Letter to Kathy Part 2

You know Kathy, we’ve been fairly blunt with you today. Flippant, too. And it’s tough when people talk to/about you that way. I’m sorry for that.

If we could cut through all the rhetoric for a second, I’d like to commiserate with you. A little over 4 years ago, I was a very dedicated Christian. I had some doubts, but they weren’t about the Christian faith, just my understanding of it.

I felt like there were problems in my beliefs about the gospel. I believed in a literal Hell, and I believed a lot of people would be going there. But I had a very hard time squaring that with a loving God. I had matured enough to realize that most people were pretty decent. Not perfect, certainly, but good people who cared about others and typically wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t think such people deserved Hell. In fact, like Paul, I often thought that if God would accept it, I’d gladly go to Hell myself, if it would save my friends and family. And if everyone else could be added into that deal too, even better.

So if I felt that way, could I be more compassionate than God? Of course not. But I had a very hard time finding anything in the Bible that backed up an idea that most people, regardless of creed or  belief would be saved.

I didn’t give up though. I knew about Universalists, so I decided to read up on their reasons for thinking everyone went to Heaven. It sounded good, but I just wasn’t convinced by their arguments. I just didn’t see the Bible teaching such a doctrine, and I still believed the Bible was the inerrant word off God.

I was in a state of flux.

And that’s the position I was in when I first ran across articles that pointed out flaws in the Bible. I was shocked by what the articles said, but since I didn’t have any answers against them at the moment, I got busy with research. I didn’t even comment on the articles — I just went to work. It wasn’t about winning any arguments; it was simply a search for answers.

I think that frame of mind I was in made all the difference for me. Deep down, I was already struggling. The doctrines I had long believed in, and even taught to others, didn’t fit together in my mind as well as they once had.

That’s probably the difference between you and me. I get the feeling that you question nothing about your faith. Not trying to put you down about that; just making an observation.

For me, discovering that the Bible was not the perfect book I had always thought it to be, and finding out that some of these church leaders I had always admired knew of these problems but never spoke of them, helped me make sense of a lot of things. It took time, and it wasn’t easy to come to the realizations, but everything finally fell into place for me when I realized Christianity was just another religion. For the first time, I finally understood the sentiment of that line from “Amazing Grace,” I once was blind, but now I see…

I don’t know if that’s helpful to you at all. Maybe one day it will be. Maybe one day, something will make you ask a few questions, and you’ll think back to those non- believers who were so insistent that Christianity was certainly not the only way. If that day comes, I hope you’ll find this exchange helpful and realize you’re not alone.

Uber-Gospel: The Resurrection

It’s well known that the gospels accounts of the resurrection differ in some details. When I was a Christian, I remember teaching a high school Bible class once that was going through the life of Christ. During this study, we were studying each account side-by-side, and when it came to the resurrection, I really wasn’t sure how to fit it all together. I actually told the kids in my class as much, but assured them that it obviously fit together in some way — otherwise, it wouldn’t be in the Bible, right? But once I began to question my faith, I thought about these differences again.

So I thought it would be interesting to take the different accounts and sandwich them all together. Can we make them fit logically? It’s not easy, honestly. In the 2nd century, Tatian gave it a shot and wrote the Diatesseron, which is an attempt to wrap all four gospels into one. His take is interesting, especially in tying in the gospel of John. He’s forced to write some things out of order, and he omits a number of verses that illustrate this (such as what time of morning certain things happened). If you’d like to read it, you can do so here — the resurrection account starts about halfway through Section LII.

In my version, I’ve tried to remain faithful to the times that the various authors refer to. This makes for some interesting behavior among those visiting the tomb that day, so I add a little commentary in places to help explain it. In my version, here are some things to watch for: Mary Magdalene makes about 4 trips to the tomb that day, and Peter makes 2. And the stone is not rolled away from the tomb once, but twice. And when the women left the tomb, they are somehow able to tell no one what they saw and tell the disciples everything. If you have any ideas on how to make all this fit better, please let me know.


After the Sabbath, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” (John 20:1-2).

3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. 5 And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. (John 20:3-10)

Then as the day began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to visit the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door [it had been rolled back to the door since Mary's first visit], and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. (Matt 28:1-4)

5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matt 28:5-7)

8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. (Matt 28:8)

BUT before they had gone far at all, now that the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” [Because Mary worried that it might have rolled back again]. 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. (Mark 16:1-5)

But they also didn’t see the young man — instead, they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” (Luke 24:3-7)

And one of the men said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” 8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:6-8)

But in addition to saying nothing to anyone, they also went to tell the other disciples what happened. But behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matt 28:9-10)

11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” [Perhaps all the shock had caused her to forget her previous conversation with them.] 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. (John 20:11-18)

The Guards’ Report
While the women were returning to the disciples, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12 When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matt 28:11-15)

Telling the Disciples
Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. 11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened. [Still amazed, despite seeing them earlier, I suppose].

Road to Emmaus
13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.

17 And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”

18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”

19 And He said to them, “What things?”

So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”

25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. 29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.

30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

Appearance Before the Disciples
36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22)

44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen. (Luke 24:44-53)

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came [back from Heaven], the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:24-30)

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt 28:16-20)


Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration

I was recently told that an excellent example of prophecy fulfillment in the Bible is the prophecy that the nation of Israel would be restored, as recorded in Ezekiel 4. If true, that would be a huge boost to the Bible’s credibility, so let’s dig in and see how it fares.

In Ezek 4:4-6, God tells Ezekiel to do the following:

4 “Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. 5 For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.”

A little context is probably in order. Ezekiel lived during the time that the nation of Judah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Much of his writings talk about the captivity that the Jews are under, and in this passage, he prophesies about when they’ll return from captivity. As the end of verse 6 says, each of these days represents one year.

The Case For This Being a True Prophecy

The person who pointed me to this prophecy gave this link as a good explanation of how this prophecy works, so I’ll be referring to its points throughout this post.

First, we take these two periods and add them together: 390 years for Israel + 40 years for Judah = 430 years.

Next, Babylon took Judah captive in 606 BCE for exactly 70 years leaving 360 years left to go. But how do we explain this leftover 360 years?

Well, it turns out that Leviticus 26 lays out all these conditions on the Israelites. There, God tells them that as long as they serve him faithfully, he’ll bless them. But if they don’t serve him faithfully, then he’ll punish them “7 fold” or “7 times” for their sins (Lev 26:18-33). So if we take those remaining 360 years and multiply them by 7, we get 2,520 years.

But we’re not done yet. We must remember that the Jews used a calendar based on both lunar and solar years. They had 12 30-day months and would occasionally add in leap-months as needed to keep the seasons lining up correctly. So to understand what Ezekiel meant by “year,” we need to convert these 2,520 years into days, which comes out to 2,520 x 360 = 907,200 days.

Now to find out how many actual years this represents, we need to convert back to the standard 365.25 day/year calendar that we use today. This comes out to 907,200 / 365.25 = 2,483.78 years.

We can finally connect all the dots:
606 BCE – 70 years = 536 BCE
-536 (since it’s BCE) + 2,483 + 1 (since there’s no year 0) = 1948 CE

And 1948 is the year that Israel was again made a nation! Furthermore, Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, 19 years after he took Judah. And Jerusalem was restored to Israel in 1967 CE — exactly 19 years after they reclaimed the nation of Israel! So the numbers work out for Jerusalem as well!

So that’s the case for the prophecy being legit. But are there reasons to be skeptical?

The Case Against This Being a True Prophecy

There are actually a number of problems with what I laid out above, and those familiar with the Old Testament may have already seen them.

First of all, why should the years in Ezekiel’s prophecy be added together at all? Ezekiel says there will be 390 years for Israel and 40 years for Judah — it’s no accident that he separated them. According to Jewish tradition, all 12 tribes of Israel were united when they took the land of Canaan. They remained united through all 15 judges and through kings Saul, David, and Solomon. But after Solomon died, the nation split into two kingdoms: the nation of Israel, consisting of the northern 10 tribes, and the nation of Judah, consisting of the southern 2 tribes. So far, the archaeological evidence leans away from this story. It appears that Israel and Judah were never united into one large kingdom, but that’s outside the scope of this article, so we’ll leave it at that for now.

Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. Many passages in later parts of the OT predict those lost tribes being restored, and it seems that this is what Ezekiel is referring to in this passage. That’s why they’re given a different period of time than Judah is — they were taken captive almost 150 years before Judah was. So it does not make sense to add these years together as though they refer to one specific thing. Israel and Judah were being dealt with separately here.

Secondly, the starting date of 606 BCE for Judah’s captivity isn’t accurate. In 606 BCE, Judah was its own kingdom, though it was a vassal state to Egypt and had been for 2 or 3 years. Egypt and Babylon were butting heads in the region during this time. Nebuchadnezzar came to the throne in 605 BCE, and he defeated Egypt at Carchemish that same year. That’s when Judah changed allegiance from Egypt to Babylon, as it was suddenly clear that they were now the most powerful force in the region. But it wouldn’t be appropriate to say they were under captivity at that time. They were still a separate kingdom that paid homage to Babylon. If we were to make the case that such a scenario equaled captivity, then Judah’s captivity would actually have begun in 609 or 608 BCE under Egypt.

In 601 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar tried to invade Egypt, but his forces were driven back, which caused several of the kingdoms in the Levant to rebel against him. Judah was one of them. In 599 BCE, Babylon besieged Jerusalem, and the city fell in 597 BCE. But at this point, Judah still retained its status as a vassal kingdom, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah as king. But several years later, Zedekiah revolted, aligning the kingdom with Egypt once again. This time, when Nebuchadnezzar took the city, he practically leveled it, and much of the population was taken off into captivity. This was in 587 BCE.

Considering this information, the most likely candidate to mark the beginning of Judah’s captivity is 587 BCE. Even if you try to push it back further, it’s hard to make a case for any time before 597 BCE, and this causes problems for the math that was laid out above.

One of the problems has to do with the 70 years of Babylonian captivity that was talked about above. When you were reading the above arguments, it may have struck you as odd that 70 years got subtracted for Judah’s captivity to Babylon, when Ezekiel said 40 years. The reason 70 was brought up is because of Jeremiah 29:10, where Jeremiah prophesies that Judah would be in captivity for 70 years. But that’s not what happened.

When the Persian Empire overthrew Babylon in 539 BCE, they allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem that same year (Ezra 1:1). The numbers differ depending on when you count Judah’s captivity as beginning, but this makes Judah’s captivity as few as 48 years (the more likely figure) or as many as 66 years. This again causes problems for all the equations that were used above.

There’s also the issue of multiplying the years by 7. There’s some discussion about whether the passage in Leviticus means that punishments would be multiplied by 7 years, or whether it would mean 7 separate punishments (like 7 additional plagues, etc). There’s also the issue that this kind of language is often taken to be more symbolic than literal. Furthermore, if this is how God was going to mete out the punishment, perhaps that’s already been calculated into the numbers he gives Ezekiel. Again, the passage has God say “a day for each year,” and there’s no indication that it should mean anything else. But I view those as side points.

The main problem I have is why does the multiplication of 7 only apply to 360 of the years? Why wouldn’t it have applied to all of them? So if we add the years together, and multiply by 7, we would have 3,010 years, not 2,520. Even if we continue to use 360-day years, that calculation comes out to 2,966.74 years, which puts us around the year 2431 CE. Of course, that isn’t helpful to those who want this prophecy to be true.

There’s another issue that should be mentioned as well. It turns out that the Septuagint doesn’t use the same figures as the Masoretic text. The Septuagint records Ezekiel 4:4-6 like this:

And thou shalt lie upon thy left side, and lay the iniquities of the house of Israel upon it, according to the number of the hundred and fifty days during which thou shalt lie upon it: and thou shalt bear their iniquities. 5 For I have appointed thee their iniquities for a number of days, for a hundred and ninety days: so thou shalt bear the iniquities of the house of Israel. 6 And thou shalt accomplish this, and then shalt lie on thy right side, and shalt bear the iniquities of the house of Juda forty days: I have appointed thee a day for a year.

It’s hard to say if 390 is the correct number, or if 150 is. Some people think that 150 is original, but that later scribes changed it once that amount of time had passed. But who knows? Unfortunately, there’s not a way to know which number is original to the text, which makes it very hard to base predictions upon.

Finally, the last piece of this that should be questioned is using a 360-day calendar. The Hebrew calendar was based on both the cycle of the moon as well as the solar year. Therefore, it is said that their calendar consisted of 12 30-day months, and every couple of years they would add a 13th month to keep the years aligned correctly with the seasons. But this isn’t exactly right. A lunar month follows the phases of the moon, which does not work out to 30 days exactly. Instead, it will alternate between 29 and 30-day months, meaning that the Hebrew calendar year came out to 354-355 days (or 385 days on leap years). This calls into question using a 360-day calendar to recalibrate the years in Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Furthermore, the Jews still understood that a year consists of 4 seasons (which is why they used intercalary years), so it seems bizarre to redefine “year” every time it’s used in prophecies. And it’s easy to see how big a 5.25 day variance can be. In the example at the beginning of this post, it took us from 2,520 years to 2,483.78 years. Daniel 12 and the Book of Revelation are the only places in the Bible I’m aware of that use a 360-day average in reference to a year. But I think it’s hard to argue that those references mean every time “year” is used in a prophecy it should be recalculated using 360-day years. Most calendars in the ancient world did not operate that way, and 360 days per year was a good generic estimate when referring to how many days are in a year at that time. Just as today we refer to a year as 365 days, when we realize that an extra day is needed every 4 years. That doesn’t mean when someone says something will happen in 20 years we have to recompute it to 19.98 years — we know they mean 20, regardless of how the leap years fall. I’m sure there are some Christians who would argue vociferously over the need to use 360-day “prophetic” years, but they have to. Without them, too much fails.

Conclusion

This was a really long post, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I personally do not find this prophecy to be a good example of a real prophecy. When taken at face value, Ezekiel talks about 390 years for Israel and 40 years for Judah. Neither of those figures work out correctly. Since they don’t, many different explanations have been sought after to make this prophecy point to something significant. The beginning of this post laid out one of those arguments, and on the surface, it seems pretty impressive. It gets us to the years 1948 and 1967 which are definitely important to the nation of Israel. But to get there, we’re making several sacrifices, like what year Judah went into captivity, adding the years together, multiplying some of them by 7, and converting the years to a 360-day format that almost certainly wasn’t the intent. And there’s still the issue of whether or not that translation is even accurate.

To me, this prophecy is simply too vague to be of any use. And the method used to create a connection to modern-day Israel is too problematic to be anything but evidence against prophecy-fulfillment, in my opinion.

Resources used in this article:
http://www.alphanewsdaily.com/mathprophecy2.html
http://www.theskepticalreview.com/JFTProphecyEzekiel4.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezekiel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Judah
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_%28587_BC%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebuchadnezzar_II_of_Babylon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_calendar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunisolar_calendar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_month
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophetic_Year

Bloody Well Right

If God is love, how do we explain the Old Testament passages where he commands the Israelites to eradicate entire groups of people, even the children (Josh 9:24; Num 31; 1 Sam 15)? Sometimes people say it was to punish these people for their evil practices, like child sacrifice. Well, child sacrifice is certainly a terrible thing. But does it make sense to punish child sacrifice by killing all the children?

Let’s think about this for a moment. When cultures engaged in child sacrifice, it’s not because they just loved killing children — it’s because they believed it served as some kind of propitiation, appeasing their gods for the greater good. So if God didn’t approve of child sacrifice, what seems like the most rational way to deal with it: (1) kill everyone, including all the children you don’t want killed, or (2) make yourself known to these people as the one true god and tell them that child sacrifice is not what you want? Wouldn’t option 2 be a win-win scenario?

Here’s something else to consider. If God didn’t like child sacrifice, why did he command Abraham to offer his son Isaac as one? Granted, he stopped the sacrifice before the boy was killed, but isn’t this a weird command for a deity who despises child sacrifice? And what about Psalm 137, where the inspired writer is lamenting Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem and says the following:

8 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
     Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
9 Happy the one who takes and dashes
     Your little ones against the rock!

Furthermore, if God wanted the Canaanites destroyed because of their heinous practices, why stop at Canaan? There were many cultures that engaged in terrible practices like this from time to time — why not send the Israelites to slaughter them all? Instead this “judgment” is only brought against people in the same geographic location that God wanted the Israelites to inhabit:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
– Josh 1:1-5

So they answered Joshua and said, “Because your servants were clearly told that the Lord your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing.”
– Josh 9:24

How strange that these passages focus on taking the land from the Canaanites and not on their evil natures…

As a final consideration, even if the only thing left to do with these evil Canaanites was kill them all, does it make sense that God would choose the cruelest and most agonizing way to do it? Instead of speaking them out of existence, or immediately striking them all dead, he has them besieged by invaders. They’re forced to watch their loved ones being massacred before being hacked to death themselves. Would God really command this?

How does a god who would command genocide on this scale differ from the vilest despots of the modern era? What’s the difference between this god and bin Laden? What’s the difference between a god like this and a devil? Could a god this bloody be right?

Letter to Kathy (the Bible Has Problems)

Dear Kathy,

Since you graciously agreed (in our recent conversation) to let me present you with some examples of the Bible’s problems, I decided to do it in this way so it would have its own comment thread. As I’ve said, when I was a Christian, one strike against the Bible was not enough to shake my faith — maybe it only seemed problematic, maybe there was an explanation we hadn’t uncovered yet, maybe the historical accounts were wrong, etc. But as the problems began to mount up, I reached a point where I could no longer deny the fact that the Bible had actual errors.

A couple of suggestions before we begin. Try to be as open-minded about this as possible. As you go through these examples, ask yourself if God would allow such problems to exist in a message that he wanted all people to accept and believe? According to the Bible, whenever God sent someone a message, whether it was Pharaoh or Gideon or Nebuchadnezzar or Paul, they had no question whom it was from. They didn’t always follow it, as we see with people like Pharaoh and Solomon, but they didn’t question the source of the message or what it stated. So why would God operate differently today? Why would he want us to be so confused about his message that we’re able to question whether or not it’s really from him?

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you come to the conclusion that the Bible has actual problems, that doesn’t mean you have to stop believing in God. There are a number of Christians who don’t believe in inerrancy. And even if you lose faith in the Christian god, that still doesn’t mean you have to stop believing in God. A number of people, including several of our founding fathers, were deists. I have a lot of sympathy for that view and plan to do a post on it soon.

Some of the items listed here will have links that provide additional information, especially when the issue is too detailed to list here. I hope that you’ll check out those links, since some of them are quite significant points. And regardless of how this article strikes you, I hope it will help serve as a great springboard to launch you into your own research.

Some of the Problems

Creation
The creation accounts in Genesis do not match what we’ve learned through science. This isn’t shocking news, but it bears looking into. Evolution and the Big Bang Theory had nothing to do with my deconversion, but I’ve learned more about both since leaving Christianity. It’s shocking how much misinformation I had been operating under. Not to say that all Christians are that way — that was simply my experience. But the evidence for both evolution and the Big Bang are far more substantial than I had ever realized. Two good resources for learning more about these issues are the following (though I’d also recommend checking out the recent Cosmos series, as well as some of the PBS NOVA specials):

http://jerichobrisance.com/2014/02/18/marcos-daddy-and-the-beginning-of-life-on-earth/

http://talkorigins.org/

Another problem with the creation accounts is that Genesis 1 says that plants and trees were made on the 3rd day, while man was made on the 6th. But Genesis 2:5-9 says that man was created before there were any plants or trees in the land. Also, the 1st chapter says that man was created after all the animals, but the 2nd chapter implies that it was the other way around. It seems strange that such discrepancies would exist only a chapter apart, but there are a number of textual clues that suggest the first 5 books of the Bible were assembled over a long period of time from various writings written by a number of different people. Many scholars believe that Genesis 1 and 2 represent two separate versions of the creation story that were both included because the compilers didn’t know which was more accurate. Whatever the reason, there’s no question that the differences exist and are hard to explain.

10 Plagues
During the 10 plagues, God afflicts all of Egypt’s livestock with a disease (Ex 9:1-7), and it specifies that it would affect the “horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.” We’re told that all of Egypt’s livestock died. But the later plague of boils was said to affect both man and beast (verse 10 of chapter 9). Maybe it meant non-livestock animals. But Ex 11:5 says that the death of the firstborn would also affect Egypt’s cattle, and in Exodus 14, Pharaoh pursues the Israelites with horses.

Hares Chew the Cud
Leviticus 11:6 tells us that hares chew the cud. They do not. Animals that chew the cud are called ruminants. When they eat plant matter, it goes to their first stomach to soften, and then it’s regurgitated to their mouth. They spend time re-chewing it, and then it is swallowed and fully digested. Ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) are recognizable because their chewing of the cud is very obvious. Hares (rabbits) don’t chew the cud; however, their mouths do move frequently, so it’s possible to see why some people may have assumed that they do chew the cud. Of course, God would know they didn’t, and this is why the passage is problematic. You can read more about this here.

Arphaxad
In the genealogy given in Genesis 11:10-12, we see that Noah fathered Shem and Shem fathered Arphaxad. At the age of 35, Arphaxad fathered Shelah. This information is confirmed in 1 Chron 1:18. But Luke 3:35-36 tells us that Arphaxad’s son was Cainan, and he was the father of Shelah.

Where does Luke get this information? It disagrees with the Old Testament, so who should we believe? Some have suggested that Genesis and 1 Chronicles simply left out Cainan for some reason. But why would they do that? To further complicate it, how could Cainan have fit in there? Genesis tells us that Arphaxad was 35 when he fathered Shelah. Does it really seem likely that Arphaxad became a grandfather by 35, especially when you consider the extreme old ages that people lived to at that time?

Another explanation is that some copyist messed up when copying Luke and Cainan is just a mistake. But this is not much better. First of all, the error would have needed to occur early for it to be in all our copies of Luke. Secondly, are we really comfortable saying that we have the inspired word of our creator, but it got messed up by some guy who wasn’t paying close attention? To me, that doesn’t lend a lot of credence to the idea of inspiration or inerrancy.

Instead, the most likely explanation is that Luke made a mistake. This, of course, would indicate that he was not inspired.

Problems in the Book of Daniel
In Daniel 5, the writer refers to Belshazzar as the son of Nebuchadnezzar 7 different times. Yet we know from multiple contemporary sources that Belshazzar’s father was Nabonidus, who was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. The same chapter says that Darius the Mede took over Babylon, but this person does not seem to have ever existed. Daniel says that he was the son of Ahaseurus, and in mentioning this, the author of Daniel indicates that he was thinking of a later ruler — the persian emperor Darius the Great, whose son was Ahaseurus. This post in particular goes into the problems surrounding the 5th chapter, but if you’d like to learn about the problems in the rest of the book, you can access each article in the series here.

Jairus’s Daughter
In Mark 5:23, Jairus finds Jesus and says that his daughter is at the point of death. While they’re on their way to the house, some of his servants find them on the way and say that she has died and there’s no point in troubling Jesus further.

However, in Matthew 9:18, Jairus already knows that his daughter has died, but tells Jesus that if he’ll lay his hands on her, she’ll live. This may seem like a minor difference, but honestly, there’s only one scenario that could be true. Either the girl was already dead, or she wasn’t. And if Jairus already knew she was dead, then there was no point in his servants coming to tell him that (so of course, they don’t appear in Matthew’s account).

The Centurion
This is similar to the previous issue. Matthew and Luke both record a centurion who asks Jesus to heal his sick servant. Matthew 8:5-13 says that the centurion himself comes before Jesus to ask for help. Luke 7:1-10 says that the Jewish elders went on his behalf, and then he sent servants to follow up. In Luke, Jesus never speaks to, or even sees, the centurion at all.

Hight Priest
In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus talks about the occasion from the Old Testament when David ate the showbread, which Jesus said was in the days of Abiathar the high priest. However, in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, it appears that Ahimelech was the high priest. Some have tried to answer this problem by saying that Abiathar was alive during that particular episode, so Jesus’ statement is still true. But that’s obviously not the intent of the passage. After all, we would correct anyone who said that the tragedy of 9/11 occurred during the days of President Barack Obama. He may have been alive at the time, but that event did not happen while he was President.

430 Years
Galatians 3:16-17 says this:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

Here, Paul says that the law came 430 years after the promises were made to Abraham. But in Exodus 12:40-41, we see:

Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.

If the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years, then there could not have been 430 years between Abraham’s promises and the law. God made the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and as we read on through Genesis, we see that Abraham had no children at this time. Later, he had a son named Isaac. When Isaac was 60 years old, he had Jacob (Gen 25:24-26), and Jacob had 12 sons that produced the 12 tribes of Israel. Already, we can see that some time has passed since Abraham received the promise. Once Jacob’s sons were all grown with families of their own, they finally settled in Egypt. Jacob was 130 years old at this time (Gen 47:9), and this marks the beginning of that 430 year period that the Israelites spent in Egypt.

That means that the time between the promise to Abraham and the giving of the law was actually over 600 years. So why did Paul say 430 years? I think it’s obvious that this was a simple mistake. He remembered the 430 year figure because that’s how much time the Israelites spent in Egypt, and so he simply misspoke. It’s not a big deal… except that he’s supposed to be inspired by God.

Jesus’ Birth
There are a number of issues surrounding Jesus’ birth. First, Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts contradict one another on virtually all the details, which you can read about here. Secondly, Matthew seems to invent an episode where Herod kills all the children in Bethlehem who are 2 and under, causing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to flee to Egypt (instead of just returning home to Nazareth, because only Luke says that they started in Nazareth). Matthew does this in order to “fulfill” some Old Testament passages that actually have nothing to do with Jesus or killing babies. You can read about Matthew’s misuse of the Old Testament here — it’s quite blatant.

The Virgin Birth is one of the most famous aspects of Jesus’ story, and it was supposedly done in fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah. But it turns out that Isaiah was prophesying no such thing — he was talking about an event that was happening in his own time, and Matthew (once again) just appropriated the “prophecy” for his own devices. You can read all the details here.

Another problem concerning Jesus’ birth narratives is that Matthew and Luke both offer genealogies for Jesus, but they are completely different from one another. Worse, they don’t match the genealogies listed in the Old Testament, either. And Matthew claims that there was a pattern in the number of generations between Abraham and David, between David and the Babylonian captivity, and between the Babylonian captivity and Christ. But to get this neat division, he is forced to leave out some names. In other words, that pattern didn’t happen. You can read more about that here.

The Triumphal Entry
While not as blatant as most of these other issues, when Matthew recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he once again borrows from the Old Testament, but seems to make a mistake in his implementation. See here for more info.

Judas’ Death
Judas is well known for being the disciple that betrayed Jesus, but what’s not as well known is there are two different accounts of his death, and it’s very hard to reconcile them. According to Matthew, Judas threw his money down at the chief priests’ feet and went out and hanged himself. We’re not told where he did this. The priests then take the money, and instead of putting it back in the treasury (since it’s blood money), they buy a field to use for burying strangers. Because they bought the field with this money, it’s called the “Field of Blood.”

According to Acts, Judas bought a field with his money (we’re not told that he was remorseful), and he somehow fell down, bursting open in the middle and bleeding to death. The field was called “Field of Blood” after that because of the manner in which Judas died.

To make things more complicated, Matthew (of course) says that this happened in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophecy, but there’s nothing in Jeremiah that matches up. The closest reference comes from Zechariah, not Jeremiah.

These issues really complicate the notion of divine inspiration, and you can read more about them here.

The Crucifixion
There are several big problems with the way the gospels record the events of Jesus’ death, including the fact that different times of day are given for it, and even different days altogether. You can read more about this here.

The Resurrection
There are also a number of problems concerning the resurrection, some minor, some major. They’re too involved to get into here, but you can read all about them here and here.

The Problem of Hell
The notion of Hell is fraught with problems. It might even surprise you to learn that the Bible’s teachings on the afterlife change dramatically between the Old and New Testaments. I go into detail about Hell’s problems here, here, and here.

The Problem of Evil
Another huge problem for Christianity is the problem of evil, which I talk about here. This post also addresses the “problem of Heaven.”

The Bible’s Morality
While a number of people believe that the Christian god is the source of all morality, the Bible is actually filled with some monstrous acts that are either commanded by God, done with his consent, or carried out by him directly. I talk about some specific examples here, and I address some of the common responses to them here.

Conclusion

Kathy, there are a number of other examples that could be given, including the prophecy of Tyre that we’ve been discussing. But to me, these are some of the most significant and clear-cut problems. We could try to manufacture explanations for every one of these — some might be more believable than others. But why should we have to? If a perfect God inspired this book, why should it contain so many discrepancies? And honestly, some of these issues can’t be explained. They’re just wrong. The problems go well beyond internal contradictions and unfulfilled prophecies. There are problems of authorship, problems with the doctrines, and problems with the way the texts were written, transcribed, and compiled.

I’m sure you’ve spent your time as a Christian trying to reach those who are lost. You’ve always believed that Christianity is truth, and it’s the one thing that everyone needs. But could it be that Christianity is just as false as every other religion in the world? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t you want to leave it behind? When one is dedicated to finding truth, they have to be prepared to follow it wherever it leads. It’s not always easy or popular. It’s not even a guarantee that you’re right. All it means is that you follow the evidence where it leads to the best of your ability. If you find out that you’re wrong about something, you adjust course when the evidence dictates. If God exists, and if he’s righteous, what more could he ask for than that? I’ll close with my favorite quote:

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
– Marcus Aurelius

Does the Bible Contain True Prophecies?

When I was a Christian, one of the biggest reasons I had for believing the Bible was that it contained actual prophecy — or so I thought. I mean, if a book gave specific, detailed prophecies that no one could have guessed, and then they came true, wouldn’t that be good reason for believing that God may have had something to do with that book? How could a mere human accomplish such a thing? And it’s not just that the Bible sometimes got it right, it always got it right — or so I believed.

According to the Bible, a good test of whether or not someone is a true prophet is the accuracy of their prophecy. Makes sense, I suppose. Just as chefs are judged on the quality of their cooking, so prophets should be judged by the quality of their predictions. In the case of chefs, no one claims that God is required to make them great. But if you could show that someone was a true prophet, that would be fantastic evidence that God might be speaking through them. An unreliable prophet, on the other hand…:

when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
– Deut 18:22

An inaccurate prophet is no prophet at all, in other words. He does not speak for God. This is a great litmus test for anyone claiming to have divine revelation. It was my belief that the Bible passed this test with flying colors… but does it?

When the Bible Gets It Right
When I was a Christian, one of prophecies that always stood out to me was that of King Josiah:

And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”
– 1 Kings 13:1-2

This is a very specific prophecy. While there’s no timeline given, the prophet says that someone in David’s line would be born who would use that altar to sacrifice false priests and that the man’s name would be Josiah. In 2 Kings 23, this prophecy comes true about 300 years later! This was a prophecy that always stuck in my mind as being too marvelous for any mere mortal to accurately predict — surely God had inspired that prophet!

But as it turns out, the 300 year time difference is misleading. 1 and 2 Kings are just two halves of the same book. The same authors that wrote or compiled 1 Kings 13 also wrote or compiled 2 Kings 23. Therefore, there’s no way to know if that prophet ever existed, much less that he actually gave a prophecy concerning a king who would come 300 years later. In other words, this doesn’t really count as evidence of a true prophecy. Maybe the event really happened, but since both the event and the fulfillment were recorded in the same book, there’s no good reason to take it at face value.

There are other examples we could look at as well, but I think the point comes across. Just because something at first blush appears to be an actual prophecy, it may not be upon closer examination. Still, while this might indicate that the case for the Bible’s inspiration isn’t as strong we first suspected, this would not have caused me to question its inspiration when I was a believer. I would have needed something bigger.

When the Bible Gets It Wrong
Jeremiah 33:17 says this:

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel”

When I was growing up, this prophecy was sometimes referred to as a prediction of Christ. Hebrews 1:8 says that the throne was preserved for Jesus, and Acts 2:29-31 says this:

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”

So the literal kingdom of Judah is not what Jeremiah is talking about, according to these passages. Jeremiah was foretelling a time in which Jesus would sit on the throne of an eternal, spiritual kingdom as David’s descendant. But is that really what Jeremiah intended?

If you look at the following verse, Jeremiah 33:18, you see this:

“…and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

Can verse 17 still be taken figuratively in light of verse 18? According to books like Hebrews, Jesus became the new high priest forever when he was crucified and rose from the dead. So could that be the application of this particular prophecy? No. Jeremiah specifies that the priests would be Levitical — in other words, they would be of the tribe of Levi, which is the only tribe that was allowed to offer sacrifices. Jesus was not of that tribe. Hebrews gets around this problem by linking Jesus’ priesthood to the way God allowed priests before Moses was given the law — they were granted priesthood based on their caliber, not on their lineage. Hebrews refers to this as the “order of Melchizedek,” since Melchizedek was the most prominent person mentioned in the OT to have this honor. Refer to Hebrews 7 if you’d like more info on this.

It’s very difficult to take verse 18 figuratively, and when taken at face value it’s false. Levitical priests do not offer sacrifices today, and haven’t for a very long time. And since it’s hard to take verse 18 figuratively, it’s hard to take 17 figuratively as well. Once again, it fails as a prophecy because Israel is not a monarchy and there hasn’t been a Davidic king in over 2500 years.

When you’re an inerrantist, as I was, it’s hard to know what to do with this information. Do problems like this mean the entire Bible is wrong, or just that particular book? It turns out there are many more problems littered throughout the Bible. We’ll talk about one more in this post, but for more information, feel free to check out the links listed on my About page.

A very clear example is found in Matthew 2:14-15 where we’re told that when Joseph and Mary fled with the infant Jesus to Egypt, it was to fulfill a prophecy from Hosea 11:1, “out of Egypt I called my son.” However, when you read the passage in Hosea, it says this:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

And from there, Hosea talks about Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord in serving after Baal, etc. Obviously, Hosea is talking about the nation of Israel, and there’s no reference at all to any future event, much less the Messiah. Matthew appropriated this text when he (apparently) created the story of Jesus’ family fleeing to Egypt. Matthew calls this a prophecy, but the original text is anything but. So many of the Bible’s prophecies fall apart in this way when researched.

While actual prophecy fulfillment would go a long way in supporting the notion that the Bible is inspired, in practice, it just doesn’t work out that way. Not only do the apparent prophecies get weaker upon inspection, but some of them are simply false. So if accurate prophecies should make us think the Bible is inspired, what should inaccurate prophecies make us think?

Why Some People Believe the Bible (And Why the Reasons Aren’t Good Enough)

I’m writing this post in response to something a fellow blogger has written about why the Bible is trustworthy (though I’ve lost the link to the post). He and I come down on different sides of this issue, and I thought the best way to tackle this would be to respond to each of his points in order.

1) We should treat the Bible like any other historical document.

Yes, we should, but this means different things to different people. When we read ancient historical texts, what do we think about the supernatural events that they relate? Many ancient historians talk about miracles, or attribute certain events to various gods — do we accept those claims? Of course not. We accept the events, like wars, famines, political upheavals, but we chalk up the supernatural claims to superstition.

However, when Christians ask that we treat the Bible the way we would treat other historical sources, they don’t mean it in the way I just described. They’ll say, “if you believe the histories about George Washington, why do you reject the stories of the Bible?” But this isn’t a true comparison. If we had an historical account that claimed George Washington could fly, we would dismiss it, even if everything else it recounted was factual.

There’s another difference as well. What we believe about George Washington has no real impact on the rest of our lives. However, most versions of Christianity say that if we don’t believe Jesus was the actual son of God, we’ll face eternal consequences. What could be more important than making sure we hold the correct view? So if God loves us and wants us all to believe, doesn’t it make sense that the “extraordinary claims” of the Bible would have “extraordinary evidence”? That’s the standard we would expect from any other historical document, and it’s the same thing we should expect from the Bible.

2) Witnesses for the Bible.

It’s often mentioned that the Bible was written over a period of 1500 years by 40+ authors. That timeline is not accepted by all scholars, but even if it were, this has nothing to do with whether or not it is accurate or inspired. In order for later authors to write things that fit with what came before, they only need to be familiar with those earlier writings. In other words, the Bible is much like fan fiction.

Paul says that Jesus appeared to 500 people after his resurrection, so some Christians point to that as evidence too. But who were these 500 people? Where did they see the risen Jesus? Was it all at once, was it 500 separate appearances, or was it something in between? This claim is so vague, there’s no way it could be contested. Even if a critic could have rounded up a multitude of people who all claimed to not have seen Jesus post-resurrection, Paul would only have to say, “It was 500 other people.” No, Paul’s 500 witnesses are completely useless. Instead of actually being 500 separate witnesses for the risen Jesus, this is just one claim — Paul’s. Plus, let’s not forget that Paul is telling this to fellow Christians, not skeptics. No one in his audience would be inclined to call foul anyway.

Sometimes it’s pointed out that the earliest critics of Christianity did not question Jesus’ existence or his miracles, but just claimed that he was one of many people who claimed similar things. But I don’t think we should really expect ancient critics to focus on his existence or miracles anyway. How do you prove that someone didn’t exist? And aside from Christian writings, we have no sources about Jesus anyway, so how could they disprove either his existence or his miracles? And these critics lived in a time in which the existence of miracles were almost universally accepted. So arguing from this point doesn’t seem very convincing to me.

When it comes to historical sources for Jesus, it’s true that Josephus probably mentions him. And there are a couple of other references by other historians within the first 100 years or so after his death. But these references tell us nothing about Jesus other than that he might have existed, and that there were people at that time who were Christians. These points are virtually uncontested — and they say nothing about who Jesus really was. It’s hard to count them as any kind of evidence in Jesus’ favor.

3) Archaeology

Christians will often cite the Bible’s agreement with archaeology as one reason to believe it may be divinely inspired. For instance, most historians used to believe that the Hittites never existed, since the only record of them came from the Old Testament. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, evidence finally came to light that overturned that opinion, exonerating the Bible.

But does this agreement with archaeology really indicate that the Bible was divinely inspired? Many books have been written that seem to record accurate history — does this mean we should assume those authors were inspired by God? Of course not. While agreement with archaeology is a good sign, it’s not necessarily a reason to leap to the conclusion that God had anything to do with writing the Bible.

The story doesn’t end here, though. As it turns out, archaeology does not always agree with the Bible. The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, for instance, has no archaeological evidence. While that is an example of missing evidence, we also have examples of contradictory evidence: archaeology indicates that Joshua’s conquest of Canaan did not actually happen, the kingdoms of David and Solomon appear to be far smaller than the Bible depicts, and the Book of Daniel contains several anachronisms, including its incorrect labeling of Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar’s son.

Examples like these show that the Bible’s agreement with archaeology is not nearly as strong as some would claim, making it very shaky grounds for staking the claim of inspiration.

In the next post, we’ll talk about other reasons that people give: prophecy and internal consistency.

My Writing Process

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and fellow blogger Rodalena asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a blogging meme concerning the writing process. She had been asked to participate by a friend of hers whose blog has become so popular that she’s been featured on sites like The Huffington Post. Honestly, I’m such a huge fan of Rodalena’s writing that I immediately accepted her invitation due to the sheer honor of being asked before I really thought much about what I was agreeing to. I don’t have to give up a kidney, or anything like that, but by agreeing I was signing on to write a post about my writing process — which is what you’re reading right now.

I’ve never really thought about my approach to this blog as using a “process,” which might say a great deal about its quality! So deciding what to write has been a little tricky. One of the words that first jumps out at me is “procrastination.” That describes my approach to most things, and this blog is no exception. Whenever I have a large topic I want to cover, I tend to put it off far too long. Some of that is due to the amount of research involved. If the post just deals with Bible passages, that’s no problem. All my years as a fundamentalist Christian have made me very familiar with the Bible, so I don’t have trouble finding the passages I want to use for a post. But if I want to write about something more involved, like evolution, it takes me a very long time get my sources together. That’s why my on-going series on evolution only has two posts in it even though I started it a year and a half ago.

I usually think of blog post topics while I’m driving or doing yard work, but by the time I get in front of my computer, I’ve often forgotten what they were. When I do remember a topic, I start the first draft and try to work straight through to the end. It’s not uncommon for me to have trouble thinking of a beginning, so I’ll sometimes skip it until I’ve worked out the core of what I want to say. This process, my normal process, is work. The words don’t come very easy, I struggle with my phrasing, and I worry that my thoughts aren’t flowing as naturally or cogently as I want them to.

If you’re familiar with the WordPress text editor, you may know that there are two ways to write your post: you can use the Visual editor, which works like a typical word processor. Or you can use the Text editor, which has a simpler font and allows you to enter straight HTML, which is what I prefer. So if I want to use a blockquote or set some text in italics, I type in the HTML tags directly. The same goes for adding links to a post. While I prefer to write that way, it makes reading what I’ve written difficult. So once I’m ready to go back over it, I pull up a preview of the post so I can see what it will look like in its final state. At this point, I should save the post for a day or two to make sure it’s exactly what I want to say, but I rarely do that. Once I’ve read through it a few times and made a couple of revisions, I go ahead and post it. That’s my normal process.

If a post gives me more trouble than usual, I’ll leave it as a draft. Sometimes I’m able to finish it later and use it, but often I’m left with a junkyard of unfinished drafts that simply can’t be salvaged.

However, my best posts don’t go through the normal process. They flow easily, often with a raging intensity. One of my favorite posts is this one, which was written in response to someone else’s post that I strongly disagreed with. And I find that I often work that way. The posts that come out the best (in my opinion) are the ones that are written as a reaction to something else — either another blog post, or a conversation I had, or something I overheard. I don’t have to think much about these posts. I don’t get caught up in sentence structure, spelling, grammar, etc; instead, I’m thinking past all that. I’m no longer thinking about the structure of the post, but its content.

My aim with each post is conversation. While it can be fun to write a random post just for the sake of writing it, I’m usually far more interested in the conversation that may come from it. While my blog doesn’t have a ton of followers, it tends to generate some great discussions. I’ll take that over followers and traffic any day. I don’t really know why my posts tend to pull in such great conversations, though I know it has much more to do with the quality of people who follow this blog than it does with my writing. So thank you! :)

Before I wrap this post, I want to point you toward a good friend of mine whose blog I very much enjoy. Kent Roberts has agreed to take part in this blog meme as well, and I’m anxious to read about his writing process. His blog, Spiritual Drift, is one of my favorites. Kent is a great guy and an excellent writer. In addition to his blog, he is the author of a series of Christian fiction books. I’ve read the first one and was very impressed — looking forward to reading the next.

Is Color Objective or Subjective?

Do you see red the same way that I do? I suppose there’s not really a way to know. Even if we could agree on seeing the subtle differences between fire engine red and candy apple red, how do we know that we’re seeing those differences in the same way?

You could get an objective definition of red from its unique wavelength. But in practical matters, that’s of little use to the average person. None of us may see that wavelength in exactly the same way. Nevertheless, our society seems to move along quite well by using red in traffic lights to tell us when to stop. If you were to ask several different people to identify the exact shade of red in a traffic light, you might get different answers. In fact, if you were to compare the reds of different traffic lights, you might come up with slightly different shades. But traffic lights work because instead of making each light a different shade of red (which would be horribly confusing), we make each light an entirely different color: red, yellow, green. Two people might disagree over which red more closely matches fire engine red, but they won’t usually disagree when it comes to identifying red over green.

This is something we all understand without the need to endlessly equivocate over whether colors are subjective or objective. They’re both, and we’ve learned how to work with them accordingly. But when we begin talking about theism vs atheism, we seem to lose this ability. Not in regard to color, of course, but in regard to morality.

It seems to me that morality works in exactly the same way as color. Take modesty for example. What passes for modesty in one place and time may not pass for modesty in another. Every time I’ve seen Michelle Obama, I would describe her as being dressed modestly. However, were she to dress that way in a conservative Muslim country, they might feel very differently. Or if she were to travel back in time to Victorian England, her attire would be scandalous. So while the average person in Western culture would say that Michelle Obama is modest, when compared to stricter definitions of modesty, the label may not apply so easily. In the same way, while it’s easy to pick out red from red, green, and yellow, it’s harder to pick the “reddest” from three shades of red.

To use another example, consider the hippocratic oath. It says that the physician will never do harm to anyone. Yet don’t physicians often give shots? Or administer treatments like chemotherapy? But we know that sometimes momentary discomfort is necessary to bring about a greater good. Administering a shot and pricking someone with a pin are almost identical in regard to how it makes someone feel, but one is moral while the other is not. It’s not hard to see the difference between the two, and no superior being needs to tell us which is better, just like no superior being needs to tell us the difference between red and green.

In discussions about whether or not there is a god, theists will sometimes say that an atheist has no basis on which to decide that one version of morality is better than another. But I profoundly disagree with this. God never told anyone what names to give for the colors. Even so, most people can easily distinguish between red and green. By the same token, it’s very easy to determine that generosity is far more moral than rape — we don’t need a god to tell us that.

However, just as its difficult to choose between shades of the same color, there are times when deciding what’s moral can be quite difficult. If your Aunt Sally asks what you thought of her lasagna, is it preferable to lie and tell her that it was good, or to be honest and tell her that you didn’t like it? A compelling case can be made either way. If a child molester is going to be released from custody on a technicality, is it more moral for the father of the victim to abide by the ruling, or take justice into his own hands? Again, the “right” thing to do in such a situation is not all that clear. But these more difficult situations are not improved by believing in a god. Even theists are puzzled by the right thing to do under such circumstances.

The Bible gives a great example of this in David. In 1 Sam 13 and Acts 13, David is referred to as a man after God’s own heart. Yet we see David make some interesting choices, considering that description. In 1 Samuel 21, David is running from King Saul, and he and his men are hungry. So he goes to see Ahimelech the high priest and asks for some food. Ahimelech tells David that the only food they have is the consecrated bread, which only priests can eat. David and his men eat the bread. In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus justifies David’s act here by saying that some of these laws are meant to benefit people, not restrict them. In other words, it’s situational.

In 1 Samuel 27, things have gotten so bad for David (as in Saul is out to kill him), that he takes refuge in Philistia and serves King Achish. For over a year, he serves this king, and how does he repay Achish’s kindness? By raiding Philistine villages — something Achish would not have appreciated. Whenever Achish asks David what he’s been up to, David says that he and his men have been out raiding Israelite villages, which Achish thinks is great. And David never leaves any survivors who could rat him out to Achish. We’re never given any indication that God was displeased by this. In fact, it’s presented as being quite cunning — isn’t David cool?! So lying is okay if it keeps you out of trouble?

If the Bible gives us mixed messages when it comes to the moral conundrums that we all find difficult to navigate, and if we don’t actually need any help in figuring out what’s moral when presented with extremes (caring for the needy vs murder), then why are we supposed to think that belief in a god is somehow necessary to establish moral principles at all? When you get right down to it, identifying morality is usually like identifying colors: you know it when you see it. Why make it more complicated by that?

Memory’s a Funny Thing

Recently, the ten most memorable moments of British TV were voted on, and Colin Firth coming out of the lake in Pride and Prejudice won most memorable. To commemorate, a huge statue of Colin Firth has been sculpted and has apparently been making the rounds to various lakes in Britain.

But what’s really interesting about the scene this statue depicts is that it never actually happened. Check out the following clip to see Firth talking about it:

http://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/video/colin-firth-never-came-out-of-the-water/2771254

And here’s a clip from the film to prove it:

This mini-series ran in 1995, and now 20 years later, people have mis-remembered a scene from it to such a degree that they’ve voted it the most memorable scene in British television history. Aside from it being an interesting anecdote, why do I bother to bring it up here? Because apologists often tell us that the period of time between Jesus’ death and the first Christian writings (at least 20 years) is not long enough for legends to develop; therefore, Paul’s epistles and the gospels must be recording actual events. Yet in this day of photographic evidence, we have an example of how easily the actual facts can be embellished.

This scene was created simply through the evolution of human memory. No one stood to gain anything by making this up. By the same token, apologists are wrong when they claim that if the gospel accounts aren’t accurate, then they must have been developed by a conspiracy. There’s no reason to believe that at all. Stories change as they pass from one person to another, and 20+ years is an awful lot of time for the telephone game to take its toll.