The Perfect Book?

Posted by Keleth | Posted in Religion | February 24th, 2009 3:01 PM

Of course, the book I’m referring to is the Bible. I could also be referring to the Torah or Qur’an, but as the US is made mostly of Protestant Christians, I’m going to use the Bible for this discussion, which is to explore the reasoning behind why these books are taken so literally.

So I make the following three assumptions:

  • God is perfect
  • Man is imperfect
  • The Bible is the word of God and meant to enlighten the flock as well as bring non-believers into the light

If any of these predication aren’t true, please comment and tell me why.

So to examine why the Bible is taken so literally, we have to look into how it came to be. The first I was going to talk about was basically the idea that God wrote the Bible Himself, but I decided against it, as even the most devout Christians don’t believe that is the case. Anyone who does believe the Bible was written by God has no hope of seeing any other viewpoint, and so it would be a moot point. Besides, supposedly, God doesn’t directly interfere with the world, except for his wrath.

The generally accepted explanation is that the books of the Bible are written by people. This is vague, because depending on who you ask, you get a different response as to who the authors are. To religious scholars, the books are written (dictated) by Biblically significant authors, by the influence of God.� Because its believed these authors were touched by God, the words are taken to be intrinsically holy, and are so free from the burden of proof. And so I have to ask, if the words are holy, if they are the word of God, are they perfect? I don’t think its a stretch to say if someone believes the Bible is literal, then the words are perfect. If the words aren’t perfect, how can it be literally true? If the words are prefect, and we accept the truth of the Bible is/has been written/copied down the years by man, and man is imperfect, how does the Bible maintain its perfection? Does the act of writing/copying the Bible make man infallible during the process? If not, are the people who wrote/copy the Bible touched by God while doing so?

Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the First Coun...

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All this is to question, why should you believe the Bible as a literal tale of the world? As a non-believer, if I started to copy the Bible, word for word, would I be granted this degree of holiness while writing it? If not, is it still holy? I realize this seems like a pointless endeavor, but my point is this. From where does the Bible gain its literal value? As with the questions before, man is fallible, and man copies the Bible. Prior to the printing press (and actual availability of the Bible to anyone besides clergy and the rich), the Bible was copied by man, by hand. It was the biggest game of telephone ever played. And I can tell you, when I play telephone with 20 people, we get all sorts of crazy results. Telephone over centuries?

Most secular historians believe that the Bible was written years after Biblically claimed. The Council of Nicaea picked and chose what books and gospels were appropriate for a uniform Bible. Granted, it wasn’t some simple vote, but it was a choice. If this is God’s word, how can mere men decide what belongs? I know someone will argue that they were also touched by God, but again I wonder this: how can the Bible hold any literal value? The Bible outlines slavery and the rules associated as early as Exodus 21. It calls for stoning for various offenses through the entire thing. It disallows any followers from eating shellfish. If the Bible is so literal, why do Christians not follow these edicts today?

At the end, I think the Bible holds a lot of value. I think it provides some great ideas, and professes some wonderful ethics. And the key there is some. The Bible is supposed to be your holy book. You can’t choose to believe some of it and not others by claiming “That’s the Old Testament” or “That was for that age”. Your God is supposed to be unchanging. He’s beyond time and space. Even if you’re Christian and think the Old Testament is for the followers for Judas, and that the words of Jesus are the path to salvation, that doesn’t negate that your God said those things in the Old Testament. If you want to believe the Bible is the word of God, but not literal, as lessons for life, good for you. If you think that some parts are meant to be transcendental and others are meant to be left behind, great. It won’t be the end of your world. You won’t lose your beloved “christian ethics” (which are a different story if you’re a hard-core, the Bible is the end all, Christian); ethics are generated by the integration of multiple societies and religions.

Society has grown and advanced by dropping ideas that no longer make sense, and moving to ideas that do. We’ve dropped customs that seem barbaric and immoral today, such as primae noctis, slavery, and gender roles (to some extent). Laws are added and dropped as they fit into the culture we define. And culture has changed as we’ve expanded our horizons beyond the local cultural and religious norm. You can claim that today’s scientific discoveries were already in the Bible, but you can’t simultaneously claim the Bible is meant to be taken literally. I’ll be able to take you much more seriously when you can accept that you should learn from history, but you shouldn’t live in the past.


As a quick edit of sorts, I was pointed to this YouTube video, which explains my points in a different way, maybe more nicely. The entire set is very interesting, and I would love to hear a Creationist’s or at least a Christian’s view on it.

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One Response to “The Perfect Book?”

  1. Keleth, I thought I’d throw in my few cents’ worth.

    You mention that transcription being a huge game of telephone. Let us not forget that it is played over numerous languages. In fact, when you look at the Old Testament in Koine, you’ll notice how the Judaic concept of “love” as being chosen by God is transliterated as ‘agape,’ not substituted. You also see other concepts of “love” (more human concepts like sexual, personal, and familial love) utilize the word ‘eros.’

    This distinction does not transfer over to St. Augustine’s interpretation and his mentor’s (his name escapes me) translation of it into Latin. Both ‘agape’ and ‘eros’ are translated as ‘amore.’ Then, you have Augustine blathering on about something that looks very suspiciously like Platonic thought, of a “love” of God by man (not of God TO man as is implied by “chosen”). The direction of love is reversed. In fact, this misinterpretation is one of the big reasons Protestantism came around.

    Thanks to Dr. James T. Johnson of the Rutgers Religion Dept. for that. He explained this in his “Love as an Ethic and Idea” class.

    I thought you might appreciate that tidbit as a good explanation of “man’s fallibility.”

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