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Proving The Bible


Hornet
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The Bible claims to be inspired by God and many evangelical Christians use philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments to prove that this claim is true. Other evangelical Christians believe that if these kinds of arguments are used to prove that the Bible is inspired by God, then the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science would have more authority than the Bible. Since they believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority, the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science cannot used to prove that the Bible is inspired by God.

 

If the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science are used to prove that the Bible is inspired by God, then would this mean that the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science have more authority than the Bible? If the answer is "Yes", then how would a person know that the Bible's claim to be the word of God is true?

 

I'm asking these questions because I've been thinking about the different approaches that evangelical Christians use to defend Christianity.

Edited by Hornet
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Hornet,

 

I don't think it is a case that "If the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science are used to prove that the Bible is inspired by God, then it would mean that the findings of philosophical inquiry, history, and science have more authority than the Bible" It would merely say that the Bible's accuracy can be verified. If a fact is verifiable by whatever means, that means does not take away from that which it verifies. At least that is the way i see it.

 

Having said that, it is my opinion that the Bible cannot be verified as 100% accurate and in fact as presently written in the English language by men can be determined as plagued with errors. At the same time i believe that most all would find writings in it that are inspiring.

 

Joseph

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Hmm... well, to answer your questions (IMHO, as always):

 

Yes, if one truly is relying on science to prove or disprove the Bible, and therefore is willing to risk falsifying it, then science is acknowledged as (at least sometimes) having greater authority than the Bible. One has therefore created a situation where one must rely on science and logic and philosophy to underpin one's understanding of the Bible.

 

 

However... Your questions suggests the importance of the Bible is primarily in its factuality, and its importance can be falsifiable.

 

I'm tempted to speak for others, but I will simply say I disagree with this starting assumption. I do not believe the importance of the Bible requires the Earth being created in exactly 7 days, the existence of a world wide flood, etc, etc, etc. (As an aside, this, by itself, isn't a horribly "postmodern" idea, unless one is willing to claim that postmodernity has been with us since Origen wrote in the 3rd Century CE).

 

For me, right now, the Bible is the record of the Word of God, as written by human communities over millennia. It is therefore not the actual Word of God. Humanity has a less than perfect ear when it comes to listening to the divine. Its value is that when one reads, one may become inspired by something, and the Word comes alive. Mere words written down are not. Consequently, the meaning of the Bible is constantly and should be constantly analyzed and re-analyzed and interpreted in a myriad of different ways. Throughout all of that, however, the Bible is a tool to reveal the identity of Jesus, and with identity as the axis, help one find possible meaning elsewhere in the Bible (and elsewhere in life). To use quote from a famous theologian, "It's not important whether the Serpent really existed. What's important is what it said." Now, he was stating things sharply because (IIRC) he was getting annoyed with his questioner, but his point is well taken.

 

Now, scripture and science can and should interact, but it's not as simple as proving / disproving. It's more, given what we know about the world using science, what sense can we find now? This can be worded a lot of different ways, but religion and reason do not have a stable relationship where they cleanly fit into a system of knowledge.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Another related point.

Theologian Hans Fre died suddenly as he was writing what was supposed to be his magnum opus. Interested in promoting his ideas, his students edited together several books using his lectures. One of those books was discussing types of theologians.

 

According to Frei, a central issue for theologians over the last few centuries is how does one balance the internal concerns of the religious community with the external concerns of general academic knowledge (he was most interested in philosophy, but I'm sure we can add social and physical science in here).

 

He argued there were 5 general types of theologian, 5 ways one can balance these concerns:

  1. There is one, universal language to understand the world. Any difference between philosophy and theology is a misconception. Kant was in this category, as was Gordon Kaufman
  2. Philosophy and theology are distinct systems of knowledge, but if they're done correctly, they are fully compatible. Biology and chemistry are different scientific disciplines, but they aren't in conflict. Hegel and David Tracy are in this category
  3. There is no stable correlation between philosophy and theology. Maybe you can 'translate' an idea across, maybe you can't, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with the attempt. A decent analogy would be trying to translate a dead and ancient language into English; it's not always going to work so well. Paul Tillich and Schleiermacher are Type Threes
  4. Theology's attention is fixed on the internal concerns of the Christian community, and if borrowing a concept or two from philosophy is useful, awesome. However, it's not always useful, and theology has no responsibility to be "philosophical". This was Karl Barth.
  5. Theology and Philosophy have nothing to do with one another. They are totally distinct knowledge systems with completely different functions. Frei's example of a T5 is DZ Phillips

(Small warning: I haven't read most of these philosophers; they're just Frei's examples. I haven't even heard of several until I read about this typology recently).

 

At any rate, Frei argues that "responsible theology" can be done either as T3 or T4. T5 fails because that implies human minds cannot fathom anything and we might as well give up (i'm summarizing, obviously), and T1 & T2 fail because, Frei argues, you cannot build from rational principle up to faith. It doesn't work that way, but faith and reason can and should still interact somehow. The relationship between faith and reason is unstable and "experimental" to use another person's phrase.

 

The question in the original post is very T1 in that it is suggesting there is a single standard all knowledge ought to be based on. While some people here may subscribe to this POV, it's not really my perspective.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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Hornet wrote: "The Bible claims to be inspired by God and many evangelical Christians use philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments to prove that this claim is true."

 

As a priori to further discussion, can you explain this, what it means? How does the Bible, a collection of books from a variety of sources, make "claim" of anything, particularly about itself, and particularly for this purpose here, that it is "inspired by God?"

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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The Bible claims to be inspired by God and many evangelical Christians use philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments to prove that this claim is true.

Many works of fiction claim to be true accounts. Why would we treat the claims made by writers of the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament any differently?

There isn't a single point of view in the Hebrew Bible. The collection of books have been called a conversation of among several voices about why bad things happen to good people.

Edited by glintofpewter
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I don't think the Bible, taken as a whole, makes any specific truth claims about itself. Even the "pet verse" of 2 Tim 3:16,17 that many Christians quote to support the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and infallibity simply says that the OT scriptures were "profitable." Profitable in what? It encouraging God's people in good works. But even these has to be considered as a blanket statement because it was certainly not "good works" for the Israelites to slaughter her neighbors in Canaanland. ;)

 

Granted, Jesus makes what some consider to be truth claims. He often said, "Truly, truly" or, as the old KJV says, "Verily, verily". But I think his truth claims are relational in nature, not empirical. In other words, Jesus words were proved true because, if followed, his teachings brought meaning and fulness of life to his followers. The early church had no creed except for maybe "Jesus is messiah" which was more a social/political challenge to the Roman empire than it was a statement of spiritual metaphysics.

 

So I don't think the Bible was written as a set of truth claims, such as we might find in an encyclopedia. And I think it is misused when interpreted that way. It is, imo, a collection of stories about what people considered to be the most meaningful things in their lives, their lives with God and with each other. If there is some kind of over-arching truth claim there, it is, imo, that these relationships should be characterized by love and compassion. This, imo, makes truth relational, not empirical. Therefore, to paraphrase, if we claim to know the truth of God but don't love others, we are self-deceived. Truth is not just known in the head, but experienced and lived out of the heart.

Edited by Wayseeker
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WS wrote: "Granted, Jesus makes what some consider to be truth claims. He often said, "Truly, truly" or, as the old KJV says, "Verily, verily". But I think his truth claims are relational in nature, not empirical. In other words, Jesus words were proved true because, if followed, his teachings brought meaning and fulness of life to his followers. "

 

I completely agree. If anything from Jesus's words, or the bible in general, don't hold up as rational and "workable", we either need to reconsider how we are interpreting it and trying to apply it, or find some other reconciliation, or consider something got lost along the way.

 

Jenell

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I can learn about life without the Bible, but it does open me up to discover about life. I don't feel the Bible tells me what to do, but other Christians have no problem telling me what, where and when to do things in the name of the Bible. The people on this forum also open me up and are very sensitive to not dictate to others so I am grateful and appreciative that I am not told who to worship especially since God is invisible so I can see this force in everything. I agree with Jenell that the words have no meaning until we experience the invisible force of love behind them. It is okay if the words in the Bible don't mean a thing because my Christian spirituality is not about being better than others, but better than what I use to be.

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Hornet,

 

I would like to ask someone making this claim how they falsified the inspiration of the Qur'an or the Book of Mormon and if they used this same method verify the Bible.

 

George

 

They would say that the Book of Mormon contains errors so it cannot be inspired by God.

 

They would also say that the Islamic doctrine of "tanzih" - which says that no human language can positively describe Allah because he is "incomparable" (Surah 42:11) - would render it logically impossible for the Qur'an to be what it claims to be, a revelation and description of God.

 

They would prove that the Bible originates from God by showing that Jesus fulfilled many OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, showing that the Bible has no errors, and demonstrating that the Bible doesn't contain any inconsistencies.

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They would also say that the Islamic doctrine of "tanzih" - which says that no human language can positively describe Allah because he is "incomparable" (Surah 42:11) - would render it logically impossible for the Qur'an to be what it claims to be, a revelation and description of God.

 

Does not the bible also claim that God is unsearchable and his ways past finding out?

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Hornet wrote: "The Bible claims to be inspired by God and many evangelical Christians use philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments to prove that this claim is true."

 

As a priori to further discussion, can you explain this, what it means? How does the Bible, a collection of books from a variety of sources, make "claim" of anything, particularly about itself, and particularly for this purpose here, that it is "inspired by God?"

 

Jenell

 

What I meant was that the Bible has a divine origin. The biblical writers received their information from God and God ensured that they wrote what He wanted them to write.

 

2 Peter 1:21 teaches that the ultimate source of the prophecy of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Scripture is God-breathed, which means that Scripture has its ultimate origin in God. According to 2 Peter 3:16, Paul's epistles are classified as Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Jesus' words as found in Luke 10:7 calls them Scripture.

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2 Peter 1:21 teaches that the ultimate source of the prophecy of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Scripture is God-breathed, which means that Scripture has its ultimate origin in God. According to 2 Peter 3:16, Paul's epistles are classified as Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Jesus' words as found in Luke 10:7 calls them Scripture.

 

Hornet,

 

Those are all self proclaimed writings. Any book can make that claim without making it true. Perhaps scripture can be God-breathed but who and what says what is and is not scripture? A Church organization or the powers that be at the time? Where are the original documents and why does Paul claim to be writing epistles (letters) with his own hand rather than claiming all he is writing is speaking for God? How do you know what Peter really said in 2 peter 3:16. It is again just a claim in a book that is unverifiable except by possibly outright acceptance.

 

Joseph

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Hornet, just because something is considered to have a divine origin doesn't mean that it is inerrant or infallible. For instance, the book of Genesis claims that humanity has a divine origin, that God breathed into man. Theologians call this "imago dei", the notion that we were created by God, from God, and have the image of God. But that doesn't make any of us inerrant or infallible, does it?

 

When it comes to inspiration, the Bible speaks much more of people being inspired by God than it does a book being inspired by God. But such inspiration doesn't mean that we have complete understanding or that we don't make mistakes. And the Bible's inspiration doesn't make much sense if we consider the mistakes that it does have. For instance, the Bible opens with two creation stories. One story has mankind created after the plants and animals, and the other story has mankind created before the plants and animals. Both of these can't be "inerrant" accounts if they have such a sharp contradiction. Or what about the prophecy that the messiah was to be named Emmanuel? He wasn't. He was name Jesus instead. Or where is the scripture that Matthew cites that says that Jesus would be called a Nazarene? And Christians have known for years that the resurrection accounts can't be lined up as historical accounts, they differ too widely as to what happened and who was involved.

 

Was Peter inspired, was he filled with the Spirit? Certainly. But he had problems going to Cornelius' house. And he didn't want to eat with Gentiles when the Jewish leaders showed up. Despite his inspiration, he was still very much human and made mistakes, as we all do.

 

Was Paul inspired, was he filled with the Spirit? Certainly. But he still supported slavery and patriarchy. Though inspired, he still knew that he saw through a glass darkly and that he didn't meet "the full measure of Christ."

 

In the Bible, being "inspired" is not about being made perfect. It is about being given new life.

 

Scripture doesn't mean "without error." It simply means "writings." And, yes, Christians consider these writings to be sacred. But we shouldn't consider them to be God. If we do, we make an idol of them. We can certainly encounter God in these writings, but God is not confined to them alone. We consider the Bible to be inspired because, through it, God brings us new life. But that doesn't make either the scriptures or us inerrant and infallible. The Bible works well for us when we can see and hear God working through the broken humanity and world that produced these scriptures. It doesn't work well when/if we try to make it a Paper Pope.

Edited by Wayseeker
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If God really did create nature, then why is it wrong for science to have more authority than the bible? The idea that an ancient book written decades ago in a pre-science era which claims that bats are birds, that insects have six legs, and that Earth is the center of the universe should have more authority than modern science which brought us the cure for polio and took us to the moon on a rocket ship sounds preposterous to me. Even most fundamentalist Christians who give lip service to the bible being more authoritative than science will still go to the doctor to cure their ailments instead of relying strictly on prayer to heal them and they use electricity which science gave us to power their churches' high-tech power point sermon presentations. To quote Thomas Paine from the Age of reason

It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a

word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language,

independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various

as they be. It is an ever existing original, which every man can read.

It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it

cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the

will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself

from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and

to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary

for man to know of God.

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You know, I think at the very core of my problem with this "proving the bible" idea to begin is its positioning as the crucial element in "prooving God." That if we can "disprove" the bible, it "disproves" God. And conversely, of course, "proving" the bible is to "prove" God.

 

Jenell

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Humans, trying to figure out God, wrote the Scriptures. God, trying to figure out humans, helped us.

 

I like to think that's the same thing still going on in many contexts, like those of us engaged in conversations here in the forums. Whenever and where humans try, He's willing to helps us.

 

Act 17:24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

 

 

Jenell

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They would say that the Book of Mormon contains errors so it cannot be inspired by God.

 

They would also say that the Islamic doctrine of "tanzih" - which says that no human language can positively describe Allah because he is "incomparable" (Surah 42:11) - would render it logically impossible for the Qur'an to be what it claims to be, a revelation and description of God.

 

They would prove that the Bible originates from God by showing that Jesus fulfilled many OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, showing that the Bible has no errors, and demonstrating that the Bible doesn't contain any inconsistencies.

 

I almost hesitate to say this (but only almost) - the bible has errors.

 

I have been reading various authors who have stated - if not in so many words - that truth is not the same as fact. Thus the bible may be true without being factual.

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...that truth is not the same as fact. Thus the bible may be true without being factual.

 

I think this is wise insight, Yvonne. Marcus Borg tells of the old Native American chief who began his tribal tales with "Now, I don't know if this really happened, but I know this story is true..."

 

Truth, to me, is more about the ultimate meaning we find in things rather than about verifiable facts that we can give mental assent to but leave us unchallenged and unchanged.

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I've come to think that pertaining to the biblical accounts, there is often at work an interesting set of underlying elements at work that must be considered in trying to unravel meanings that may actually found there. Those are that something can be true even if not factual, and that on the other hand, something can be factual without being true.

 

For example, some of the things we can find in the bible that seem to express something as factual and or true, that we now know simply isn't consistent with reality and what we now know of how nature works, isn't actually presenting something that was factual and true then but wouldn't be now, but how people then thought and believed how they percieved and interpreted reality.

I also have come to think that the religious perspective within both Judism and Christianity has widely missed the mark in intepreting the true intent, actual messages within and conveyed by many biblical narratives. Most especially so of Old Testament accounts.

 

To demonstrate what I mean by this on a very broad example, considering any and all biblical accounts of events and people's actions and expressed beliefs, even expansion of Law from the base of the 10 commandments as presented in the OT, may be factual and true accounts of what was, but we are in serious error to assume those actions, beliefs, behaviors, were the right and Godly ones. It may be true and factual accounts of what they DID, but should not be assumed that what they DID was always right, and in accord with God's commands and the spirit of The Law. It seems ironic especially that Christians accept what they did as being always right and consistent with Godliness, when a basic tenet of the Christian doctrine is that the Jews got it wrong, messed it up, displeased God, and ultimately rejected their "messiah!" So in that light, instead of seeing what the people of the OT did and how they did it and how they believed and intepreted and applied Law, as being our "perfect model" for how we should be, maybe it is better viewed as an account of how they screwed it up, how they went wrong, ended up in the mess they did, losing their independent and autonomous nation status in their precious "promised land", that God had indicated at the time of the Exodus, would be theirs "forever"...it seems the other part of that "covanent" gets ignored....it would be theirs forever, IF they kept THEIR side of the bargain, to stay of the moral course He prescribed as His condition in that IF. If so, then we are missing the true message within the biblical narratives, Israel's history as an example of what NOT to do, in seeing the out-playing of consequences of their disobediance!

 

I have seen this error presented as confusion of "description" with "prescription", and "prophecy" with a guidebook for directing actions, and "consequences of sin", natural out playing of conqences of error or mistake or weakness, with "instructions to be carried out,"

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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Hornet, just because something is considered to have a divine origin doesn't mean that it is inerrant or infallible. For instance, the book of Genesis claims that humanity has a divine origin, that God breathed into man. Theologians call this "imago dei", the notion that we were created by God, from God, and have the image of God. But that doesn't make any of us inerrant or infallible, does it?

 

When it comes to inspiration, the Bible speaks much more of people being inspired by God than it does a book being inspired by God. But such inspiration doesn't mean that we have complete understanding or that we don't make mistakes. And the Bible's inspiration doesn't make much sense if we consider the mistakes that it does have. For instance, the Bible opens with two creation stories. One story has mankind created after the plants and animals, and the other story has mankind created before the plants and animals. Both of these can't be "inerrant" accounts if they have such a sharp contradiction. Or what about the prophecy that the messiah was to be named Emmanuel? He wasn't. He was name Jesus instead. Or where is the scripture that Matthew cites that says that Jesus would be called a Nazarene? And Christians have known for years that the resurrection accounts can't be lined up as historical accounts, they differ too widely as to what happened and who was involved.

 

Was Peter inspired, was he filled with the Spirit? Certainly. But he had problems going to Cornelius' house. And he didn't want to eat with Gentiles when the Jewish leaders showed up. Despite his inspiration, he was still very much human and made mistakes, as we all do.

 

Was Paul inspired, was he filled with the Spirit? Certainly. But he still supported slavery and patriarchy. Though inspired, he still knew that he saw through a glass darkly and that he didn't meet "the full measure of Christ."

 

In the Bible, being "inspired" is not about being made perfect. It is about being given new life.

 

Scripture doesn't mean "without error." It simply means "writings." And, yes, Christians consider these writings to be sacred. But we shouldn't consider them to be God. If we do, we make an idol of them. We can certainly encounter God in these writings, but God is not confined to them alone. We consider the Bible to be inspired because, through it, God brings us new life. But that doesn't make either the scriptures or us inerrant and infallible. The Bible works well for us when we can see and hear God working through the broken humanity and world that produced these scriptures. It doesn't work well when/if we try to make it a Paper Pope.

 

The divine origin of man is not the same as the divine origin of the Bible. The divine origin of man means that God created man. The divine origin of the Bible means that the truth claims of the Bible are the same as the truth claims that God is making. When the Bible says that X is true, God is also saying that X is true.

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Hornet,

 

Those are all self proclaimed writings. Any book can make that claim without making it true. Perhaps scripture can be God-breathed but who and what says what is and is not scripture? A Church organization or the powers that be at the time? Where are the original documents and why does Paul claim to be writing epistles (letters) with his own hand rather than claiming all he is writing is speaking for God? How do you know what Peter really said in 2 peter 3:16. It is again just a claim in a book that is unverifiable except by possibly outright acceptance.

 

Joseph

 

There are a couple of approaches that one could take. One could believe that the proposition "The 66 books of the Bible are Scripture" is a belief that requires no justification. A person who believes this could refute that other books are Scripture.

 

Someone else could find out if the 66 books of the Bible are Scripture by checking to see if the worldview affirmed by these 66 books is logical consistent, corresponds correctly to reality, and be practically lived out.

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