The Unity of Scripture

In his latest HuffPo piece, Karl Giberson writes:

The story of Adam and Eve originated as a Hebrew oral tradition, which is a long ways from an English prose translation. And there are more complex filters related to culture, author intent, literary form, historical setting, anticipated audience and so on.

Application of these filters leads many readers to conclude that the biblical story of Adam and Eve was never intended to be read as literal history. The world “Adam” for example, is the generic Hebrew word for “man.” “Eve” means “living one.” The story is about a couple with the improbable names “Man and Living One,” who reside in a magical garden and take walks with God in the evening. It is far from obvious that this should be read as literal history.

Giberson’s final remark is interesting, since for most of Christian history it actually was considered obvious that it was meant literally. Certainly the fantastical nature of the story cannot be used as evidence against that understanding, since most of the interesting parts of the Bible suffer from the same flaw. Even today, denying the historicity of Adam and Eve can get you into trouble, and not just among the fundamentalists.

There are several hurdles facing non-literal interpretations of Adam and Eve. The first is that Genesis 2 and 3 read like straightforward historical accounts. The story makes perfect sense when taken literally, and the writing style is not at all like what one would expect if the intent was solely poetic or metaphorical. The second is that the story appears to have a very clear etiological function, which is to say that its intent seems to be to provide a concrete explanation for the generally decrepit state of the natural world. We are told that the ground is cursed because of a specific act taken by two actual people. The story loses all of its force if you completely remove its historical content. But the most serious problem is that the story of Adam and Eve is thoroughly intertwined with the rest of the Biblical narrative. In Romans, Paul unambiguously treats Adam as an historical person, and presents Adam’s sin specifically as the reason Christ’s sacrifice is necessary. Metaphorizing Adam and Eve entails believing that Paul was flatly wrong on this central point.

But that’s not really the main point of this post. Rather, I’d like to respond to what Giberson says next:

But how do we decide which parts of the Bible should be read literally? This question is often posed with an “Aha! I have got you” exclamation, as though the inquisitor is certain it cannot be answered. Jerry Coyne, in his endless quest to discredit all things religious, put it like this in a recent blog:

“Sophisticated” theologians who urge a non-literal reading of the Bible always put themselves in a bind. And it is this: if the Bible is not to be read as a literal account of the truth, then how do we know which parts really are true, and which parts are fiction or metaphor? Nobody has ever found a convincing way to winnow the true from the metaphorical, and so it becomes an exercise in cherry-picking.

Less triumphalist versions of this same question were posed to me by a radio listener this morning and a former student yesterday on my Facebook wall. And I think the answer is straightforward, even simple:

The Bible is not a book. It is a library — dozens of very different books bound together. The assumption that identifying one part as fiction undermines the factual character of another part is ludicrous. It would be like going into an actual physical library and saying “Well, if all these books about Harry Potter are fictional, then how do I know these other books about Abraham Lincoln are factual? How can Lincoln be real if Potter is not?” And then “Aha! I have got you! So much for your library.”

Acknowledging that the Bible is a library doesn’t do all the hard work for us, of course. But recognizing this at least lets us avoid the so-called slippery slope where a non-literal approach in one place somehow compromises a literal approach in another.

The first thing to note here is that Giberson has not answered Jerry’s question. Jerry asked how you distinguish the portions of scripture that are to be taken literally from the ones that are merely metaphorical. Giberson’s reply is simply to reiterate that some parts of the Bible are literal and others are metaphorical. I fail to see how that addresses Jerry’s concern.

I would flesh out Jerry’s question by looking at other places where science prompted a reconsideration of scripture. Giberson mentions the case of Galileo. The ninety-third psalm asserts, “The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, [wherewith] he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” (KJV) That certainly makes it sound like the earth does not orbit the Sun, and it was taken to mean precisely that for quite some time. But a modern reader could reasonably reply that nothing central to the Christian faith rides on this point, and that the Psalms represent a genre of writing in which we expect poetry and symbolism. Asserting the the Earth cannot be moved can readily be given a poetic meaning.

Similar arguments could be made with regard to the story of Joshua making the Sun stand still, or to the parable in which Jesus describes a mustard seed as the smallest on Earth. In both cases the text seems clear enough, and I can understand why a devotee of Biblical inerrancy would squirm here, but since we are ultimately dealing with trivial points it is perhaps not so difficult to ascribe non-literal meanings to the verses in question.

We might even argue in this way with regard to the age of the Earth. The early chapters of Genesis really do seem to imply pretty strongly that the Earth is very young, and, again, virtually everyone understood them to be saying precisely that until science forced a reconsideration. Even here, though, we can at least argue that the age of the Earth is not a point of central concern to Christianity.

But with Adam and Eve we have a perfect storm. We have unambiguous scripture coupled with a point of central importance to Christian theology. If even in this case we can summon forth a reason for relegating Adam and Eve to the realm of mythology, then we really do have to wonder what isn’t up for grabs.

Finally, what of Giberson’s proud declaration that the Bible is a library and not a book? The problem is something known as the unity of scripture. It is standard Christian theology that the Bible tells one continuous story throughout the entirety of its sixty-six books. Moreover, the Old Testament and the New Testament are so intertwined that it is impossible to fully understand the Old except in the context of the New. Indeed, Christian apologists often point to this unity as evidence for the Bible’s divine origin. (Here’s one example.) That the Bible is one continuous narrative, despite receiving contributions from dozens of authors separated in time by more than fifteen hundred years, can only be explained by invoking divine inspiration. So goes the argument.

It was not atheists like Jerry who decided that the Bible could be treated as a book and not as a library. If we are committed to the unity of scripture, then there really is a slippery slope linking nonliteral interpretations of one section to nonliteral interpretations of others.

That is why Giberson’s Harry Potter analogy is frankly ridiculous. No one has ever claimed that the Harry Potter books have a connection to the books about Lincoln. But people certainly do claim that Genesis is intimately related to Romans, or more generally that the Old Testament is related to the New. A better analogy would be that if we decide, in the course of reading the first Harry Potter novel, that Hermione is just a figment of Harry’s imagination (rather like Brad Pitt’s charcater in FIght Club), then that will certainly affect how we read the later books in the series.

As it happens, though, I do think a Christian has a way of evading this problem. He could conclude that the Biblical text is inspired only in the sense that its authors had genuine encounters with God that they then put down in writing as best they could. The words themselves are not inspired, they were written by fallible human beings. On this approach we simply abandon the notion of inerrancy, but that is good riddance to bad rubbish. To the Christian who worries that this leaves him without a firm basis for believing what the Bible says about Jesus I would simply ask what it was that convinced him of Jesus’ divinity in the first place. If it was really the complete historical accuracy of Genesis then we have a problem. But if it had something to do with religious experience, or if it was the result of positive changes in their life that occurred after coming to faith, then I fail to see how those reasons are diminished by taking a more moderate approach to the Bible.

Obviously, people of a more conservative temperament will find that unacceptable. But I didn’t come up with that solution myself. It is precisely the solution presented by theologians like Harry Emerson Fosdick and Langdon Gilkey, among many others. I would think that a Christian could take this position without straying too far from orthodoxy.

Of course, I personally do not think that is the correct position. In my opinion a far more sensible approach to the Bible is to treat it as a purely human production, with no divine input whatsoever. It has historical and literary value, but it provides absolutely no insight at all into any question of ultimate importance. I doubt I’ll ever understand what could possess otherwise intelligent people to devote even one second of emotional energy to worrying about whether Adam and Eve actually existed,

Comments

  1. #1 NewEnglandBob
    August 15, 2011

    The bible(s) are not a library, they are a collection under one category in a library: “Fantasy and Fiction”. The “Science” section is where one goes for knowledge.

  2. #2 gammon
    August 15, 2011

    I often wonder how people can read the whole bible and still believe that it’s a good book. If you only cherry pick out the passages others tell you about, chances are you’ll never run across the bad stuff.

    Perhaps there is an element of lacking comprehension though. I am notoriously bad at interpreting and deriving meaning when it comes to poetry and song lyrics. I can understand the words, read the lyrics, and sing along…but 9 times out of 10 there’s absolutely no meaning there for me. I have no idea what the songwriter is trying to say.

    I wonder if it’s the same for some people who read the bible – they see the words, they understand them, but there’s no big picture being formed by it, just a jumble of words.

  3. #3 AL
    August 15, 2011

    If Adam and Eve were just metaphorical people, what about Cain and Abel? Are they metaphorical too, or are they literal people? And if literal, then why not their parents? Or if they’re metaphorical, then what about Cain’s son Enoch? Repeat ad nauseam.

  4. #4 Kel
    August 15, 2011

    I get the impression with answers like that, the purpose is mainly to highlight the misunderstanding on the questioner – that they so fundamentally misunderstand the problem that all it needs is a meta-answer. Thus the problem is not so much solved, as it is dissolved, and the ignorance of the asker is the focus.

    Perhaps the next question would be, if the bible is more like a library, if a librarian were to sort it then how would it be sorted?

  5. #5 Brian
    August 15, 2011

    I am a Christian and a bit of a citizen scientist inasmuch as my mean abilities allow so I can see both sides of this arguement. For myself I was raised a Methodist but within my family there was never a conflict between the factual reality and the “poetic” meaning of Genesis. We watched Bronowski’s Ascent of Man, Sagan’s Cosmos and Attenborough’s Life on Earth as a family and readily accepted the concepts therein without shaking my parent’s belief (my own belief was to develop later). In discussions we had the distinction was made early on about the knowledge of the temporal world and the knowledge of the spiritual world (my father had quite a lot of knowledge about metalurgy and engineering).
    As for the “library” of the bible, I have not been happy about the canon ever since I heard about the way it was set. Making it “unaltered and unalterable” I think leads to an unhealthy idolatry of the book over the spirit dwelling within.
    I wonder how hebrew readers (not readers of hebrew hehe) will take the assertion that the Old Testament ONLY makes sense through the lens of the New.

  6. #6 Erp
    August 15, 2011

    @3 Some scholars think that Cain is the eponymous mythic ancestor of the Kenites and the story might have been to explain why the Kenites were the way they were (whatever the way was, perhaps a bit violent). Yes, according to the Bible Noah’s flood did destroy Cain’s descendants (at least in the male line); however, the two stories were almost certainly independent at one time (Cain is also described as the ancestor of all nomads and musicians and metalworkers, Genesis 4:20-22, which also doesn’t fit in with an all killing flood).

  7. #7 Neil Rickert
    August 15, 2011

    The first is that Genesis 2 and 3 read like straightforward historical accounts.

    I don’t agree with that. To me, it reads like a “Just So” story, intended to give a pseudo-explanation of why we are different from the animals.

    In Romans, Paul unambiguously treats Adam as an historical person, and presents Adam’s sin specifically as the reason Christ’s sacrifice is necessary. Metaphorizing Adam and Eve entails believing that Paul was flatly wrong on this central point.

    I see Paul’s reference as similar to the way that we might refer to Sherlock Holmes to illustrate the use of logic.

    The first thing to note here is that Giberson has not answered Jerry’s question. Jerry asked how you distinguish the portions of scripture that are to be taken literally from the ones that are merely metaphorical.

    I wouldn’t take any of it literally. I see much of it as a compendium of Jewish folklore. Some of that may well have an historical basis, but has likely undergone some degree of embellishment. By way of analogy, in a compendium of American folklore the Rip Van Winkle story would in some sense correspond to the Adam and Eve story, the Tower of Babel story, the Noah’s Ark story. George Washington and the Cherry tree would be a bit more like an embellishment of something with an historical basis.

  8. #8 Greg Esres
    August 15, 2011

    t would be like going into an actual physical library and saying “Well, if all these books about Harry Potter are fictional, then how do I know these other books about Abraham Lincoln are factual? How can Lincoln be real if Potter is not?”

    Actually, I think his reasoning is correct here. The fact that a library contains books that are not factual means that you can’t consider a book factual just because it’s in a library. Yet that’s precisely what many Christians want to do with the Bible, so pointing out the errors serves the purpose of undermining that position.

  9. #9 Lyle
    August 15, 2011

    Some of the literalists go so far as to say the King James Version of the bible was directly inspired. The number of different translations should put that to rest. In addition which language, Latin or Greek, or including Hebrew? (Clearly English is not the case) The idea of a story then provides two different stories since the Roman Catholic Bible includes the Apocrypha in protestant terms, so which story line to follow (the Apocrypha includes the tales of the Macabees) Let alone to speak of the books that did not included in the canon and may no longer exist as for example a number of Arian gospels I suspect. (The decision between Orthodoxy and Arianism, depended upon which roman general was in power when).

  10. #10 Scott Hatfield, OM
    August 15, 2011

    Jason:

    As always, I enjoy your blog. It seems to me that, while you don’t agree with the sentiment, you did present the sort of talking point that Christians not wedded to biblical literalism make about the text. As a Christian, I want to acknowledge that your critique is both thoughtful and, it seems to me, fair-minded.

    Two points:

    #1 The supposed ‘unity of the scriptures’ is not only not necessarily a point of orthodoxy amongst Christians, it is to some degree an artifact of the way the original books were collected, edited and modified to fit an ever-changing historical narrative. Fundamentalist thought, in turn, is in large measure a conservative reaction to the historical-critical school of scholarship that analyzed the texts precisely in that light. The emphasis on the ‘unity of the scriptures’ that you encounter in fundamentalist thought is a by-product of their “sola scriptura” theology…which has never, I hasten to add, been the mainstream view.

    #2 The determinative question often posed regarding interpretation of text is really not the stumper many people imagine it to be. Scholars of the Bible will often hold all manner of views about the inspiration of scripture (including that none of it is inspired), but there is actually more agreement than not on the question of which parts are meant to be taken literally, and which are not. The question of inspiration can be uncoupled from questions about the text’s inerrancy or inspiration. For example, it is well understood that Paul used analogies that appealed to the Greek mind, and that Jesus spoke in parables, and that the Song of Songs is erotic poetry, etc. There are well-established principles of textual analysis that make it easy (really!) to reject the idea that such passages are meant to be taken literally….to the extent that even supposed defenders of ‘Biblical inerrancy’ do not take such passages literally.

  11. #11 J. Martin
    August 16, 2011

    Hi Jason,

    I don’t stop by to read your columns as often as I would like to, but I’ve enjoyed many of your posts. But I think you might be on some thin ice here, at least as concerns a few of your (admittedly not major) points. Are you yourself really a credible historian of the Bible, its translations, and its meaning? Like science itself, this is not a field to lay claim to without some serious background reading and study. If you do have degrees in historical theology and biblical exegesis, then I certainly apologize for assuming that you might not. (I hasten to add that I do not either). Here are some of your statements that struck me as questionable:

    1. ” ….since for most of Christian history it actually was considered obvious that it was meant literally.”

    Where are you getting that? It’s not in concert with any serious modern scholar that I’ve read. Consider this quote from a very conservative author at a very conservative school (Wheaton):

    “Genesis 1 was never intended to offer an account of material origins, and …the original author and audience did not view it in that way.”

    John Walton (Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College,) 2009, The Lost World of Genesis One, Intervarsity Press, p. 113.

    Indeed, a purely literalist reading of the Bible is thought by many (most?) modern scholars to have arisen rather recently, more or less in concert with the rise of fundamentalism itself in the late 19th century.

    2. “…the writing style is not at all like what one would expect if the intent was solely poetic or metaphorical.”

    Again, where does this come from? I know of no modern scholar of the Bible who would agree with this. What is your basis for this rather bold (and I think erroneous) statement that Genesis is not at all written in a poetic or metaphorical style?

    3. ” . . . But with Adam and Eve we have a perfect storm. We have unambiguous scripture . . . ”

    Seriously? Nothing ambiguous here at all? It’s all perfectly clear to you?

    I’m not disagreeing with the post in general, which I think makes some great points. But if we want to be taken seriously in our criticism of creationists/ID proponents, including biblical literalists, then we need to be very careful ourselves and avoid casual and sweeping statements. At the least, I think you might want to quote some modern and serious biblical scholars for statements like the above. They might be right (that is, perhaps the authors I have been reading on Genesis are in the minority), but it still needs some credibility in the post, I think.

  12. #12 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 16, 2011

    J. Martin –

    1. “….since for most of Christian history it actually was considered obvious that it was meant literally.”

    Where are you getting that? It’s not in concert with any serious modern scholar that I’ve read. Consider this quote from a very conservative author at a very conservative school (Wheaton):

    “Genesis 1 was never intended to offer an account of material origins, and …the original author and audience did not view it in that way.”

    This post has nothing to do with Genesis 1. Adam and Eve don’t show up until Genesis 2. And I don’t think it’s controversial that Adam and Eve have traditionally been understood as historical human beings.

    2. “…the writing style is not at all like what one would expect if the intent was solely poetic or metaphorical.”

    Again, where does this come from? I know of no modern scholar of the Bible who would agree with this. What is your basis for this rather bold (and I think erroneous) statement that Genesis is not at all written in a poetic or metaphorical style?

    I said solely poetic or metaphorical. And again, we’re not talking about Genesis 1 here. Ask yourself why it causes so much consternation today to treat Adam and Eve as non-historical, and not just among fundamentalists. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, still treats Adam and Eve as historical, even while officially accepting evolution.

    Even with Genesis 1, where historically there has been more diversity of opinion over the proper interpretation, it was still nearly universal to accept, on the basis of the six-day creation coupled with the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, that the Earth was very young. Even people most wiling to countenance non-literal interpretations, like Augustine, still accorded some historical significance.

    3. “ . . . But with Adam and Eve we have a perfect storm. We have unambiguous scripture . . . ”

    Seriously? Nothing ambiguous here at all? It’s all perfectly clear to you?

    There’s certainly nothing ambiguous about the main points of the story of Adam and Eve. And historically, as I’ve said, there was very little controversy that Adam and Ever were real people, that the Garden was a real place, and that the Earth was cursed because of a sin these folks actually committed.

  13. #13 Steven Carr
    August 16, 2011

    ‘It would be like going into an actual physical library and saying “Well, if all these books about Harry Potter are fictional, then how do I know these other books about Abraham Lincoln are factual? ‘

    So the books which claim Lincoln went into the desert and talked to Satan are factual?

    Or is the claim that just because there is a book which says Harry Potter spoke to a unicorn that does not undermine the factual nature of books where Lincoln raises people from the dead?

  14. #14 darkgently
    August 16, 2011

    There’s another problem with the “library” argument. He might use that to refute the people who use Genesis to cast doubt on the resurrection. But let’s take the Gospel of Matthew. It starts with a genealogy and a nativity story that contradicts both history and the version in Luke. Since that can’t be taken literally, how do we know that the resurrection can? In this case Giberson can’t invoke his library argument because the stories are in the same book!

  15. #15 386sx
    August 16, 2011

    I see Paul’s reference as similar to the way that we might refer to Sherlock Holmes to illustrate the use of logic.

    Luke lists Adam as one of Jesus’s ancestors. I see that as the author of Luke merely illustrating the use of genealogy. Jesus “poofed” demons out of people. I see that as similar to the way we might “poof” away the boogie monsters.

  16. #16 Sam C
    August 16, 2011

    The post-Enlightenment view from Europe (rejected by American fundamentalists) is that reality comes first, religion cannot trump it, and it is not reasonable or correct to expect it to, nor to demand of religious folk that they justify every bit of their faith literally. So, a biologist can be a Christian and fully scientific, go to church and lustily sing “All Things Bright And Beautiful” while still honestly working entirely within an evolutionary, science-based view of the physical and living world.

    Yes, their religion is nonsensical but resolving the inconsistency is their problem, if they choose to be concerned about it. If it’s not rammed down our throats, we tolerate it.

    It’s not quite non-overlapping magisteria a la Stephen Jay Gould, it’s more a case of doing whatever one chooses outside science as long as one is honest in one’s science. Not some much explaining away the differences or inconsistencies as simply ignoring them.

    But why should non-Christians be concerned about how Christians reconcile their holy books with reality? Surely that is their problem? We atheists know that Adam and Eve is a creation myth, not history or science, and that the various books were written by humans, not by supernatural beings, why should we try to provide an escape route for believers to pretend that these books are special in any way other than the fact that they are dear to their religion?

  17. #17 heleen
    August 16, 2011

    Adam is only translated as a personal name in Genesis 3-5. Otherwise, Adam only appears as a name in a list of ancestors that starts Chronicles.
    The idea of sin and Adam appears in the Apocrypha; note that the early chapters of Genesis are later prequels. The idea of sin seems to be a young development in Jewish theology, and as such taken up by Paul.

  18. #18 James Sweet
    August 16, 2011

    Jerry Coyne, in his endless quest to discredit all things religious, put it like this in a recent blog:

    Doesn’t he mean, “in a recent website”?

  19. #19 James Sweet
    August 16, 2011

    I agree with you, but I think the doctrinal issues are more central to this problem that the “Unity of Scripture” thing. This is not an original thought, but the twin reasons that a modern understanding of evolution are bad news for Christianity are a) theodicy just got harder by many orders of magnitude, and b) no Adam and Eve = a big whole in the Christ redemption story. (It’s interesting to note that even though A&E is Jewish scripture, Judaism has no such doctrinal problem with classifying A&E as metaphor.)

    As to Giberson’s “library” analogy, I would like to tackle it another way: How do we know which books in a library are fictions and which ones are meant to be true? Well, for starters, they have these big shelves with some of them labeled “fiction” and some labeled as “non-fiction”. An explicit attempt has been made to communicate delineation.

    And I would ask Giberson then, if you discovered that the library you went to had Harry Potter in the non-fiction section, wouldn’t that concern you? Wouldn’t you then wonder how many other books were misclassified?

    To get a true Biblical analogy, we’d then have to stipulate that as you dug deeper, all of the books on the “non-fiction” shelf that you were familiar with turned out to be fantasy novels. There are many books where you can’t say for sure, but you still haven’t found one where you can confirm definitively that it is non-fiction.

    Time to find a new library?

  20. #20 John K.
    August 16, 2011

    The library analogy seems to rely on the idea that there is no way to determine which books in said library are factual and which books are fictional. I find this hilarious! If only there were large signs in this “bible library” to demonstrate which parts are fictions, a lot of nonsense could have been avoided by a lot of people.

    And indeed, if there were a library that put Harry Potter in the same section as Abraham Lincoln with no differentiation, the reputation of this library would be shot. So it is with the Bible.

  21. #21 Pierce R. Butler
    August 16, 2011

    … it is impossible to fully understand the Old except in the context of the New.

    Millions of Jews would argue otherwise. Even some of us goyim might say you got that one backwards.

  22. #22 healthphysicist
    August 16, 2011

    Adam & Eve could be historical AND evolution could still be true. Other people could have existed with Adam & Eve. This would “explain” how Cain was banished to the land of Nod and took a wife.

  23. #23 Tulse
    August 16, 2011

    Adam & Eve could be historical AND evolution could still be true. Other people could have existed with Adam & Eve.

    So only those who are directly descended from A&E get stuck with Original Sin, and the rest of us are off the hook? Awesome!

    Now all we need is a genetic test to determine who needs to be baptized.

  24. #24 Wow
    August 16, 2011

    “Adam & Eve could be historical AND evolution could still be true”

    No, it couldn’t.

    Those people from Nod weren’t humans. Remember, God created Adam and Eve and they were the first two humans.

    It IS however, one of the (many) reasons why genesis is complete codswallop. Who created those people in Nod? Why aren’t all humans partly nonhuman, since Nodders weren’t humans, them being created by God as Adam and Eve.

  25. #25 healthphysicist
    August 16, 2011

    No need for genetic tests….Noah was a descendant of Adam & Eve and everyone died except for his descendants.

    (If you stick with the myth)

  26. #26 healthphysicist
    August 16, 2011

    The people of Nod were human, that’s how Cain was able to get a wife and they had a son.

  27. #27 JimV
    August 16, 2011

    @HP: so the myth of Adam and Eve can be rescued by the even more thoroughly-debunked myth of the Flood? (See Ed Brayton’s current post for an example.) To twist my favorite line from “The Iron Monkey”: he uses illogic to rescue illogic – brilliant!

    (The original line was about a potion made from cobra venom used to cure the Buddha’s Palm: “He uses poison to fight poison! Brilliant!”)

  28. #28 Wow
    August 16, 2011

    “The people of Nod were human”

    Where do you get that? Adam and Eve were the first two humans made.

    It’s the ONLY thing about them that makes THEM Adam and Eve. Otherwise they’re just two people who lived somewhere that was no place special and were two in a long line of humans running for thousands upon thousands of years before them whose numbers were even then in the millions at least.

    This would NOT be Adam and Eve.

  29. #29 Wow
    August 16, 2011

    “No need for genetic tests….Noah was a descendant of Adam & Eve and everyone died except for his descendants.”

    Yes, we DO need those genetic tests.

    All of Africa have genes that are hugely variant whilst all non-African races are very much more genetically poor.

    Either these aren’t humans (and they were included in the Ark) or your theory is wrong.

  30. #30 healthphysicist
    August 16, 2011

    Wow – Sorry, if you decide to not accept what the Bible says as what it says. It says there was a land of Nod and Cain had a son there with his wife.

    Which Bible verse does it say Adam and Eve were the FIRST man and woman?

    To Jim V – if I were a Scripturalist, I wouldn’t have made the arguments that were made by the person Brayton was responding to.

  31. #31 Gingerbaker
    August 16, 2011

    Pierce Butler said:

    “… it is impossible to fully understand the Old except in the context of the New.

    Millions of Jews would argue otherwise. Even some of us goyim might say you got that one backwards.”

    Well, I think it works both ways. But for me and many others, what is revelatory is the many ways in which the so-called “New” Testament is a surreptitious reconstruction of the Old Testament and Greek traditions.

    The Bible is like ancient jazz, composed by multiple combos, each with a different musical philosophy, competing with one other on street corners vamping on earlier riffs, and making it all up as they went along for a couple of hundred years. Some of them just packed it in after a while, some others maintained. Many of their compositions were lost to us, many of them were intentionally destroyed by censor.

    But what really comes through is that these were works of invention, with almost no historical content. We have a huge number of Christian sects today, which is not surprising because there were a large number of sects which produced the raw material of the double album available to us today. All of which, of course, is contrary to the idea of an actual living founder whose historical statements were revered as absolute truth; yet completely consistent with a mythological figure invented over time.

  32. #32 James Sweet
    August 16, 2011

    As healthphysicist suggests, there are potential ways for Christian theology to try and wiggle around this apparent deathblow — but let’s not pretend it isn’t problematic. As Coyne is pointing out, theology is the art of turning scientific necessity into a religious virtue. Adam and Eve had been traditionally interpreted as the first man and first woman, until science said “no way,” and then people found a different way of interpreting it. Maybe. And that’s a way a lot of people don’t seem to like.

    Really, no truth could *ever* be fatal to a faith (isn’t that the definition of faith?). So to point out that the ahistoricity of Adam and Eve is not fatal to Christianity is not that surprising. It might not be fatal, because no facts ever could be — but it’s problematic, because it requires a lot of hand-waving and reinterpreting.

  33. #33 eric
    August 16, 2011

    James Sweet: Adam and Eve had been traditionally interpreted as the first man and first woman, until science said “no way,” and then people found a different way of interpreting it.

    I think various sects of Christians and Jews have disagreed about the text’s literalness for a lot longer than modern science has been around. Scientific understanding might have caused some interpretations to gain credibility while others lose it, but there have always been diverse interpretations. That, ironically, is one of the problems with the whole divinely inspired thing: claims that the singer (God) is crystal clear, and the stereo (bible) is also crystal clear, are hard to believe when listeners can’t agree on the lyrics coming out of the speaker.

    As for Gilbertson’s point regarding telling artful from factual language, I think he would’ve been on much stronger ground if he’d just said that people do it with the bible the some way we do it with any other book. But I’m guessing that is unacceptable to many fundies, because it puts knowledge of salvation on the same could-be-wrong footing as other types of human knowledge.

  34. #34 Jason F.
    August 16, 2011

    Giberson’s final remark is interesting, since for most of Christian history it actually was considered obvious that it was meant literally.

    Except as others have touched on, Genesis isn’t Christian literature; it’s Jewish and as such must be interpreted and understood in a Jewish context. That a later group assimilated it into their theology is irrelevant to its original meaning.

    So with that said, throughout Jewish history was it generally taught and understood that Adam and Eve were literal people and were the origins of the human race?

  35. #35 eric
    August 16, 2011

    Incidentally, Gilbertson also says “You cannot simply read a book like the Bible — you have to read it through complex filters to properly understand it.”

    Jason (and other critics) are fond of pointing out that academic theologians often make claims in defense of the faith that most of the faithful would likely disagree with. This is another example. I doubt most faithful would agree that the Bible must be read through complex filters to properly understand it. That pretty much undermines the whole idea of God giving everyone simple instructions for salvation, and sounds suspiciously close to gnostic heresy.

  36. #36 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 16, 2011

    Jason F –

    Integral to Christian theology is the idea that the Old Testament must be interpreted in the light of the new. If that’s true then it doesn’t matter what Jews through history have thought it meant. Christians could argue that the Jews can’t possibly interpret it correctly because they refuse to accept the divine inspiration of the New Testament.

  37. #37 eric
    August 16, 2011

    Integral to Christian theology is the idea that the Old Testament must be interpreted in the light of the new. If that’s true then it doesn’t matter what Jews through history have thought it meant.

    Its just so narcissistic and arrogant. The Jews lug around this entire body of stories in oral and written form which claim to be guidance from god, but secretly it doesn’t tell them anything, because its true meaning isn’t revealed until hundreds if not thousands of years after they are recorded.

    I can play that game. Every current interpretation of the bible is wrongity wrong wrong, and the true meaning of it won’t be revealed until 3011. Sorry fundies, everyone born today goes to hell, because they aren’t getting the right instructions (or, maybe, they aren’t getting the instructions right). You are merely meant to serve as vessels for the salvation of future people. And this is all part of God’s merciful plan. If that sounds arbitrary, stupid, and mean to you, well, look at your own theology.

  38. #38 Koray
    August 16, 2011

    Eric,

    That’s quite like how Muslims view Christianity: that the holy bible was corrupted and Jesus’ message was not preserved and it was up to Muhammad to clean up the mess.

    I now agree that it is simply futile for an individual to try to read the bible. It’s an immense ‘library’ and you definitely get much more out of it by reading academic writings on it side-by-side. It definitely gets more interesting, but unfortunately for believers, even less and less convincing.

  39. #39 lenoxus
    August 16, 2011

    I see I’ve been beaten by several in the race to make the salient point about libraries — that they do, in fact, answer the question “which stuff here is factual?” in a much more straightforward day than the Bible does.

    From the original post:

    The second [problem with calling Genesis metaphorical] is that the story appears to have a very clear etiological function, which is to say that its intent seems to be to provide a concrete explanation for the generally decrepit state of the natural world.

    This is a very good point. Certain phenomena seem to cry out for an explanation, and cultures around the world have thousands of stories to serve just that purpose. For example, what do rainbows come from and what are they for? If I didn’t already know about Genesis chapter 9, then I’d be surprised if the ancient Hebrews didn’t have an origin story for them, just like so many other cultures do. And it seems much less parsimonious to assume that the first transcribers or redactors of that part of the flood narrative thought to themselves “Well, the truth is that we have absolutely no idea what is up with rainbows, but here’s a nice story.”

    Relatedly, it’s hard to imagine those early Israelites not having some notion of the age of the Earth and instead deferring the question to later, more scientifically capable generations. Instead, like most other cultures, they would have figured the Earth would have to be pretty darn old. Like, really really old, older than your grandfather’s grandmother, thousands of years old. (If you want to convince me they thought it was billions you’ll need very good evidence.)

    I wouldn’t dispute that some passages of the Bible are of a metaphorical bent. For example, Psalm 90:4 says: For a thousand years in [God's] sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. I don’t believe this is inviting us to write down some equations involving a ratio of 1:365242 days, though quite a few folks do treat it that way. Likewise, there’s Matthew chapter 18, where Peter asks if he should forgive a sinning brother seven times, and Jesus replies “not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (Sometimes translated as just “seventy-seven”, oddly enough.) The point is clearly to say that we should keep on forgiving, not that we tally up the wrongs and when they reach exactly 491 then we let the jerk have it.

    The very fact that Karl Giberson brings up (in the first quote above) can be used against his point as well. Precisely because the Bible’s origins are so complicated, we can’t blithely assume that its original authors were speaking metaphorically whenever something happens to contradict known truths. At the very least, the writers almost certainly thought that animals had been created by God more or less like we see happen in Genesis, because what else could they have believed? Evolution? Or “we don’t know so we’ll wait and see?” No culture was ever like that.

    As it happens, though, I do think a Christian has a way of evading this problem. He could conclude that the Biblical text is inspired only in the sense that its authors had genuine encounters with God that they then put down in writing as best they could.

    I’ve thought the same thing, and am surprised by how many Christians don’t take that route. They prefer to think of the Bible as an Inherently Special Book in some way. Yet if God had any control over it, why all the awful stuff? No, it’s more logical to basically file the whole thing under apocrypha. Of course, I’m similarly surprised that liberal Christians don’t recognize the nonsense of praying for someone’s health to improve, so oh well.

    Steven Carr @ 13:

    Or is the claim that just because there is a book which says Harry Potter spoke to a unicorn that does not undermine the factual nature of books where Lincoln raises people from the dead?

    The Boy Who Lived talks to snakes, not unicorns. (Like Eve, come to think of it.) Sheesh, you apotterists don’t know anything about what you criticize!

    darkgently @ 14:

    In this case Giberson can’t invoke his library argument because the stories are in the same book.

    To be fair, Matthew probably should be considered a different “book” than Luke. (Not only that, but several parts of the Gospels are clearly inserted into the books, so even a single Gospel isn’t quite a single “book”.)

    The real problem is the canon hasn’t been revised to exclude all the books with falsehoods, but then we’d have nothing left but the Song of Songs, if we were lucky.

    Meeeanwhile… I think a couple people here are misinterpreting Jason’s statement that “the Old Testament and the New Testament are so intertwined that it is impossible to fully understand the Old except in the context of the New” to be his own opinion. I’m 99% sure it’s not, it’s just the opinion he is (rightly) attributing to certain others.

  40. #40 Triangulum
    August 16, 2011

    In Romans, Paul unambiguously treats Adam as an historical person, and presents Adam’s sin specifically as the reason Christ’s sacrifice is necessary. Metaphorizing Adam and Eve entails believing that Paul was flatly wrong on this central point.

    In short, Paul really, really stepped in it, not that he could have known it at the time. This is why Judaism can accommodate a figurative Adam and Eve, while Christianity comes apart at the seams.

    (The Fall/Original Sin is not part of the traditional Jewish understanding of Genesis, and is a rather ugly piece of theology in its own right as Dawkins is want to point out.)

  41. #41 Jason F.
    August 16, 2011

    Jason Rosenhouse,

    Integral to Christian theology is the idea that the Old Testament must be interpreted in the light of the new. If that’s true then it doesn’t matter what Jews through history have thought it meant. Christians could argue that the Jews can’t possibly interpret it correctly because they refuse to accept the divine inspiration of the New Testament.

    Sure, I understand what Christians believe. My point however, is that when debating “How should Genesis be read” (literally, allegorically, or otherwise), since it is a Jewish text the question should be answered in a Jewish context. Saying, “Well, this is how Christians have read it” is about as meaningful as asking how Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses read it. Thus my question about how Jews have historically read the Genesis creation account is a genuine one. If Jews have historically read it literally, then that’s a pretty strong argument that it was intended as such. If not, the converse is true.

    If Jews historically have read it non-literally and Christians come along, bring it into their theology, and declare it to be literal and integral to their faith, that’s fine for Christians. But that doesn’t really provide a good answer to the original question, i.e. “How was Genesis intended to be read?”

  42. #42 Kel
    August 16, 2011

    The question of how the bible is meant to be read is effectively meaningless outside the claims for which it is being used to justify. Other than to dismiss Christian theology as a misinterpretation of Judaism, does it matter that Jews and Christians have different interpretations and significance in the Genesis account?

  43. #43 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 16, 2011

    Jason F –

    Sure, I understand what Christians believe. My point however, is that when debating “How should Genesis be read” (literally, allegorically, or otherwise), since it is a Jewish text the question should be answered in a Jewish context. Saying, “Well, this is how Christians have read it” is about as meaningful as asking how Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses read it.

    But I think a Christian would reply, in effect, that it is simply irrelevant how the ancient Jews understood the text. They were in the middle of an unfolding narrative that did not reach its climax until the appearance of Jesus Christ. Consequently, they simply didn’t know what they had. So they could argue at any rate.

    As for the intent of the text, it seems clear that the attitudes of Jews towards the Biblical texts themselves changed over time. What started initially as a device for preserving the laws and traditions of a people endlessly on the run from various tormentors gradually took on the role of sacred scripture. It seems clear though, that from a pretty earlier stage in their development the early Genesis texts were not viewed as purely poetic or metaphorical. (I’m getting that from James Kugel’s book How to Read the Bible, if you want a reference.)

  44. #44 Richard Wein
    August 17, 2011

    Jason wrote: “To the Christian who worries that this leaves him without a firm basis for believing what the Bible says about Jesus I would simply ask what it was that convinced him of Jesus’ divinity in the first place.”

    But it would be a very unusual Christian who wants to take no more facts from the Bible than the mere fact of Jesus’ divinity. And if he takes no more literal truth from the Bible than what his religious experience has independently told him, then effectively he dismisses the Bible as a useful source of literal truth.

    Alternatively, he might take his religious experience as telling him not the facts themselves, but which parts of the Bible are to be read literally, i.e. “My personal religious experience tells me which parts of the Bible are literally true”. However, this sounds an awful lot like wishful thinking.

    I doubt many Christians would find either of these positions palatable.

  45. #45 Wow
    August 17, 2011

    “Instead, like most other cultures, they would have figured the Earth would have to be pretty darn old. Like, really really old, older than your grandfather’s grandmother, thousands of years old. (If you want to convince me they thought it was billions you’ll need very good evidence.)”

    Buddhism.

    The Brahma year is about 4.5 billion years.

    Oops.
    :-)

    NOTE: for all the xtians who are amazed at the way the bible said things that science has found out (though by stretching what the bible says to a caricature), not one has looked at the Brahma year and changed to Buddhism.

    The age of the earth: about 4.5 billion years.

    There would be three “years” since the creation of the universe, each one ending by death from Siva.

    about 4.5 billion years we’re going to have lost an inner planet. Which could be earth, but the upheaval may well end life on earth well before the sun goes boom.

    And we have the eary birth of matter (one year), the first population of stars (two years) and the second population (strangely called Population I stars) like our sun, rich in heavier elements (three years).

    Of course, if you look hard enough, you’ll find many such strange ancient texts explaining what we only recently found out. Even in non-religious texts.

    Mercury turns into gold in alchemy by use of the philosophers’ stone. In science mercury turns into gold when you bombard it with neutrons.

  46. #46 Wow
    August 17, 2011

    “Sorry, if you decide to not accept what the Bible says as what it says. It says there was a land of Nod and Cain had a son there with his wife.”

    Sorry, apparently you don’t believe the Bible when it says that God created Man and then Woman. He created other creatures (not human) so he could have made those people of Nod who were man-like but not HUMAN.

    You, though, would rather believe bits you want to include and throw away bits that are inconvenient.

    You find the creation of humans by God problematic in making Adam and Eve exist in reality, so you ignore it.

    Then, to add a large dose of hypocrisy, you accuse me of what you’ve done.

    This is indication you are NOT a physicist.

  47. #47 eric
    August 17, 2011

    Mercury turns into gold in alchemy by use of the philosophers’ stone. In science mercury turns into gold when you bombard it with neutrons.

    Not a good example of an ancient-modern coincidence; only 0.15% of natural Hg will electron capture to Au after capturing a neutron. The rest will either remain as Hg or undergo beta- decay to Tl. Even with nuclear physics, that ancient prediction is far more wrong than it is right.

    If you really want to transmute something to gold, your best bet is to start with platinum. Of course, that kinda defeats the purpose of doing the transmutation in the first place…

  48. #48 Wow
    August 17, 2011

    “Not a good example of an ancient-modern coincidence; only 0.15% of natural Hg will electron capture to Au after capturing a neutron.”

    That isn’t an issue to those who wish to believe Alchemy is some hidden truth and thereby jump into Freemasonry and the Cabballa. We’re not talking chemists here…
    :-)

  49. #49 Jason F.
    August 17, 2011

    Jason Rosenhouse,

    But I think a Christian would reply, in effect, that it is simply irrelevant how the ancient Jews understood the text. They were in the middle of an unfolding narrative that did not reach its climax until the appearance of Jesus Christ. Consequently, they simply didn’t know what they had. So they could argue at any rate.

    I understand that. I also understand that a Mormon would reply differently as would a Muslim. But again, if the central question here is, “How was Genesis intended to be read”, the best way to answer that is within its original context, which given that it’s a Jewish text, we evaluate it as such. Anything else is simply imposing a different context onto the text. Whether or not the believers in that second context argue for its validity is irrelevant to the fact that it is indeed the imposition of a non-Jewish, secondary context.

    As for the intent of the text, it seems clear that the attitudes of Jews towards the Biblical texts themselves changed over time. What started initially as a device for preserving the laws and traditions of a people endlessly on the run from various tormentors gradually took on the role of sacred scripture. It seems clear though, that from a pretty earlier stage in their development the early Genesis texts were not viewed as purely poetic or metaphorical. (I’m getting that from James Kugel’s book How to Read the Bible, if you want a reference.)

    Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but I’m reading your response as saying that there really wasn’t a consensus way of reading Genesis in early Judaism. If so, then the answer to the question “How was Genesis intended to be read” is “It depends”. It depends on who you ask and what era you’re talking about.

    I came across the following website that seems to provide a decent summary of this question. What do you think?

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/jewsevolution.html

  50. #50 DiscoveredJoys
    August 17, 2011

    But if it had something to do with religious experience, or if it was the result of positive changes in their life that occurred after coming to faith, then I fail to see how those reasons are diminished by taking a more moderate approach to the Bible.

    I’d be happy with this in principle but it would strip Christian beliefs of their (supposed) authority to tell the rest of us what to do. Would you change your lifestyle 20 times a day because people of strong beliefs (different religions, philosophies, astrological charts, political parties, conspiracy theories, chemically induced mental states, or the result of brain damage etc.) professed their convictions?

    Without ‘the Bible’ they only have vanilla personal conviction – it’s not enough to make me change mine.

  51. #51 Tulse
    August 17, 2011

    if the central question here is, “How was Genesis intended to be read”, the best way to answer that is within its original context, which given that it’s a Jewish text, we evaluate it as such.

    And a Christian would answer your central question with “Genesis was intended by [the Christian] God to be read as the inspired Word of [the Christian] God.” You’re still treating the Christian Old Testament as if it is merely an historical document, a piece of text. For Christians, it is literally the words of their god, and as such that god tells them how to interpret it. It doesn’t matter what any other group thinks, including the Jewish people whose history it purports to tell.

  52. #52 Collin Brendemuehl
    August 17, 2011

    A response to Jason at
    evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com/2011/08/unity-of-scripture-hermeutical-issues.html

  53. #53 jimvj
    August 17, 2011

    How can a “Bible” be so central to Christian dogma, if the concept of a Bible never occurred to its principal founders – Jesus & Paul?

    A Bible – i.e. a canonical set of texts from very different eras and authors – that was accepted by the major sect of the time was finalized around 380 AD. The first person to suggest such a canonical set was Marcion, and his Bible excluded the OT and many books that are included in most NT’s. So much for the unity of scripture!

    Christians are really, really deluded and ignorant of their own religion’s history.

  54. #54 Wow
    August 18, 2011

    “For Christians, it is literally the words of their god, and as such that god tells them how to interpret it.”

    How do they know it isn’t Satan telling them how to interpret it?

  55. #55 Tulse
    August 18, 2011

    How do they know it isn’t Satan telling them how to interpret it?

    Don’t be silly — do you think that Satan can actually deceive people?

  56. #56 Wow
    August 18, 2011

    I don’t.

    People who think God is telling them how to read the bible (see post 51 you made) surely do.

  57. #57 Jason F.
    August 18, 2011

    Tulse,

    And a Christian would answer your central question with “Genesis was intended by [the Christian] God to be read as the inspired Word of [the Christian] God.” You’re still treating the Christian Old Testament as if it is merely an historical document, a piece of text. For Christians, it is literally the words of their god, and as such that god tells them how to interpret it. It doesn’t matter what any other group thinks, including the Jewish people whose history it purports to tell.

    Again, so what? That doesn’t change the fact that Genesis is a Jewish text, written by Jews, for Jews. Therefore, in determining how it is meant to be read, we must evaluate it in a Jewish context. You don’t go to some secondary group and ask how they interpreted it, that would just be silly. That would be like going to the Discovery Institute or Answers in Genesis to get an understanding of what S.J. Gould meant with some of his works instead of examining it in its original intended context.

  58. #58 Tulse
    August 18, 2011

    People who think God is telling them how to read the bible (see post 51 you made) surely do.

    You clearly don’t understand, Wow — Satan may deceive other people, but these folks know it is their god talking to them.

    That doesn’t change the fact that Genesis is a Jewish text, written by Jews, for Jews.

    And again, Christians would argue that it is instead their god’s text, written for their god’s believers. You are taking an historical view, when the Christian position is purely theological (and thus pretty much impervious to rational argument).

  59. #59 Jason F.
    August 18, 2011

    Tulse,

    And again, Christians would argue that it is instead their god’s text, written for their god’s believers.

    And creationists would argue that Gould was saying that transitional fossils don’t exist. Again, who cares what after-the-fact interpretation a second group imposes on a text?

    You are taking an historical view, when the Christian position is purely theological (and thus pretty much impervious to rational argument).

    Of course. “How was Genesis intended to be read” is a historical question. And thanks for recognizing that “What Christians think” is irrational.

  60. #60 Tulse
    August 18, 2011

    “How was Genesis intended to be read” is a historical question.

    No, it’s really not, at least not if you think the “intender” was your god.

    And that’s what it boils down to. You’re arguing that Genesis was written by Jews, and that one has to take into account their intentions. Christians believe that whatever human hands wrote Genesis were actually inspired by their god, and it is that god’s “intentions” that matter, not those of the humans of the time. Yes, it is a theological position, and thus inherently irrational. But if one accepts the notion of supernatural beings, then one is stuck with that interpretation as an alternative to the position you outline.

    To be clear, Jason, I’m not arguing for the Christian position, merely presenting it. I agree that theology is irrational, and I personally am an atheist.

  61. #61 Chris Heard
    August 18, 2011

    In re: “… for most of Christian history it actually was considered obvious that it was meant literally.” By whom? Origen (c. 185–254 CE), arguably the first biblical scholar (by the standards of his day, of course, but as distinguished from preachers) wrote at length on the impossibility of taking many biblical passages, including Genesis 2–3, literally. Among other things, he wrote:

    Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings, by using an historical narrative which did not literally happen. (On First Principles 4.1.6)

    Of course, plenty of Christians since then have disagreed with Origen, but from the very beginnings of Christianity (and even before, if you jump over to Philo) a strong tradition of allegorical and other non-literal interpretive styles has been present.

  62. #62 Dan L.
    August 18, 2011

    Of course, plenty of Christians since then have disagreed with Origen, but from the very beginnings of Christianity (and even before, if you jump over to Philo) a strong tradition of allegorical and other non-literal interpretive styles has been present.

    This is stretching the truth a little, I think. The very earliest Christian writers, especially the Greek ones, were very often more interested in the philosophy of Christianity than the historicity — Adam @ ebonmusings.com mentions some interesting quotes from some of these earlier guys suggesting that they might have thought the entire new testament was allegorical (and they’d be the most likely to know considering when they were writing).

    But there were many different strains of Christianity at the time, and the gentlemen you mention aren’t necessarily “Christian” in the way we’d understand the term. By the time Christianity became institutionalized as the religion of the Roman Empire, the nature of Christianity had changed into something much closer to the absolutist hierarchical structure we see in the Catholic church instead of the melange of competing texts and exegeses that had multiplied prior to that.

    I could be wrong, but I think the form of Christianity that atheists object to is Nicene Christianity, the one with the official set of books and an official, fraudulent history of the scripture and the church itself. I suspect that atheists wouldn’t have as much problem with the pluralistic, populist forms of Christianity that dominated the few centuries before 380 AD.

  63. #63 Kel
    August 18, 2011

    If someone believes the bible was divinely-authored, it’s not going to matter what the Jewish men who wrote it down intended or believed. Whether not not the supposition is anything other than total nonsense won’t change that what the original authors intended is an incoherent proposition to them.

  64. #64 Owlmirror
    August 19, 2011

    I could be wrong, but I think the form of Christianity that atheists object to is Nicene Christianity, the one with the official set of books and an official, fraudulent history of the scripture and the church itself. I suspect that atheists wouldn’t have as much problem with the pluralistic, populist forms of Christianity that dominated the few centuries before 380 AD.

    Meh, I suppose it depends. I kinda suspect that Christians, even in the historical past, made fact claims that would be seriously problematical.

    The problems with the religion do not end with the Old Testament.

  65. #65 Dan L.
    August 19, 2011

    Meh, I suppose it depends. I kinda suspect that Christians, even in the historical past, made fact claims that would be seriously problematical.

    No doubt, I’m just clumsily trying to point out that Christianity in its first two or three centuries wasn’t so much a “belief system” as a patchwork of variations on a theme, and Christianity as we know it is the descendant of just one of those variations. So the very early guys like Origen were writing about Christianity in a very different context that’s not necessarily comparable to ours.

  66. #66 Triangulum
    August 19, 2011

    No, it’s really not, at least not if you think the “intender” was your god.

    Jason F. was addressing the issue of how everyone else should interpret it.

  67. #67 GravityIsJustATheory
    August 24, 2011

    “Sorry, if you decide to not accept what the Bible says as what it says. It says there was a land of Nod and Cain had a son there with his wife.”

    Sorry, apparently you don’t believe the Bible when it says that God created Man and then Woman. He created other creatures (not human) so he could have made those people of Nod who were man-like but not HUMAN.

    You, though, would rather believe bits you want to include and throw away bits that are inconvenient.

    You find the creation of humans by God problematic in making Adam and Eve exist in reality, so you ignore it.

    Then, to add a large dose of hypocrisy, you accuse me of what you’ve done.

    This is indication you are NOT a physicist.

    The notion that Adam & Eve were real people, but not the first humans, has been around for some time:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Adamite

  68. #68 Tuan
    SOmsjtHTHqRv
    July 22, 2012

    In the spiritual haerirchy, God created man a little lower that the angels, but God crowned man with glory and honor, because the angels were created without the option of choice, and they failed (a portion of them) because they tried to overthrow God anyway, with the leadership of Satan.Psalms 8:3 a0b6When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;4 a0What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?5 a0For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.6 a0Thou madest him (RATHER THAN SATAN, WHO ORIGINALLY HAD DOMINION OVER EARTH UNTIL HE WAS CAST DOWN) to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:Hebrews 2:7 a0Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:Hebrews 2:9 a0But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.E-mail me and I’ll tell you more if you’re interested.Papaw

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