Posts filed under ‘bible’

too many bibles?

(click for bigger image)

Most, but not all, of the bibles in our home, rounded up together. At least one was out-of-town when the photo was taken, and one was retrieved a week later, after a year-long exile in a Quaker Meeting lost and found. There is a massive exhaustive concordance hiding under the pile, a relic I imagine in this Internet age. Readers here may recognize the cute animals front and center.

I just sold the boxed “PERSONAL SIZE GIANT PRINT BIBLE” on the left. It went for $35 in case you are wondering what you would have to shell out for one of your own. :^)

How many bibles do you have?

October 27, 2010 at 2:24 am 22 comments

doubting the unicorn

I try to avoid the Answers in Genesis web site. But I recently saw a link to an article there, and confess, gave in to the temptation. I apologize in advance for any pain it may cause, should you choose to click through. The article is about unicorns.

As background, the King James Version of the bible uses the word “unicorn” in several places (blogger Sabio goes into that a bit here).  The article starts out with an assertion that some anti-Christians will use the King James Bible’s references to unicorns to mock Christian beliefs as akin to belief in fairy tales. Fair enough, I haven’t heard that, but I’m sure it happens.

The article then goes on to provide some guesses as to what kind of creatures the biblical authors were referring to, under the assumption that they must have been referring to a real creature. But could it be possible they were referring to a creature that never existed, under the false assumption that a legend was real?

Answers in Genesis says categorically it is NOT acceptable to think the biblical authors referred to a mythical creature. The article ends on a typical Answers in Genesis low note, with polemics against those who would disagree with them, finally concluding, “To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.”

Such a simple equation; doubt the biblical authors, demean God. It is ultimately a call to submit to authority rather than to exercise critical thought, and it preempts honest study into origins and meanings of the bible. If only we could all hear God’s voice as clearly as Ken Ham does. Or on second thought, maybe not…

May 18, 2010 at 11:45 am 24 comments

an allegory of bitter water

“If a man and a woman commit adultery, kill them both.” (Leviticus 20, my paraphrase)

A man accused his wife of cheating on him. “How can you say that?” she cried, “you have never had cause to doubt my faithfulness to you!” Despite her pleas of innocence, the husband remained adamant. “Are you calling my honor into question?” he shouted. “I will not be subject to this kind of insubordination!” In jealousy and anger, he dragged her to see the pastor of their church to seek help.

The pastor forced the woman to stand before him, alone, and told her to unpin her hair. The woman did so, her long hair flowing down around her face. The woman felt vulnerable, shamed, and afraid. “Fetch the water from my office,” the pastor whispered to an assistant. The assistant returned with a pitcher of vile, muddy-looking water.

“You will need to drink this water,” the pastor explained. “If you truly are innocent,” he said, “everything will be fine. But if not, you will become violently ill. So ill in fact, you will never be able to have children again. And also know,” he added, “should all this come to pass, your family and your church will shun you, you will live as an outcast, even in your own home.”

The pastor wrote down notes of the proceedings on a piece of cardboard, using a stylus of charcoal. With some water from a cup, he rinsed the words off, into the pitcher of muddy water. “Do you agree to this course of action?” he asked. The wife remained silent, tears streaking her face. The pastor repeated his question, his voice rising. The woman nodded her head softly. “Do you agree?” the pastor almost shouted. “Say it!”

“Yes,” the woman choked out, more a sob than an actual word.

“Drink, now,” commanded the pastor. Seeing no other option, the wife took a gulp of the water directly from the pitcher. She gagged twice before she could swallow. Her shirt was stained by the brown liquid which ran down her chin.

“Go,” said the pastor. The woman took a couple of steps back and rejoined her husband. The pastor intoned, “I hope there are no ill-consequences from this experience. I wish you many happy days together, and many children. I wish you peace. I trust we never need repeat this experience.”

Before the couple left, he pulled the husband aside. “Fear not,” he told him. “As you already know, I will ensure nobody condemns you for coming here today.” At this, the husband breathed a sigh of relief. It had not been easy, but he knew he had done the right thing.

my (amateur) commentary:
If you are not familiar with this story, it follows the outline of chapter 5 of the book of Numbers. Many Old Testament practices which sound terrible to us today are explained by apologists as the bible’s depiction of sinful people, in no way condoning the actions. I am sure that is true in many cases. This one cannot be written off so easily though, it is clearly described as God’s instruction to Israel.

The best apologetic I have read, in support of a beneficial purpose for this passage, explains that contemporary cultures were far worse, so this was a merciful commandment given to Israel by a loving God. For example, you wouldn’t want to undergo the trial of being bound and thrown into the Euphrates River to prove your innocence!

I do not find that answer satisfying though. Even if it was progressive for the time, it still seems unnecessarily harsh. Is that just my culture-bound judgement? It seems more likely to me the passage is a cultural artifact of an ancient tribe, rather than a divine message to a chosen people.

On a more positive note, this practice was not embraced by the Christian tradition. John 7:53-8:11 (the “Pericope Adulterae“) tells the story of Jesus graciously protecting a woman caught in adultery, seemingly in stark contrast to Numbers, chapter 5. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

There is a general consensus among biblical scholars that the Pericope Adulterae were not part of the original text of the gospel of John. If a later insertion however, it is a relatively early one (c. 4th century CE), and signifies a moderation of the Old Testament theme. And either way, I suppose there is no reason one can’t choose to believe the events actually occurred, regardless of when they were added.

May 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm 23 comments

the authority of paul (or someone)

Don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I already had written this, and it goes along with a couple of previous posts…

I was not exposed to much if any critical study of the bible at the church I belonged to. Not faulting the church, but I am glad to be learning about it now. It is not that all critical study of the bible is rejected by conservative Christians. But many conclusions of critical biblical study are rejected out of hand. Not much fun if you can’t follow the evidence where it leads.

Authorship of the New Testament letters (epistles) is widely debated by biblical scholars. Many conservative scholars automatically attribute authorship of the letters to whoever they say they were written by. Many less conservative scholars agree in attributing some, but not all, of the New Testament letters to their stated authors. For instance, of the thirteen letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul, there is general consensus among scholars that something like six of them were authentically written by him, while authorship of the other seven is in question.

In that light, consider these verses I posted on recently:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 (KJV)

According to the website, Early Christian Writings, scholars question whether the apostle Paul really wrote 2 Corinthians. One of the evidences against Paul writing the letter is that “…there are difficulties that have suggested to several commentators that 2 Corinthians has been compiled from several pieces of correspondence.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 is included in a portion of the letter which was likely a later addition. If so, it would initially seem this added section was not written by Paul.

But wait, not so fast! Some conservative scholars accept there may be additions to the original letter, but argue that Paul himself wrote those additions, they were just compiled together from another letter at a later date. That’s a way to accept some findings of higher criticism while maintaining a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. But the web site also quotes a scholar as stating that verses 6:14-7:1 “contain a fragment that has next to no connection to Paul in ideas or wording, although it does have some affinities with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” So attributing the additions to Paul may be a stretch anyway.

If Paul did not write these verses, what bearing does that have on the authority given to them? Does it really matter who did the writing? Most Christians do not go around worrying about who wrote something in the bible before they are willing to learn from its teaching or respect its authority. And someone can of course still find wisdom in the verses regardless of who wrote them. But I wonder how often people sweep issues like these under the carpet in order to protect their faith.

The letter was included in the biblical canon because people thought Paul wrote it. If he didn’t write it, or if there is reason to question its authorship, it is reasonable to question its authority as well. It is important for people to exercise their own judgment and make their own evaluations in life, rather than blindly following what someone wrote in a book. Especially when you don’t know for sure who that someone is. That is actually true whether or not you give authority to the bible; applying any teaching requires a healthy measure of judgement, wisdom, and caution.

February 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm 14 comments

reconstructing daniel?

Biblical scholar Peter Enns says of his book Inspiration and Incarnation that it is “an attempt to bring an Evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern scholarship.” My paraphrase of that statement would be that Evangelicals should not automatically reject the findings of modern biblical scholarship. In discussing the fear some Evangelicals have towards the implications of modern biblical scholarship, Enns writes:

“…fear cannot drive theology. It cannot be used as an excuse to ignore what can rightly be called evidence. We do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe. Neither are those who engage the kinds of issues discussed in this book necessarily on the slippery slope to unbelief.”

In my previous post I included the quote below, relating a view of the book of Daniel as a later writing rather than as literal history and prophesy:

Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.

Accepting this view can lead to a couple of different conclusions:

  • Rejection of the inerrantist view and seeing the story as the work of men and not of God.
  • Rejection of the inerrantist view but seeing the story as still divinely inspired.

The theory in support of the second conclusion would state that the author did not intend to deceive his readers. This genre of prophetic literature was common at that time (so the theory goes), and the audience would have known to read the book allegorically. The book still communicates that the sufferings of the readers were part of a bigger plan and that God had not departed from Israel.

I do not know Enns’ view of the book of Daniel in particular, but this view is generally consistent with his approach, accepting some modern conclusions and findings about the bible without giving up his trust in its divine inspiration.

While I do not hold the same kind of faith in the inspiration of the bible, I find his approach engaging and honest. Enns’ analyses of biblical history seems trustworthy, in contrast to scholars (apologists?) who place certain presuppositions higher than evidence in reaching their conclusions. Regardless of your view on what kind of book the bible is, grappling with issues like these is essential for understanding its real meaning.

February 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm 6 comments

irreducible complexity

Here is a link to a really good new blog, Irreducible Complexity.

The author of the blog, Ian, says about himself and his writing:

I study the bible, with bits of Christian origins and early Christianity thrown in. I’m also an atheist, both in the sense of not-believing-there-is-a-God, and believing-there-is-no-God. I’m fascinated by all kinds of things, from typography to chess, from conlangs to competitive swimming, from creative cartography to the mathematics of music.

This is my bible and religion blog. I have been studying the bible for 20 years now. I’m particularly interested in New Testament criticism, although I have a soft spot for non-canonical Christian literature and try to dabble and keep up with the broad movements in Hebrew Bible scholarship and early church history.

Ian is a very intelligent, sympathetic, and well-informed writer. If you are interested in the Bible and Christianity you will definitely learn something by visiting his site. Enjoy!

January 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm 5 comments

bible haiku

I was tagged by Kay from Ephemeral Thoughts with this blog meme called “The Bible in 5 Statements”:

Summarize the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two words long, the third three words long, the fourth four words long and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.

I’m sticking with her “bible haiku” label because it sounds that way to me too. I found it hard to write without being glib and it makes me realize how divided my perspectives on the bible are. But here’s mine:

secrets forever hidden in time
beautiful, cruel, and tedious
cleverly spun tales
man’s yearning

Profound, huh?  :P

I couldn’t figure who would want to be tagged, so consider yourself tagged if you want to be. Below are other participants Kay listed. There are a number of great blogs there, only a few of which I have read before, definitely worth checking out.

The Websight of Unknowing

Eternal Echoes

Glocal Christianity

Steve Hayes



The Hopeful Skeptic

Homebrewed Christianity

The Girl Who Cried Epiphany

Tanzania and James

Carpenter’s Shoes

Him Called Bean

A Spirit Like the Wind

Missio Dei

Wondering Wandering Thoughts

Gentle Wisdom



Stranger in a Strange Land

Ben’s Blog

Light and Storm

December 16, 2009 at 12:31 am 2 comments

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