September 26, 2014

The Problem With Relying Only On the Bible: You can't get the whole picture just by reading scripture

photo credit: Amazon

I've recently been playing around with Kindle Owners Lending Library, because I have Amazon Prime due to inadvertently forgetting to cancel a free trial period. Whoops.

Overall, I'm not really impressed. The books I really WANT to read all seem to be on Kindle Unlimited, another service that I would have to pay for, and that's depressing. To top it off, it's hard to tell on my ereader which are which--so I see a book I want to read, that says it's free, and then find out it isn't really for me.

But I have run across some interesting material, one of which is Holy Bible: Best God Damned Version: Genesis by Steve Ebling, which looks at the book of Genesis as a collection of absurdities.

With 53 reviews on Amazon currently, Ebling's offering has just over four stars--not a bad start. And I will say that it is funny and engaging...but it has a glaring error, one that we make really often as nonbelievers, and one that undermines the credibility of our arguments when we face believers.

It takes The Bible as a standalone source, which it simply isn't.

The Bible is a source document, yes, but it's been filtered through millennia of interpretation, which takes the form of doctrines.

Ebling's offering mocks Genesis from a Christian perspective, for instance, but isn't filtering it through Christian doctrines.

So when he says, on the first page:

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth 
So the bible begins and right away I have a gripe. The Hebrew word translated here as "God" is "elohim" and elohim is plural, so the first verse of the bible should actually read: 
"In the beginning gods created the heaven and the earth." 
This is no small thing. The difference between God, capital G, and gods, small g is the difference between monotheism and polytheism. It's fun to watch the apologists dance around this inconvenient fact. Their best explanation is that "God is so great that he cannot be expressed as a singularity."

I also immediately have a gripe, being a former Christian and coming from the same perspective of looking at how The Bible influences the Christian world view.

A Christian looking at this argument wouldn't think, golly, that is ridiculous. They would say, "Silly atheist has no idea what he is talking about. Apparently he's never heard of the Trinity." And then they would jump to John 1, and look at this passage:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

So now, not only have they managed to reconcile the contradiction, but they've also managed to exile the nonbeliever to "darkness" who just can't understand the light.

But wait!, you'll say. This wasn't written by Christians! It was written by ancient Jews!

And you are correct, but most Christians believe that the entire Bible is influenced by God. This means that sometimes, Easter eggs sneak through.

In this case, they would use the instances they call "theophanies" or "Christophanies" to show that Christ has always existed as God in human form.

Let's let Answers in Genesis put this argument into focus for you:

You aren’t alone in thinking it strange that the Lord appeared in human form to Abraham and Jacob as well as many other people in the Old Testament. Let’s look at the two passages you mentioned. 
Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.” (Genesis 18:1–3) 
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. . . . And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 
Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” 
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:24–25, 28–30) 
Many theologians refer to the appearances of God in these passages, and others like them, as “theophanies” (Greek: theos = “God” + phaino = “appear”) or “Christophanies.” So these words mean “appearances of God” and “appearances of Christ,” respectively.

AIG also says:

These truths have led many students of Scripture to conclude that “the Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament is none other than Christ Himself. He is called God, given attributes of God, seen by people, worshiped, and distinguished from the Father and Spirit. So rather than undermining the uniqueness and importance of Christ, theophanies affirm the uniqueness of Jesus. They also show the intimacy of God with His creation, unlike the distant god of deism that some people incorrectly associate with the God of the Bible. 

But why would he go through the process that he did if he can appear at any time? AIG has an answer:

There are several reasons why Jesus went through this process. He did it to fulfill prophecy. In Genesis 3:15, God prophesied that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, and Isaiah 7:14 also contains a prophecy of the virginal conception of Immanuel (literally “God with us”). He also came in the flesh so that He could sympathize with humanity. Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 
Of course, one of the major reasons Jesus became a man was to save us from our sins. Hebrews 10:4 states, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” This chapter goes on to reveal that the Levitical priests repeatedly offered the same sacrifices that could never take away our sins. Instead, these sacrifices served to cover the sins of the people. In order for our sins to be removed (i.e., forgiven), we needed the blood of a perfect man.

So all in all, Christians have an answer for this charge. We may not agree with it as atheists, but overlooking it only harms our argument, because it gives them room to sit back and chuckle at our futile insolence.

In Chapter 2, Ebling says:

That's right, Yahweh, who will forever judge us on our performance of good or evil, did not want us to know the difference between them! And was so dead serious about it that he told Man he would kill him if he ate the fruit and learned it!

 This is an accurate reading of the literal text, but again, when you filter it through Christian doctrine, you will find a different interpretation.

Judgement was never intended to be a part of the plan, they'll say. That came after original sin. The command was meant to be a protection from the burden of the knowledge.

Now, I don't agree with that reasoning. I think that if there was a creator out there, who endowed us with such incredible faculties for reasoning and discovery, that creator would intend for us to use it, rather than live in ignorance. But my disagreement doesn't change the foundational doctrine, and that doctrine is how the story is interpreted.

Ebling also says:

But wait, that's not all! Not only do we have to kill and eat each other, we have to digest each other into shit and squeeze warm, stinking piles of it out of our asses!

I give him props for the visual imagery that conjures, but it's also easily refuted by Christians well-versed in their own doctrines. This wasn't the intention for nature. This wasn't part of the plan, but is instead part of the overall decay after the fall of man.

So what am I saying here? Am I saying books like Ebling's have no point?

Nope, not at all. In fact, I am highly enjoying it. It's a fun read. But that's just it--it's entertainment.

As nonbelievers, we have to distinguish between what is *entertainment* for our own purposes, and what is *informative* about the Christian perspective we so often come into contact with. Religious literacy is important.

Reading the reviews on Amazon, I was surprised at how many folks were willing to write off Christianity based on this book. Not Christians, but nonbelievers themselves.

And I think the greater message is that if you want people to take your arguments seriously, you have to take the time to truly understand theirs.

Overall, though, I do highly recommend this book, and I hope Mr. Ebling will continue to write his Best God Damn Version, because I, for one, am greatly enjoying it.

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