brothers and sisters upon meeting them, then you are not following the Bible. Fail.

  • Drew

    So how did I fail? Paul told the Corinthians and thessolionians to greet eachother with a kiss. So what? I wasn’t arguing against that.

  • Drew

    I reread the original statements of this post along with our debate. I think I understand our breakdown now and I apologize because I was having trouble communicating my point clearly.  Let me take one last stab at it:

    I agree that people should not read the bible in the literal way you guys described. It would be foolish to disregard hyperbole, metaphor, textual context, and historical context. I would never defend this interpretation of any literature. 

    It just seemed that you too were making their error, suggesting that kissing was a universal command, but i think you were intentionally doing it to point out the folly of this type of literalism. Am i understanding you correctly?

    I’ve never personally met a Christian who interprets the bible this way (though I know they exist), but I suppose I would use a similar tactic to show them that they’re inconsistent.  It’s important for both atheists and Christians to read the bible as it was intended rather than just grabbing a random statement and claiming it stands on it’s own as an absolute command that must be obeyed by all. 

    I hope that clears things up

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The OP is pretty explicit that it’s speaking of fundamentalists that claim to follow the bible literally.

    Still, if one does actually read the Bible as it’s intended and looks for the intent of the author, the author did intent for Xians to greet each other with a holy kiss. It’s very explicit about this, and no amount of special pleading is going to change that. And, besides, this idea that only the people being spoken to are really on the hook to follow the ideas set down in the Bible leads to the problems I outlined above.

    So, it’s not erroneous to claim that the Bible does say that Xians should meet each other with a holy kiss. Those who claim that they literally follow the Bible but don’t do this are wrong. Xians who don’t kiss each other are not following the Bible. It’s as simple as that. Do you kiss your fellow Xians when you meet them? If not, then you aren’t following the Bible’s instructions.

  • Drew

    You are making the same elementary error of those you criticize. You are ignoring the immediate and historical context.  You’re ignoring that these letters are going to have very personal messages to specific people in them. In 2 Timothy 4:13 Paul tells Timothy to bring his cloak when they meet again. Will you create some odd command out of that? Paul teaches Timothy valuable principles that apply to us today, but it is reasonable to acknowledge that there will be statements that only apply to him. 

    Does that mean we can ignore the entire letter to Timothy?  No. There are obvious principles that apply to all christians. If a great teacher is mentoring someone, they wouldn’t then teach a different set of principles to someone else.  But at the same time, the teacher will say many personal things to his student that only make sense if you ARE that student. 

    So does paul’s holy kiss apply to us today? The obvious principle conveyed is  to greet each other warmly.  Im fine with that.  (Although, Paul  was most likely telling the church in Corinth to greet the messenger who delivered the letter with a holy kiss) Either way, I am not sinning if I don’t conform to the cultural practices of the first century. 

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    In every single letter, he tells Xians to greet each other with a holy kiss…but he must have only been referring to the people he wrote the letter to. Obviously he never meant it to apply to anyone except the person he was writing to. Obviously. He couldn’t possibly have intended it as an idea that everyone should do, especially not when he talks about greeting all Xians with a holy kiss. (Like in Thess when he says that this letter should be read by/to all believers and he instructs all believers to greet other believers with a holy kiss…I guess we can safely ignore that too.)

    But, hey, all the texts are written to specific peoples at specific times, so I guess you can toss them all out. None of them were written directly to you, so no matter what you do, you aren’t sinning.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Drew wrote, “It’s important for both atheists and Christians to read the bible as it was intended rather than just grabbing a random statement and claiming it stands on it’s own as an absolute command that must be obeyed by all.” Therein lies the problem — any given verse was written, and intended, for a certain time and place in history* and if you step even a little outside of that context, you have to interpret it. There’s nothing in the old or new testaments that we can take as literally true, or even merely as sensible advice, without filtering it through our modern, secular-based sense of ethics and morality. One can live by biblical rules and injunctions only by twisting the friendlier parts to fit, and ignoring large swathes of it.

    I also suspect that no one ever followed the laws and customs laid down in the Bible. For example, getting back to greeting fellow Christians with a kiss — if the early Christians actually did get along happily, Paul wouldn’t have mentioned it.
    ______________
    * Of course, the various parts of the Bible were written over a period of centuries, in geographically and socially diverse contexts, by people with various agendas; it follows that it is not, and cannot be, a continuous narrative with a consistent message. Inevitably it is riddled with contradictions and absurdities.

  • Drew

    I already addressed your idea that we need to throw out the entire bible in my teacher/mentor illustration.  Overall, it’s not difficult to decipher which comments apply to who. 

    Peter N, If an idea requires a level of interpretation it doesn’t mean the idea itself is flawed. Scientific evidence must be interpreted but that doesn’t make the evidence itself useless.  We may disagree about what it says but that doesn’t mean we can’t know. 

    I don’t doubt that you find all kinds of problems in the bible since you disregard basic rules of communication when reading it.  

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I already addressed your idea that we need to throw out the entire bible in my teacher/mentor illustration. Overall, it’s not difficult to decipher which comments apply to who.

    No, you didn’t, and yes, obviously it is difficult. Or, maybe I should use the tactic that everyone else uses? Those things that I agree with were obviously meant for me and those that I don’t agree with were meant for the time and place. Isn’t that right? Oh yeah, that’s special pleading.

    Why oh why couldn’t an omni-max being have foreseen such difficulties and written a book that is actually clear?

    I don’t doubt that you find all kinds of problems in the bible since you disregard basic rules of communication when reading it.

    I don’t doubt that you don’t find problems with the Bible, since you disregard anything that you disagree with.

  • Drew

    Considering cultural difference isn’t special pleading. It’s common sense.

    To say god should accommodate for every specific culture throughout time with detailed instructions rather than giving principles is a silly thing to demand. It would be a 40 page closing to his letter that would confuse his immediate audience.

    I havent disregarded anything from the bible, Just your faulty interpretation that refuses to consider immediate historical context and cultural differences. God doesn’t care about about external practices, what matters is the principle driving that practice. Jesus made this clear whenever he addressed the Pharisees.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Considering cultural difference isn’t special pleading. It’s common sense.

    It’s special pleading in that you claim that there are oughts in the Bible, but when you don’t agree you simply claim that they are due to cultural differences or they weren’t written just for you.

    To say god should accommodate for every specific culture throughout time with detailed instructions rather than giving principles is a silly thing to demand.

    Why? Is your omni-god not up to the task? Do you not hold to absolute morality?

    It would be a 40 page closing to his letter that would confuse his immediate audience.

    Why is your god not able to fully express himself without confusing his subjects? Does he not have the capability to be clear, even given his supposed omni qualities? Does he not have the ability to clarify things now? Given that your god is supposedly of the qualities that he would have been aware of recent times, you’d think the best course of action would be to observe the Bible in its simplest form (literally) since that would have the best chance of being correctly interpretted throughout history, and an omni god would have thought of that surely. Why is your god so impotent and stupid?

    I havent disregarded anything from the bible…

    Except the holy kiss…

    Just your faulty interpretation that refuses to consider immediate historical context and cultural differences.

    I’m not refusing anything. Where in there does it say that people who don’t live in a culture where kissing is acceptable are allowed to not kiss each other? Where? You find that passage and I’ll immediately withdraw my objections. The fact is that you’re looking for excuses to not follow what is clearly written in the Bible.

    God doesn’t care about about external practices…

    Which is why he spends so much time talking about them and telling people to do them on pain of death?

    …what matters is the principle driving that practice.

    Says you, but why should I believe your interpretation. It’s self-serving, as we’ve seen.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Without some kind of objective measure of what bits are to be taken literally and what bits are metaphors/cultural anomalies/faulty translations/spurious additions, the Bible is reduced to a big book of multiple-choice. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find justification for it, from love and kindness to the most appalling cruelty. God himself is clearly portrayed as a moral monster. We recognize good as good and evil as evil based on our modern, secular, humanistic values. The Bible isn’t a moral guide — even for Christians.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Overall, it’s not difficult to decipher which comments apply to who.

    If that’s the case, Drew, then why can’t Christians agree about it? I can find different groups of Christians taking opposite sides on pretty much any political or theological argument you’d care to name: on environmental protection, on abortion, on same-sex marriage, on feminism, on caring for the poor, and on and on. If you read this post, the beginning section quotes an even longer list. If it’s “not difficult” to figure out what the Bible means, why are people who believe in the Bible having such a hard time doing just that?

    The problem here is that all interpretations of the Bible are ultimately subjective. What’s “obvious” to one person is outright heresy to another. And unlike in science, where you can design an empirical test to settle the debate between two opposing hypotheses, there is no way of settling a debate between two religious opinions. God doesn’t speak to anyone, or if he does, he’s apparently telling conflicting things to different groups of people. Christians are still arguing about the same things they’ve been arguing for two thousand years. Why haven’t they “deciphered” the Bible, figured out what God really meant, and come to a consensus?

  • Drew

    OMFG, So a reader’s misunderstanding negates the validity of a book?  Time to start destroying all textbooks and literature, these authors clearly are unable to communicate since students have failing grades.    

    Rejecting God’s choice of communication because it isn’t as specific as you’d like it to be is simply an emotional reason for rejecting it. It’s okay to feel that way but it doesn’t hold much weight or convince anyone.  

     OMFG’s last comment would fall apart if he included  the rest of my statement. It is supported by Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees. 

    Peter N, Every form of communication is subject to this problem as I’ve illustrated above. I understand your point, but it doesn’t follow that the text is somehow untrue or unknowable because people bring in their own subjective views. 

     On what objective moral basis are you calling God a monster?

    Ebonmuse, thank you for pointing that out. I should explain my statement: I freely admit it’s my opinion. I can’t speak for people who first crack the bible open or those who think disregarding context is okay.  I don’t deny that there’s difficult concepts in the bible and there are areas where people disagree. However, the problem is us, not the text itself.    Science is actually a good example of this.  You can do an experiment to prove something but people will still bring their own interpretations to the results of the experiment. There are three possibilities: Either they’re wrong, you’re wrong, or your both wrong.  You have the same evidence, just different interpretations; but multiple interpretations don’t necessarily mean your experiment is flawed. I am told that the theory of evolution is an empirical fact. People disagree with the evidence, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or is impossible to know.  It wouldn’t be fair to reject it on those grounds. 

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    OMFG, So a reader’s misunderstanding negates the validity of a book? Time to start destroying all textbooks and literature, these authors clearly are unable to communicate since students have failing grades.

    I wasn’t aware that all textbooks and literature were written by infallible sources that are omni-max and desire that people should understand their works.

    Rejecting God’s choice of communication because it isn’t as specific as you’d like it to be is simply an emotional reason for rejecting it.

    Not at all. I’m rejecting the obvious contradiction between a god that supposedly wants us to believe in him and follow his holy word and has the ability to produce such words in a way that all will understand, but for some reason did/does not do so. This is an inconsistency. I suppose it’s also off-topic though, so perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up.

    OMFG’s last comment would fall apart if he included the rest of my statement. It is supported by Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees.

    Only if your interpretation is the absolute correct one, which I don’t buy since you’ve shown your interpretations to be self-serving.

    On what objective moral basis are you calling God a monster?

    Can we agree that entities that commit genocide are moral monsters? If we can’t agree to that, then this will not get off the ground, but I’d be wondering very hard about you and your pathological tendencies. I’d also have to note that you reject absolute morality which is a no-no for Xians.

    I can’t speak for people who first crack the bible open or those who think disregarding context is okay.

    When you claim that the letters are not binding on you because they were written to specific people, you are disregarding context.

    However, the problem is us, not the text itself.

    Well, that’s very convenient, is it not? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with god, because the entity that has the most ability to get things right gets a free pass from responsibility? That makes no sense.

    Science is actually a good example of this. You can do an experiment to prove something but people will still bring their own interpretations to the results of the experiment.

    That’s curious, because science is a tool with a self-correcting mechanism that brings people’s “interpretations” in line. When 2 scientists disagree, they set up experiments and empirically show who is correct, if either of them is. This is not at all like theological disagreements.

    I am told that the theory of evolution is an empirical fact.

    It is.

    People disagree with the evidence, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or is impossible to know. It wouldn’t be fair to reject it on those grounds.

    This is a false analogy. In the case of evolution, the rejection that happens is due to a priori biases in favor of their religion in direct conflict with the available evidence. In the case of the idea that the Bible is clear and consistent, the evidence is the fact that no one seems to be able to agree on what it says.

  • Drew

    I apologize that I can’t include your comments above my replies, I’m on a mobile device and it won’t work.

    It doesn’t matter that God is infallible. Fallible people are reading it. There’s going to be misunderstandings. 

    So I can’t use cross references in the bible to prove that my point is not self serving?  I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere with this. 

    God doesn’t kill people for their race, he justly kills them for their sin.  If you are correct about your materialist worldview, you have no authority to say one  action is evil over another.  

    What context am I disregarding?

    If people don’t interpret the results of science why are disagreements on what constitutes as evidence?

    According to your own criteria, evolution is not a fact since There are atheists who disagree with the evidence. 

    If you say religious people can’t critique evolution because of their prior beliefs then atheists can’t critique the bible because of theirs.   I wouldn’t resort to this argument and you shouldn’t either.  We should focus on the merits of an argument, not who’s saying them. 

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    It doesn’t matter that God is infallible.

    Of course it matters. Why wouldn’t it?

    So I can’t use cross references in the bible to prove that my point is not self serving? I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere with this.

    Never said you couldn’t. What you did, however, was claim that your interpretations proved that you were right about what the Bible says and means. I’m not going to accept that.

    God doesn’t kill people for their race, he justly kills them for their sin.

    You need to read your Bible.

    If you are correct about your materialist worldview, you have no authority to say one action is evil over another.

    Not this tired, inane canard. C’mon, can’t you do better?

    What context am I disregarding?

    The one I’ve been pointing out.

    If people don’t interpret the results of science why are disagreements on what constitutes as evidence?

    Such as?

    According to your own criteria, evolution is not a fact since There are atheists who disagree with the evidence.

    Why would you say something silly like that?

    If you say religious people can’t critique evolution because of their prior beliefs then atheists can’t critique the bible because of theirs.

    Now we’re going to get the “Atheists have a priori beliefs that god doesn’t exist” canard?

    I wouldn’t resort to this argument and you shouldn’t either. We should focus on the merits of an argument, not who’s saying them.

    Why people reject evolution is not off limits especially when it is the only “merit” of their argument. When you focus on the supposed critiques of evolution, they invariably fall apart. That is because evolution is the only game in town that actually works and is so well supported. There is no competing theory.

    (Note: that’s not to say that there aren’t unsolved questions within evolution that are debated, but that’s not quite what we are talking about here, they don’t impact the fact of evolution, and they will end up being solved thru scientific experimentation and evidence, not thru belief.)

  • monkeymind

    Drew, I think you are on to something. I do believe it is possible to come to a better knowledge of the “meaning” of the various parts of the Bible by studying the text critically, learning the origins of the various manuscripts and the theories about the original oral sources. Then study how the Biblical canon was worked out, and how various doctrines like the trinity, salvation by grace, etc., were decided upon. This is more work than most US evangelical Christians are ready to do. In general, if you ask the same questions about the Bible that you might ask about any other ancient text, in the hopes of understanding it better, you will face more resistance from your Christian brethren than you will from most atheists.

  • Drew

    OMFG, The way you cut and paste  my statements reveals a lot about how you critique scripture.  My sentence about god’s infallibility doesn’t say that infallibility is pointless.  READ THE NEXT TWO SENTENCES. Seriously, re-read it and paraphrase back to me what is that I am conveying. Was i really trying to say that it doesn’t matter if God is infallible or not? These sentences were never meant to stand on their own.  My first sentence sets up the next two. I know everyone else reading this can see what’s happening.  Our conversation is done if you are unable to paraphrase back to me what I said.  If we don’t have the English language as a middle ground there’s no point in talking.

     Monkeymind, thank you for the breath of fresh air. You put it well. I guarantee that we disagree about the origins and meaning of scripture but I appreciate that you acknowledge that it is knowable. We have the same scriptures and history regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong.  I don’t doubt that reasonable atheists exist, but I unfortunately  seem to only encounter the atheists who have pithy, Hitchens’ style, emotionally charged arguments that lack substance or credibility.  OMFG is a textbook example of this.  I  enjoy talking about these philosophical topics when people are fair, reasonable, and open.  These are complex topics and both people in the debate are bound to get things wrong.  It doesn’t make our worldview collapse if we admit error.  This isn’t about wining an argument, it’s about seeking truth. 

    I’m pretty familiar with Christian culture (since I am a Christian) and I never find opposition in reading the bible as I would other literature as you described.   I’ve actually learned this from other Christians.   There’s a growing number of wacky teachers in the evangelical movement today and we criticize them along with you, only we get the joy of being lumped together with them.   So you’re right that I will face opposition from other Christians and or false coverts.

  • Drew

    I apologize for the typos. It wouldn’t let me correct them. I meant to say “what it is that I’m saying” and “converts”. Not coverts

  • monkeymind

    “I’m pretty familiar with Christian culture (since I am a Christian) and I never find opposition in reading the bible as I would other literature as you described. I’ve actually learned this from other Christians. There’s a growing number of wacky teachers in the evangelical movement today and we criticize them along with you, only we get the joy of being lumped together with them. So you’re right that I will face opposition from other Christians and or false coverts.”

    Well, Christianity has a lot of sub-cultures and in my experience, the only one with enough hubris to identify itself as simply “Christian” w/o qualifiers is US evangelicalism. So I’m guessing that is the one you identify with. But I could be wrong. And I don’t think that it is very accepted in evangelicalism to compare, say, the Genesis creation myth with older creation myths from the same region, and draw the obvious conclusion that elements were borrowed and re-worked (in a really strange way, with the male rib-birth thing)

    If “christians” really were open to studying the Bible as they would any other work of literature, they would consider all different critical viewpoints. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around that sub-culture, but I can’t imagine it is possible to have a discussion about say, Bart Ehrmann in the typical evangelical Sunday School class.

    Can you really say you would approach reading the Bhagavad Gita in the same way you approach reading the Bible?

  • Drew

    Yes, I would read  the Bhagavad Gita the way I would read the bible or any other literature: considering historical context, type of literature, cultural practices, literary context, who the author was, who the audience was etc. It’s a lot of work, but its the only way to accurately understand what it says rather than  inputting your own ideas. It’s only fair.

    There are many knockoffs of the biblical creation account. I would expect that.  It doesn’t equate that multiple accounts of something means it’s the product of plagiarism.

    I probably won’t respond much more on this blog because it’s getting very far off topic and  I’ve already spent too much time here. 

    I’ve  studied a huge amount of atheist literature  including Dawkins (multiple books), Hawking, Hitchens, David mills, Bart Herman, sam Harris, and a wealth of Internet material. I find their arguments against Genesis  lacking and their speculations about cosmology and evolution unsatisfying.  They make embarrassing scriptural errors when critiquing the bible and refuse to revise their flawed arguments. We could go back and forth through all the traditional debate points but neither of us will be convinced.  I’d rather save us both the time and energy.