Was Jesus Always Perfect?

November 24, 2010

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that we can take to mean that Jesus was perfect (“a lamb without blemish”, etc), but the Bible doesn’t say outright that Jesus was always perfect. On the contrary, Hebrews implies that Jesus was not always perfect, but rather became perfect at some point. Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV) says:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

According to this passage, Jesus was not the source of salvation until after he was made perfect. This has important ramifications. It means that people who lived before Jesus was made perfect, did not have a source of salvation. Without a source of salvation during their lifetime, God’s most faithful servants, like Moses, King David, King Solomon, and the prophets, went to hell when they died. It also means that if Jesus was always God then God isn’t necessarily perfect. Alternatively, it means that Jesus wasn’t always God (because God is always perfect).

There is good evidence that the author of Hebrews didn’t believe that Jesus was God, at least not in a way that makes the Father and Jesus one and the same. Here is a good presentation of the evidence: www.prudentialpublishing.info/hebrews_view_of_Jesus.htm

Which do you think is true…

1) Jesus was always God but God can be imperfect
2) Jesus became God after he became perfect
3) Hebrews is not the Inerrant Word of God

…and why?

Word of God vs. Eyewitness Accounts

October 2, 2010

Christian groups, like Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, and others, accept the Bible as the literal Word of God. This view is often summed up as:

“God said it, I believe it, that settles it”.

In other words, any passage in the Bible should be taken as if the words proceeded directly from God’s mouth. They don’t all agree on how words from God got written into the Bible. Some theorize that God dictated the text word-for-word to the various authors of the Bible and the authors faithfully recorded the words.

Other theories, like Verbal, Plenary Inspiration, are a bit more nebulous in that no one is really willing to say exactly what they mean by “inspiration”. Nevertheless, this theory also holds that every word in the Bible proceeds (somehow) directly from God. The Christian Faith website presents a succinct summary this belief.

These same Christian groups claim that the Gospels are first-hand eyewitness accounts. They believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are reporting their own first-hand, eyewitness accounts of their encounters with Jesus. They are reporting what they’ve seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. Since eyewitness accounts virtually always vary from person to person, the accounts in the different Gospels are different as we should expect. These accounts, though different and at times conflicting, are nevertheless compelling evidence of the historicity and the nature of Jesus. You and I should believe that Jesus is the Son of God based in part on these eyewitness accounts.

An eyewitness account by its very definition cannot be the Word of God.

If the words in the eyewitness accounts come from God, then the words are not the evangelist’s own eyewitness account. If the words are the evangelists own personal account, then the words are not God’s words. The two claims are incompatible: either all words in the Bible are from God (and there are no eyewitness accounts from the Evangelists), or the Bible contains eyewitness accounts which are not God’s words.

Of course it is also possible that words in the Bible do not come from God and that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. Those two claims are perfectly compatible.

The Bible: Inspired Scripture?

July 24, 2008

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, 2Ti 3:16, the key verse that Fundamentalists use to claim that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God could not possibly mean that New Testament scripture is inspired (see New Testament: Inspired Scripture?”). Now, I will show that the English translations for this verse are not accurate, and that the verse does not even mean that the Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) is inspired! The explanation will get a bit technical, but I will provide examples along the way. Note that I’ve provided the Greek here for reference – but you will not need any previous understanding of Greek to understand this post. So just stay with me and just take it slow.

To my knowledge, the original Greek text for 2Ti 3:16 is not disputed and is recorded in the Stephanus Textus Receptus as:

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν πρὸς ἔλεγχον, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

An English transliteration of the above Greek is:

pasa graphē theopneustos kai ōphelimos pros didaskalian pros elegmon pros epanorthōsin pros paideian tēn en dikaiosunē

For convenience, I’ll use the transliteration from here on out when I want to talk about the original Greek. The NIV translates this verse as:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

But that’s not the best translation of the verse. The literal word-for-word translation of the beginning of this verse is (we only care about the beginning – the rest is undisputed):

each writing God-breathed also profitable for…

Note absence of the verb, “is”, which is not used in the Greek. The question is: where should “is” go in the English translation? Should it go in this location?

Option 1: “each God-breathed writing is also profitable…”

If so, then the verse simply states that ‘writing which happens to be God-breathed is profitable’ – it does not state that ‘all writing is God-breathed and is therefore profitable.’

Or should the verb, “is”, go in this location:

Option 2: “each writing is God-breathed also profitable…”

If it goes here, then the verse really does make the claim that ‘all writing is God breathed. ‘ Note that the order of “writing” and “God-breathed” are different in the 2 options – more on this in the Example 2 below. So which translation is correct?

It depends on whether the verb, theopneustos (God-breathed, or “inspired”), is used in the passive form or the active form. The word was originally known only in the passive verbal form and it was most likely used in the passive form here too, though this is disputed – see this technical discussion for the history of the debate and why the passive form is more likely).

Example 1: Active vs. Passive verbs

In the sentence, “the dog bit the boy”, the verb “bit” is active because there is a subject (the dog) that acts upon an object (the boy) and that particular action is described by the verb (bit). However in the sentence, “the bitten boy cried”, the verb bitten is passive because it does not describe an action between a subject and object, and it is used as an adjective because it describes the state (bitten) of the subject (the boy). In English, the passive and active forms, “bit” and “bitten” are written differently. In Greek, theopneustos would be written the same way whether used in the active form or the passive form. In the passive form, theopneustos likewise serves as an adjective because it modifies the word, “writing” – it tells you it is not talking about just any writing, it is talking specifically about God-breathed writing.

Example 2: “writing God-breathed” – or – “God-breathed writing”?

In English, the adjective comes before the noun as in big (adjective) house (noun). In Greek, the adjective comes after the noun, as it does in many other languages – like Spanish for example. To say “big house” in Spanish, you would say “casa grande”, not “grande casa”. So in the Greek phrase, “graphē theopneustos”, since theopneustos is used as an adjective as we’ve discussed above, it is translated into English as “God-breathed writing” as in Option 1 above (not “writing God-breathed” as in Option 2 above).

Now, with the correct translation for graphē theopneustos as “God-breathed writing“, there is only one place to put the auxiliary verb, “is”:

each God-breathed writing is also profitable…

One final note, the word “graphē” does not mean scripture or sacred writing, it means any “writing”. It is the same word used for financial ledgers for example. Then it makes no sense to claim that all writing is inspired since financial ledgers are probably not. It would make better sense to talk about certain inspired writings – which is exactly the case when “graphē theopneustos” is correctly translated as “God-breathed writing”.

New Testament: Inspired Scripture?

July 7, 2008

The majority of bible scholars agree that 2 Timothy, one of the 3 Pastorals (along with 1 Timothy and Titus), was written between 100-150 ce. and that Paul was not the author, despite the epistle’s own claim that it was from Paul to Timothy:

2Ti 1:1-2 (NIV translation); Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Fundamentalist Evangelical scholars hold that since Paul died in 67 ce and since 2 Timothy claims to be written by Paul, then it must have been written no later than 67 ce (see an example of this claim).

No matter which group of scholars is right, the Bible could not be the inerrant Word of God. In other words, if the majority of bible scholars are correct, that 2 Timothy was written between 100-150 ce, then it is a forgery claiming to be written by Paul when in fact it was not. Thus the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God since it includes a forgery. However if the evangelical scholars are right, that Paul really wrote 2 Timothy cerca 67 ce, then the Bible is still not the inerrant Word of God. Here’s why:

The essential verse that fundamentalists cite to support their claim of the Bible’s divine inspiration is 2Ti 3:16 which states (NIV translation):

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Ignoring the obvious logical problem of why we should accept that 2Ti 3:16 is itself inspired, let’s get a bit more technical. “Scripture” in 2Ti 3:16 must mean the Hebrew Scriptures, since the preceding verse, 2Ti 3:15, says (NIV translation):

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures…

If we presume that a reasonable average age for Paul’s audience was 30 years old, then the “scripture” in 2Ti 3:15 must have been considered scripture 30 years earlier; that is, around 27 ce (67 ce – 30 years) – which means that the “scripture” in verses 2Ti 3:15-16 must have been written much earlier than 27 ce to be considered scripture. The earliest New-Testament scriptures were written in 50 ce, long after the “scripture” which was referenced in 2Ti 3:15. Then 2Ti 3:16 could not possibly be referring to New-Testament writings; it must be referring to Old-Testament writings (Hebrew Scriptures). If 2Ti 3:16 is referring to Hebrew writings, then there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests specifically that any New-Testament writings are divinely inspired.

How the Animals Got Their Names

June 9, 2008

Gen 2:19-20 explains how animals got their names:

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

Let’s assume for the moment that the above passage was written by mere mortals (the Elohist source to be exact) who lived around 850 bce in the Land of Israel. The statement that Adam named all of the birds and land animals sounds reasonable enough – there simply weren’t that many different animals in that area which the writer would have been familiar with. Now let’s assume that the above passage was written under divine inspiration (the verbal, plenary inspiration theory) where God guided the author to transmit his divine message exactly as he intended it. Suddenly, the statement seems ludicrous because we would expect God to know how many animals he created. For example, God would surely be aware of the Giant Pandas he created that are native only to China, or the Capivara found only in Brazil, or Beluga Whales and Polar Bares found only in the Arctic Ocean, or the Platypus found only in Australia. Adam would have his work cut out for him naming the myriad of animals found world wide – and the Beluga Whales would have died of dehydration and heat exhaustion in the process! But it gets worse. What about trilobites that died in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago (there are more than 10,000 fossil species of just trilobites alone!)? Did Adam name them? What is the ancient Hebrew word for it (or a word for it in any ancient language)? What about all of the other millions of extinct species of animal? What about the microbes (e. coli, amoebae, extremaphiles, etc., etc.)?

Walk me through it one more time: why should I believe that the first chapter in Genesis (for starters) is the divine Word of God?

Bible Contradictions and Christian Fundamentalism

August 19, 2006

Question: what would it mean to Christian Fundamentalism if it were to admit that the Bible contained contradictions?

I am singling out Fundamentalism here because biblical scholars, both secular and Christian (with the notable exception of the Fundamentalist minority), basically agree on who wrote the bible and how the various biblical canons were formed. The majority of Christians in the world do not hold that the bible is the inerrant word of God. They believe it is the Word of God in the sense that its writers documented oral traditions about God and His hand in history; the oral tradition originating from divinely inspired people.

My guess is that the Fundamentalist beliefs wouldn’t actually change much if they were to concede that the Bible contains contradictions. What would change is that Christian leaders would not be able to exert the same level of authority over their church members. Fundamentalists in general would feel more empowered to think for themselves rather than blindly follow their preacher’s dogma.

If this is true, then is the excessive rhetoric about inerrancy actually about power and control, and not about the faith?

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