Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Accurate Manuscripts? So what?

One of the common arguments for the historicity of the Bible that apologists frequently use is that "We have hundreds of manuscripts of 'x' passage, therefore 'x' must be reliable, and it must have happened exactly as it was written in 'x'.
Unfortunately for the apologist, this is not how reality works. If we are to use this argument in another 2000 years time, and discover that we have millions of copies of Lord of the Rings, and that they are all in perfect agreement with each other about sequences of events and wording, are we then to assume that the events in Lord of the Rings actually happened as Tolkien wrote them? Before anyone mentions it, the events depicted in LotR are no more fantastical than events depicted in the Bible (both old and new testaments). Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, the NT talks about bodily resurrection of all believers (we're talking about skeletons and zombies here), Jesus died and came back to life (so did Gandalf kinda), people were turned into salt and entire cities were destroyed by fire from the sky, the walls of Jericho were knocked down by people playing trumpet, a burning tree talks, a snake talks, the entire world flooded.
I think you get the point.
It doesn't matter how accurate the various copies of a piece of fiction are when compared to each other, it's still fiction.
The battle of Troy no doubt really did happen, it was a real city. However, there is no reason for us to believe that it happened the way it was written in the Iliad. The same applies to most, if not all of the new testament. Some of the events possibly did happen, but the fantastical elements almost certainly did not occur, and most of the people described probably did not exist, or did not do what they were purported to have done.


  1. surely one just argues that the stories of which you speak are of an allegorical nature?

  2. Hey man, this is a rather straight up question but I'm just after a straight up answer anyway.

    Do you reckon that Luke the Evangelist or Paul of Tarsus were blatantly lying when they described Paul's eyewitness account of Jesus visiting him on the road to Damascus?

    I don't know if I've asked you this question or something similar before, but I for one just can't bring myself to believe that they were lying.

    And if you don't think they were lying, what do you think it is that Paul saw?

  3. Do you think that Muhammed was lying when he wrote down the literal word of Allah as dictated to him from an angel? If not, why not.

    I imagine you do not believe Muhammed, and the same reasoning applies to why I do not believe Paul. Besides the words written down about it from one book in particular called Acts, there is nothing we can use to potentially verify the claim.

    Another thing that indicates to me that Paul was either lying or delusional, is because he taught many things which either have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, or are contradictory to them. So whatever (if anything) happened on the road to Damascus, it most certainly wasn't Jesus.

  4. Someone tried to make the claim to me just the other day that they had finally "reconciled" the contradictions in the gospel resurrection accounts. Because he finally saw how they could agree, it made him all the more confident that the story is true.

    While I don't think they are reconcilable, I think it's a very similar egregious error in reasoning. Because X agrees with Y, both must be true? Whether we're talking about gospel accounts or manuscripts, surely we can think more critically than THAT.

    Just because our opinions on our blogs may be the same, it doesn't make either of us right. (Though I would of course argue that we are ;-) )

  5. Haha nice. I wasn't trying to be a smartass. I, like you, was raised on the Bible, not the Koran, so have bugger all knowledge of Islam. At times I wonder if all religions have been in touch with different parts/persons of the same god or gods....but that's not very Christian haha :D

    I will say though that I think it is bullshit to write something off as historically unreliable purely because it is only recorded in a book that is included in the Bible. Are other "non-religious" historical manuscripts as old as the Gospels or the Epistles regarded in the same manner?

    And I still fail to see Paul's otherwise "hidden selfish agenda" which would give him good reason to spend his life the way he did as opposed to the way he used to (Saul).

  6. How do we know he used to be that way? Oh, right... the Bible.

  7. None of the religions around today are internally consistent, let alone consistent with each other to the degree that they could all be following the same god. The only way I could see this working is if the god in question suffers from the most horrendous case of multiple-personality-disorder. Sometimes he's all loving, sometimes he's a murderer, sometimes he's narcissistic, sometimes he's selfless. You get my point.

    None of the books in the bible were written primarily as history books, so they aren't regarded as such. They were written as religious texts, so any historical claim is assessed based on what you could call evidence I guess. The religious text itself doesn't count as evidence, as most of the accounts contain supernatural events, which aren't taken seriously.

  8. How do we know he used to be that way? Oh, right... *because the man known as Paul of Tarsus actually recorded information about his life prior to conversion in his letters to the early church, some of which happen to be included in a collection of writings that seems to be gathering more and more bad press and disregard over the centuries. This collection of poems, songs, proverbs, letters and historical accounts is known as* ...the Bible.

  9. Joseph Smith recorded information about how he met God and Jesus, and how an angel called Moroni came to him and gave him seer stones to translate some golden plates with ancient Egyptian writing on them, which were written by a lost tribe of Israel that took a boat to the USA and became what we know as the Native Americans.

    What was that? People have the ability to lie?
    Now unlike Joseph Smith, I do not know with any certainty whether Paul was lying or not. What I do know is that the Pauline conversion story has been used by many religions over the course of human history.

  10. For sure, people can lie. I've lied. But I've always had an agenda when I lied. That's what I fail to find in Paul's instance.

    I'm keen to read about these Pauline conversion stories that have been used by other religions. Did they copy Paul? Or did Paul copy them? New blog oi :D

  11. Just the idea that "I used to be so bad, and then I realised/discovered [insert religion here] was true, and now my life has completely changed". That sort of thing is used by many people of many religions to try and give themselves some credibility. One common example of this which is used by many christian apologists is the "I used to be an atheist" line. Lee Strobel and Kirk Cameron use it all the time to try and reach out to nonbelievers, but it is quite deceptive. Kirk Cameron converted as a young teen, and Lee Strobel built his entire book series on the fact that he was an investigative journalist and went looking for the evidence, but he doesn't even look for evidence in his books. All he does is find sources that will agree with him and not provide any evidence to back up their claims. For example, when he wants to discuss cosmology and the big bang, instead of talking to an astronomer or a cosmologist, he talks to the notoriously deceptive professional apologist known as William Lane Craig.

  12. For one, about half of the epistles attributed to Paul have come under serious questioning and aren't considered to have been written by him anymore. He tells conflicting stories of his conversion. It doesn't add up, especially considering how he contradicts what Jesus says and has an immense distaste for the Law.

    He certainly seems like a man with an agenda to push, namely "Get me outta this Law."

  13. And I saw a YouTube video last night with Craig saying that "People who believe the universe came from nothing have good standing in the modern scientific arena."


    The Big Bang says nothing about "ex nihilo." Only religion says that.

  14. For KJ: Oh ok, just when you said "What I do know is that the Pauline conversion story has been used by many religions over the course of human history" I thought you meant specifically other people getting struck by a blinding Jesus. Cos that's literally what a Pauline conversion is known as.

    Isn't that a good thing though? That people who considered their lives to be crap, now feel good about their existence? I wouldn't say they're trying to give themselves credibility, more they're just saying it how it is/was.

    For Drew: Paul touches on his old school lifestyle in both Galatians and Phillipians. They are two of the "undisputed" Pauline epistles. And "conflicting stories"? Really?
    -Did Paul's travelling companions "hear" the voice or not?
    -Who fell to the ground and who didn't?


    Whoop dee doo. Such small details in my opinion, not enough to discredit the reliability of the entire account.

    Where does Paul contradict Jesus? The biggest dispute the world has with Jesus is with regards to his divinity. Jesus and Paul agree on that. They both say that Jesus was God. Immense distaste for the Law? Read the New Testament again please. Paul is all about the Law. He just also pushes the 'grace' factor alongside the Law, of which Jesus was also an advocate.

    Ex nihilo, now there's a topic and a half. Also, I think you'll find religions prefer ex deo over ex nihilo.

  15. I wasn't referring to the 'road to damascus' experience. I was referring to the idea that someone held one view very strongly, and then something happened to them and they suddenly believe the opposite. Using this startling change as some kind of 'evidence' for the religion being true is more along the lines of what I was referring to.

  16. As for Paul being FOR the law... well...
    Romans 6:14
    Ye are not under the law, but under grace.
    Romans 7:4, 6
    Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ .... We are delivered from the law, that being dead.
    Romans 10:4
    Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
    2 Corinthians 3:14
    But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.
    Galatians 3:13
    Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.
    Galatians 3:24-25
    Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
    Galatians 5:18
    But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
    Ephesians 2:15
    Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.
    Colossians 2:14
    Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances ... nailing it to his cross.

  17. Along the same lines, what does the rest of the bible say about the law?

    From the Gospels
    Matthew 5:17-19
    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.

    Luke 16:17
    It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

    The old testament too seemed pretty adamant that the law was supposed to last forever.
    Deuteronomy 11:1
    Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.
    Psalm 119:160
    Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.
    1 Chronicles 16:15
    Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations ... an everlasting covenant.

    I think you get the point.
    Paul is in conflict with the entire rest of the bible. I heard an interesting term used once, it was "Paulicanism", because that's really what the religion should be called, considering many of the fundamental teachings of many denominations don't come from Christ, but rather from Paul. Or in the case of the Catholics and Anglicans, from other humans that came even later.

  18. What really perplexes me, is when you ask most reasonably knowledgeable Christian folk about whether they are supposed to follow the old testament laws, they'll often quote Matthew 5:17 at you, which I wrote in the previous post. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Note the bolded text.
    Christians moronically quote this verse to say why they have abolished the old testament laws.

  19. Christianity is so full of holes...

  20. I literally said in my last comment that Paul pushes the 'grace' factor alongside the Law. None of those scriptures you quoted from Paul's letters say "Screw Jesus! Don't follow the Law! I am Paul! I have spoken!" Paul is telling the early church that religiously following the Law of the Old Testament will not secure them a spot in Heaven, only faith in Jesus as the son of God will do that.

    Romans 6:14
    Sin will not be your master, because you are not under the law but under God's grace.

    This verse is not saying "the law no longer applies" and encouraging the church to let loose and sin away. Rather the opposite, to pursue righteousness for an even greater reason than before.

    Mini analogy: If someone gives you something and says "nah, don't worry about giving me anything in return", you don't say to yourself " gift", you want to repay them by giving them something back!

    Romans 7: 4, 5 and 6
    In the same way, my brothers and sisters, your old selves died, and you became free from the law through the body of Christ. This happened so that you might belong to someone else—the One who was raised from the dead—and so that we might be used in service to God. In the past, we were ruled by our sinful selves. The law made us want to do sinful things that controlled our bodies, so the things we did were bringing us death. In the past, the law held us like prisoners, but our old selves died, and we were made free from the law. So now we serve God in a new way with the Spirit, and not in the old way with written rules.

    The old Law literally said "do this and this and this and this to be in the Lord's favor." Jesus said "no one comes to the Father, except through me" Not through being kind, not through being humble...through him. Paul and Jesus agree again.

    As for Romans 10:4, that badboy has been pulled right out of it's context in the whole chapter bro. Christ said himself, as you quoted, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." and that he did. So Paul says "Christ is the end of the law" meaning Christ has fulfilled the law as he said he would, and now believers are no longer bound by the Law's consequences. God now sees believers in Jesus as though they had each and every one of them fulfilled the Law themselves. Again, Paul's not encouraging people to now go out and murder and steal to their hearts content!

    I'm gonna stop here as I'm basically just repeating myself over and over! In a nutshell, it is clear that Paul is not "anti-content of the Law" he is "anti-strictly following the Law is the only way to God".

    Faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior should give you a desire to follow the Law.

    I don't get your point. Paul is not in conflict with the rest of the Bible.

    Seriously though, do you really think, that when the Bible was being compiled, that books were simply chucked in without anyone making sure they were not contradictory with each other? Contradiction is the reason after all that certain books were excluded from the Bible.

    I haven't heard of a term called Paulicanism, but I hope you don't mean Paulicianism as that is completely different and is also about a completely different Paul.

    I can't remember the specific verse but I only know of one point in the epistles where Paul says that what he is saying is purely his idea and not from God/Jesus. It was called Christianity because it is literally 'following the teachings of Christ' not 'following the teachings of Paul'.

    Yeah, moronic "cop out verse" Christians hack me off as well.

    Apologies if this comment is a little all over the place. I rushed it :D

  21. Paul told people that they could eat anything they wanted, which was a completely new idea as far as I'm aware. The old testament law had numerous. Just off the top of your head, how many old testament laws do you NOT follow? Where in the bible does it say not to follow that law?

    I had never heard of Paulicianism before, but a quick wikipedia of it tells me all I need to know.
    I just heard someone talking about how a lot of modern christianity is based off of pauls teachings rather than jesus' teachings, and said that it should be called Paulicanism instead, purely satirically.

  22. It was Jesus who told the people that, in Mark 7. Paul also writes on the topic in Romans 14, as the food issue seemed to be causing a bit of a fuss for the early converting Jews.

    I think something that is essential to understand about the Bible is what the terms Old Testament and New Testament actually represent. They don't just mean Old Days Before Jesus and New Days After Jesus. A more synonymous title would be Old Covenant and New Covenant (between God and mankind). Now, if there were no changes or differences between the covenants, there would be no need for two separate Old and New titles. Nothing would have changed. But thankfully, things did change. Hence some things in the New Testament don't line up exactly with the Old Testament. That's one thing that distinguishs Christianity from the other Abrahamic religions.
    Christian says "Jesus is the New Covenant".
    Jew says "No he's not, we've only got the Old Covenant".
    Muslim says "Koran says Jesus ain't got jack on Muhammed". the top of my head? Umm, well, the food one obviously, though I'm not a massive fan of shellfish anyway. Love pork though. Also don't have any probs with the Ten Commandments even though Jesus semi-compressed them into Two Commandments. There's a stack load of laws to do with respecting servants which I can't directly apply, having never owned a servant (nor will I probably ever own one). Times (and customs) have changed though haven't they! And with them has come a New Covenant which I'm stoked to be under.

  23. Back to the original argument which was posed in this blog entry, regarding the historicity of the Bible's supporting material. I find your argument to be flawed and intentionally misleading in the example you provide - just because, in 2000 years time, there may be millions of copies of the "Lord of the Rings" books, this does not mean there are millions of sources agreeing with each other. They are all the same source, identical to one another and therefore or course they would be in "perfect agreement". I can't believe you'd write an essay at university using four different copies of the same book as the total sum of your bibliographical reference material.
    When scholars speak of the weight of supporting evidence they are mentioning the many hundreds of independent and separate documents from Josephus to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Nag Hammadi to Suetonius etc etc etc. Many of these have been independently verified and authenticated, studied by all number of specialists from various fields to ascertain their complete independence from each other, and in many cases seem to have been written in complete ignorance of the existence of many of the other documents.
    Your argument essentially rests on a postmodernist-revisionist approach to history, which is that history is an artificial construct created by the present to explain the past in a way that best suits it. The logical response of people who follow this dogma to any person claiming historical fact or evidence is to say something along the lines of "well, how do we know it wasn't all just made up and a bunch of people didn't write down various accounts to establish an historical record in order to create authenticity for themselves?" Not only is this a ridiculous stance which reduces history to the status of a fictional narrative, it is also dangerous - such thinking helps encourage those who say the Jews and Communists and Freemasons and anybody else who is currently in vogue all conspired to create the "myth" of the Holocaust - they created the false documents, killed some of their own people to make it convincing, and even implanted people with false memories to establish a personal experience which would delude people for many years to come.
    In short, I'd expect a better argument from you than the one you use here. One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blogs is that you often have a well developed hypothesis supported with helpful and sometimes insightful evidence. In this case you're selling yourself short.

  24. I'm certainly not saying that accurate manuscripts would be any reason to believe anything, regardless of the content. The manuscripts I was referring to were not 'supporting material' at all, in fact it is the new testament itself. I believe it was Josh Mcdowell that originally used this as an argument for the validity of the new testament accounts in his book 'evidence that demands a verdict'. Lee Strobel also uses this argument in his book 'The Case for Christ'. They literally write a list comparing the number of manuscript copies of the books of the new testament to other historical works. They then go on to say that since there are more manuscript copies of the books of the new testament, than for example writings about Julius Caesar, that we have more reason to believe the new testament accounts than we are to believe that Julius Caesar existed.

    I'm not going to go into Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny etc. in this post as that is a little off topic and perhaps could be the subject of a new blog post at some point.

    I hope that clears it up a little bit, I'm only taking a dig at the apologist argument that 'x' is reliable and accurate because there are many copies of 'x'. I find this argument to be nothing short of pathetic, and that is all this post was about, nothing else.