Saturday, November 13, 2004

In response to "Show me an inconsistency in the Bible."

A week or so ago, I had a rather long discussion (read: argument) with some dear friends about all things religious. I promised them a follow-up email as soon as I took the chance (I just did), and have decided to share parts of it with you in the blogosphere. I promised this email in response to a friend's demand to point out to him any inconsisency in the Bible, something he seemingly did not beleive to be possible. Because I was flustered and didn't defend my point well at the time, I promised an email follow-up. Here goes...

Flashback to last week. The point that I was trying to make - and which I didn't do a very good job of at the time - had to do with the very nature of the Bible (or any book) and it's interpretation. We all agreed that the Bible can be (and is often) interpreted in drastically different ways, leading to pretty different creeds, faiths, and worldviews. My bigger point was that as a book of words, the Bible means nothing absent interpretations of those words. Because practically every word - especially ones translated many times and from different languages - can have multiple meanings, I believe the inherent shortcomings of the written word make it impossible to point out to everyone's satisfaction that one passage is inconsistent with another. Why? Because, like everything, people will interpret things in the way they want to or are predisposed into doing. I remember saying something like "there's no logical inconsistencies in the Bible like X = Y, and X = A, and A does not equal Y" that everyone can agree are inconsistencies. Thus when someone challenged me to point out an inconsistency in the Bible, I couldn't do it. In summary, why couldn't I point one out? Because the inherent shortcoming of words on paper empower people's interpretations to be as varied as they are clever. Thus, believing that the Bible has no inconsistencies is one interpretation of the Bible. I can't point out an inconsistency in someone's interpretation if their interpretation is that there are no inconsistencies. [For a few excerpts that I think are at least on their face most clearly interpreted as inconsistent, see our post “On Divorce, I.”]

My overarching point was that believing in the interpretation that there are no inconsistencies in the Bible is not fundamental to having a Christian faith or seeking God through Jesus, and that I believe such an interpretation at times puts you at odds with Jesus' message... but that is a whole n'other discussion.

Second, I remember saying something last Friday to the effect of "I am spending a lot of CitiBank's money learning about textual interpretation." I hope I didn't come off as "I'm better than you because I've spent a lot of money studying these things." That was certainly not my point. In fact, it was the antithesis of my point, which was actually that I think the message of the Bible is so clear that one need not have advanced degrees or some threshold level of intelligene to intuit and understand it. I believe God's message is open to all equally - smart, dumb, illiterate, educated, etc. - and that causes me to doubt any interpretation that seems to suggest that you need a lot of tools, knowledge, or skill to find the true message. I don't believe God puts such hurdles in between us and Him ---- I believe those hurdles, at least ones not in our selfish (fallen) human nature, have been put there by men through time to serve their own ends.


At 8:24 AM, Blogger david said...

I would direct you friend to an essay by literary critic, Stanley Fish, entitled "Is There a Text in this Class?" where he makes a quite similar point to you -- that the etxt does not exist apart from the act of reading and interpreting. He sees texts as functioning not as storage media but as music scores with teh act of reading being analogous to a performance.

I would also direct your friend thusly,

Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."

Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

Read very carefully the context. These are both the same census. I freaked out a Jehovah's Witness who acme to me door with this one.

At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew 27:3-5 & Acts 1:15-20 look at the death of Judas. Was he hung? Did he fall? Did he die before the crucifixion?


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