Thursday, January 25, 2007

One view of Biblical "contradictions."

http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliable2.htm#oct1105 I had heard this fellow on the Hugh Hewitt show but found him this evening while doing a web search for the discepencies in the "date of Jesus' death" mentioned by Jeff at what is, again, the finest house in all of the Red Suburbs. Should Biblical contradictions interest you, what do you think of this Mark Roberts fellow?

10 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

S-Tard,

Thanks again for your effusive praise of my house--I'm glad it appears mighty and impressive to the outside world.

Mark Roberts is right that one man's variations are another man's contradictions, and ultimately it only matters if you're a strict biblical literalist who insists that the Bible was actually written by God (whatever that's supposed to mean). Look at Roberts' very reasonable sounding blog entries next to, say, the list of biblical contradictions put together by my friends over at evilbible.com: http://www.evilbible.com/contradictions.htm. Is one of them more correct than the other?

Roberts saying that the evangelists didn't have to get everything in chronological order, or get the small details right, or even describe Jesus's personality and affect in a harmonious way is itself a rebuke to the literalist I describe above. While I might, then, consider Roberts's pragmatism to be refreshingly reasonable given his field of study, ther are still lots of quotes like this that get my Irish up: "If it's true that the gospel writers were doing what biographers and historians were expected to do in the first-century Greco-Roman world, then we shouldn't be surprised to find plenty of variations between the gospels."

Great--you'll allow that the early Christians were products of their superstitious, pre-scientific, narrative-driven times in order to soften up charges of historical inaccuracy, but I doubt many Christians would then ask themselves why there should be any more credence placed in the Bible than there currently is in the Cult of Apollo, absent the kind of evidence we require today to verify historical truths.

Better even than the straightforward contradictions, I always liked the story from where the term "born again" arises. As I'm sure you know, it comes from a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in that troublemaker John's gospel. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man cannot enter the kingdom of God unless he is "born again," the word Jesus uses in Greek (anothen) means both "again" and "from above." Based on his response, Nicodemus obviously understands the former Greek meaning (he doesn't repeat "anothen," but uses a word that means "a second time"), though, based on Jesus's counter-response, Jesus obviously meant the latter (I would be curious to find out why "born again" stuck for Christians rather than the intended concept of "born from above"--my guess is that it's a great example of the way that human carelessness modifies all holy writ as time goes on, as well as the fact that "born again" just sounds better than what Jesus meant to say). This wordplay only makes sense if the conversation occurred in Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic, in which there is no comparable cognate that would cause such confusion. Since we know that the original conversation didn't take place in Greek, some Greek speaker either embellished the conversation or made it up out of whole cloth--and once you admit that possibility, the door to all kinds of mischief swings open.

3:20 PM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

"though, based on Jesus's counter-response, Jesus obviously meant the latter"

You don't suppose it can be coincidence that Jesus and Nicodemus were discussing being born again and discussing descending from heaven (being different things) and the Greek "wordplay" is not artificial, but a happy coincidence? That is, why is it necessary for Jesus to have had the second meaning of anothen in mind, when he could have had the first, and yet gone on to discuss the odd "descended" thing? (which I don't get the relevance of).

It may also be that this fellow John is merging two conversations into one (he was writing a bit after the fact) but nevertheless reporting actually what Jesus said to Nicodemus.

On a related note, does it matter to you that I left at 9 but not 905, and if I told a friend about what we discussed, would getting spelling Andrew Sullivan's name with one "l" and not two disqualify me as a reputable source?

9:19 PM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

As to the house, it is worth all of the gushiness I have lavished upon it. I love going into such beautiful places, especially as someone else has to worry about them. It's really a gorgeous house. I drove through Garfield Park between the conservatory and West Town and they are tearing down all of the really great houses and putting up shit.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"You don't suppose it can be coincidence that Jesus and Nicodemus were discussing being born again and discussing descending from heaven (being different things) and the Greek "wordplay" is not artificial, but a happy coincidence? That is, why is it necessary for Jesus to have had the second meaning of anothen in mind, when he could have had the first, and yet gone on to discuss the odd "descended" thing? (which I don't get the relevance of)."

Hmm... This doesn't seem likely to me. John is known for his deliberate use of double entendre throughout the gospel (multiple meanings of "living water," the ever-slippery "logos," etc.). In verse 3.12 he makes the opposition of the two meanings more explicit by saying, If you don't understand when I tell you about earthly things [being born again] you won't understand if I tell you about heavenly things [being born from above of spirit]. I'll concede that it's possible it happened as you say, but it would be a break in the style of the writing throughout, so I think it's unlikely.

"On a related note, does it matter to you that I left at 9 but not 905, and if I told a friend about what we discussed, would getting spelling Andrew Sullivan's name with one "l" and not two disqualify me as a reputable source?"

No, I wouldn't claim that small variations between the stories of multiple witnesses to a single event disqualify their testimony. I do claim that a) a document that contains factual contradictions cannot have an inerrant source, and b) there has to be much more evidence to support a particular event or the divine character of a human being than the somewhat inconsistent written record of 1st Century ideological partisans (remember what Roberts noted about their commitment to factual accuracy) of that event/divine character. To take one example of many, I would expect some historical corroboration of the cataclysmic events described in Matthew 27:51, particulary given the superstitious nature of the age and the fact that we have lots of secular histories from that time that never failed to describe other cataclysmic events. What it comes down to for me is that, short of evidence, I see no reason to believe the story of the raising of Lazarus anymore than I do the story of the birth of Ganesh, any more than I do the story of what's-his-name's golden tablets. The only way you can get past that is to claim revelation, but the catch is that the nature of your revelation (Christian, not Hindu; Wiccan, not Quaker) is still entirely predicated on the document. In the words of Joseph Heller, "That's some catch."

1:50 PM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

How dare you blaspheme Ganesh!

Why are you so confident that Jesus and Nicodemus were not speaking Greek? I concede that it was unlikely (and not even what I'm arguing), but it could be possible given that Greek was the lingua franca of the day.
Nic came to Jesus at night out of fear, haven't you ever spoken to someone in Spanish so that the gringos about could not understand?

More to the point, earthly vs heavenly plays out with either meaning of the Greek word. Nic wanted to know if someone could go back into his mother's womb (an earthly thing) and Jesus was talking about being born again, born of the water (earthly) and of the Spirit (spiritually, or "again")

10:24 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"Why are you so confident that Jesus and Nicodemus were not speaking Greek?"

No puedo decirtelo con 100% de certidumbre, pero me parece poco probable que 1) ellos hablaran griego, y que 2) dos hablantes de hebreu/aramaico hablaran sobre un punto teologico tan importante para ellos en un idioma que les sea a los dos extranjero (fijate que nosotros nunca lo hacemos, aunque los dos hablamos espaƱol). On this point, I think you have to look at the opinions of historians/theologians who have no personal or professional interest in the answer (i.e., I wouldn't regard an inerrantist theologian to necessarily be reliable on this question). I don't know if this is the case, but I would guess that a crushing majority of them would find it highly unlikely that Jesus spoke Greek (given his upbringing, I would think that his speaking Greek would have deserved notice as being somewhat miraculous), or that he and Nicodemus would have chosen a profane language like Greek to discuss a subject as holy as the one they were discussing. The whole thing would be a seriously blow to Occam's Razor.

"More to the point, earthly vs heavenly plays out with either meaning of the Greek word." I don't think I understand--I agree that it does play out with both meanings of the Greek word, but there are apparently no comparable Hebrew or Aramaic words that would have led to the wordplay we're discussing.

However, I've already conceded that it may have been a matter of confusion on Nicodemus's part due to the strangeness of the concept of "being born again"--even in Hebrew or Aramaic--and that Jesus may have gone on to use a different H. or A. word to describe "born from above," then returned to the word/phrase for "born again" at the end of his talk. The later memorializing of the conversation in Greek may have just benefitted from the coincidental fact that the two distinct words in H. or A. were homonyms in Greek.

But that's a lot of "may haves," with a lot of unlikely premises underpinning the conclusion.

1:49 PM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

Jeff,

I must disagree (I'm honor bound). Sure, we do not use Spanish to speak theologically, but neither are we wishing to hide what we say from others. I reckon you have had the opportunity to use Spanish specifically when you hoped someone else did not understand. Last semester, I resorted to Spanish to voice my frustrations regarding the administration of the school, in the earshot of an administrator who I knew not to speak Spanish. Hell, English was a problem for her, but you get the idea. Nicodemus already was speaking to Jesus at night for fear of the Jewish leaders, it would make sense for him to speak in Greek, especially if he knew his compatriots would not dialogue in Greek terms regarding theolgoical matters.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

S-Tard,

Here is often where the argument breaks down between theists and non-theists. I don't believe a simple "tekton" like Jesus would have spoken Greek (it's more likely that Nicodemus would have, I suppose). But then again, you believe he's God, so the conversation could have taken place in Cantonese with both of them on unicycles, and it wouldn't really make any difference for your purposes.

For me, besides the biblical contradictions and the lack of historical/scientific evidence, there is also the logic problem of an omnipotent God: for example, the old chestnut about whether or not God can make a rock that's too heavy for him to lift. These are all things that point me in one direction, so I'm not willing to give much creedence to the often belabored explanations for why example after example of contradictions/impossibilities are not really contradictory or impossible at all.

Having said that, the following is an explanation which, if correct in its specifics, I can see accepting (from http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/test-archives/html4/1998-07/26364.html):

""Now to idiom. In Northern Aramaic, to be "born again" meant to change one's life around or to change one's habits....sort of like our "turning over a new leaf."

Niqodmon would have spoken Southern Aramaic and may not have understood.

This logion and it's parallels are clear Semitisms so my earlier point in this thread was that ALSO looking at the Aramaic substratum behind translational Greek in the NT can do nothing but expand our exegetical efforts. The Greek is not ALL there is. After all "Unless you turn over a new leaf, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." (g)"

Let us expand our exegetical efforts, my brother!

11:29 AM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

"the old chestnut about whether or not God can make a rock that's too heavy for him to lift."

Hey there,

I'm never going to have a grasp on Greek or Aramaic, let alone a particular form of Aramaic. That being stated, I'm fascinated by the development of language and which ones were used where, and by whom.

Your quoted statement, however, does nothing for me. It's like saying a man who owns everything cannot need anything, which would never be considered to be a "bad" thing. If God is omnipotent, then there is no rock that he cannot lift. The fact that such cannot exist does not make God at all not omnipotent, really it proves the contrary. It's assuming that something can exist that in fact it cannot in the Christian paradigm; omnipotence is about having all the real power rather than in satisfying clever but false dilemmas.

However, just to get cute, God did make the wood that He Himself was crucified upon, His body unable to bear the suffering.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

S-Tard,

"If God is omnipotent, then there is no rock that he cannot lift. The fact that such cannot exist does not make God at all not omnipotent, really it proves the contrary. It's assuming that something can exist that in fact it cannot in the Christian paradigm; omnipotence is about having all the real power rather than in satisfying clever but false dilemmas."

I know this particular thought experiment seems ridiculous to theists, because for you there are no logical constraints to God's power. However, for atheists it's a useful thought experiment because it--and many other things--knocks out the possible category of "omnipotent" anything.

It's similar to the problem we have with the first cause argument. The simplistic logic many theists use to argue that everything has a cause, and that, therefore (huge leap here), God is the cause of everything, simply doesn't pass muster, because behind every God-creator of the universe there's gotta be someone or something creating him (and so on, and so on...).

But here's a question for you: rather than arguing with a godless pinko like me, what would your approach be to arguing with, say, a Scientologist about whether one should believe in God or L. Ron Hubbard (assuming you could get one of those schmucks to actually say he worshipped L. Ron like a god, which I have never been able to do...). In other words, what better arguments do you have compared to a guy who believes in a religion that was started in Hollywood in the last half of the 20th Century?

3:01 PM  

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