What do we mean when we say the New Testament is inspired?

March 2, 2010

saron mahari asks in Start a New Thread:

what do we mean when we say the new testament is inspired?

I personally find this to be a fascinating question, especially when directed at the non-errant crowd. The problem the non-errants have when claiming that the Bible is the “inspired Word of God” is their claim that the Bible’s divine inspiration is verbal, plenary inspiration – that is, they claim that every word in the Bible came directly from God. That leaves them in the unenviable position of explaining how there could be errors in the Bible, whether the errors were in the Hebrew and Greek autographs, or whether the errors crept in during transmission (an important concern because all humanity has are the copies).

But it’s not at all a prickly question for the majority of Christians (though interestingly, a good many non-errants charge that those who do not believe that the Bible is inerrant are not true Christians). For the majority of Christians, “inspiration” can be as non-substantive as a feeling or a hunch, or a realization of some sort. This type of inspiration would not at all conflict with our observation that the Bible contains errors, contradictions, and other inconsistencies.

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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?


Atheism by Faith?

May 27, 2008

Part 1: Spot the Equivocation

Fundamentalist Christians often charge that atheists can’t know that God does not exist (after all, we can’t prove the negative) so atheists have to take it on faith that there is no God, just as fundamentalists take it on faith that God exists. To an extent, fundamentalists use logic and evidence to support their religious claims, but if you look beneath the surface, if you ask “how do you know” often enough (but how do you know that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?), you finally arrive at the answer: “you just have to have faith,” or other creative variants like “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” The idea is to put atheism on equal footing with Christian fundamentalism; to show that atheism is no more evidence based than Christianity.

Have you spotted the fatal flaw yet? The flaw is that the fundamentalists equivocate the meaning of the word, “faith.” When applied to religion, fundamentalists mean blind faith – the willingness to accept and believe without evidence (and even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary). On the other hand, when they apply the word, “faith,” to conclusions based on evidence, they mean that if we don’t know for sure (i.e., if we don’t have proof), then we have to believe that our conclusions are true. However, considering the available evidence, and then accepting the most reasonable conclusion based on the evidence is far from blind faith – it is “reasoned belief.” When referring to the “blind faith” of Christianity, and the “reasoned belief” of skepticism, fundamentalists use the same term, “faith,” for both, even though the meaning of each is quite different. Once you make the distinction, the charge that atheism is no more evidence-based than Christianity, crumbles.

Part 2: The “Faith Game”

Just for fun, consider an aspect of faith from the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint. The author of Hebrews (let’s just call him “Paul” for now) says in Heb 11:1

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

According to Paul, faith is the evidence. Fundamentalists who accept Intelligent Design claim that we have to take evolution on faith since we have never seen animals evolve (never mind that we actually have seen animals and plants speciate, and we have ample evidence to consider evolution a fact). Therefore, they claim that evolution is “not seen” but that proponents of evolution (biologists) simply take it on faith. Then according to Paul (and fundamentalists by definition, take Paul’s words as absolutely true), the “faith” of the biologists is itself the evidence of evolution; the biologists’ faith is “the evidence of things not seen”. By their own reasoning, fundamentalists must admit that there is evidence for evolution.


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