The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Seven: You Can’t Take the Bible Literally)Posted: October 14, 2013
Chapter Seven: You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
Skeptics Assertion: “… the Bible’s teachings are historically inaccurate, we cannot be sure the Bible’s account of events is really what happened.”
Let me preface this part of the critique by making a very important distinction on the position of atheism. If you were to sum up the stance in a phrase it would be, “I do not know.” People often confuse atheism with agnosticism which states, “One cannot know.” This is important to this chapter particularly since the stance of atheism would change if the Bible was shown to be historically accurate for every claim, the end times as prophesied by John happened, or the clouds parted and God descended in all his glory. Obviously there would be some hemming and hawing about the legitimacy of any of these events and some die hard hold outs, but if a testable reproducible event proving the existence of Zeus, Odin, or Jesus did occur atheists would have the easiest time coming into the fold since their stance becomes, “We didn’t know. Now we do.”
Having been a Christian who revolved his life around faith and the church I desperately searched for evidence my beliefs could be sustained outside of faith. Much to my pain my studies came up empty. Losing my faith was and is to date was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. I wanted to continue believing with everything in me, but there was no reason to claim the truth of the Trinity over paganism, Islam, or Mormons. The evidence fell short and as the evidence went so did my faith.
Back to Keller.
He admits his own qualms with Biblical historicity as a young man in college. He says he is relieved to find in his own studies “how little evidence for… the skeptical view of the Bible.” and “(this view) has been crumbling steadily for the past 30 years. ” (P. 98) He gives no citation or outside evidence for this claim at this point and I empirically disagree with him. Yes, there are many apologists who have been using circular logic to justify how, when, and why the Bible was written often using the Bible as evidence for the validity of the Bible, but most reputable historians, archaeologists, and intellectuals who have attempted to find evidence the Bible can be corroborated by either contemporary histories, archaeological finds, or tracing the evolution of the text has come up with far less than is needed to justify its fantastic claims. I will attempt to briefly make a case for this, but as there is far more information than any post should contain. I encourage everyone to do their own studies. If you approach it faith aside, to date there is no evidence in sufficient support of these amazing claims of miracles and divinity.
“We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically”
Keller sets up this section referencing intellectuals and media events as perpetrators in “the Bible is myth” issue. He says there are several good reasons the Bible is a history rather than legend.
1. The timing is far to early to be Legends
Keller says “the canonical gospels were written at the very most forty to sixty years after Jesus Christ’s death and Paul’s letters written just fifteen to twenty-five years after. First off, Mark was written then and the other Gospels came after so Keller does attempt to mislead by a few years. Paul did not know Christ while he walked the earth so even if he did come in contact with other people who claimed to know Jesus all his teachings are second, if not third, fourth, fifth, etc. hand. Keller attempts to give credence to the claims of the Gospels, Paul, and Paul’s followers by using the Bible. This is unacceptable proof particularly for these kind of wild claims. He spends the rest of the chapter defending the Bible with the Bible, discrediting the Gnostic Gospels, and arguing against the Di Vinci Code which to me seemed pointless and an incredible waste of time. Dan Brown’s books are fiction and no honest skeptic would ever cite them as proof the Bible’s claims are false. Keller would have had my attention if he successfully refuted The Jury Is In, a massive online refutation of McDowell organized by Jeffrey Jay Lowder, Lowder’s lengthy review of Strobel’s Christ, The Rest of the Story, or The Bible
2. The Literary form of the gospels are too detailed to be legend
Keller opens up this defense citing C.S. Lewis arguing Homer’s Iliad and Beowulf aren’t written realistically as the Bible. In those ancient texts “details were spare and only included if they promoted character development or drove plot.” Whereas the Bible is full of trivial facts and numbers which Keller talks about at length. Ignoring the fact Keller’s argument is the Bible is written like a modern fiction rather than an ancient one and the Bible is known to be one of the most adjusted and reinterpreted books in literary history, detailed accounts of events as proof of concept is all fine and good until you throw in the impossible and amazing such as demons possessing a herd of pigs and driving them into the sea. You cannot have a single text claim people gained their sight, witnessed food come from no where, rose from the dead en masse with no contemporary corroborators and say its true because it includes details about where Jesus put his head on a boat or the distance between people. This is a poor argument with or without his other points, and C.S. Lewis is a Christian apologist to boot. That is the same as bringing a ghost whisperer to convince a skeptic ghosts are real. Pastor Keller would speak to this audience far more effectively using a source who wasn’t operating under confirmation bias.
“We can’t trust the Bible culturally”
Keller begins this bit in defense of Biblical slavery stating the way we interpret slavery is very different then slavery then. According to Keller slaves were more like wage earning laborers making slavery, “permissible, even desirable.” Let’s assume for a second every time the Bible refers to slavery in a positive light it is the type Keller is defending. Why not use a more appropriate translation like “prole”, or “blue collars respect the white collars”. This is a hot button issue and since the word slave doesn’t mean what everyone understands it to mean, maybe a Timothy Keller Bible needs to be released so we all can stop arguing about this. Frankly its more likely this people were slaves in the way we generally understand the term, particularly in the Old Testament. In any-case, slavery shouldn’t be accepted without reservation.
Next he falls back on not getting wrapped up on what is less important in the Bible. Keller uses the example, Skeptic: “I can’t accept the Bible if what it says about gender is outmoded.” Keller: “Are you saying that because you don’t like what the Bible says about sex that Jesus didn’t raise from the dead? …If Jesus is the son of God, then you have to take his teachings seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible.” (P. 113)
He then makes the ridiculous analogy if you dive into the controversial end of the Biblical pool you’ll “scrape your knees” (P. 113) but if you dive in the middle – deity of Christ, death and resurrection, you’ll be fine. This is an argument for children not discerning adults. Don’t worry about how Santa gets down the chimney or how he makes it to every person’s house in the world in one night, just know if you are good he will bring you presents. Keller is saying to the skeptic, “Don’t worry about the most incredible or amoral claims our religion makes, just believe and the rest will fall into place. I suppose if I was willing to believe Jesus is God and died for sins I would be willing to believe homosexual are second class citizens and an abomination (an issue Keller doesn’t even address). For me this was the most idiotic argument yet. Believe the most unbelievable and the cultural difficulties will become more sensible. It may be true, but it is completely ineffective logically.
“A Trustworthy Bible or a Stepford God?”
Keller is attempting to say disagreeing with God is part of having a personal relationship with him. Inversely a husband with a Stepford wife can’t have a real relationship. First off I don’t think most skeptics have a culturally hard time with the Golden Rule, turn the other cheek, or do unto others. Clearly protests arise when a perfect and perfectly loving God sanctions slavery, genocide, infanticide, and eternal punishment for the system he built. While we are on Stepford, God’s version of heaven is his Stepford. There is nothing he doesn’t like (sin) there and everyone praises him all day. So, do I want to to be Stepford Follower. Nope.
Academia debate the personhood of Socrates, Alexander the Great, or William Shakespeare as actual historical figures, and those men weren’t attributed with mystical powers. Why then should we accept the Bible as sufficient evidence for not only the literal existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but more importantly his absolute divinity?
Other’s have spent far more time and are well studied than I so instead of regurgitating facts others said first and better, I leave it you to click the links and see the political formation of the Bible, the contradictions, and lack of evidence outside the scripture for the events laid forth.
Who wrote the Bible – A documentary done by a Bible believing Christian retracing the formation of the Bible.
The Bible Unearthed is also a book if you prefer to read.
http://www.evilbible.com/ (While I do not agree with the layout and nose thumbing this page exudes, it is a wealth of information showing the Bible as a less than moral book)
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa.htm# Got a question about Christianity’s similarities to other faiths, Jesus’s stories similarity to other heroes, or how Christianity came to be? Here you go.
Please read the Bible and these links at length.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.