Honest Questions about the Bible
August 19, 2016
Before I get to the questions I'd love some Christians to answer, I wanted to briefly explain why I'm bothering to post this at all. As you know if you've read my huge post about why I can't believe in a god, you know that I try to be as skeptical as I can be, valuing reason and evidence over unsubstantiated and/or emotional claims. That outlook leads me to reject the god concept, but it also leads me to a realization: I'm rejecting the (arguably) most influential book in my nation's history, and certainly the most influential in my immediate family and upbringing, without fully examining it for myself. You see, despite being raised Christian, I've never read the entire Bible. I've heard the good bits my Sunday School teachers told me, and the horrible bits atheist speakers love to pull out, but I've never gone through the whole book for myself. Thus, for as long as I can stick it out, I'll be reading the whole thing, in the currently accepted order, and commenting on it in a series of posts as I go.
This leads me to the questions I have for my Christian followers. I'm going into this with unavoidable bias, but I'll be trying to minimize that. Anything I've heard about this or that passage being bad I'll try to ignore, and anything I've been told is good will be similarly examined as dispassionately as I can manage. I will, however, be making several assumptions, and holding some preconceptions. These are born of my upbringing and religious training, not to mention common apologetics. I'd like to know if the following are valid assertions I can hold while slogging through this project.
First, I'm assuming that this book's ultimate author is the Christian God. He's all-knowing, all-loving, and wants only to have a relationship with me and everyone else on Earth. He does this primarily through this book he left us all to read. Furthermore, he won't be confusing about it, since confusing the most important message he could ever give us would be the opposite of loving. To be clear, I'm not granting this god's existence. Rather, I'm saying that, for the sake of this endeavor, the author of this book has the properties of the Christian god. Whether that author exists for real or not is up to the book to convince me.
Second, I will be assuming that this entire book is exactly how God wants it to be. This follows from my previous point. If God is perfect and left us a single book through which he introduces himself and his entire religion, he wouldn't leave mistakes in it, right? The translation I choose shouldn't matter, I shouldn't need to look up words in ancient languages, I shouldn't need the context of ancient cultures I know nothing about... I should just be able to read this perfect book and know that God would never let it be wrong.
Finally, and similar to my last point, I should never be confused or mislead. If something is a metaphor, I assume it will be clearly indicated as such; if something seems crazy but is meant literally, I hope I'll know that, too. I shouldn't need to go searching out apologetics or hermeneutics courses just to figure out what this thing says. It was written by the all-powerful overseer of the whole universe, and said overseer wants to use it to make me know him. This Bible should be the most obvious, straightforward, and relevant tome I've ever read.
Now, please tell me what I got wrong up there. More specifically, please explain where my chain of logic breaks down. It seems extremely simple to me, after all: if I want to tell someone who I am and why they should be my friend, I'm going to do it in their language, and I'm going to try my best. Raise the steaks by letting my sole desire be having them become my friend, and by giving me full, detailed knowledge about every aspect of the other person, and what I tell them will only get clearer and more convincing. Make me all powerful and omnipotent, and I almost can't fail.
While I have you here, I'd like to ask one more thing. If my logic is correct, why do Christians need hermeneutics and apologetics at all? Why do humans need to pass out and translate this perfect book? Why are some translations attacked for being "wrong"? If some are, how can I trust any of them? How is it possible that the question "which translation of a perfect and perfectly powerful god's perfect book is best?" can even exist? How can there be so many sects of Christianity all based on the same book? How can God stand by and watch his "perfect word" be used to justify and condemn slavery, gay marriage, womens' rights, economic systems, and even the most complex and carefully studied branches of science? How could a perfect god write such an imperfect book, and then do so little to correct it, that all this is even possible? Sorry, I should have said that I have several more questions, not just one.
Honestly, the previous paragraph is why I've never bothered to read the Bible. It seems to be so full of complexities, contradictions, content based heavily on the original language and culture, and other non-god-like aspects that I can't see how it can be taken seriously. As my de-conversion from Christianity proceeded, the Bible was never high on my list of topics to investigate. Evidence for some parts of it (like the great flood or young-Earth creationism) were there, but I mostly tended toward the logical or philosophical arguments. The people who presented those tended to have things to say about the Bible as well, so I got incidental input from them. The "good book" itself never seemed to be something I could take seriously, given all its problems, but I figure that I may as well give it one fair shot.
Maybe I'll make it all the way through, and maybe I won't. Maybe it'll change my life, maybe it won't. Maybe I'm wrong about it, and maybe I'm not. Either way, I'd love the answers to the above questions from anyone who knows them, and I'd love even more for you to join me in this journey. I don't yet know what the posts will look like or how I'll organize them, but I'll come up with something. However it works out, I hope you and I both learn from this. If you can offer insights, please feel free, but try to steer clear of any apologetics. Unless I'm very wrong, the original languages and cultures shouldn't matter, as we're talking about a perfect book that God is using to tell me everything about himself I need to know. If I were someone in a third-world country with no access to the internet and only this Bible to read, that's all I'd get; no research, no Youtube videos, no Bible institutes. Nothing but the book telling me what God wants me to know. That should be enough.
Before we get into this, here's a brief history of me, focusing on religion. If you already know me, feel free to skip this part. This section will
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