Monday, October 11, 2010

Is the Bible Reliable?

Today's counter-apologetic is brought to you by Matt Slick of CARM and by the letter Q.
One of the most important questions asked by non-Christians as they look into Christianity is whether or not the Bible is trustworthy. Can the Bible be trusted? If it has been corrupted, then we cannot trust what is attributed to Jesus' words and deeds. So, is the Bible reliable or not?
Corrupted is an interesting word choice. It’s funny, because Matt Slick here appears to be giving us only two options – the Bible is accurate, “uncorrupted” and trustworthy, or it is none of those things. He’s painting an either/or scenario. Either the Bible is the word of god or it isn’t – and if it isn’t, then it’s also apparently not trustworthy or reliable. Please keep this black-and-white either/or premise in mind as we continue. It will come into play later.
Yes, the Bible is reliable. The original writings of the Bible have been lost. But before they were lost, they were copied. These copies were incredibly accurate, very meticulous, and very precise. The people who copied them were extremely dedicated to God and their copying tasks. They took great care when copying the original manuscripts.
Tee-hee! I love the attempt at conflating two completely different things. The copying of the Bible may very well have been accurate or reliable, however (and this is important, kiddies) that does not mean the *content* of the Bible is reliable or accurate, just reliably and accurately copied from an original source *which we are supposed to trust without question.* See, the underlying implication is that because the Bible has been accurately copied (or at least, the New Testament hereafter referred to as NT), that means they are “right” with the suggestion there was some original “right” version of the Bible at one time, and that therefore accuracy *with that original* is the same as accuracy with *reality*.
This copying method is so exact, and so precise, that the New Testament alone is considered to be 99.5% textually pure. This means that of the 6000 Greek copies (the New Testament was written in Greek), and the additional 21,000 copies in other languages, there is only one half of 1% variation. Of this very slight number, the great majority of the variants are easily corrected by comparing them to other copies that don't have the "typos" or by simply reading the context. You should know that copying mistakes occur in such ways as word repetition, spelling, or a single word omission due to the copyist missing something when moving his eyes from one line to another. The variants are very minor.
Huh, so you mean the NT *has* been corrupted? I mean, .5% of it is NOT reliable or accurate! Going by Matt's opening black-and-white premise, I guess this means the whole book should be thrown out. I mean, it was either reliable and accurate and perfect, or it wasn't, right? (Apparently, the best God can do when inspiring a book to be written and copied, is to get 99.5% accuracy. Clearly 100% is too much to expect of the creator of *this* universe.)
Nothing affects doctrinal truth and the words and deeds of Christ are superbly reliably transmitted to us.
Handling snakes and drinking poison. These are doctrines (granted, not ones Matt himself follows) based *entirely* on Biblical forgery, which is knowingly copied by Bible translators today. Oh yes, the NIV includes the forgery and a little footnote at the bottom of the page saying "This is not from the original." Ah yes, the wonderfully accurate and reliable Word of God with no doctrinal truths affected by copying and scribe errors, right Matt? (Here's more on the doctrine and Christians who have died following this forged verse of Scripture.)

And hey, what’s so superbly reliably wonderful about non-eyewitnesses who never even met Jesus-the-man writing their thoughts down about him 40 years after his supposed execution? Matt, be less Slick and more honest. What you really mean here is “The words and deeds of Jesus, according to the original unknown Gospel authors, have been very well preserved and copied over time.” And hey, even if they were eyewitnesses (which they weren’t according to serious Biblical scholars and historians) that would not make their testimonies factually correct.

As a preteen, I had the job of typing up my grandmother’s diaries for posterity. Her letters are big narcissistic loops and her handwriting is worse than most doctors', but, with great accuracy, I was able to very often decipher the original meaning of a page. I’d then take my translation and type it up, thus accurately and reliably copying the words she had written. Does that make my grandmother’s diaries reliable in the way atheists *really* mean when we ask if the Bible is reliable? (Hint: No. It just means I was a damn good office assistant.) My grandmother was mentally ill, among other things, and her perception of events was not just colored or filtered through her beliefs, but sifted through them like flour. She wrote down events and details in the way she perceived to be true, but hey, I was alive during most of these events. I can compare her recollection with my own, or with newspapers and court records or the other people involved. I can see how well her writing matches up with reality, an option we don’t have as readily available when it comes to the anonymous Gospel authors (though we can and should still try.)
The science of studying ancient literature and its accuracy of transmission to is called historicity. The Bible is so exceedingly accurate in its transmission from the originals to the present copies, that if you compare it to any other ancient writing, the Bible is light years ahead in terms of number of manuscripts and accuracy. If the Bible were to be discredited as being unreliable, then it would be necessary to discard the writings of Homer, Plato, and Aristotle as also unreliable since they are far far less well preserved than the Bible.
Beautiful! Here the double-meanings of "reliable" come clearly into focus. I read Plato’s “Republic” in college, because it was assigned and I have a thing for A’s. There were parts I liked and parts I hated and at one point, I even chucked the book across the restaurant where I was studying because I was so furious. Finding out that the Republic was not copied with perfect accuracy over the centuries changes my feelings for that book not one jot or tittle, as Jesus would say (according to anonymous Gospel authors.) Hell, I don’t even care if it turns out Plato never existed and “his” ideas were really someone else’s. Because Plato’s not my god, and he never was. Homers writings are beautiful and epic, in the original sense of the word. But we don’t worship the gods in his stories anymore, so no one minds quite so much if the stories have shifted ever so slightly over time.

No one takes the writings of Homer, Plato and Aristotle as “gospel truth” and that’s the kicker. Little children aren't asked to take the Iliad into their hearts and turn their sins over to Zeus for forgiveness. Whether or not they are reliable, accurate copies and translations of the originals has *nothing* to do with whether the originals were factual or fictional. You can copy a lie all die long and no matter how accurately you copy the lie, that won’t make the lie truth.

Also, Matt Slick has shifted from claims that the New Testament was incredibly accurate to now claiming the entire Bible is more accurately copied than other ancient texts, but the OT doesn’t have the same “accuracy rating” as the NT and Matt Slick knows that. He’s just a deceptive little booger.
The Bible was written by those who were inspired by God, so it is accurate and true, and represents historical occurrences.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Your entire argument rests on an unsupported CLAIM that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God?! What a crock of rhetorical shit! Honestly Matt, I expected better of you (though I don’t know why I did – I have no good reason to.)

Also, please Matt, if the Bible is so historically accurate, why wasn’t there really a mass exodus of Israeli slaves from Egypt? Why is there no record of Jesus’ trial or execution amongst Roman court documents of the time? Why are their no contemporary extra-Biblical accounts of any of Jesus’ miracles or actions? Why didn’t anybody BUT the Gospel writers jot down when zombies started rising out of their graves and wondering the streets of Jerusalem? Oh yes, very historically accurate, uh huh. Pull the other one – it’s ticklish.
When we look at the New Testament we realize that it was written by those who either knew Jesus personally, or were under the direction of those who did. They wrote what they saw. They wrote about the resurrection of Christ. They recorded His miracles and His sayings.
Matt is either intentionally ignorant or consciously lying here. He certainly has access to the same information on Biblical authorship that I do (you’d think more so, as the head of the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry) and I know this is flat out BULLSHIT and I’m calling him out on it.

From the Iron Chariots Wiki titled “Overview of Early Christianity
On inspection, the four gospels that provide the core understanding of Jesus' life not only appear to have not been written by the apostles that are attributed to them, but they were misleadingly not written by any first-hand eyewitnesses of Jesus at all. They were all written many years after the purported life of Jesus by people who had never met him. In the case of John, as late as the early 2nd Century CE. The rest of the new testament is made up of parables by people like Paul of Tarsus and Luke the Evangelist, who, by their own admission, never met Jesus during his lifetime and never witnessed the events and miracles claimed in the gospels. As such, even within the context of the bible itself, there is no first-hand account of Jesus' existence.
From "Did Jesus Christ Really Live?" by Marshall J. Gauvin (circa 1922)
What, then, is the evidence that Jesus Christ lived in this world as a man? The authorities relied upon to prove the reality of Christ are the four Gospels of the New Testament--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These Gospels, and these alone, tell the story of his life. Now we know absolutely nothing of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, apart from what is said of them in the Gospels. Moreover, the Gospels themselves do not claim to have been written by these men. They are not called "The Gospel of Matthew," or "The Gospel of Mark," but "The Gospel According to Matthew," "The Gospel According to Mark," "The Gospel According to Luke," and "The Gospel According to John." No human being knows who wrote a single line in one of these Gospels. No human being knows when they were written, or where. Biblical scholarship has established the fact that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four. The chief reasons for this conclusion are that this Gospel is shorter, simpler, and more natural, than any of the other three. It is shown that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were enlarged from the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark knows nothing of the virgin birth, of the Sermon on the Mount, of the Lord's prayer, or of other important facts of the supposed life of Christ. These features were added by Matthew and Luke.
So… the Gospel writers really didn’t personally know Jesus (in a flesh-and-blood person way of knowing, not in the “Jesus is in my heart” way modern Christians mean). They weren’t writing down their own life events. They weren’t writing down events they witnessed or quoting a guy they palled around with. They were copying Q (except for John.) Oh yeah, and since Q (theoretical believed original document the synoptic gospels are all drawn/copied from) isn’t around today to compare with the Gospels, all those quotes about supreme accuracy to the original kind of ring hollow. Matt Slick really should know this stuff. Do you suppose he does, and he pretends not to, or do you think he’d really rather not know?
It comes down to whether or not you believe what it says about Christ. Do you?
Well, no. Why should I? Men, non-inspired men, wrote the Bible. I have no reason to believe otherwise. Sure, Matt made a claim that the Bible was inspired by God but the evidence he had for it (none) wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive. Neither Matt nor I know who wrote the Gospels, but anyone with the ability to Google can discover for themselves that it was NOT four guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, whoever it was.

Was the New Testament hand copied well from the earlies manuscripts we do have (though not the originals of either the gospels themselves nor Q)? Sure. Does that mean the Bible is reliable? Fuck no! What a silly argument :D