In examining the documentary evidence for the text of the New Testament, Geisler and Turek have consistently blurred the distinction between having an accurate record of what Christians were saying early on, and the accuracy of the sayings themselves. Reacting to the suggestion that the New Testament is unreliable because the documents weren’t written until long after the events they describe, G&T seem to be assuming that if they can make the documents sound close enough to the A.D. 30’s, they will have proven that the documents are reliable. That’s a logical fallacy, however:
If my pet is not a mammal, then my pet is not a dog.
My pet is a mammal.
Therefore my pet is a dog. (Oops, my pet is a ferret!)
If the New Testament documents were not written before 100AD, then they are not reliable. Geisler and Turek are saying that the manuscripts were written before 100AD, and therefore they are (allegedly) reliable—the same logical fallacy as is illustrated above. In trying to answer the skeptics, however, they accidentally betray the fact that there is indeed good reason to doubt the reliability of the testimony within the documents. And not just because they portray God as behaving in ways that are markedly different from what we see in real life.
Dr. Greg Boyd has a post up at Answering the Skeptic on the topic of how Christians should respond to Bart Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus. Boyd’s 6 point rebuttal says that, in essence, (a) not all scholars agree with Ehrman, (b) Ehrman’s tone is “alarmist,” (c) 95-98% of the New Testament is not in any serious doubt, (d) we have more manuscripts for the NT than for any other ancient document, and (e) Ehrman exaggerates. Boyd’s last point, however, is the one I find the most interesting.
Bart may (or may not) have substantiated his claim that sometimes intentional alterations were made in the text to make a passage sound more “orthodox.” Even if we grant this (and many textual critics would not), it doesn’t affect much.
First, if we throw out all the texts about which there is some question — including those that may have been intentionally altered — it wouldn’t affect our general estimation of the reliability of the New Testament documents and wouldn’t affect anything important to the faith.
Second — and this is very important — in the ancient world written texts were regarded as expressions of an oral tradition, and it was understood that it’s okay to slightly modify oral traditions to address new issues that have arisen in the community. So even if certain texts were altered slightly (and all the alleged alterations are in fact slight), it doesn’t mean there was anything sinister going on. This is what people expected to be done. [Emphasis mine.]
Ok, I screwed up: I said that last week was the end of Vox Day’s chapter on Daniel Dennett. Somehow I missed one last section, and it’s a beaut. Check this out:
Dennett’s admirable call for science and religion to lay down their arms and proceed in a spirit of amiable curiosity is subject to one final logical flaw, from at least one religious perspective. Many religious worldviews postulate the existence of intelligent, supernatural beings whose actions affect the physical world, but the Christian view, in particular, puts forth the disturbing notion that our present world is not ruled by God, but by an evil supernatural being, one who long ago usurped humanity’s God-given sovereignty. This being, Satan, is not only self-aware, but has been intelligent enough to fool the mind of Man from the very start, beginning with the first temptation in the Garden of Eden.
Vox, like so many others, is actually re-writing Genesis with that last comment. Nowhere in the Bible is it ever stated or suggested that Eve was tempted or deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden. A mere talking snake was the villain in that story—Satan didn’t become a character in Bible stories until after the Jews had been exposed to Persian dualism. But he’s a useful character in many ways, and Vox intends to use him to manufacture one final flaw to charge to Dennett’s account.
As charismatic Christians like to tell us, Jesus once said, “Nobody puts new wine in old wineskins,” meaning that old traditions can’t always accommodate new movements of God, or something to that effect. He never said anything about putting old wine into new wineskins, however, and I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for how Christians re-frame Scriptural teachings to accommodate new interpretations. JP Holding gives us a good example of this in his article on “Biblical” faith, which we started to look at last week. But before we get to Holding, let’s do a quick review.
According to an Associated Press report, a 28-year-old man who killed 6 and wounded 4 on a shooting rampage testified that “I kill for God. I listen to God.” Now, obviously it would not be fair to blame Christianity for this man’s mental illness, nor can we fairly hold God responsible for his actions (any more than it would be Darwin’s fault if the man had said “I kill for Darwin”). This case does, however, point out an interesting question, which is how do we know he’s not telling the truth?
A popular Christian claim is that God is the source of all morality. In other words, things like shooting rampages are not wrong in and of themselves, they’re only wrong because God forbids them. Or, as Vox Day puts it, “God’s game, God’s rules.” There’s no power greater than God that can force some external moral standard on the Almighty, therefore God is free to define morality however He sees fit. Who is to say, then, that God cannot make a special set of rules, for this one deranged shooter, that commands him to go on a shooting spree and kill people? Sure, he’s insane, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not telling the truth about God. So how do we know?
Geisler and Turek have been looking at the manuscript evidence for the New Testament, and they cite 1 Cor. 15 as proof that the resurrection story goes back as to within a few years, and possibly only 18 months, of the events it purports to describe. As we saw last time, however, 1 Cor. 15 might actually suggest that the Gospel evolved, from an early version in which Jesus rose spiritually, to the eventual orthodox story we have today. Geisler and Turek follow this conclusion with a promise to look into the skeptical objections to Gospel authenticity, but this problem is not one that they happen to address. And with their answers to the objections they do deal with, they only dig them in deeper.
It’s been a while since the Ten Commandments have come up in the news, but I’m going to go ahead and post this anyway, because you still hear believers spouting off now and then about how the Ten Commandments are supposedly God’s “moral law,” applicable to everybody. What they don’t know is what the Decalogue really is, or what it says. With that in mind, here are 10 Things Most People Don’t Know about the Ten Commandments.
1. The original Hebrew word for “commandments” is mitzvah (as in bar mitzvah, right).
2. Nowhere in the original Hebrew Scriptures is there ever a reference to “ten commandments” (mitzvah).
3. There is no New Testament reference to “Ten Commandments” either.
4. Where modern English translations say “Ten Commandments,” the Hebrew word being used is dabar, which means “discourses,” or “decrees,” or “accounts.” (The title of I and II Chronicles uses the word dabar for “chronicles”.)
5. None of the commandments in Exodus 20 is ever referred to as being “the First Commandment” or “the Second Commandment” or “the Nth Commandment” (with the possible exception of “honor thy father and mother,” which Paul refers to as “the first commandment with a promise”).
6. None of the commandments referred to as being “the First Commandment” or “the Second Commandment” comes from Exodus 20 (or the parallel passage in Deut. 4).
7. The phrase “Ten Commandments” was not used to describe Exodus 20 until some time in the late Middle Ages.
8. There are not “ten commandments” in Exodus 20. Exodus 20 contains 17 specific injunctions, grouped together under 9 distinct topics: (1) forbidding idolatry, (2) forbidding blasphemy, (3) requiring 6 days of work and one of rest, (4) requiring honor for parents, (5) forbidding murder, (6) forbidding adultery, (7) forbidding stealing, (8) forbidding bearing false witness, and (9) forbidding coveting.
9. There are Ten Discourses between Exodus 20, where God began giving His commandments from Mt. Sinai, to Exodus 31, where it says God gave Moses the 2 stone tablets with the Decalogue written on them.
I. Ex 20:1 “Then God spoke all these words, saying…” through Ex 20:17.
II. Ex 20:22 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel…” through Ex 20:26.
III. Ex 21:1 “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them…” through Ex 23:33.
IV. Ex 25:1 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 30:10.
V. Ex 30:11 “The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 30:16.
VI. Ex 30:17 “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 30:21.
VII. Ex 30:22 “Moreover, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 30:33.
VIII. Ex 30:34 “Then the LORD said to Moses…” through Ex 30:38.
IX. Ex 31:1 “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 31:11.
X. Ex 31:12 “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying…” through Ex 31:17.
10. These commandments include provisions for putting people to death for working on Saturday, and selling your daughters into sexual slavery. It also instructs Hebrew slave owners on how to beat their slaves to death without being guilty of murder. (Keep the poor devil alive for 3 days, and you’re off the hook.) And, of course, animal sacrifice.
So the next time someone tells you they think the Ten Commandments need to be in our public courts or other government functions, ask them just how much they know, really, about the original Decalogue.
Over at Answer the Skeptic, they’ve got an article entitled “If God is so great, why would He care about us?” Here’s their answer:
Rather than saying God is too great to care about us little humans, I’d say God is great precisely because he cares about us little humans. For the essence of God’s greatness is love, and love between unequals is greater than a love between equals. A story of a prince who willingly sacrifices his whole kingdom out of love for a peasant girl demonstrates a greater love than a story of a prince who marries the daughter of a king. In this light, the story of God caring about us little humans, to the point of becoming one of us and dying for us, despite the fact that we didn’t deserve it, must be seen as the greatest love story ever told. Calvary reveals the greatest, most beautiful, most loving conception of God humans have ever dreamed of.
It’s not a bad answer, except except that the question shouldn’t even need to be asked. If God cared for us enough to show up in real life and interact with us in tangible ways that demonstrated His love for us, then the skeptic would have no need to wonder why we should believe that God cares for us little guys. God’s actions would speak louder than men’s words, and would make men’s words unnecessary.
There are many ways in which a career in video game programming fails to prepare you for the larger issues of real life, and Vox Day has a good example of one of them:
Theists have a perfectly logical and objective basis for the application of their god-based moralities that even the most die-hard rational atheist cannot reject, given the theistic postulate that God actually exists and created the universe. In short, God’s game, God’s rules. If you’re in the game, then the rules apply to you regardless of what you think of the game designer, your opinion about certain aspects of the rulebook, or the state of your relationship with the zebras.
Vox’s goal is to show that his idea of morality has a solid foundation, and Daniel Dennett’s doesn’t. But not only is Dennett’s system far stronger than Vox seems to realize, the “God’s Game, God’s Rules” morality he espouses has so many flaws that it’s hard to know where to start.