Trusting the Bible vs. Trusting Human Reason (From the Archives)

I have often encountered fundamentalists who made the antithesis referred to in this title, placing themselves in the first part and me in the second, of course. And so I thought perhaps it might be worthwhile sharing a brief thought on this subject.

The contrast is utter bunk.

Let me explain why. There are two main reasons why the oft-repeated contrast between “the Bible” on the one hand and “human reason” on the other is nonsensical. The first is that human reason cannot be bypassed when it comes to the Bible. To give just a couple of examples, without human reason, you would not have English translations of the text. Without your own human reason, you could not make sense of words on the page. And your human reason is involved in making sense of the words you read. Otherwise there would be no need for translations – you could study the Hebrew and Greek text and, in spite of not knowing the languages, understand, because human reason is not required for this process.

This leads to the second main point. Many fundamentalist readers of Scripture will tell you that they do not “interpret” the Bible – they merely read it.

This claim too is utter bunk.

Their human reason (or “skill” as interpreters, to put it another way) can be seen quite clearly kicking in when Jesus tells them that they must give up all their possessions to be his disciples. It is visible kicking into action when Paul’s language about justification by faith apart from works of the Law is allowed to trump those passages that depict judgment on the basis of works. It is there when someone claims to know that the six days in Genesis 1 are literal but the dome is a metaphor.

But apart from these obvious instances, it is there all along, because apart from “human reason” there is no reading and no comprehension.

I have yet to encounter a fundamentalist who was able to actually demonstrate what would admittedly be an impressive trick: reading without using their brains. I always try to remain open to changing my mind, and so if you are able to do it, please do show me how. But if when you read your EEG does not flatline, then please stop pretending things are otherwise.

And if you would say that the act of bypassing human reason occurs not in the process of reading, but in the choice of putting your faith in the Bible in the first place, it may indeed be the case that you ignored reason when doing so. But that ought to worry you, not provide comfort, because it is possible to ignore reason and place one’s faith in just about anything. And unless such a person at some point is willing to allow reason its proper role, then it is unclear how anyone, even God, would be able to get through to them and persuade them to think differently. And to be in that situation ought to be worrying, not reassuring.

  • smijer

    It is even more stark when you look at the AiG poster – impoverished human reason is pitted against God’s Word.  It’s a no-brainer (huh) right?  So long as you accept the human reasoning that tells you that the NIV or KJV or whatever is the word of an almighty, all-knowing God who wants to spoon-feed modern English-speakers every important truth. 

    Yes, that decision to believe that Zondervan speaks for God is a matter of human reasoning – you can’t bypass reasoning. The important distinction is between reasoning well and reasoning poorly. 

  • smijer

    It is even more stark when you look at the AiG poster – impoverished human reason is pitted against God’s Word.  It’s a no-brainer (huh) right?  So long as you accept the human reasoning that tells you that the NIV or KJV or whatever is the word of an almighty, all-knowing God who wants to spoon-feed modern English-speakers every important truth. 

    Yes, that decision to believe that Zondervan speaks for God is a matter of human reasoning – you can’t bypass reasoning. The important distinction is between reasoning well and reasoning poorly. 

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    “. . .When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things. . .” (Proverbs 2:10-12)

    “. . .If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this system of things, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own cunning.” And again: “the Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise men are futile.”” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)

    “. . .However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.” (James 1:22)

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    “. . .When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things. . .” (Proverbs 2:10-12)

    “. . .If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this system of things, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own cunning.” And again: “the Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise men are futile.”” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)

    “. . .However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.” (James 1:22)

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I don’t disagree with my namesake that we can be deceived by false reasoning, nor that thinking ourselves wise we can in fact become foolish. What I disagree with is the idea that somehow we can bypass human reasoning. I don’t see that those passages imply or teach such a thing, and a couple of them seem in fact to encourage the use of reasoning and discernment.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I don’t disagree with my namesake that we can be deceived by false reasoning, nor that thinking ourselves wise we can in fact become foolish. What I disagree with is the idea that somehow we can bypass human reasoning. I don’t see that those passages imply or teach such a thing, and a couple of them seem in fact to encourage the use of reasoning and discernment.

  • Anonymous

    The bit about bypassing human reason never made any sense to me. The same with the bit about not interpreting the Bible. An uninterpreted Bible is nothing but marks on paper, devoid of meaning, absolutely useless.

    Many years ago, when I was a child, I used to listen to FM radio, then a wasteland of specialty stations with classical music, foreign language, and religious stations predominating.  On Sunday nights I was stuck with listening to religious shows when everything else went dead.  One fellow I listened to–I have no clue now who he was–used to tell stories about some rural community–I think he’d supposedly grown up in it. The one story of his I remember involved several people gathered together who were discussing some Biblical passage. They argued it back and forth for awhile, and then turned to one old pastor who’d been sitting back listening, taking no part in the discussion.  One of them asked him, “How do you understand this passage?”  The old pastor took a moment to reply, and then he said–and these words have stuck with me ever since–”I don’t ‘understand’ the Bible–I believe it.”

    I think this was supposed to be profound.  Maybe we were supposed to respond somehow to the apparent paradox of belief without understanding.  I don’t know.  I do know that it made me laugh, and the line stuck with me. It got me thinking about the unexamined assumptions we bring to reading any work, ancient or modern, and how they can influence our understanding of it. Understanding necessarily precedes belief; belief in something you don’t understand is not really belief at all.  If that was the message I was supposed to get from it, then I’ve got to give the preacher credit. I have a feeling that was a byproduct however.

  • sbh

    The bit about bypassing human reason never made any sense to me. The same with the bit about not interpreting the Bible. An uninterpreted Bible is nothing but marks on paper, devoid of meaning, absolutely useless.

    Many years ago, when I was a child, I used to listen to FM radio, then a wasteland of specialty stations with classical music, foreign language, and religious stations predominating.  On Sunday nights I was stuck with listening to religious shows when everything else went dead.  One fellow I listened to–I have no clue now who he was–used to tell stories about some rural community–I think he’d supposedly grown up in it. The one story of his I remember involved several people gathered together who were discussing some Biblical passage. They argued it back and forth for awhile, and then turned to one old pastor who’d been sitting back listening, taking no part in the discussion.  One of them asked him, “How do you understand this passage?”  The old pastor took a moment to reply, and then he said–and these words have stuck with me ever since–”I don’t ‘understand’ the Bible–I believe it.”

    I think this was supposed to be profound.  Maybe we were supposed to respond somehow to the apparent paradox of belief without understanding.  I don’t know.  I do know that it made me laugh, and the line stuck with me. It got me thinking about the unexamined assumptions we bring to reading any work, ancient or modern, and how they can influence our understanding of it. Understanding necessarily precedes belief; belief in something you don’t understand is not really belief at all.  If that was the message I was supposed to get from it, then I’ve got to give the preacher credit. I have a feeling that was a byproduct however.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, the Bible clearly encourages us to use our reasoning ability, that’s why I used the first scripture. The other two scriptures were to show that not all reasoning is advantageous. To me, this shows that human reasoning is to be used, but used with caution and discernment. However, I think their is a big difference between the Bible’s human reasoning and yours. The Bible encourages us to take in knowledge of God through his word and discern its proper meaning and implement these principals into our lives. You on the other hand, encourage us to take in knowledge of history, science and cultural information to help us discern if many of the events and actions in the Bible really took place. Thus doubting the authenticity of the complete Bible as being the actual thoughts and words of God.

    You have me completely stumped. Unless I am over assuming here, you admit to believing in an almighty supernatural being, yet you side with fallible science, against a supposedly infallible Almighty God. Is it that you can not grasp or refuse to grasp the idea that, even though the flood story or the creation account does not agree with current scientific opinion, God inspired the stories for reasons that are not totally clear to us? Don’t we tell our own children things that are not factual? Do we do it to deceive them or make them look like fools? No, we do it to make something more enjoyable, more exciting, etc. I’m not saying this is what God did, but it is just an example that there are possibilities that we may have never considered. It’s certainly not a black and white issue. I don’t think I would have as much of a problem if you even said, I believe God inspired the flood story, but I don’t think it reflects actual historical events.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, the Bible clearly encourages us to use our reasoning ability, that’s why I used the first scripture. The other two scriptures were to show that not all reasoning is advantageous. To me, this shows that human reasoning is to be used, but used with caution and discernment. However, I think their is a big difference between the Bible’s human reasoning and yours. The Bible encourages us to take in knowledge of God through his word and discern its proper meaning and implement these principals into our lives. You on the other hand, encourage us to take in knowledge of history, science and cultural information to help us discern if many of the events and actions in the Bible really took place. Thus doubting the authenticity of the complete Bible as being the actual thoughts and words of God.

    You have me completely stumped. Unless I am over assuming here, you admit to believing in an almighty supernatural being, yet you side with fallible science, against a supposedly infallible Almighty God. Is it that you can not grasp or refuse to grasp the idea that, even though the flood story or the creation account does not agree with current scientific opinion, God inspired the stories for reasons that are not totally clear to us? Don’t we tell our own children things that are not factual? Do we do it to deceive them or make them look like fools? No, we do it to make something more enjoyable, more exciting, etc. I’m not saying this is what God did, but it is just an example that there are possibilities that we may have never considered. It’s certainly not a black and white issue. I don’t think I would have as much of a problem if you even said, I believe God inspired the flood story, but I don’t think it reflects actual historical events.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I don’t see the issue as being a choice between fallible science and Almighty God. I don’t believe that God has revealed factual knowledge about the universe, of the sort science investigates, someplace other than in the natural world. It seems to me that those who play the Bible off against science are, at best, treating God as a Creator incapable of creating in such a way as to make his handiwork clear. And at worst, they are treating a creation that requires great power as less trustworthy than texts which human beings compose. Either way, it isn’t a stance that seems to me logical even working from the presuppositions of relatively conservative Christianity.

    I know I still need to reply to some of your comments in the other post, and will get back to them soon. I wanted to reply to this one more quickly to try to make up for the delay!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I don’t see the issue as being a choice between fallible science and Almighty God. I don’t believe that God has revealed factual knowledge about the universe, of the sort science investigates, someplace other than in the natural world. It seems to me that those who play the Bible off against science are, at best, treating God as a Creator incapable of creating in such a way as to make his handiwork clear. And at worst, they are treating a creation that requires great power as less trustworthy than texts which human beings compose. Either way, it isn’t a stance that seems to me logical even working from the presuppositions of relatively conservative Christianity.

    I know I still need to reply to some of your comments in the other post, and will get back to them soon. I wanted to reply to this one more quickly to try to make up for the delay!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I should also share a link to something I wrote on the old blog location, probably too recently for it to be worth posting again, on why I think young-earth creationism and Intelligent Design are blasphemous

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I should also share a link to something I wrote on the old blog location, probably too recently for it to be worth posting again, on why I think young-earth creationism and Intelligent Design are blasphemous

  • Life Genome Project- Steve

    Question and please forgive my ignorance. Does the bible provide an historical example of a civilization that was not focused on ‘money’ but truly dedicated, collectively, to this topic? What was the example and the outcome?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Could you kindly clarify your question? It isn’t clear to me what you’re asking.

      • LifeGenomeProject

        Apologies, I am still trying to work this out so I hope you
        don’t mind me participating? Based on the comments this appears to be a discussion
        that we could link to other topics that science and religion have both worked
        to explain for many years.  After a bit
        of research over the last few months, I came across the Atlas Experiment, which
        you probably know, seeks to discover the origins of our universe. The
        experiment seems to have strong connections to identifying the ‘energy’ source.
         Now connecting that with some other
        research that I have been doing around data, technology and health, they all
        seem to ultimately link back to an energy source… so I naturally began to
        explore natural sources of energy, especially around technology since we seem
        to be driving toward more organic ways of developing new technologies. Now
        there are multiple paths this can go I guess but at this point I am stuck on
        the possibility that we may not have been the most advanced civilization, at
        least in terms of technology? If there was a more advanced civilization it appears
        they understood how to tap into this ‘natural’ energy source to achieve such things
        as collective knowledge, long life, etc. So if this thought is not too far out
        there, I am just wondering if there is scripture, Old Testament I would guess, that
        would coincide with this observation? Meaning was there civilizations referenced
        in the bible that were described as having a collective knowledge, lived extend
        life spans and seemed to be focused on natural sources of energy?  If so, what was the outcome, positives and
        negatives? At this point, the bible seems to offer the best explanation while the Atlas Experiment, great project, seems to have more questions than when it started. In addition, many of today’s products and services seem to have originated from or are
        working back to a more organic or natural state…

        Disclaimer: Not a hater of technology or free enterprise just asking. Thank you in advance for entertaining the question/thought…

  • Life Genome Project- Steve

    Question and please forgive my ignorance. Does the bible provide an historical example of a civilization that was not focused on ‘money’ but truly dedicated, collectively, to this topic? What was the example and the outcome?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Could you kindly clarify your question? It isn’t clear to me what you’re asking.

      • LifeGenomeProject

        Apologies, I am still trying to work this out so I hope you
        don’t mind me participating? Based on the comments this appears to be a discussion
        that we could link to other topics that science and religion have both worked
        to explain for many years.  After a bit
        of research over the last few months, I came across the Atlas Experiment, which
        you probably know, seeks to discover the origins of our universe. The
        experiment seems to have strong connections to identifying the ‘energy’ source.
         Now connecting that with some other
        research that I have been doing around data, technology and health, they all
        seem to ultimately link back to an energy source… so I naturally began to
        explore natural sources of energy, especially around technology since we seem
        to be driving toward more organic ways of developing new technologies. Now
        there are multiple paths this can go I guess but at this point I am stuck on
        the possibility that we may not have been the most advanced civilization, at
        least in terms of technology? If there was a more advanced civilization it appears
        they understood how to tap into this ‘natural’ energy source to achieve such things
        as collective knowledge, long life, etc. So if this thought is not too far out
        there, I am just wondering if there is scripture, Old Testament I would guess, that
        would coincide with this observation? Meaning was there civilizations referenced
        in the bible that were described as having a collective knowledge, lived extend
        life spans and seemed to be focused on natural sources of energy?  If so, what was the outcome, positives and
        negatives? At this point, the bible seems to offer the best explanation while the Atlas Experiment, great project, seems to have more questions than when it started. In addition, many of today’s products and services seem to have originated from or are
        working back to a more organic or natural state…

        Disclaimer: Not a hater of technology or free enterprise just asking. Thank you in advance for entertaining the question/thought…

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I’m not completely sure that you understood what I was trying to say. I do not have an issue with science, I rely on it all the time. All I was trying to point out was, does it make sense that the only conclusion for the creation account for example, that it must be the work of men since it does not agree with scientific opinion? In my question, I was not implying that scientific opinion is necessarily wrong. What I think is wrong is not recognizing that an unfathomable Almighty God just might have a valid reason for wanting us to know these stories, even if at present they do not appear to be historically accurate.

    Here is how I view the situation. For me, it really does not make much of a difference in my day to day life whether God created man as in the biblical account, or whether it was through evolution. The actual historical fact has no impact on my daily life, other then another piece of information, or something to argue about on a blog. But in the end, if God did inspire the stories and wanted us to know and believe them for some reason, then I have pleased God in that respect. If men wrote these stories, and God approves of them, he obviously wants us to know and believe them for some reason, again, I have pleased God in that respect. If men wrote these stories and God does not approve of them, it is obvious that God wants us to be smart enough to accept and reject specific sections of a collection of texts that are written in a way that fools us into thinking the whole collection was by God. If this is what God wants, then I admit I have failed him.  But for me, I will take my chances on the first two options.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I’m not completely sure that you understood what I was trying to say. I do not have an issue with science, I rely on it all the time. All I was trying to point out was, does it make sense that the only conclusion for the creation account for example, that it must be the work of men since it does not agree with scientific opinion? In my question, I was not implying that scientific opinion is necessarily wrong. What I think is wrong is not recognizing that an unfathomable Almighty God just might have a valid reason for wanting us to know these stories, even if at present they do not appear to be historically accurate.

    Here is how I view the situation. For me, it really does not make much of a difference in my day to day life whether God created man as in the biblical account, or whether it was through evolution. The actual historical fact has no impact on my daily life, other then another piece of information, or something to argue about on a blog. But in the end, if God did inspire the stories and wanted us to know and believe them for some reason, then I have pleased God in that respect. If men wrote these stories, and God approves of them, he obviously wants us to know and believe them for some reason, again, I have pleased God in that respect. If men wrote these stories and God does not approve of them, it is obvious that God wants us to be smart enough to accept and reject specific sections of a collection of texts that are written in a way that fools us into thinking the whole collection was by God. If this is what God wants, then I admit I have failed him.  But for me, I will take my chances on the first two options.

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    You said: “I think their is a big difference between the Bible’s human reasoning and yours (James’).”  In what way is the process of reasoning different for you, me, James, the (authors/redactors of the ) Bible, or God?  Seems to me the process is the same, no matter who does the reasoning.

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont, as I attempted to explain in my comment, the difference is in the data that is used to reason with, not a different way of reasoning. As I said, God wants us to use what is written in his word, the Bible, to reason and discern what his will is, and how to incorporate that into our lives. James wants us to use historical criticism and scientific opinion to question the validity of what is in the Bible. Then I suppose after that is accomplished we are to reconstruct God’s new character from what remains of the Bible. So I guess the “big difference” I am talking about is that one person can use his thinking ability to gain a clearer knowledge of God and his will to gain or increase their faith. And another can use his thinking ability to question or prevent faith in God and his word.

      Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    You said: “I think their is a big difference between the Bible’s human reasoning and yours (James’).”  In what way is the process of reasoning different for you, me, James, the (authors/redactors of the ) Bible, or God?  Seems to me the process is the same, no matter who does the reasoning.

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont, as I attempted to explain in my comment, the difference is in the data that is used to reason with, not a different way of reasoning. As I said, God wants us to use what is written in his word, the Bible, to reason and discern what his will is, and how to incorporate that into our lives. James wants us to use historical criticism and scientific opinion to question the validity of what is in the Bible. Then I suppose after that is accomplished we are to reconstruct God’s new character from what remains of the Bible. So I guess the “big difference” I am talking about is that one person can use his thinking ability to gain a clearer knowledge of God and his will to gain or increase their faith. And another can use his thinking ability to question or prevent faith in God and his word.

      Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

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  • Lamont

    Hi, Howard; thanks for responding.

     I want to back up a bit to
    the poster James used to start all this. 
    In that poster, ‘human reason’ is pitted against ‘God’s word.’  Or at least that’s my interpretation of the
    poster.  I think it’s a false
    dichotomy.  It’s false on several points:
    it offers two, and only two perspectives; it treats these two perspectives as
    mutually exclusive (if they were circles on a Venn diagram there would be no
    overlap); it treats one perspective as superior in some fashion to the other
    (closer to the ‘truth,’ or more moral/ethical, or a better template for right
    living, or a better baseline for further reasoning about how the world works,
    or how one interacts with the world, or one’s purposefulness in the world); and
    it gives the impression that a choice has to made between the two (and soon).  Would you agree that this poster is a false
    dichotomy?

    I wonder what the artist/theologian’s purpose was in
    designing and distributing this poster: what is ‘message sent?’  I can think of two: to affirm the beliefs
    of those who see it (for instance, if it were posted in your faith community’s Sunday
    school room), and to prompt a conversion for someone who believes differently.  One definition of conversion is to ‘see value
    in a position that one didn’t previously see any value in.’  While it’s possible that this poster could
    trigger this type of conversion for someone (say as a public billboard), the impression I get
    is that it is intended primarily to affirm beliefs.  Or (from the dichotomy point of view) it affirms
    a choice made.

    I’m all for evangelizing; I’m all for conversion.  And I’m all for affirming beliefs in a faith
    community.  But to use false dichotomies
    to do so strikes me as either ignorant, or disingenuous.

    I’m afraid, sir, that I find you present a false dichotomy
    as well in your response to me: “one person can use his thinking ability to
    gain a clearer knowledge of God and his will to gain or increase their
    faith.  And another can use his thinking
    ability to question or prevent faith in God and his word.”  I don’t think these two perspectives are the
    only two ways to use one’s thinking ability regarding God, scripture, and
    faith.  Even if they were, I don’t think
    they are mutually exclusive.  I don’t
    think one is superior to the other per se. 
    And I don’t think a choice has to be made about which one to take.

    Thanks for the conversation,

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      If we view the poster in the way that it appears to be presenting itself, yes, it is a false dichotomy. And I was not trying to present the same kind of argument. I was merely using the two examples from each end of the spectrum. But actually, the whole argument is flawed. The phrase “human reasoning” is not accurate in the way it is being used here. As James points out, no matter what some Christians might say, human reasoning is very much a part of believing in the Bible. But there is a clear contrast between the two concepts in question. It might be better if we use “secular reasoning” and  “divine reasoning” as our contrasting concepts. These phrases should not be confused with “secular facts” and “divine statements.” Secular facts include archeological discoveries and written texts, both biblical and non-biblical. Secular reasoning is taking these facts along with divine statements and postulating that certain biblical events are probably not historical. When ideas are incompatible, something needs to go, so historical criticism rejects divine statements in favor of secular reasoning, in other words, they doubt God’s word. Divine reasoning examines the exact same information, but when disagreements are encountered, secular reasoning is rejected in favor of divine statements, in other words faith in God’s word. But the secular facts by themselves do not demand the conclusion of historical critics. To accomplish its task, historical criticism removes the supernatural element in this sort of analysis of the Bible. To me, if you remove the possibility of the supernatural, before you even start your analysis, it seems you have already made up your mind about God as the author of the Bible. Which seems a bit counterproductive when examining an alleged supernatural document from a supposed supernatural being. Its no wonder all historical critics believe the Bible is the work of man, they removed God from the equation, who else is left to be responsible?

      To me its like, say you walked into a room and you see a pie sitting on a table, someone tells you that the pie was made by God. There does not appear to be any supernatural evidence, so the historical critic will say, since man knows how to make pies and with all the physical evidence of all the pies made by man, we must conclude that a man made the pie and the statement that God made it, is false. If they say they do believe God exists, but he certainly did not make this pie, then they call into question the reliability of the messenger, they trust their secular reasoning rather than trust the messenger. So if your going to call the messenger unreliable, then there can be no connection between God and the pie. Therefore, calling the Bible unreliable and the work of men, that means there is also no connection between what is recorded in the Bible and God. Therefore, we do not have any reliable information concerning God. What’s the point in believing in a God that you know absolutely nothing about?

      P.S. After you compose your comments in word, paste them into notepad, then recopy and paste here. Yes its a pain, but this site does not like word.

  • Lamont

    Hi, Howard; thanks for responding.

     I want to back up a bit to
    the poster James used to start all this. 
    In that poster, ‘human reason’ is pitted against ‘God’s word.’  Or at least that’s my interpretation of the
    poster.  I think it’s a false
    dichotomy.  It’s false on several points:
    it offers two, and only two perspectives; it treats these two perspectives as
    mutually exclusive (if they were circles on a Venn diagram there would be no
    overlap); it treats one perspective as superior in some fashion to the other
    (closer to the ‘truth,’ or more moral/ethical, or a better template for right
    living, or a better baseline for further reasoning about how the world works,
    or how one interacts with the world, or one’s purposefulness in the world); and
    it gives the impression that a choice has to made between the two (and soon).  Would you agree that this poster is a false
    dichotomy?

    I wonder what the artist/theologian’s purpose was in
    designing and distributing this poster: what is ‘message sent?’  I can think of two: to affirm the beliefs
    of those who see it (for instance, if it were posted in your faith community’s Sunday
    school room), and to prompt a conversion for someone who believes differently.  One definition of conversion is to ‘see value
    in a position that one didn’t previously see any value in.’  While it’s possible that this poster could
    trigger this type of conversion for someone (say as a public billboard), the impression I get
    is that it is intended primarily to affirm beliefs.  Or (from the dichotomy point of view) it affirms
    a choice made.

    I’m all for evangelizing; I’m all for conversion.  And I’m all for affirming beliefs in a faith
    community.  But to use false dichotomies
    to do so strikes me as either ignorant, or disingenuous.

    I’m afraid, sir, that I find you present a false dichotomy
    as well in your response to me: “one person can use his thinking ability to
    gain a clearer knowledge of God and his will to gain or increase their
    faith.  And another can use his thinking
    ability to question or prevent faith in God and his word.”  I don’t think these two perspectives are the
    only two ways to use one’s thinking ability regarding God, scripture, and
    faith.  Even if they were, I don’t think
    they are mutually exclusive.  I don’t
    think one is superior to the other per se. 
    And I don’t think a choice has to be made about which one to take.

    Thanks for the conversation,

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      If we view the poster in the way that it appears to be presenting itself, yes, it is a false dichotomy. And I was not trying to present the same kind of argument. I was merely using the two examples from each end of the spectrum. But actually, the whole argument is flawed. The phrase “human reasoning” is not accurate in the way it is being used here. As James points out, no matter what some Christians might say, human reasoning is very much a part of believing in the Bible. But there is a clear contrast between the two concepts in question. It might be better if we use “secular reasoning” and  “divine reasoning” as our contrasting concepts. These phrases should not be confused with “secular facts” and “divine statements.” Secular facts include archeological discoveries and written texts, both biblical and non-biblical. Secular reasoning is taking these facts along with divine statements and postulating that certain biblical events are probably not historical. When ideas are incompatible, something needs to go, so historical criticism rejects divine statements in favor of secular reasoning, in other words, they doubt God’s word. Divine reasoning examines the exact same information, but when disagreements are encountered, secular reasoning is rejected in favor of divine statements, in other words faith in God’s word. But the secular facts by themselves do not demand the conclusion of historical critics. To accomplish its task, historical criticism removes the supernatural element in this sort of analysis of the Bible. To me, if you remove the possibility of the supernatural, before you even start your analysis, it seems you have already made up your mind about God as the author of the Bible. Which seems a bit counterproductive when examining an alleged supernatural document from a supposed supernatural being. Its no wonder all historical critics believe the Bible is the work of man, they removed God from the equation, who else is left to be responsible?

      To me its like, say you walked into a room and you see a pie sitting on a table, someone tells you that the pie was made by God. There does not appear to be any supernatural evidence, so the historical critic will say, since man knows how to make pies and with all the physical evidence of all the pies made by man, we must conclude that a man made the pie and the statement that God made it, is false. If they say they do believe God exists, but he certainly did not make this pie, then they call into question the reliability of the messenger, they trust their secular reasoning rather than trust the messenger. So if your going to call the messenger unreliable, then there can be no connection between God and the pie. Therefore, calling the Bible unreliable and the work of men, that means there is also no connection between what is recorded in the Bible and God. Therefore, we do not have any reliable information concerning God. What’s the point in believing in a God that you know absolutely nothing about?

      P.S. After you compose your comments in word, paste them into notepad, then recopy and paste here. Yes its a pain, but this site does not like word.

  • Lamont

    James–

    I typed my last comment in Microsoft Word and then cut and paste, and there’s formating issues.  Any suggestions?

    Lamont

  • Lamont

    James–

    I typed my last comment in Microsoft Word and then cut and paste, and there’s formating issues.  Any suggestions?

    Lamont

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    You’re talking to a complete novice here.  How do I get to notepad?  My email is lamontgoodling@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Are you using a PC? If so, Notepad is in Accessories in the Start Menu. Unlike Word, it doesn’t add formatting code that will then show up strangely when pasted into a comment.

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    You’re talking to a complete novice here.  How do I get to notepad?  My email is lamontgoodling@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Are you using a PC? If so, Notepad is in Accessories in the Start Menu. Unlike Word, it doesn’t add formatting code that will then show up strangely when pasted into a comment.

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard—

    Your dichotomy of ‘secular reasoning/divine reasoning’ is much better, I think.  Secular reasoning regarding scripture could mean two things: ‘a supernatural entity does not exist;’  or ‘a supernatural entity exists, but is not involved in the authorship of the scriptures.’  I’ll assume by secular reasoning regarding things Biblical, you mean the first.  (It’s a dichotomy regarding the non-existence of a supernatural entity , and the existence of a supernatural entity plus that entity’s involvement in the authorship of the scriptures.)  A yes/no question for James and yourself is, ‘do you believe a supernatural entity is involved in the authorship of the scriptures?’  I think both of you would answer definitively ‘yes,’ but seem to differ on what that involvement is, and what the messenger/mechanisms are, what the motivations and intent of that supernatural entity is, and maybe what the nature of that supernatural entity is.  That’s what I think your disagreements are about.  But I do think you both feel scripture is about a supernatural entity involved in the authorship of these scriptures.  Does this assessment seem reasonable to you?

    By the way, I don’t agree with your conclusion that if the messenger/mechanism is unreliable that there is no connection between what is recorded in the Bible, and God.  I’m assuming that by reliable you mean ‘message written equals message sent by God’ and unreliable means: ‘message written does not equal message sent by God; or ‘message written equals part of the message sent by God;’ or ‘message written equals all or part of message sent by God and then some other stuff.’  A partial message is still a connection.  I understand you need for a reliable message; and who doesn’t want clarification when messages are unreliable?  I think you and James clarify unreliable messages differently, too.

    I like also your Venn diagram overlap between secular reasoning and divine reasoning, and I understand that when there is a genuine dichotomy between the two, divine reasoning is your default.  But that’s quite different from the poster’s dichotomy.  And I’m a sucker for food metaphors, so the pie thing works for me.

    But back to that poster.  What do you think the author’s intent is?  What do you think the author’s motivations are?  If you saw this poster in a Sunday school room in your faith community, what would you do about it?  Would the false dichotomy bother you enough to do something about it?

    Lamont

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard—

    Your dichotomy of ‘secular reasoning/divine reasoning’ is much better, I think.  Secular reasoning regarding scripture could mean two things: ‘a supernatural entity does not exist;’  or ‘a supernatural entity exists, but is not involved in the authorship of the scriptures.’  I’ll assume by secular reasoning regarding things Biblical, you mean the first.  (It’s a dichotomy regarding the non-existence of a supernatural entity , and the existence of a supernatural entity plus that entity’s involvement in the authorship of the scriptures.)  A yes/no question for James and yourself is, ‘do you believe a supernatural entity is involved in the authorship of the scriptures?’  I think both of you would answer definitively ‘yes,’ but seem to differ on what that involvement is, and what the messenger/mechanisms are, what the motivations and intent of that supernatural entity is, and maybe what the nature of that supernatural entity is.  That’s what I think your disagreements are about.  But I do think you both feel scripture is about a supernatural entity involved in the authorship of these scriptures.  Does this assessment seem reasonable to you?

    By the way, I don’t agree with your conclusion that if the messenger/mechanism is unreliable that there is no connection between what is recorded in the Bible, and God.  I’m assuming that by reliable you mean ‘message written equals message sent by God’ and unreliable means: ‘message written does not equal message sent by God; or ‘message written equals part of the message sent by God;’ or ‘message written equals all or part of message sent by God and then some other stuff.’  A partial message is still a connection.  I understand you need for a reliable message; and who doesn’t want clarification when messages are unreliable?  I think you and James clarify unreliable messages differently, too.

    I like also your Venn diagram overlap between secular reasoning and divine reasoning, and I understand that when there is a genuine dichotomy between the two, divine reasoning is your default.  But that’s quite different from the poster’s dichotomy.  And I’m a sucker for food metaphors, so the pie thing works for me.

    But back to that poster.  What do you think the author’s intent is?  What do you think the author’s motivations are?  If you saw this poster in a Sunday school room in your faith community, what would you do about it?  Would the false dichotomy bother you enough to do something about it?

    Lamont

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I like analogies that involve pie! Perhaps I could take up your analogy, and ask whether, if there is a master pie-maker, with whom someone of more limited ability in pie-making had an encounter and whose pie the latter tasted, and then the latter tried to make the pie he tasted, we wouldn’t get the full deliciousness of the master’s pie, but neither would we necessarily be left with a completely wrong impression. Or perhaps a better analogy (even though I hate to give up the pie) would be a child drawing what they experienced; it would not be a masterwork of art by adult standards, but neither would it necessarily convey nothing that we could understand.

    If the Bible is written from the experiences and intuitions of human beings about God, I don’t think we have to choose between their either being so safeguarded as to communicate no error, or completely useless. Maybe the point of them is precisely to get us to experience the same Being for ourselves, rather than take someone else’s words for it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, I like analogies that involve pie! Perhaps I could take up your analogy, and ask whether, if there is a master pie-maker, with whom someone of more limited ability in pie-making had an encounter and whose pie the latter tasted, and then the latter tried to make the pie he tasted, we wouldn’t get the full deliciousness of the master’s pie, but neither would we necessarily be left with a completely wrong impression. Or perhaps a better analogy (even though I hate to give up the pie) would be a child drawing what they experienced; it would not be a masterwork of art by adult standards, but neither would it necessarily convey nothing that we could understand.

    If the Bible is written from the experiences and intuitions of human beings about God, I don’t think we have to choose between their either being so safeguarded as to communicate no error, or completely useless. Maybe the point of them is precisely to get us to experience the same Being for ourselves, rather than take someone else’s words for it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @LifeGenomeProject, I think your comment might make more sense on one of my posts about the TV show Fringe than here.

    • LifeGenomeProject

      Okay, thanks for your time…

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @LifeGenomeProject, I think your comment might make more sense on one of my posts about the TV show Fringe than here.

    • LifeGenomeProject

      Okay, thanks for your time…

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Hi Lamont,

    Actually my definition of secular reasoning is, trying to explain everything in human terms rather than take into account the possibility of divine action. What you describe would be the possible results of secular reasoning. James seems to believe in a divine entity, but does not believe this entity was directly involved in the writing of the Bible, either in whole or in part. As for your question, I would say yes, but I am not sure I have seen James admit that any part of the Bible was directly inspired by God. And what I mean by inspired, is that God put the ideas into their heads and they possibly used their own wording, but God approves of the results.

    The following are some points as to why I take the all or nothing approach.

    1. The Bible itself purports to be a message from God to his creation here on earth. If this is true, I can not believe a powerful God would have allowed humans to muck up his divine plan to the point where we can not tell up from down. If this is not the case, and God sent no specific message and the Bible is the product of humans attempting to explain their surroundings theologically or relating their supposed divine dreams etc., is such a Bible worthy of our complete confidence, even to the point of dying for it?

    2. Historical critics reject accounts such as the flood, Adam and Eve and the various genocidal wars because they are not in agreement with the observable facts of history and science. They claim these accounts exist because these ancients were merely trying to explain their existence without the aid of  accurate scientific or historical information. If this is true, these would be serious mischaracterizations of God. Would a God of truth, support a Bible that misrepresents his character and historical truth on numerous occasions?

    3. If God really wants us to believe in him and do his will, would he really play this guessing game with us? Which books are trustworthy? Which accounts are true? Which paragraphs are to be believed? Which words are from God?

    So in the end, either God is all powerful, perfect and trustworthy and he inspired and protects his word, or he is no better then one of us weak, imperfect and unreliable humans who allowed his imperfect human creation to create every aspect of him from our own minds. If you have another option, I would love to here it. And so far, this is just simple logic, I have not even brought into the debate influence of correct theology or the understanding of the divine plan.

    As for the poster, it looks like it could go either way depending on who is using it. It could be pro Bible or pro human reason. It could also be from a third party simply trying to explain the disagreement he sees between the two groups. So it is hard to say what the intent was without knowing how it is being used. I don’t belong to any religious group so I don’t have one of those rooms. ;) The poster, in my opinion, is using wrong terminology to make its point. But the point is valid and I think the poster even though using the wrong terminology brings the point to light. I myself would probably not make much of an issue with the poster, except maybe point out the wrong terminology as I have tried to do here.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Hi Lamont,

    Actually my definition of secular reasoning is, trying to explain everything in human terms rather than take into account the possibility of divine action. What you describe would be the possible results of secular reasoning. James seems to believe in a divine entity, but does not believe this entity was directly involved in the writing of the Bible, either in whole or in part. As for your question, I would say yes, but I am not sure I have seen James admit that any part of the Bible was directly inspired by God. And what I mean by inspired, is that God put the ideas into their heads and they possibly used their own wording, but God approves of the results.

    The following are some points as to why I take the all or nothing approach.

    1. The Bible itself purports to be a message from God to his creation here on earth. If this is true, I can not believe a powerful God would have allowed humans to muck up his divine plan to the point where we can not tell up from down. If this is not the case, and God sent no specific message and the Bible is the product of humans attempting to explain their surroundings theologically or relating their supposed divine dreams etc., is such a Bible worthy of our complete confidence, even to the point of dying for it?

    2. Historical critics reject accounts such as the flood, Adam and Eve and the various genocidal wars because they are not in agreement with the observable facts of history and science. They claim these accounts exist because these ancients were merely trying to explain their existence without the aid of  accurate scientific or historical information. If this is true, these would be serious mischaracterizations of God. Would a God of truth, support a Bible that misrepresents his character and historical truth on numerous occasions?

    3. If God really wants us to believe in him and do his will, would he really play this guessing game with us? Which books are trustworthy? Which accounts are true? Which paragraphs are to be believed? Which words are from God?

    So in the end, either God is all powerful, perfect and trustworthy and he inspired and protects his word, or he is no better then one of us weak, imperfect and unreliable humans who allowed his imperfect human creation to create every aspect of him from our own minds. If you have another option, I would love to here it. And so far, this is just simple logic, I have not even brought into the debate influence of correct theology or the understanding of the divine plan.

    As for the poster, it looks like it could go either way depending on who is using it. It could be pro Bible or pro human reason. It could also be from a third party simply trying to explain the disagreement he sees between the two groups. So it is hard to say what the intent was without knowing how it is being used. I don’t belong to any religious group so I don’t have one of those rooms. ;) The poster, in my opinion, is using wrong terminology to make its point. But the point is valid and I think the poster even though using the wrong terminology brings the point to light. I myself would probably not make much of an issue with the poster, except maybe point out the wrong terminology as I have tried to do here.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I like your first paragraph, because what you are describing for the limited pie maker and the child is direct outside inspiration from the master pie maker and the object the child experienced. And I have no problem defining inspiration in this manner. After all that, you detach your view of the Bible from the analogies by shying away from the inspiration you just talked about and used the term intuition, which is an inward reflection. Your use of experience in your second paragraph is ambiguous. Did you mean that they really experienced God, or that they thought that they experienced God? Because the first one would be inspiration, but the second one is probably not, if what they wrote is not from God, because it is historically or scientifically inaccurate. That is, unless you believe they really experienced God, but related an inaccurate account of that experience, or a later redactor changed the account and God had no interest in rectifying the issue that he apparently thought was important enough to communicate in the first place.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I like your first paragraph, because what you are describing for the limited pie maker and the child is direct outside inspiration from the master pie maker and the object the child experienced. And I have no problem defining inspiration in this manner. After all that, you detach your view of the Bible from the analogies by shying away from the inspiration you just talked about and used the term intuition, which is an inward reflection. Your use of experience in your second paragraph is ambiguous. Did you mean that they really experienced God, or that they thought that they experienced God? Because the first one would be inspiration, but the second one is probably not, if what they wrote is not from God, because it is historically or scientifically inaccurate. That is, unless you believe they really experienced God, but related an inaccurate account of that experience, or a later redactor changed the account and God had no interest in rectifying the issue that he apparently thought was important enough to communicate in the first place.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I just wanted to mention that I am talking about major disagreements not minor ones. For example, If the writer of the creation account got his story from a real experience from God, and if in fact evolution is true, then the only things this author got right were the pronouns. ;-)

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I just wanted to mention that I am talking about major disagreements not minor ones. For example, If the writer of the creation account got his story from a real experience from God, and if in fact evolution is true, then the only things this author got right were the pronouns. ;-)

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    What is your understanding of the authorship of the Adam and Eve story?  I’m trying to get a baseline here, so I can ask you questions about it.

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      I believe that the Adam and Eve account was written by Moses and was a historical event. Moses got his information either from a divine source or the story was accurately related to him orally or in written form. My view is based on the Hebrew Scriptures being historically reliable based on the available archeological evidence and the fact that the New Testament authors present them as historical figures. Also that my view of the Bible as extremely reliable, not inerrant, but extremely reliable.

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    What is your understanding of the authorship of the Adam and Eve story?  I’m trying to get a baseline here, so I can ask you questions about it.

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      I believe that the Adam and Eve account was written by Moses and was a historical event. Moses got his information either from a divine source or the story was accurately related to him orally or in written form. My view is based on the Hebrew Scriptures being historically reliable based on the available archeological evidence and the fact that the New Testament authors present them as historical figures. Also that my view of the Bible as extremely reliable, not inerrant, but extremely reliable.

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    A few comments ago I mentioned ‘message sent’ by God and ‘message received’ by the author (if they’re equal, the text is reliable).  In the Adam and Eve story, what do you understand ‘message sent’ to be?

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      Essentially what we find in the Biblical account would be the message sent. Another point is that my theology involving this account requires it to be a literal account.

  • Lamont

    Howard–

    A few comments ago I mentioned ‘message sent’ by God and ‘message received’ by the author (if they’re equal, the text is reliable).  In the Adam and Eve story, what do you understand ‘message sent’ to be?

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      Essentially what we find in the Biblical account would be the message sent. Another point is that my theology involving this account requires it to be a literal account.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, given that Genesis includes statements such as “At that time the Canaanites were in the land” (Genesis 12:6), on what basis do you decide that Moses wrote the creation chapters, rather than the later author-editor whose hand is visible in the text? If Moses wrote it, does that vouchsafe that it is true? If so, does it vouchsafe that it is scientifically, historically and theologically true, or might it only be true in one of those senses, with errors in other areas being left because the aim was not to communicate scientific or historical information? How do you think we should decide when it comes to such questions?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, given that Genesis includes statements such as “At that time the Canaanites were in the land” (Genesis 12:6), on what basis do you decide that Moses wrote the creation chapters, rather than the later author-editor whose hand is visible in the text? If Moses wrote it, does that vouchsafe that it is true? If so, does it vouchsafe that it is scientifically, historically and theologically true, or might it only be true in one of those senses, with errors in other areas being left because the aim was not to communicate scientific or historical information? How do you think we should decide when it comes to such questions?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, this really proves nothing in my opinion. The meaning is a little vague, but it certainly does not have to mean that it was written after the Canaanites were gone. There are a number of possible explanations. Here is one from the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary.

    “The notice that “the Canaanites were then in the land” does not point to a post-Mosaic date, when the Canaanites were extinct. For it does not mean that the Canaanites were then still in the land, but refers to the promise which follows, that God would give this land to the seed of Abram (Gen 12:7), and merely states that the land into which Abram had come was not uninhabited and without a possessor; so that Abram could not regard it at once as his own and proceed to take possession of it, but could only wander in it in faith as in a foreign land (Heb 11:9).”

     Also, this one line could be a later addition, I never said the text was not altered. For example, when we take the DSS, the LXX and the MT and compare individual verses side by side, on many occasions whole lines are added and/or deleted between the three texts. I went to check Gen 12:6 with the DSS but apparently the DSS MSS, or at least my source does not cover this particular verse or the entire chapter 12 for that matter. However, comparing this verse between the MT and LXX, the LXX has added 5 words to the verse.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, this really proves nothing in my opinion. The meaning is a little vague, but it certainly does not have to mean that it was written after the Canaanites were gone. There are a number of possible explanations. Here is one from the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary.

    “The notice that “the Canaanites were then in the land” does not point to a post-Mosaic date, when the Canaanites were extinct. For it does not mean that the Canaanites were then still in the land, but refers to the promise which follows, that God would give this land to the seed of Abram (Gen 12:7), and merely states that the land into which Abram had come was not uninhabited and without a possessor; so that Abram could not regard it at once as his own and proceed to take possession of it, but could only wander in it in faith as in a foreign land (Heb 11:9).”

     Also, this one line could be a later addition, I never said the text was not altered. For example, when we take the DSS, the LXX and the MT and compare individual verses side by side, on many occasions whole lines are added and/or deleted between the three texts. I went to check Gen 12:6 with the DSS but apparently the DSS MSS, or at least my source does not cover this particular verse or the entire chapter 12 for that matter. However, comparing this verse between the MT and LXX, the LXX has added 5 words to the verse.

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    So if the account is not literal, not historically true (high degree of accuracy and precision of historicity), that’s a deal breaker for you?  Would your beliefs be fundamentally changed if you discerned at some point that the account was not historically true?

    Speculatively, how might your beliefs change?

    Lamont

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    So if the account is not literal, not historically true (high degree of accuracy and precision of historicity), that’s a deal breaker for you?  Would your beliefs be fundamentally changed if you discerned at some point that the account was not historically true?

    Speculatively, how might your beliefs change?

    Lamont

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, two quick thoughts. First, if that line could be a later addition, could the creation stories not be also, given the indications they contain of multiple authors or sources?

    Second, is it not more appropriate to first investigate whether the evidence supports the historicity of the texts, and them decide what to do with that theologically, rather than make a theological axiom first which requires texts to be historical irrespective of what the evidence indicates?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, two quick thoughts. First, if that line could be a later addition, could the creation stories not be also, given the indications they contain of multiple authors or sources?

    Second, is it not more appropriate to first investigate whether the evidence supports the historicity of the texts, and them decide what to do with that theologically, rather than make a theological axiom first which requires texts to be historical irrespective of what the evidence indicates?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I suppose anything is possible, however, I do not subscribe to the idea of a perfect word for word preservation of the text. I subscribe to the idea that God preserved the essential stories and ideas. The idea of multiple authors or sources is not a problem, but an explanation of some of the variations. To me it would be like if someone took the three synoptic gospels and combined them together into one gospel. Since the three gospels were inspired, to me anyway, the combined gospel would also be. So I see no problem for Bible authors to quote and combine previous writings from earlier faithful men of God. We know for a fact that Paul did this.

    As I said to Lamont in an earlier comment, the evidence does not indicate anything, it is your brand of reasoning on the evidence that indicates something. As you wrote this comment, did you notice how you just brushed my brand of reasoning on the evidence under the rug, and just went on to say that I ignore the evidence? Is it that my reasoning, that their are other possibilities to this issue that do not result in questioning the authorship of the entire Pentateuch, that it is not worth of recognition? Why do you assume that I have not examined this evidence? Because I did not come to the same conclusion as you? I have spent the last 20 years, investigating biblical issues and contradictions reported in the Bible. So I have examined much of this evidence as time permits. But to answer your question, I don’t find your question particularly logical. If all Huskies are dogs, could it be that all dogs are Huskies? Hmm No!

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I suppose anything is possible, however, I do not subscribe to the idea of a perfect word for word preservation of the text. I subscribe to the idea that God preserved the essential stories and ideas. The idea of multiple authors or sources is not a problem, but an explanation of some of the variations. To me it would be like if someone took the three synoptic gospels and combined them together into one gospel. Since the three gospels were inspired, to me anyway, the combined gospel would also be. So I see no problem for Bible authors to quote and combine previous writings from earlier faithful men of God. We know for a fact that Paul did this.

    As I said to Lamont in an earlier comment, the evidence does not indicate anything, it is your brand of reasoning on the evidence that indicates something. As you wrote this comment, did you notice how you just brushed my brand of reasoning on the evidence under the rug, and just went on to say that I ignore the evidence? Is it that my reasoning, that their are other possibilities to this issue that do not result in questioning the authorship of the entire Pentateuch, that it is not worth of recognition? Why do you assume that I have not examined this evidence? Because I did not come to the same conclusion as you? I have spent the last 20 years, investigating biblical issues and contradictions reported in the Bible. So I have examined much of this evidence as time permits. But to answer your question, I don’t find your question particularly logical. If all Huskies are dogs, could it be that all dogs are Huskies? Hmm No!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard:disqus , I’m sorry if I misinterpreted where you were coming from. When you write “the evidence does not indicate anything, it is your brand of reasoning on the evidence that indicates something” there is a sense in which I agree - evidence only means something in relation to criteria for assessing and interpreting evidence. But I do think that historical-critical tools offer the best we’ve been able to come up with for answering historical questions.  

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      I understand what you are saying, and I know the Bible has been altered in places either by mistake or on purpose. I think we both agree on this and the disagreement is you think it was altered a lot more then I think it was. On this topic I have a couple questions for you.

      1. If you believe the Bible is so prone to human alteration, why has it been preserved for over 2,000 years with 80% to 90% of it still intact?

      2. We have Bible evidence that goes back at least 2000 years and some even farther. Do you subscribe to the view that the Hebrew Bible was composed sometime during the second temple period or is it farther back?

      3. If God is involved with the Bible somehow, why do you think he lets it be altered, even just a little?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard:disqus , I’m sorry if I misinterpreted where you were coming from. When you write “the evidence does not indicate anything, it is your brand of reasoning on the evidence that indicates something” there is a sense in which I agree - evidence only means something in relation to criteria for assessing and interpreting evidence. But I do think that historical-critical tools offer the best we’ve been able to come up with for answering historical questions.  

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      I understand what you are saying, and I know the Bible has been altered in places either by mistake or on purpose. I think we both agree on this and the disagreement is you think it was altered a lot more then I think it was. On this topic I have a couple questions for you.

      1. If you believe the Bible is so prone to human alteration, why has it been preserved for over 2,000 years with 80% to 90% of it still intact?

      2. We have Bible evidence that goes back at least 2000 years and some even farther. Do you subscribe to the view that the Hebrew Bible was composed sometime during the second temple period or is it farther back?

      3. If God is involved with the Bible somehow, why do you think he lets it be altered, even just a little?

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    From your comment to James, if stories don’t match (such as the two birth narratives about Jesus), they are accurate (they are both close to the true historical account) but not precise (they would match if they were precise).  Do I have this correctly, that accuracy without necessarily precision is what scripture present to us (a gross generalization, I know, but I think this is what you said)?

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      I would have to say that’s a fair assessment. Do you have a specific example in mind so that I could give my view on it?

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    From your comment to James, if stories don’t match (such as the two birth narratives about Jesus), they are accurate (they are both close to the true historical account) but not precise (they would match if they were precise).  Do I have this correctly, that accuracy without necessarily precision is what scripture present to us (a gross generalization, I know, but I think this is what you said)?

    Lamont

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Lamont,

      I would have to say that’s a fair assessment. Do you have a specific example in mind so that I could give my view on it?

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    The birth narratives, if you’re willing.  Neither one is 100% historically accurate, nor are they 100% precise (they don’t match), but (I’m trying to look at this from your perspective) each is highly accurate in its own right (80%? 90%?) to the historical account.  Is what I’ve said true for you?

    If so, what would a combined account that has a higher degree of accuracy look like to you?  If you were telling the story to children, or friends and family, what story would you tell that is more accurate than either of the two birth narratives?

    Lamont

  • Lamont

    Hi Howard–

    The birth narratives, if you’re willing.  Neither one is 100% historically accurate, nor are they 100% precise (they don’t match), but (I’m trying to look at this from your perspective) each is highly accurate in its own right (80%? 90%?) to the historical account.  Is what I’ve said true for you?

    If so, what would a combined account that has a higher degree of accuracy look like to you?  If you were telling the story to children, or friends and family, what story would you tell that is more accurate than either of the two birth narratives?

    Lamont

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @google-2e495af83153bef01b686a6c2268489d:disqus , sorry for the delay in replying. You asked:

    1. If you believe the Bible is so prone to human alteration, why has it been preserved for over 2,000 years with 80% to 90% of it still intact? AND 3. If God is involved with the Bible somehow, why do you think he lets it be altered, even just a little?   
    MY ANSWER: I don’t know that I said that it is more or less prone to alteration than other texts. But once these works came to be regarded as sacred Scripture, people began to become concerned both with standardization and with faithful copying, and did as good a job as humanly possible. There are many possible answers to question #3, including that God doesn’t force people to copy faithfully (violating their free will), but perhaps the simplest answers are either that God is not the sort of Being that does that, or that the exact communication of these words is less important to God than it is to some who claim to be sure about what he desires.
    2. We have Bible evidence that goes back at least 2000 years and some even farther. Do you subscribe to the view that the Hebrew Bible was composed sometime during the second temple period or is it farther back? I think there are sources that go back earlier, and some whole works may be earlier, but there are clearly parts of the Bible that are from the second temple period, and so if you are talking about the whole collection and not individual parts, then one cannot date it earlier than the second temple period, unless your canon doesn’t include books like Ezra and Nehemiah, for instance. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @google-2e495af83153bef01b686a6c2268489d:disqus , sorry for the delay in replying. You asked:

    1. If you believe the Bible is so prone to human alteration, why has it been preserved for over 2,000 years with 80% to 90% of it still intact? AND 3. If God is involved with the Bible somehow, why do you think he lets it be altered, even just a little?   
    MY ANSWER: I don’t know that I said that it is more or less prone to alteration than other texts. But once these works came to be regarded as sacred Scripture, people began to become concerned both with standardization and with faithful copying, and did as good a job as humanly possible. There are many possible answers to question #3, including that God doesn’t force people to copy faithfully (violating their free will), but perhaps the simplest answers are either that God is not the sort of Being that does that, or that the exact communication of these words is less important to God than it is to some who claim to be sure about what he desires.
    2. We have Bible evidence that goes back at least 2000 years and some even farther. Do you subscribe to the view that the Hebrew Bible was composed sometime during the second temple period or is it farther back? I think there are sources that go back earlier, and some whole works may be earlier, but there are clearly parts of the Bible that are from the second temple period, and so if you are talking about the whole collection and not individual parts, then one cannot date it earlier than the second temple period, unless your canon doesn’t include books like Ezra and Nehemiah, for instance. 

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @jamesfmcgrath:disqus I did not notice that you answered my questions on this old post until today. Is there anyway to be notified when a new comment is posted on Patheos like it does on WordPress?

    As far as your comments, I think you neglected to apply some historical evidence in your answer. You said, “But once these works came to be regarded as sacred Scripture, people began to become concerned both with standardization and with faithful copying.” This statement appears to be a little anachronistic, unless your saying the Hebrew Bible was only regarded as Scripture some time after 70 CE. Before 70 CE., there was much diversity in the Hebrew text as shown by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the LXX of the time. Anyway, so your point is that when people took these Hebrew documents as sacred texts, that alone stopped them from adding any additional accounts of religious experiences for 2,000 years?

    What I meant by you thinking the Bible was prone to alterations is the view you hold on certain matters. For example, the creation story. As far as I can tell, you do not think there is any truth to the story, but was merely the view of one or more authors attempting to explain their existence and surroundings theologically, without the aid of accurate scientific or historical data. If this is true, it implies just about anyone could have added their own fictitious accounts in the Bible that reflected what he thought was a religious experience. So I ask again, if this is how much of the Bible came to be, why did it stop at some point, were there no more religious experiences worthy of recording? In some ways I do not find the idea that they regarded them as sacred text convincing, wasn’t that the intent of the author in the first place? Also, why were other apocryphal texts not accepted as sacred text. They were no more fictitious then the creation story. What would have been the deciding factor between say Isaiah and Enoch, that caused Enoch to not be included in the Hebrew canon.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @jamesfmcgrath:disqus I did not notice that you answered my questions on this old post until today. Is there anyway to be notified when a new comment is posted on Patheos like it does on WordPress?

    As far as your comments, I think you neglected to apply some historical evidence in your answer. You said, “But once these works came to be regarded as sacred Scripture, people began to become concerned both with standardization and with faithful copying.” This statement appears to be a little anachronistic, unless your saying the Hebrew Bible was only regarded as Scripture some time after 70 CE. Before 70 CE., there was much diversity in the Hebrew text as shown by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the LXX of the time. Anyway, so your point is that when people took these Hebrew documents as sacred texts, that alone stopped them from adding any additional accounts of religious experiences for 2,000 years?

    What I meant by you thinking the Bible was prone to alterations is the view you hold on certain matters. For example, the creation story. As far as I can tell, you do not think there is any truth to the story, but was merely the view of one or more authors attempting to explain their existence and surroundings theologically, without the aid of accurate scientific or historical data. If this is true, it implies just about anyone could have added their own fictitious accounts in the Bible that reflected what he thought was a religious experience. So I ask again, if this is how much of the Bible came to be, why did it stop at some point, were there no more religious experiences worthy of recording? In some ways I do not find the idea that they regarded them as sacred text convincing, wasn’t that the intent of the author in the first place? Also, why were other apocryphal texts not accepted as sacred text. They were no more fictitious then the creation story. What would have been the deciding factor between say Isaiah and Enoch, that caused Enoch to not be included in the Hebrew canon.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, if you are not getting notifications, you may need to add the Disqus domain to your spam filter’s list of safe senders. The notification e-mails are probably ending up in a spam filter. Via the Disqus web site you can edit settings and so forth.

    I think that canonical status meant that religious experiences stopped being added inside those texts, not that people stopped having them or stopped writing about them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Howard, if you are not getting notifications, you may need to add the Disqus domain to your spam filter’s list of safe senders. The notification e-mails are probably ending up in a spam filter. Via the Disqus web site you can edit settings and so forth.

    I think that canonical status meant that religious experiences stopped being added inside those texts, not that people stopped having them or stopped writing about them.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I got it figured out now, I was not using the email link, for some reason I thought the email had something to do with notifying me of YOUR new posts and not the comments.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I got it figured out now, I was not using the email link, for some reason I thought the email had something to do with notifying me of YOUR new posts and not the comments.

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