I Read the Bible Literally! (sometimes)

Reading the intro to this post, I thought I was in for a juicy slice of biblical literalism that I could pick apart piece by idiotic piece. But as I continued, I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual thoughtful analysis of the ‘literalism’ of the bible. The author, though obviously religiously biased (but to each his own), chastises the oversimplification of a mass collection of texts into a dichotomy of literal vs. non-literal interpretations, and instead favors an approach that focuses on the author’s intentions, as any good book should be analyzed, fiction or nonfiction (which is up to you to decide).

“You can’t take the Bible literally!” This is an assertion I’ve heard many times. I don’t agree with it (as stated), but I understand the sentiment behind it. Often it is a reaction to fundamentalist claims about the Bible, such as that it teaches a young earth or creation in six, twenty-four hour days. Christians in the sciences, and other thinking Christians interested in the sciences, rightly raise questions about such views. Sometimes they insist “You can’t take the Bible literally!”

I want to affirm the sentiment behind the assertion, but not the assertion itself.1

I reject it primarily because it over simplifies the matter and because it is a false dichotomy (i.e., literal vs. non-literal are not the only options). Very briefly, consider the following thoughts:

  1. No one actually reads the whole Bible literally. No one, for example, interprets the dragon in the book of Revelation as an…

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31 thoughts on “I Read the Bible Literally! (sometimes)

  1. john zande says:
    September 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm
    What about the whole gaggle of dragons the two-year-old Jesus does battle with in the Infancy Gospel of Matthew and Thomas? They’re real, right?

    But seriously, nice post, however you either accept the bible as wholly true or wholly false. There is no in-between. No disclaimer is proffered, no fiction/non-fiction guide attached, just a claim that its the inerrant word of a Middle Eastern god. I’m sorry, but if your beliefs can’t stand up to even the mildest scrutiny then the scrutiny isn’t your problem.

    patrickfranklin says:
    September 26, 2013 at 8:01 pm
    Why would you subject a collection of at least 66 books, written/edited/compiled by at least as many authors/editors over the course of a few thousand years, of various genres and literary styles (and even languages), to such a simplistic and reductionist dichotomy?

    Logan Rees says:
    September 27, 2013 at 11:09 am
    Seriously John, what other book do you hold to that ultimatum? I’m sure I could find a few errors in the Encyclopedia Britannica; that doesn’t mean the rest of the information therein is false. And that is unambiguously a work of nonfiction.

    patrickfranklin says:
    September 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm
    Unfortunately, I won’t publish John’s response, because it’s so extreme and unhelpful. I’m interested in thoughtful, informed conversation only.

    I’m all for extreme and unhelpful responses. Fire away buddy!

  2. Ah… OK, i’ll publish it here. Nothing “extreme” about it.

    Logan, we’re not just talking about a few errors here. Look at the Pentateuch… the WHOLE THING is now recognised by even Jewish rabbis to be nothing but a geopolitical myth invented in the 6th Century BCE. No Moses, no Abraham, no exodus, no grand united kingdom, no conquest…. No supernatural revelation. All of it utter bunk.

    Now, did Jesus live? I personally doubt it, but it really doesn’t matter, because if he did then he knew nothing and certainly didn’t say anything new or even marginally useful. He repeatedly mentions Moses and Abraham (even allegedly met with them) which is clear evidence he didn’t even know history. Mores the case the authors of the story didn’t know history, so i think we can just toss the whole silly thing out.

    • I’m not arguing that a revisionist history written in the dark ages with the specific goal of defining the religion and ethnic background of a culture group is true. It is, as you put it, a myth. And a myth has an entirely different purpose than a history textbook.

      Should I throw out all of my Star Wars movies because the events in it aren’t historical? Should I reject what I learned from Yoda as a child because he’s a fictional character? Keep my DVDs, I will.

      • Here’s my latest comment:

        To your first point regarding the Pentateuch: it’s been known for well over 40 years that that the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, Isaac) and Moses never existed, the Exodus never happened, there was no conquest of the Land of Israel, and there was never a 10th Century United Kingdom. That is the absolute archeological consensus. Penned by Judean copywriters between the 7th and 5th Centuries BCE (nearly a millenium after its alleged origin) the Pentateuch is recognised today by even conservative Jewish rabbis to be nothing but a geopolitical work of fiction commissioned to justify a northern land grab after the fall of Mamlekhet Yisra’el (Kingdom of Israel) in 722 BCE.

        • “There is no archaeological evidence for any of it. This is something unexampled in history. They [Judah] wanted to seize control of the territories of the kingdom of Israel and annex them, because, they said, `These territories are actually ours and if you have a minute, we´ll tell you how that´s so.’ The goal was to create a myth saying that Judah is the center of the world, of the Israelite way of life, against the background of the reality of the later kingdom.” (Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology, Tel Aviv University)

        • “The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Most of those who are engaged in scientific work in the interlocking spheres of the Bible, archaeology and the history of the Jewish people and who once went into the field looking for proof to corroborate the Bible story now agree that the historic events relating to the stages of the Jewish people’s emergence are radically different from what that story tells.” (Famed Israeli archeologist, Prof. Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University)

        • “I think there is no serious scholar in Israel or in the world who does not accept this position. Herzog represents a large group of Israeli scholars, and he stands squarely within the consensus. Twenty years ago even I wrote of the same matters and I was not an innovator. Archaeologists simply do not take the trouble of bringing their discoveries to public attention.” (Professor Magen Broshi, Archaeologist at the Israel Museum)

        Here are a few more quotes from the unchallenged leaders in the field:

        • “It’s been decades since we’ve known… what’s the hold up?” Israel Finkelstein, chairman of the Archaeology Department at Tel Aviv University.
        • “The period of the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, or judges as devised by the writers of Scriptures never existed,” asserted Robert Coote, Senior Research Professor of Hebrew Exegesis at San Francisco’s Theological Seminary.
        • “The Genesis and Exodus accounts are a fiction,” noted the biblical scholar Niels Peter Lemche of the University of Copenhagen.
        • “The actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn,” concluded Baruch Halpern, Professor of Jewish Studies of Pennsylvania State University.
        • “The patriarchs’ acts are legendary stories, we did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, we did not conquer the land. Those who take an interest have known these facts for years,” declared famed Israeli archeologist, Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University.
        • “Scholars have known these things for a long time, but we’ve broken the news very gently,” explained one of America’s preeminent archaeologists, Professor William Dever of the University of Arizona.
        • And just to hit the nail home, here’s Christianity Today’s Kevin D. Miller: “The fact is that not one shred of direct archaeological evidence has been found for Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob or the 400-plus years the children of Israel sojourned in Egypt. The same is true for their miraculous exodus from slavery.”

        If you doubt the world’s experts, the leaders of archaeological digs and heads of Israeli University departments, then I’d urge you to look at the Jewish rabbis who now openly admit to these facts. Specifically, read the Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary; the first authorised commentary on the Torah since 1936. Published in 2001 by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (in collaboration with the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Publication Society) the 1,559 page long Etz Hayim concludes with 41 essays written by prominent rabbis and scholars who admit the Pentateuch is little more than a self-serving myth rife with anachronisms and un-ignorable archaeological inconsistencies, and rather than triumphant conquest, Israel instead emerged slowly and relatively peacefully out of the general Canaanite population with monotheism only appearing in the post-Exilic period, 5th Century BCE.

        • “Defending a rabbi in the 21st century for saying the Exodus story isn’t factual is like defending him for saying the Earth isn’t flat. It’s neither new nor shocking to most of us that the Earth is round or that the Torah isn’t a history book dictated to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.” Rabbi Steven Leder of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
        • “The rejection of the Bible as literally true is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis.” Rabbi David Wolpe

        And finally, the last word goes to the head of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University: “Most people just don’t want to hear all this and are not comfortable with it. For scholars the matters are clear enough, and they know where there is, and is not, agreement, but they cannot compel the public to listen.” Professor Israel Finkelstein

        Regarding Jesus, there’s nothing “extreme” about it. It’s there in black and white. He clearly believes in this these non-existent characters, naming Moses in Luke (3:8), John 5:45 (“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me”) and twice in Matthew, including a face-to-face meeting detailed in 17:3-4: “While they watched, Jesus’ appearance was changed; his face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus.” Moses is in fact mentioned eighty-five times in the New Testament, and Abraham seventy-five times with Jesus specifically identifying him eighteen times in John 8 alone, including (8:39): Jesus said, “If you were really Abraham’s children, you would do the things Abraham did.”
        Now let’s be brutally honest here; such barefaced testimonies raise some enormously unpleasant credibility problems for Christians. It doesn’t, after all, speak too highly of a god-man’s authority, intelligence, competence, insight or judgment if he couldn’t distinguish the difference between inventive theological-geopolitical myth and actual historical fact. Indeed, if the claims of Yahwehists are to be taken seriously then there can be zero tolerance for even minor blunders in their god’s knowledge of earthly events, and yet here is a bungle so outrageous that it is the equivalent of a charismatic preacher three-hundred years from today proclaiming Batman existed.

      • Where in my comparison to Star Wars did you get the idea that I think the Torah is factual?

        And Star Wars does claim to be real. It says it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. There was no disclaimer that I shouldn’t take that literally.

        I’m not making this comparison just to be silly. I’m trying to point out that reducing something to ‘myth’ or ‘fiction’ doesn’t make it irrelevant or unimportant. Myth and fiction can be more powerful in society than historical events.

    • Replying here because there’s no reply option under you last comment. Hope this goes where its supposed to.

      I COMPLETELY agree with you regarding the value of myth. I’m a huge fan of mythology, folklore and fairytales. They are priceless in my mind.

      The problem for Christians is that they actually believe the myths rolled up in the bible to be factually and historically true… and they’re not. It’s as simple as that. Biblical scholars are slowing come round to admitting Jesus probably wasn’t a real person, including Arthur Droge (professor of early Christianity at UCSD), Kurt Noll (associate professor of religion at Brandon University), and Thomas Thompson (renowned professor of theology, emeritus, at the University of Copenhagen). Others are even more certain historicity is doubtful, including Thomas Brodie (director emeritus of the Dominican Biblical Centre at the University of Limerick, Ireland), Robert Price (who has two Ph.D.’s from Drew University, in theology and New Testament studies), and Richard Carrier (Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University). That’s just a small sample, but its going to go the same way as debunking the Pentateuch went 40 years ago. At first no one wanted to put their name to it, then slowly but surely the facts were revealed until today there isn’t single serious biblical scholar or archaeologist who claims the stories and events of the OT are real.

      I like the way the Jewish rabbis are handling it. They admit its all BS, but they’re pressing for the cultural significance of the myths in and by themselves. That’s good. It’s real. Its honest.

      • Well I think it will go the same way with Christians. There’s a large number of Christians today who don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, but their voices are drowned out by the literalists and fundamentalists. I’m sure even if and when Jesus’ very existence is disproven, there will be those who keep the faith regardless. Because religion serves the same function as myth, and its historical accuracy, like that of myths, is irrelevant to this function.

        For those who actually do believe that the Bible is literally, factually, or historically true… well, there’s no hope for those people.

      • Our friend Pat may be misguided, but he has at least rejected the literal interpretation of the creation story. And though we may disagree about which parts of the Bible to take literally, I thought his post thoroughly outlined the multiple levels of metaphor contained in the Bible, which undermines the ‘literal vs. non-literal’ dichotomy that you were trying to impose on it.

        • Well, in my defense, all i did was point out that nowhere in the bible is there a disclaimer saying some things are non-fiction. The opposite is in fact true: the bible claims in numerous parts to be inerrant, which i pointed out to Patrick… but he didn’t seem to want to acknowledge that.

          He seems fair enough, but I looked through his credentials listed on the blog and was left wondering what the hell do they actually teach people in these biblical colleges. He has so many degrees (do you call them ‘degrees’ when they’re from a biblical college and not a real university???) but doesn’t seem to even know that no expert in the entire world claims the Exodus story is in any way, shape or form real. Are they just teaching lies in these places?

          • The Blair Witch Project claimed to be actual footage, they just didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to believe them. Now did the authors of the Bible have the same intentions? We’ll never know. Again, this is meant to point out the nature of fiction, not just to be silly… well maybe a little bit to be silly.

      • I can’t seem to reply to the comment below beginning with “well, in my defense . . .” so I’ll just repond briefly here.

        I’ll ignore the personal insults because they are not relevant. But I would like to clear up a couple of details in your statements:

        1. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant. That term, a very loaded one, is nowhere employed. Yes, the “Word of God” does not err or lie, but this is a claim about the efficacy of God’s speech, not a direct claim about the Bible or the written form that bears witness to God’s speech. I actually don’t know a living theologian today who argues that the Bible itself teaches inerrancy. Those who hold to inerrancy (and I’m personally skeptical of the rationalist overtones of the term) develop a theological argument based on what they see are logical implications of believing in a God who reveals himself historically. They see seeds of this in passages such as those you quote, but not a theology of inerrancy (a very modern doctrine) therein. A parallel would be the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinitarian theologians generally do not claim to find a fully worked out doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament.

        2. The claims concerning genre and literary style (and so forth) are implicit! I don’t know about you, but I don’t even think I’ve read a novel or a poem in which the author explicityly tells you “I, so and so, and writing a novel/poem . . . please don’t take it literally.”

        3. You continually seem to be missing the point of my post, which is to argue for a diversity of genre’s and styles in the Bible, which required (in fair reading) due notice of that fact when we apply our interpretive methods. Ironically, your comments about inerrancy make the same error you criticise others for . . . overly literal reading (of the Psalms and prophetic literature no less)!

        • I didn’t throw out any personal insult, did I? If I did unwittingly I apologise. Certainly not my intention. You sound like a reasonable chap, and I’m pleased you’re of the opinion the bible is full of holes and should not be taken literally.

          The problem here however is this: what matrix are you using to determine what is real and what is not? That was my original point to you on your blog. The fact is you have no matrix… you’re just making it up as you go along. There is no method except for your own feelings, and that (I can say) follows what is most embarrassing. If you don’t feel comfortable with a section you call it allegorical. If you like a bit you call it inerrant. A classic cherry-picking Christian apologist.

        • Very well-articulated. The point I was trying to make regarding Star Wars and Blair Witch is the same as your #2. No literary work has ever started with a disclaimer that it was or was not fiction, and when there were, (as in the case of Blair Witch) the disclaimer was arbitrary. Even when you watch a movie that’s based on true events, you don’t go into it thinking it’s an entirely accurate portrayal of those events. You don’t watch Titanic and say, “Jack and Rose never existed, so this is all bullshit!” Now John, I know you’re going to say that we’ve found the Titanic and can gather evidence from it to prove/disprove events in the film, but this is beside the point. The point is the value of a work of fiction goes far beyond its historicity, which you seem to accept with your admiration for mythology. The leap that Pat has made that you and I haven’t is that he has dedicated his life to studying the values of his particular mythology. He has yet to argue for historicity (an argument I find petty and futile outside of that particular branch of academia), he has only argued for its value regardless of historicity, as I have tried to argue for many different theologies many times on my blog. Unfortunately this argument seems to fall on deaf ears in the polarized world of theological discussions.

          As a conclusion, my question to John is, why do you find value in other mythology but reject the values of Christianity?

        • Have only read Part 1 so far, but a very good analysis. Though in his conclusion, he shows his own bias in pointing out these fallacies. I wonder if enough evidence was gathered to discount the exodus beyond a doubt, if he would then outrightly reject his faith (in which case his ‘faith’ is not very strong). To be religious in the modern age, you must accept at least the possibility that the historical events were fictional creations.

  3. This list of quotation-assertions (not arguments!) proves absolutely nothing. It also shows incredible naivity concerning what historians of ancient history actually do. And it makes huge logical leaps and assumptions. Perhaps YOU should read a little more widely?

    • Are you serious? You’re doubting the world’s leading archaeologists? Interesting. I challenge you to name a single leading archaeologist who actually publically claims anything in the Pentateuch is true and has been verified via archaeology.

      You should know many of these archaeologists (particularly the Israeli’s) went into the field decades ago looking to prove the biblical stories. The wanted to, but they just couldn’t do it. As Prof. Ze’ev Herzog wrote:

      • “Slowly, cracks began to appear in the picture. Paradoxically, a situation was created in which the glut of findings began to undermine the historical credibility of the biblical descriptions instead of reinforcing them. A crisis stage is reached when the theories within the framework of the general thesis are unable to solve an increasingly large number of anomalies. The explanations become ponderous and inelegant, and the pieces do not fit together smoothly, and the harmonious picture collapsed.”

      Of course, I could go on and actually detail the finds (or lack of finds, as is the case) but i think it would be wasted on you. You don’t seem at all concerned with actually learning anything. I would, however, urge you to read Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (Published in 2001 by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in collaboration with the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Publication Society). Here is an authorised rabbinic commentary on the Torah which affirms everything I’ve said. You see, I have no need to lie or ignore reality.

      Now, do you doubt the character Jesus named Moses and Abraham? I provided the chapters and verse. Perhaps you should look them up for yourself. Now, Patrick, how do you explain this clear bungle considering neither Moses nor Abraham existed? Shouldn’t Jesus have known this and sorted the historical farce out? Shouldn’t we have expected him to, if he was what he claimed?

      • I don’t doubt the archeological observations of those scholars (though you do quote from a highly selective group of people without considering any alternative views . . . which, in my opinion, is not very rigorous . . . see point 4. below), but I question the huge leaps in logic when it comes to their purported significance.

        Pretty much all their significance-claims take the form: because we have found no corroborating evidence for such and such events/people (observation), therefore they did not happen/exist (logical leap). That argument just doesn’t work, on purely a logical level. In response, I’d just offer the following brief comments:

        1. Lack of corroborating evidence can never PROVE that something or someone never existed or happened. (I’m not shouting here . . . I don’t know how to add an underline or italics 😉 ). This is an argument from silence, plain and simple.

        2. In light of (1), no one has in fact PROVEN that Moses and Abraham did not exist, or that certain events did not happen. Franklly, I don’t know (philosophically) how one could even make the attempt. So, unless you can show me, philosophoically, how it could be the case that lack of corroborative evidence PROVES nonexistence or non-historical, then all of your quotations are irrelevant.

        3. There may well be good reasons why we don’t find corroborative evidence for some events / people. For example, the low likelihood that Egyption records would preserve historical references that embarace the nation’s reputation (not to mention religion, because in the narrative, Exodus is about the defeat of the Egyptions ‘gods’ by Yahweh). It is also known that much of ancient history CANNOT be corraborated by archeology because only a small amount of what existed survives. (So, the argument against the historicity of events and people is, ironically, parallel in form to the arguements fo creatinists against evolution . . . i.e., that holes in the fossil record disprove the reality of the process in question).

        4. Even a quick google search will show that there are many well respected scholars who support the historicity of Exodus and the Penteteuch. Edwin Yamauchi is one good example. See also this post by a professor at New York University (note his credentials): http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Exodus.htm

        5. I think you are correct that Israel’s ancient story-telling is not what we think of as history today. That does NOT mean, however, that such story-telling is nonhistorical in every sense of the term. All ancient history mixed events with worldview/religion/ideology. To single out Israel/the Bible on this is kind of silly. Applying the same criteria consistently would eleminate virtually all of ancient history. On a related point, just because a New Testament character or writer alludes to or quotes an OT passage, that does not mean they are affirming historicity in the modern sense. Often, they read typologically (to cite just one hermeneutical method). Yes, Jesus believed Moses was a historical person, but (a) I don’t see how that can be a problem philosophically (in light of (2) above); and (b) he also employs the Moses tradition creatively and typologically.

        6. You fail to account for the fact that textual evidence IS evidence. Yes, the OT account are edited/redacted. But an edited document, by definition, has a history. How do you account for the emergence of that history? How far back does it go? What alternate history do you endorse and what model of emergence? (and not just in generalities, but in particulars)? Now, it’s even better if textual evidence is corroborated by archeological evidence, but such evidence is not fully decisive for the historicity of texts.

        7. I would just point out, too, that I’m not here making an argument for historicity (nor was I, in my post, claiming that literal=historical; I was talking about distinshing between different kinds of literature: e.g., the ring in The Lord of the Rings is a literal ring, but not a historical one). What I’m doing here is showing the illogic of your reasoning and the problems with your true/false, historicla/nonhistorical dichotomoies.

        These points are just off the top of my head. They barely scratch the surface. Even so, I think they provide some good substance in terms of evaluating your basic assertions.

        • Hi Patrick.

          You seem to be ignoring the fact these are the world’s leading authorities on the matter of biblical archeology. The people I have cited are it. I could go and list hundreds of other names but there’s no reason to: there are no higher authorities. And I’m sorry, but Edwin Maseo Yamauchi is a Christian apologist. He is a linguist. Please, I asked for reputable “archeologists”… actual professionals in the field who have led digs and are not apologists riddled with confirmation bias.

          Now, all I see in your response is a string of excuses. I can understand why there’s nothing of substance in your words, there is no substance to cite, and that is terribly embarrassing for apologists like yourself. After 75 years of extensive digs (many led by Christians) you have nothing to point to, leaving you only excuses to make. I get that, and in many ways I sympathise with your awkward position. I’m not here to gloat. Such behaviour would be pointless. Personally I’m with Rabbi Wolpe on this who calls for full disclosure followed by rational dialogue as the only way to calmly exorcise the historical blunder presently being practiced by 3 billion woefully mistaken individuals:

          “Such startling propositions, the product of findings by archaeologists, have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis… but there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity until now. It is time for people to know about it.”

          Your excuse regarding Moses and the Exodus is, however, particularly entertaining. The simple, un-ignorable fact is that not a single shred of evidence has been unearthed in Egypt which even remotely hints at the Israelites ever being there, let alone departing (and forming huge semi-permanent encampments) as detailed in Ex. 12:37: “The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” This story also crumbles as there is no evidence whatsoever for the conquest which supposedly followed. Nothing. The absolute consensus amongst Israeli archeologists is that Israel emerged relatively peacefully from the general Canaanite population. Did you even know that at the time of the alleged conquest Palestine was under Egyptian rule, yet no mention is made of this. That is a real script bungle. Moreover, the poetic grand United Kingdom of David and Solomon bears no resemblance to the evidence on and in the ground. Indeed, Jerusalem, the proclaimed seat of this power, was in fact nothing but a meagre, insubstantial, inconsequential hill village at the alleged time and the great united monarchy was as Professor Ze’ev Herzog stated, “an imaginary historiosophic creation composed during the period of the Kingdom of Judea at the earliest. Perhaps the most decisive proof of this is that we do not know the name of this kingdom.”

          You see, Patrick, those are the facts; the findings of 75 years of extensive scientific work. I don’t need to embellish any of it.

          Now, don’t get me wrong: I adore mythology, folklore and fairytales. I count such stories amongst our species greatest cultural treasures. Although clearly myth some of the stories wrapped up in the Pentateuch are exceptional…. This doesn’t make them real, though. And therein lays your problem: as a Christian you rely on them being real. Not least amongst this reliance is admitting that Jesus mentioned Moses and Abraham multiple times. Considering Moses and Abraham clearly didn’t exist then Jesus (if a historical person) didn’t know what he was talking about.

          Do you agree with this statement, or not?

    • Also Patrick… You honestly seemed a little surprised by my statement regarding Jesus saying nothing new or even marginally useful. I guessing you’ve never heard anything like that before, so I’d like to ask you: can you name anything, anything at all which the character Jesus said which was new or even marginally useful?

      I mean that seriously. Can you actually name one thing that was new or even remotely useful.

      • Either I’m totally misunderstanding the comment or (as I suspect) it really is just that ridiculous.

        Now I can understand why an atheist would not find the teachings of Jesus useful. After all, his teachings were given so that people could come to know God and begin to live a life immersed in God’s reality as apprentices in God’s kingdom. Certainly that is useless to someone who has made a decision that spiritual reality or God does not exist. Fine.

        But, I’d suggest that a better way to ask the question, if you are genuinely seeking an answer, is to phrase it as follows: Why have millions and millions of people across through two mellenia found the teachings of Jesus to be so useful?

        Socio-politically: Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., certainly found Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to be useful. Mother Teresa based her life and ministy to the poor and untochables of India on Jesus’ words in Matt. 25. Liberation theologians in Latin America base their visions of equality in society upon their reflections on the Trinity (Leonard Boff; Gustavo Gutierrez, etc.). And, by the way, the Trinity is a theologicla development of the NEW and NOVEL claims of Jesus in places like John 17, Matt. 28, and so on. Granted, much of Jesus’ ethical teaching is present (or at least anticipated) in the tradition that went before him (why expect otherwise?). But what was novel was not that he merely taught a way, or articulated a truth, or demonstrated a life: He claimed to BE they way, the truth, and the life. This was new (and he got himself killed for making such claims!).

        Christian ethicists have found his teachings to be useful. See, for example, David P. Gushee, Stanley Hauwerwas, Glen Stassen, Oliver O’Donovan, John Howard Yoder Christine Pohl, . . .the list goes on and on. Not to mention the entire Western development of the concept of universal human rights, founded upon the inherent dignity of every person.

        Christian theologians flesh out the significance of the Christian message and worldview for all areas of thought and life. If you’ve never read Augustine or Aquinas, or modern theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, T. F. Torrance, Alister McGrath, Karl Rahner, (not to mention African, South American, and Asian theologians . . again, the list goes on and on), you naturally will not have a very good sense of the signifiance of theology, or even what it’s really about.

        Christian philosophers have found the teachings of Jesus to be hugely fruitful for the life of the mind. See Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, William Lane Craid, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Dallas Willard, and so forth. Historically, how about Kierkegaard?

        The same could be said of Christians in the sciences, or those interested in the philosophy and history of science. See Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, Owen Gingerich . . . again, the list goes on and on. Check out the Biologos foundation. Check out the American Scientific Affiliation. Check out the Veritas Forum.

        Do I need to continue to cite novelists, artists, musicians, . . . ad infinitum?

        In short, so many have found Jesus’s teachings to be useful that your question really and truly baffles me. Jesus is arguable the most influential person in history (certainly Wetern history)!

        If you really want to understand a tradition, you have to immerse yourself in it (especially in its best examples and representatives) . . . not take cheap shots from the outside. Are you willing to do that?

        • Patrick, I asked you to give me a single example of something said by Jesus which was new and all I see is a list of people who found the teachings useful. This isn’t what I asked for. I wanted something specific.

          If you look at this question honestly you’ll find there is nothing new or even marginally revolutionary in Jesus’ words. Confucius was saying much, if not more, 500 years before Jesus. Laozi was saying even more 400 years before. Everything Jesus said had already been said. Even the so-named Golden Rule is not new. It’s plagiarised. The concept dates back to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE) “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” It also emerged in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BCE), as well as in 6th century BCE Taoism, “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss,” in 5th century BCE Confucianism, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” in 4th century BCE Mohism, “For one would do for others as one would do for oneself,” and was articulated by the Greek, Pittacus (640–568 BCE), who said: “Do not do to your neighbour what you would take ill from him.”

          Now, if you can actually name something not already said by Confucius or Laozi or Zoroaster or any number of teachers who came before Jesus then I’ll be happy to analyse it. Until then, though, the fact remains Jesus said absolutely nothing new. This might sound strange to you, but I assure you it’s the truth. I’ve looked. I’ve researched it. There is nothing that hadn’t already been said.

  4. John, in point of fact, you did say “or even marginally useful.” Also, you continue to pile up multiple duplications of a single kind of argument: appeal to authority. You have not responded to any of the logical problems I noticed. You can’t, because arguments from silence don’t work.

    Also, your seeing generalities between religions is quite beside the point. You can’t abstract statement from their narratives and cultures and claim they are saying the same thing. Read Clifford Geertz (on cultural anthropology) and Aladair MacIntyre (on the philosophy).

    This conversation has been interesting, but I think mostly fruitless in terms of being real conversation. So, I take my leave and wish you well.

    • Apologies, i didn’t see that you’d replied until just now.

      Patrick, you seem to be avoiding answering my question. Name something new (and yes, that also means marginally useful) which Jesus said. If certain Christians have found the words useful then great, but that does NOT make them original. I do hope you can see this. As i pointed out, not even the so-named Golden is original. It’s plagiarized.

      So, again… Please name something actually new or innovative which Jesus said. You should be able to one thing, shouldn’t you?

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