The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

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The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #1

Post by historia »

John Barton, professor at Oxford University, has this to say in his recent book, The History of the Bible (2019):
Barton wrote:
The Bible does not 'map' directly onto religious faith and practice, whether Jewish or Christian . . . The Bible is very unlike a creed or a 'Confession' . . . It is a mele of materials, few of which directly address the question of what is to be believed . . . .

There are versions of Christianity that claim to be simply 'biblical' (no versions of Judaism do so), but the reality is that the structures and content of Christian belief, even among Christians who believe their faith to be wholly grounded in the Bible, are organized and articulated differently from the contents of the Bible . . . [The Bible] is not and cannot be the whole foundation of either Judaism or Christianity . . . .

The Bible is centrally important to both Judaism and Christianity, but not as a holy text out of which entire religious systems can somehow be read. Its contents illuminate the origins of Christianity and Judaism, and provide spiritual classics on which both faiths can draw; but they do not constrain subsequent generations in the way that a written constitution would. They are simply not that kind of thing. They are a repository of writings, both shaping and shaped by the two religions at various stages in their development, to which later generations of believers are committed to responding in positive, but also critical, ways . . . .

Judaism thus has a holy book, and a set of religious beliefs and practices, but the two are known not to correlate exactly, despite being congruent; and this may be a better model for understanding Christianity too than the common Protestant perception of doctrine and practice as straightforwardly derived from the Bible.
Questions for debate:

1. Is Barton's analysis accurate?

2. If so, are Protestant views on the Bible mostly an idealized conception of the nature and authority of the text?

3. If so, are atheist criticisms of the Bible largely critiques of this idealized conception of the Bible rather than how the Bible actually functions within Christianity?

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #2

Post by Difflugia »

historia wrote:1. Is Barton's analysis accurate?
I think so.
historia wrote:2. If so, are Protestant views on the Bible mostly an idealized conception of the nature and authority of the text?
Views about its nature are certainly idealized, but its authority is simply declared by fiat. How much and in what ways its nature is idealized depends on whether you're talking to Episcopalians or Southern Baptists. If nothing else, even if one is resolved to derive as many doctrinal points as possible from the text, there must be a set of rules about how to resolve conflicts or to deal with subjects not addressed by the text. Since the Bible itself doesn't contain such a set of rules, any form of "Biblical" Christianity must have at least some level of non-Biblical foundation. Since the Bible itself doesn't include statements about things like inerrancy or unity of doctrine, any such ideas must be fiat declarations. Whether the denominations acknowledge this or not is another question.
historia wrote:3. If so, are atheist criticisms of the Bible largely critiques of this idealized conception of the Bible rather than how the Bible actually functions within Christianity?
How the Bible actually functions within Christianity has such a range that it includes being a set of inspirational stories, acting as a sort of oracle, and being a ventriloquist mouthpiece. I've seen atheist criticisms leveled at all of these angles. I've also seen atheist criticisms directed at the idealizations, as well. I already mentioned inerrancy and unity of doctrine, but there are also things like historical accuracy and the New Testament's relationship with the Old. The Bible requires none of these of itself, but various Christian demoninations claim them on the Bible's behalf. In that light, I'm not even sure it's fair to claim that the atheist attacks you're talking about are on the Bible as such, but are instead attacks on the doctrines of particular Christians. I mean, if a Christian claims that the Bible contains no contradictory claims and an atheist points out verses that are apparently contradictory, is that an attack on the Bible or is it an attack on the Christian claim about it?

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #3

Post by Divine Insight »

historia wrote: 1. Is Barton's analysis accurate?
I don't agree with Barton's analysis exactly as stated. He says:
Judaism thus has a holy book, and a set of religious beliefs and practices, but the two are known not to correlate exactly, despite being congruent; and this may be a better model for understanding Christianity too than the common Protestant perception of doctrine and practice as straightforwardly derived from the Bible.
I argue that this is not true. The set of religious beliefs and practices are not congruent with what's actually written in their Holy Books.

Congruent - in harmony or agreement.

In fact, I hold that if this were indeed true, they it must also be true the beliefs and practices must also correlate exactly, otherwise how could they be said to be congruent. Sounds like a game of semantic musical chairs here.

Besides, my theological position on these specific religions is to simply argue that the Bible, Torah, cannot be true as they are written.

If these religious theologians want to agree with me on this point, they I'm done. There's no point in them arguing for their religions any further because from whence can they lay claim to having any further knowledge of their God?

And besides, if their further knowledge does not correlate exactly with these holy books, then as far as I'm concerned their theology does indeed have serious problems.

If their Holy Books do not correctly describe their God, then at least one of the following to conditions must be true.

1. Their holy books are wrong, and therefore cannot be trusted to contain truth.

Or,

2. The God they claim to be referring to cannot be the God described in their holy books.

In short, they aren't going to get away with trying to have their cake and eat it too with me. I won't tolerate such obviously flawed apologies for clearly failed theologies. What they end up with is a theology based on logical contradictions and semantic musical chairs.

Hardly anything worthy of further investigation.
historia wrote: 2. If so, are Protestant views on the Bible mostly an idealized conception of the nature and authority of the text?
Again, my theological position is very simple and straight-forward. I simply hold that the Bible cannot be true as it is written.

They seem to be in total agreement with me on this point as their main apology is indeed that their Bible cannot be trusted to be literally true. In other words, even they literally reject their own Bible.

So they have already conceded to my position the moment they pretend that their Bible doesn't say what it actually says. What better way to make apologies for a clearly flawed holy book?
historia wrote: 3. If so, are atheist criticisms of the Bible largely critiques of this idealized conception of the Bible rather than how the Bible actually functions within Christianity?
My argument here is the following:

First what are you calling "Christianity"?

Are you trying to argue that Christendom is Christianity?

I reject this.

I argue that "Christianity" is indeed what has been written in the Christian doctrines of the Bible, including both Old Testament narratives, and the New Testament tales.

In fact, many forms of Christendom used to hold to the idea that these Biblical texts were the inspired "Word of God". Controlled by God via divine inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Obviously Christendom is rapidly moving away from this position because even they have come to realize that the Bible cannot be defended as it is written.

So Christendom no longer even represents "Christianity" anymore. Even they have literally rejected the Bible in favor of embracing ideologies that are often in extreme contrast to what the Bible actually has to say.

~~~~

Again, this appears to be more semantic musical chairs were the very term "Christianity" is now taken to mean Christendom rather than the contents of the original holy texts of Christianity (i.e. the Bible).

All this tells me is that Christendom no longer represents "Christianity" and that Christianity is indeed dead.

Christendom - the worldwide body or society of Christians

Notice that there can be no dispute or argument that Christendom in dire self-disagreement. The worldwide society of Christians disagree with each other on what they think Christendom should stand for, and, as has been pointed out, more and more of them are trying very hard to distance themselves from what their original Bible actually has to say.

They have already literally rejected the Bible in favor of pretending that they can reinterpret it to mean what they wish it has said originally.

But that doesn't work. Nor can it ever be made to work.

~~~~~

This is why I say that the only "Christians" left today are literal fundamentalists who do indeed hold to the idea that the Bible is literally true in everything it says.

By the way, this doesn't mean to be stupid about this. Obviously there are poetic parts of the Bible that were intended as metaphors. Fundamentalists recognize this and do not demand that obvious metaphors must be taken literally. None the less the metaphors themselves are literal metaphors. I would add here that even metaphors that paint obviously immoral pictures need to be recognized for their immoral content even as metaphors.

Fundamentalists, also recognize obvious parables. They don't demand that parables had to have actually happened. None the less, even a parable must be taken "literally". In other words, it must be understood for what it literally has to say. Therefore even a parable that portrays and immoral situation must be recognized to have literally portrayed an immoral situation. That doesn't mean that the parable had to have actually occurred.

So even Fundamentalist recognize metaphors and parables in the Bible. It's just that they don't pretend that they said something other than what they actually said.

I have no problem with Fundamentalists as I feel their position is at least honest and clear. However, I already hold that the Bible cannot be true as it is written, even allowing for metaphors and parables.

And I stand by that. So while I have no problem with Fundamentalists position, I reject it as being clearly flawed as the Bible, when accepted for what it actually has to say, is grossly self-contradicting, and the God it describes cannot possible be real.

So when I accept Fundamentalism (i.e. I accept the Bible as it is written), I have no choice but to conclude that it is nothing more than very poorly written and clearly false man-made superstitious stories that cannot possibly be true because of their extreme self-contradictory nature.

~~~~

So while Barton may indeed be correct about Christendom. I don't see where this helps "Christianity" at all as a theology.

Christendom is not a theology. In fact, Christendom is nothing more than a society of disagreeing theists who basically all reject Christianity and the Bible as it is written. Save for the few dwindling Fundamentalists who are stuck with a self-contradicting holy book.

Basically Christianity is dead, and Christendom is just a society of disagreeing people who call themselves Christians but who actually don't even believe in what the Bible actually has to say.

For the most part, they all agree with me. The Bible cannot be true as it is written.

They apparently agree with this very much so. Their greatest apology for their religion is that the Bible should not be taken literally. They have already literally rejected the Bible themselves.
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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #4

Post by SallyF »

historia wrote: John Barton, professor at Oxford University, has this to say in his recent book, The History of the Bible (2019):
Barton wrote:
The Bible does not 'map' directly onto religious faith and practice, whether Jewish or Christian . . . The Bible is very unlike a creed or a 'Confession' . . . It is a mele of materials, few of which directly address the question of what is to be believed . . . .

There are versions of Christianity that claim to be simply 'biblical' (no versions of Judaism do so), but the reality is that the structures and content of Christian belief, even among Christians who believe their faith to be wholly grounded in the Bible, are organized and articulated differently from the contents of the Bible . . . [The Bible] is not and cannot be the whole foundation of either Judaism or Christianity . . . .

The Bible is centrally important to both Judaism and Christianity, but not as a holy text out of which entire religious systems can somehow be read. Its contents illuminate the origins of Christianity and Judaism, and provide spiritual classics on which both faiths can draw; but they do not constrain subsequent generations in the way that a written constitution would. They are simply not that kind of thing. They are a repository of writings, both shaping and shaped by the two religions at various stages in their development, to which later generations of believers are committed to responding in positive, but also critical, ways . . . .

Judaism thus has a holy book, and a set of religious beliefs and practices, but the two are known not to correlate exactly, despite being congruent; and this may be a better model for understanding Christianity too than the common Protestant perception of doctrine and practice as straightforwardly derived from the Bible.
Questions for debate:

1. Is Barton's analysis accurate?

2. If so, are Protestant views on the Bible mostly an idealized conception of the nature and authority of the text?

3. If so, are atheist criticisms of the Bible largely critiques of this idealized conception of the Bible rather than how the Bible actually functions within Christianity?

Humpty Dumpty puts it FAR more succinctly than Prof Barton …


Image

...to which later generations of believers are committed to responding in positive, but also critical, ways . . . .

Which means they can have biblical words mean just what they CHOOSE them to mean ...

And just make up stuff about the made-up stuff ...

And toss the mud-man and the rib-woman and the angels and virgins and talking donkeys over the side of their belief balloons, like so much embarrassing, historical ballast.

3. If so, are atheist criticisms of the Bible largely critiques of this idealized conception of the Bible rather than how the Bible actually functions within Christianity?
This New Atheist criticises the actual contents of the propaganda/"scripture" ...

Image


This New Atheist also criticises what people DO with the propaganda/"scripture" as a function of their multitudinous, contradictory Christianities ...

Image

And SOOO many Christians claim that SOOO many OTHER (perhaps not-quite-so-Christian-as-them) Christians, are doing it WRONG with their Bibles …

because THEY are the ones who've got it RIGHT …!
"God" … just whatever humans imagine it to be.

"Scripture" … just whatever humans write it to be.

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #5

Post by Purple Knight »

SallyF wrote:Humpty Dumpty puts it FAR more succinctly than Prof Barton …
Clearly the man is the master of the word, which is the master of other men. Being on top's the trick, and climbing over a pile of ruined words somebody else stacked neatly, so as to get there.

Every day, language is becoming less and less useful, so more and more people who would be wrong if words were clear, can be right instead.

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #6

Post by historia »

Difflugia wrote:
I'm not even sure it's fair to claim that the atheist attacks you're talking about are on the Bible as such, but are instead attacks on the doctrines of particular Christians.
This, I think, is exactly correct.

But, if these atheist attacks are really a critique of the doctrines of particular Christians, rather than a critique of the Bible itself, then why are so many of them framed as the latter? See, e.g., post 3.

Is it simply that these atheists have so thoroughly taken onboard the presuppositions of the particular Christians they want to critique -- maybe because they once belonged to such a group themselves -- that they cannot fully separate that group's idealized views and interpretations of scripture from a more objective appraisal of the Bible itself?

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #7

Post by historia »

[Replying to post 3 by Divine Insight]

Let me see if I understand your argument.

By "Christianity" you mean your interpretation of the Bible. And if actual Christian beliefs and practices (both contemporary and historical) diverge from your interpretation of the Bible, then actual Christians have abandoned "Christianity." And apparently anyone who disagrees with this non-standard definition of "Christianity" is engaging in "semantic games."

Have I got that right?

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #8

Post by Divine Insight »

historia wrote: [Replying to post 3 by Divine Insight]

Let me see if I understand your argument.

By "Christianity" you mean your interpretation of the Bible. And if actual Christian beliefs and practices (both contemporary and historical) diverge from your interpretation of the Bible, then actual Christians have abandoned "Christianity." And apparently anyone who disagrees with this non-standard definition of "Christianity" is engaging in "semantic games."

Have I got that right?

No, you couldn't be further from the truth.

To begin with there is no need for me to "interpret" the Bible. I actually accept the core story that all Christians must necessarily agree upon because they have no choice. The Bible says what it says, and there's nothing anyone can do to change that. Pretending that Christians could re-interpret the Bible to have said something entirely different is nothing short of apologetics dishonesty. Which so many Christian apologists appear to be fully embracing. Obviously because they don't like what the Bible actually has to say.

For example. all Christians have no choice but to agree that the Bible itself proclaims that in the first chapter of Genesis the Biblical God created the earth and saw that it was "good". For the Bible tells us so.

There is no way to re-interpret this to claim that the Biblical God created the world and saw that it was "bad". Because that's clearly not what the Bible has to say.

So there are grave limitations in how far Christians can go in claiming to have their own "interpretations" of what they claim the Bible says. The wrong "wrong interpretations" apology is a meaningless apology that has no merit.

So it's a waste of time for Christians to even try pulling that stunt, even though it's basically the only stunt they have left to pull.

Any Christian who disagrees with what I read in the Bible would need to show where I have it wrong. Not just claim that they don't like my "interpretations".

In the beginning God created the earth and all life on earth and say that it was "good". This flies in the face of what we now know to be true. And that is that the world was filled with disease, death, and animals preying on other animals long before humans ever showed up on earth.

This requires that God saw that disease, death, and animals eating each other is "good". There's no need to re-interpret anything here.

What some theists have argued is that what God actually meant is that is was "good" for his purposes. You might want to call that an "interpretation". But there's even a problem with this, because this would then mean that based on their "interpretation" what humans call "evil" or "bad" God calls "good" because it serves his purpose. This becomes impossible to defend actually. This would mean that if a murderer who rapes and kills a young child is serving God's purpose, then that act was "good".

So Christians who think they can play these kinds of games have lost before they even get started.

~~~~

Granted, I used an extremely simple example. But this is because I like to start at the beginning of the Bible to show that these kinds of problems start at the very beginning, and just continue throughout the mythology.

I don't need to "interpret" anything. I just take the Bible for what it says. Christians who claim that it means something else are the people who need to show how that makes any sense. Where does the Bible say that God saw evil as being "good" because it serves his purposes? It doesn't. This is an idea that Christians are trying to push onto the Biblical mythology in an attempt to make corrections for very poorly written myths.

Staying in the early chapters of Genesis we have this God cursing an evil angel to crawl on his belly and eat dirt for the rest of his life. I hold that this is an absurd curse that no intelligent God would even curse on anyone, or anything.

Why? Well, for one thing, what does doing evil and harmful things to other creators solve? It solves nothing. In fact, all it does is lower the status of the one who made the curse from being "good" to also being "evil". So the Biblical mythology has God doing evil things right off the bat.

Moreover, we can ask if this even solved anything? And the answer is clearly, "No it did not". It didn't even have a positive or constructive effect since this evil demon continued to corrupt God's creation all through the rest of the Biblical mythology.

So we have a God who can't even solve a simple problem. Not only this but the Bible teaches the wrong message here. Being cruel to people who don't do as we expect does not solve a problem. Yet this Biblical mythology is basically teaching us that to do brutal things to people we see as being evil is a "godly act".

No amount of re-interpretation can change this. The best argument that Christians can give (and typically do give), is that the evil serpent deserved what he got. But that just falls into the trap of accepting that being mean to someone who doesn't do as we like is a "Godly act". In other words, they just fall into the trap of the immorality that the mythology is teaching them.

So the excuses that the Biblical God can do evil things to others because they supposedly deserve to be treated in a cruel and punishing manner, isn't a valid apology for a God who is supposed to be all-wise, omniscient, and omnipotent.

In other words, the only thing that a Christian apologist can argue for is the idea that a supposedly all-wise, omniscient, and omnipotent God can act like an ignorant uneducated barroom drunkard if he wants to. That's a pretty sad apology for the behavior of a God.

And we can just continue on through the entire Bible like this.

Still in the early chapters of Genesis we have Adam and Eve, two very innocent humans who haven't even yet learned or been taught the difference between "good and evil", necessarily so for this story to even begin to make any sense. And they are innocently beguiled by an already evil serpent.

To begin with, the question then arises, "Would Adam and Eve have ever chosen to commit an evil act on their own?" If the answer to this question is no, they had to be beguiled by an evil serpent, then humans were set up for a fall that they would have never made via their own free will choice.

Moreover, if they weren't yet even knowledgeable of evil, then they couldn't have chosen it since they wouldn't even be aware that it exists.

After they had been beguiled, Eve confessed to everything, even testifying against the evil serpent who beguiled her. This is precisely what every good little Christian girl is supposed to do. Supposedly by confessing to the truth she will be forgiven. But not in the case of Eve. Eve is condemned by God to be cast out of the Garden of Eden with no forgiveness being offered at all. And the Bible doesn't even have Eve behaving in a rebellious manner. She's not standing there yelling at God that she refuses to do as he says. To the contrary she's cooperating fully explaining to God how she had been beguiled by an evil serpent.

There is no way to "re-interpret" this story to be something else. We have no choice but to accept it for what it says. To try to make excuses for it requires adding quite a bit to the story that simply isn't contained within the Bible.

Finally, if this God's plan was to have humans accept Jesus as their savior, why not offer that option to Adam and Eve right there in the Garden of Eden. Let them decide for all of mankind whether they will accept Jesus or not.

Where's the excuse for Christianity now? There cannot be one. Claiming that Jesus hadn't yet been crucified by thugs is hardly a compelling apology.

We're only into the 3rd chapter of Genesis and we already have major problems galore. There is no way to resolve these problem via "re-interpretations". The only hope to make apologies for them is to invent a lot of extra idea that are NOT part of the original story. That's not reinterpretation that's just an attempt to rewrite a very poorly written mythology in the hope of trying to make excuses for its obvious problems.

In short, there's nothing any Christian can do to save the Bible via reinterpretations.

It's just not possible. They only thing they can do is pretend that it doesn't say what it actually says and that they wish it has been written differently.

That's not "reinterpretation".

So the re-interpretation apology is nonsense. It has no merit. It's a final straw that Christian apologists grasp for that simply doesn't work.

I've only brought up three trivial things in th4e very beginning of Genesis. If we continue on to go through the entire Bible things only go further downhill for Christian theology. Christian apologists end up having to make excuses for the Bible in every chapter of every book of the Bible. They end up with more excuses that the Bible has chapters. And their excuses aren't even written in the Bible. This is stuff they had to push onto the Bible in a desperate attempt to try to make it work.

Notice that everything I bring up is based on what the Bible actually has to say. I don't need to "interpret" anything. All I need to do is go by what the Bible actually has to say for itself.

To defend the Bible Christian apologists need to add tons of extraneous ideas that aren't even remotely implied by the Bible, much less written within it.

~~~~~

Besides, if you stop and think about this for even a couple minutes you can see a far greater problem.

If Christians claim that I have the Bible all "wrong", then guess what? They have just exonerated me from any possible accusation that I have rejected their God.

How so? Well, they have just decreed that I have the Bible all "wrong'. In other words, they proclaiming that I am rejecting a "wrong" picture of God.

Well, there you go! Even by the decree of Christian theists I have rejected a wrong picture of God. Shouldn't God be thrilled? I've rejected a totally wrong picture of God. This God should then be super pleased with me. O:)

So the Christians who claim that the atheists who reject the Bible have done so because they have a wrong picture of God have only just exonerated those atheists.

So their apology doesn't even work.

In order to have someone rejecting a God they first need to have the correct and true understanding of what God is.

Claiming that God is all "good" while the Bible make the opposite crystal clear simply doesn't work.

Christian theists are shooting themselves in their own feet with a fully automatic assault rifle. They have blown away their own feet so completely that they no longer have a foot to stand on. Their apologies are dead.

Claims that non-theists have a wrong understanding of God only serve to exonerate anyone who rejects the Biblical God. According to the Christian apologists they must have rejected a wrong picture of God.

And what loving, kind, and understanding God wouldn't be extremely pleased to hear that?

So the claim that I have a wrong understanding of the Bible only hands me a certificate of complete exoneration from having rejected the "Real God".

According to this Christian apology for their theology that's not possible. All I could have possibly done is reject a totally wrong and incorrect picture of God. And that could only result in their God being absolutely thrilled with me.

So this theological apology simple doesn't work.

In a theology where the God is supposed to condemn non-believers to eternal damnation there can be no room for misunderstanding. So to even claim that I have a misunderstanding of the Bible kills the theology right there.

It's a self-destructing theological apology. Just more bullets shot into the feet of the Christian apologists by themselves.
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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #9

Post by Difflugia »

historia wrote:Is it simply that these atheists have so thoroughly taken onboard the presuppositions of the particular Christians they want to critique...?
In some cases, I'm sure that's true. It's also true, though, that there has to be some common ground in even the most antagonistic debate. It's hard to have a discussion about apparent redactions of John's Gospel as evidence for a Johannine schism with someone that insists that the evangelists were divinely inspired companions of Jesus. If there's going to be a conversation, at least one participant has to shift their point of view for the sake of the argument. I know from experience that it's easy to lose track of which points are hypothetical and start framing doctrinal debates as biblical ones.

The other side of the same coin is that the group of atheists arguing with Christians is somewhat narrow. Someone with a completely different outlook on the Bible isn't going to have much of a connection to draw from. Witness how most conversations with Muslims go on this site. Most of them care little about the Bible because it has so little intersection with their theology, so the interactions tend to be nonstarters. That also describes most atheists in general, so any atheists here must already care about the Bible in some way that's different and special. An atheist that's as ambivalent about the Bible as many liberal Christians isn't likely to find that many interesting conversations here.

My wife and daughter love attending a local Unitarian church, so I go with them. The congregants there share much more with me philosophically than any standard Christian church, but most of them don't think or care much about the Bible. I have more fun when we go to the Pentecostal church with my sister-in-law, Catholic mass with the neighbor, or Kingdom Hall with the pair of publishers that occasionally canvas our street.

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Re: The Bible. You're doing it wrong.

Post #10

Post by historia »

Divine Insight wrote:
I don't need to "interpret" anything. I just take the Bible for what it says.
This is obviously false. All texts require interpretation.

Claiming that you don't need to interpret a text that was written thousands of years ago in a culture and language very different from our own is merely a confession that you haven't seriously considered your own assumptions and presuppositions when reading the Bible.
Divine Insight wrote:
Christians who claim that it means something else are the people who need to show how that makes any sense.
Christians can interpret their scripture however they want. It's their scripture after all.

What doesn't make any sense is a non-Christian imagining that his interpretation of the Bible somehow constitutes "Christianity."
Divine Insight wrote:
Staying in the early chapters of Genesis we have this God cursing an evil angel to crawl on his belly and eat dirt for the rest of his life.
There is no mention of an angel in the text. I thought you said you didn't need to "interpret" and just "take the Bible for what it says"?

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