Scriptural PredictionsApril 27, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Ok, back to the topic we started last week. To recap, we’re comparing two different hypotheses or premises about God by examining what real-world consequences would have to follow if the premise were true. The Myth Hypothesis says that the Christian God does not exist in real life, and thus the Christian faith originated and is maintained via a variety of complex and resilient psychosocial mechanisms we might broadly categorize as “myth.” The Gospel Hypothesis, by contrast, proposes that the Christian Creator God does exist, and further, that the Christian faith originated as a result of God loving mankind enough to become human Himself, and to die for us as a cleansing sacrifice so that He could enjoy fellowship with us (and vice versa) for all eternity, as is His (alleged) desire.
We started by looking at the primary source of information available to us concerning God. As the Myth Hypothesis would lead us to expect, our primary information source about God is not God Himself, even though you’d think a God Who wanted a eternal personal relationship with us could spare some time here and now. So that leaves us with human sources for information about God, of which there are two main categories: Scriptures, and personal testimonies (which we’ll discuss later). So what do each of our two hypotheses have to say about any Scriptures that might arise?
First of all, we have to remember that each of our Hypotheses deals with a deity Who ought to have existed since the beginning of time, well before the writing of any Scriptures about Him. This means that we ought to start by looking at the consequences each Hypothesis would have in the general area of how Scriptures would arise, and what characteristics we should expect such Scriptures to have, depending on which Hypothesis were true.
If the Myth Hypothesis were true, then, as we have seen, God will not be available to serve as the primary source of information for the Scriptures. Humans, in other words, will have to wing it: writing the truth as they understand it, making such guesses as seem promising at the time, appealing to the best virtues they know, while manifesting their own weaknesses, cultural and personal biases, ignorance, and other failings. Because the writers won’t really know what they are talking about, we should expect Scriptures to be prone to passages that are obscure, muddy, and subject to reinterpretation, though of course there’s also room for talented writing that is “inspired” in the mundane sense.
Furthermore, the Scriptures will have to make some kind of accommodation for the fact that God does not show up in real life. If the Myth Hypothesis is true, He can’t show up, so any Scripture will have to account for that absence somehow. There are a number of ways to accomplish this: by a kind of Emperor’s New Clothes argument (“only the pure in heart can see Him”), or by blaming the audience (“you are too evil for God to endure your presence”), or by blaming unpopular minorities or by various other strategems, up to and including “God works in mysterious ways.” These elements will be a necessary part of any book that wants to be included in a canon of Scripture, because a book that was wildly unrealistic about God showing up in real life, or that failed to address the problem of His consistent and universal absence, just won’t make the grade.
If such Scriptures are accumulated over time, the Myth Hypothesis would require that the doctrinal and moral content of the books involved reflect the changing social and religious attitudes and assumptions of its writers in each of the different ages, as well as reflecting their changing knowledge (or ignorance) of the world around them. Moral relativism should be inevitable We would expect to see teachings and cultural norms and moral standards from one age looking peculiar if not bizarre from the perspective of another. Additions and even contradictions ought to arise, though of course the latter would necessarily have to be accompanied by a harmonizing commentary explaining how to interpret both passages so as not to find them in conflict.
Finally, though there are more predictions we could make, we can close (for now) with the observation that, if the Myth Hypothesis were true, we would expect to see the Scriptures being given an exaggerated importance, up to and including the assertion of inspiration and infallibility. This is because the Scriptures would need to assume a place of authority left vacant by God’s absence from the real world. It’s not necessary that the Scriptures be given the ultimate position of authority on earth, since ambitious men likely could and would claim that role for themselves. However given God’s manifest absence from real world interaction with mankind, something will need to stand in for Him as His voice of authority, and a holy Book or Books would make a reasonable if not inevitable candidate for the position.
If the Gospel Hypothesis were true, on the other hand, then we would expect any inspired Scriptures to be consistent with God’s desire to see the maximum number of His children successfully pass the test of eternity, and join Him with the saved in glory forever. This has several implications which we ought to look for, starting with the need for a clear and unmistakable distinction between which books are genuinely inspired and authoritative, and which are not. This ought to be a fairly easy standard to meet, as God Himself ought to be showing up both to commission the writing and to accept it when it passes His divine quality control program. The Scriptures thus should not need to account for God’s absence because God should not be absent.
As a work inspired by an infallible and unchanging God, we should expect the contents of the Scriptures to rise above the cultural weaknesses and foibles of the times and cultures in which they are written. We ought to see God’s plan of salvation (which really isn’t terribly hard to explain) laid out plainly and consistently, from beginning to end. It ought to be clear and easy to read, because there would be no point in confusing His children about what He wants, and worse, confusion would only open them up to heresies and the exploitation of false teachers. Though of course, false teachers might not be a problem, because why would you need mere men to interpret for you if the Book was already written by the most talented Teacher possible?
If the Gospel God should choose to send a prophecy or prediction of the future and have it recorded in the Scriptures, it should be detailed, specific, and time-stamped, since this would (a) be no problem for an omniscient and omnipotent deity and (b) serve to validate the Scriptures and to distinguish genuine prophecies from the mushy-mouthed mumblings of the likes of Sylvia Browne and company. Given the nature and character of the God of the Gospel Hypothesis, we would expect that no particular details about the future would be any more difficult for Him than any other details about the future, so His predictions should not reflect a human imprecision about exactly what was going to happen or when (if ever) it was going to take place.
Finally, if the God of the Gospel Hypothesis were going to communicate with people via His Word, we would not expect that it would ever stop being written, as each new age faced new doctrinal, moral, and cultural challenges. A fixed canon is of use only to a human hierarchy which has no further source of “inspiration,” and is finding it difficult to keep new books from adding new contradictions. A wise and loving God, however, would have no trouble staying consistent, even when addressing new problems like how to respond to Islam, or medical marijuana, or stem cell research, or cloning. Besides, it’s ridiculous to suggest that a God we were going to spend eternity with would already have run out of things to say in only a few centuries. If so, there’s going to be a looooooong awkward silence after God gets done saying, “Welcome to heaven.”
Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at the Scriptures and see which set of consequences matches what we find in the real world. In the meantime, feel free to expand on what’s above. What would you expect “God’s Word” to look like if the Myth Hypothesis were true? or the Gospel Hypothesis? The comments are open.