Bible – The First Problem

There may be numerous problems with the Bible in regards to its inerrancy and the variety of contradictions contained therein. But before even getting into them there is a major issue that must be addressed. This issue requires us to step back and ask what it is that we would expect to see from a message passed down by an eternal perfect God to the people that he wanted to communicate with. Firstly, we need to ask what the purpose of the Bible is. As I understand it the Bible is recognised by the larger Christian community as God’s message to humanity. It is God’s specific direction on how we ought to live and the requisites for eternal life. Taking this into account I would expect to find a message that could be easily understood by all people; a message that could not be muddied by language or time; a message that was timeless and did not depend upon an understanding of the idiosyncrasies of an obscure community. I would also expect that the God communicating this message would tell us something about himself and explicitly demonstrate that his own behaviour was in line with the laws that he passed on.

These requirements do not seem to be too demanding for a God that has all power, all knowledge, is completely timeless and perfectly good. But what do we find in the Bible? We find a confused message, one that varies enormously from time to time and person to person. We find commands to do one thing and commands to do the opposite. We find a message that seems to turn itself on its head between the Old Testament and the New. While this is explained away by the theological community as the change that occurs with the New Covenant and the coming of the Messiah, I find it implausible. How can God be so happy to kill people as the punishment for such a vast array of crimes in the Old Testament and then be prepared to let them off in the New? This is not a question of covenants; this is a question of God’s eternal nature. Does God eternally believe that people should be punished for their crimes or not? The New Testament is highly confused about this. Jesus lets a woman off for committing adultery, a crime for which the penalty is death. However, Jesus warns that the punishment for sin is eternal death. God also seems to forget about a whole bunch of laws that he passed down in the Old Testament when it comes to the New. Has God changed his mind? If so God is not immutable. I could go on for hours like this but I’ll stop here. The point is simple: the message is confused and God’s character is extremely confused within the writings of scripture. From a God that declares himself to be immutable I expect consistency.

What should be surprising is the religious person’s ability to trivialise these matters. It speaks to something beyond logic in which ones perception of reality seems to be overwhelmingly impacted by their faith. An example I saw recently is something that I found quite disgusting, but typical of the Christian attitude towards God. Referencing a book that was written by two well-known Christian biblical scholars[1] I came across a section that was referring to the biblical flood of Noah. The authors referred to the “utter degeneration of the human race” leading to God’s judgement. As we know God killed everybody in the world during this encounter, a number that has been estimated, rather inaccurately, at somewhere between 5 million[2] and 10 trillion[3] people. The authors go on to say that mercifully, however, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” I find it ironic that an author could see this as an act of God’s mercy. Let’s use the low end of the scale here and suggest that there were around 10 million people living at the time. The Christian in this case sees it as a sign of God’s mercy that he saved 8 people and killed 9,999,992. This figure actually means that God killed 99.99992% of the world’s population leaving only 0.00008% of the population living, and that is an act of mercy! Only a fanatic could look at things this way!

The big issue that I have, that I have labelled here as the first problem, is this: why does the Bible have to be defended? If the Bible truly was God’s Word why would it need to be defended, why would there need to be an entire discipline of apologetics in order to convince people that this is actually God’s word? Why would God depend upon an imperfect group of human beings to be the sole proprietors of the defence of his own message? Given what is at stake it seems to be extremely careless to leave this task in the hands of flawed human beings.

Some simple solutions from a normal human mind

I don’t propose to be a genius, but if I did have all power and could see into the future, and I did want people to believe and accept my message then, even with my limited human brain, I can see some solutions. God could choose from the following list, or any of a myriad of other options.

  • God could have created a single language that would be passed down to all humans so that his message could never be corrupted by translational errors.
  • God could have made all of the languages which he knew would evolve be close enough so that translation would not yield any major problems.
  • God could have re-transcribed his message once every 500 years or so, so that it would update for the new audience.
  • God could have used a far simpler organisation system for rules, to distinguish between principals with eternal value that can never be broken and those which are either just temporal measures to deal with specific situations or traditional customs of Jewish culture.
  • God could have used linguistic methods that did not provide any room for error. By removing all of the metaphor and any vocabulary which is specific to culture or time God could ensure that the terminology that he used would be understandable to all people regardless of when or where they were born.

These are just a few solutions, but the key point is that God should not have been oblivious to the chronological and translational problems of the Bible. He is supposed to be present at all points in time and space simultaneously and in possession of all knowledge. So before he even imparted the words of the Bible, or the inspiration of the Bible to the scribes, he would have been aware of the difficulties that would face humanity as they attempted to interface with the book.

Some will be so bold to suggest that God intentionally created these translational difficulties because of the events at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The Scripture describes God dividing the languages of humanity, who used the same language at the time, because they were united (something which Jesus goes on to praise in John chapter 17) and nothing would be impossible for them. So apparently God was afraid that human beings would become extremely powerful through their unity and decided to scatter them across the earth and divide their languages. This story has myth written all over it. The entire story is about one paragraph in length to describe how all of humanity has different languages and is spread all across the face of the earth. It may be quaint, but there is no way that we should believe it to be true. And if you dig deeper into the meaning of the passage what does it really say? God is insecure and really just operates to oppress human beings and keep them from working together. This has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In our modern day of scientific and intellectual advancement human beings have achieved a great deal and that knowledge continues to place barriers in front of God. The more we know the less likely it is that God is real. Human beings are moving towards the point where we will be able to direct our own evolutionary path and potentially even create immortality through the use of technology. This certainly fits into the idea of “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). It seems that in the case of the tower of Babel the power of humanity was too strong for God to be able to create a workaround. If only he was omnipotent!

The fact that there are errors in the Bible, even as insignificant as copyist errors, demonstrates that at some point in time God slipped in regards to handing down his “perfect” message. After painstakingly ensuring that his message was passed down perfectly to the scribes God failed to oversee the work of the copyists to make sure that they did not make any translational copyist errors. Even when passing the message on to the original scribes God must have known that copyists would make mistakes which ultimately led to an “imperfect” production of his original perfect message. It therefore appears that God has lost interest in ensuring that the perfection of his original work should be maintained. Many modern Christians also believed that God actually inspires an understanding of his word to a person while they are reading it, causing his word to be alive to them. So if God is going to the enormous effort of inspiring the original scribes to write his perfect message and inspiring the reader of the message to understand his words, why would he forget to inspire the copyists to correctly copy his word?

The massive number of issues around the interpretation of the Bible necessitates that experts are required in order to provide an adequate interpretation. So rather than creating a dependence upon himself, in the creation of the Bible God created dependence upon certain other human beings. Because we can only accurately interpret the Bible through these individuals, we are completely dependent upon them to know what God is actually saying. This was how the Catholic church arose to mighty power in the Dark Ages – because of illiteracy and a lack of access to God’s word (another problem with God’s method of communication) small groups of men were able to control the religious beliefs of millions of people. If God had truly passed on his message then he should have made the issue of illiteracy far more important far earlier in the history of mankind and also made the Bible simple enough for a child to understand. And not just parts of it, but all of it.

So much ink has been spilled over the years in defence of the Bible that it should, to any reasonable mind, nullify the legitimacy of the Bible. The expectation of a perfect God should be the delivery of a perfect message in a perfect way that cannot be corrupted by human beings. But what we have is a shoddy work, full of problems, errors and controversies. The work was delivered, apparently, in an inspired way, but nobody knows specifically what that means. Furthermore the final work was cobbled together by a committee of men, not God himself, who decided what would be included and what would not. Along the way they included some things that were later removed, and excluded a book that was only added in at a much later date (the book of Revelation). In addition to this it is clear that a number of passages in Scripture have been modified at a later stage in order to either add detail or change their original meaning. As time progressed copyists copied the original documents and in doing so made alterations as they saw fit as well as making mistakes in their reproductions. And all of this, we are supposed to believe, is the work of a divine being who is passing on the most important message in all of history to the people that he created in his own image. If they should get the message wrong they will spend an eternity being tortured in an unimaginable hell. But this God appears contented with all of this meddling in his divinely inspired word. No! This does not serve as a satisfying answer. This bumbling and unconvincing work should not be believed.

This article serves only as an introduction to the mountain of problems faced by those who seek to believe that the Bible is a divinely authored work. But it is a good philosophical starting point. When dealing with a supernatural entity that is supposed to be perfectly good and contain all power and knowledge we should start by asking what we would expect of that being. Most certainly, at the very least, this being’s works should be far beyond the capability of a human agent. However, in the Bible, as in all other “holy” works, we find a poor falsification which is incapable of hiding its flaws and betrays its inevitable human authorship.

[1] How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

[2] Yahoo Answers. Https://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080509034204AAdSHDK.

[3] Bible-Science Guy. Https://biblescienceguy.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/4-population-growth-how-many-died-in-noahs-flood/.

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2 thoughts on “Bible – The First Problem

  1. As a longtime Christian believer (struggling with doubts), I remember picking up the Bhagavad Gita for the first time. After reading a few chapters I recall having a thought like, “Well, if I was God, that’s how I would have written the bible- make it clear.”

    I’m NOT defending or recommending any particular faith tradition, including Hinduism. But when I read where Krishna was basically saying “there are different ways to worship and try and live a good life, and some ways are better than others, but don’t worry- I love all you meatheads and one way or another, you’ll all reach me,” as a Christian, I was shocked. It just seemed so sensible and simple, like it was worded by a confident, all-powerful being who was not angry, jealous or expecting foolish humans to figure it out!

    Do I believe in Krishna? I just don’t know what I believe lately.

    But thank you for another extremely well-written article.

    Like

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