Two books in one!

April 3, 2011 • 4:56 am

Are you old enough to remember these commercials for Certs mints?

I remember them whenever I hear a pastor claim that the Bible was never intended to be a factual account, but nevertheless some parts (those parts chosen at the discretion of the speaker) were.  “The Bible is true!”  “No, it’s just a metaphor!”  “Stop, you’re both right!  It’s two, two,—two two books in one!”

See this argument in a new piece at PuffHo, “Is the Bible true?”, by David Lose, director of the Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota:

Both sides, however, miss the literary nature and intent of the Bible as stated within its own pages. Take for example Luke, who in his introduction acknowledges that he is not an eye-witness to the events he recounts but depends on multiple other stories about Jesus. He writes what he calls “an orderly account” so that his audience may believe and trust the teaching they have received (Luke 1:1-4). Or consider John, who near the end of his gospel comes clean about carefully arranging stories of Jesus so as to persuade his readers that Jesus is the messiah (John 20:30-31). The gospels — and, indeed, all of Scripture — do not seek to prove but to persuade. . .

. . . For this reason, the Bible is filled with testimony, witness, confession and even propaganda. Does it contain some reliable historical information? Of that there is little doubt. Yet, whenever we stumble upon “verifiable facts” — a notion largely foreign to ancient writers — we should keep in mind that the biblical authors deployed them not to make a logical argument but rather to persuade their audiences of a larger “truth” that cannot be proved in a laboratory but is finally accepted or not accepted based on its ability to offer a compelling story about the meaning and purpose of the world, God, humanity and everything in between. To attempt to determine whether the Bible is “true” based only on its factual accuracy is therefore to make a profound category mistake, judging its contents by standards its authors were neither cognizant of nor interested in.

Here we see postmodern theology, a fervent attempt to separate “facts” from “truth”.   But when Lose says that the authors of the Bible had a purely “literary merit and intent,” or says something like this:

The gospels — and, indeed, all of Scripture — do not seek to prove but to persuade.

There’s only one response: how do you know?  For two millennia the Bible was taken as literal truth, with the exception of a few theologians who are now touted as having been right all along. And many people still see it as a factual, historical and—indeed—scientific account.  But liberal theologians have changed their minds: it’s largely metaphor—with, of course, the exception of the divinity, virgin birth, and resurrection of Jesus, which remain as ironclad facts.  What has changed?  Only the fact that science has disproven many of the Bible’s “factual” assertions.  Based on this, theologians like Lose now tell us that the Bible was never meant to convey literal truth.

Well, these people are entitled to say that previous theologians were wrong, but they’re not entitled to backtrack and say that the authors of scripture, whoever they were, never intended to produce a literal account.  That’s simply the theological sausage-grinder turning scientific necessities into religious virtues.  Who is supposed to be convinced by this ex post facto rationalization?

And if the Bible is a purely literary vehicle, why not too the accounts of Jesus’s life and death?

Lose’s attempts to force an untenable compromise dismisses the beliefs of millions of scriptural literalists—and atheists—as simply one part of a “false dichotomy”.  How does he know that the dichotomy is “false”?

Clearly there are many ways to answer the question of whether the Bible is true. If you are interested primarily in its factual accuracy, then your options are clear and you might as well pick a side. If, however, you’re interested in a way out of the stalemate and false dichotomy of the present conservative-liberal debate, then you might join Jules in putting the matter differently. When you read the Bible, that is, do you feel God’s touch? Does God get involved?

Doesn’t that remind you of this now-famous cartoon from xkcd?

56 thoughts on “Two books in one!

  1. Ah, yes, the ‘testaments’ – they work very well, just ask any old snakeoil salesperson. I can’t help of thinking of that line from Cats: “At least we all heard that somebody heard, which is incontestable proof!” And it’s just so with the bible …

  2. Imagine how many MD’s we’d need if the relevant bulk of medical literature needed the same degree of flailing interpretation.

  3. So does Lose think Jesus was wrong?
    Because this is what he says in look.

    17:26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.       
    17:27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
    17:28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
    17:29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.          
    17:30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
    17:31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
    17:32 Remember Lot’s wife.  

  4. Luke was not an eyewitness!?!? How about the guy he ripped off reimagined wasn’t one? Is Ben up yet?

    So the take away is that I can’t buy Certs anymore?

    1. Is Ben up yet?

      I am now….

      Luke was not an eyewitness!?!?

      Of course not. In the opening verses, he lays out the archetypal game of telephone:

      1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

      2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

      3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

      4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

      Going backwards, we have the eyewitnesses at the beginning, those the “many” who attempted to make sense of what the eyewitnesses, and now Luke who’s trying to make sense of what the “many” have been trying to make sense of.

      We also don’t have anything even vaguely resembling the original copy of “Luke’s” manuscript; all we have are nth generation copies-of-copies. For that matter, we don’t even have a clue who “Luke” was; the name was added long afterwards, at the same time that names were assigned to the then-also-anonymous other three gospels which, out of the dozens extant at that time, were selected as orthodox (solely for political reasons, I might add).

      I always get a kick out of Christers who claim that the Gospels constitute an “eyewitness account” of the events they “chronicle,” when the very opening passage of Luke goes to such lengths to distance itself from them. And, of course, famously, Paul never met Jesus. John ends with that laughable line about Jesus having had so many other adventures that it’s not possible to record them all, and even the Gideon Bible has a footnote that the last chapter of Mark is a later fabrication. That is, the Gospels themselves don’t even pretend to be factual eyewitness accounts, except in the same sense that you might if you were telling a zombie story around a campfire.



      1. Both Luke and Acts are considered to be written by the same author, in this case Luke, one of Paul’s companions, based the similarity between the two books, the fact that Acts begins by stating that it’s the second of two volumes, the use of the personal pronoun ‘we’ towards the end, indicating the writer is an active participant, the tradition that the author had to be a gentile because it’s mainly concerned with Gentiles, and Luke (according to one of the forged letters of Paul) is the only gentile mentioned who comes into question.

        But the author of Acts gets the details of Paul’s missionary career wrong, as shown in Paul’s genuine letters, so it means that he wasn’t a companion, and that Acts is a forgery. If Acts is a forgery, then it also means that the gospel Luke is also a forgery.

        The other gospels aren’t forgeries, they’re just anonymous texts attributed to authors who certainly didn’t write them. They’re falsifications in that authority (ie they’re written by disciples or a companion of a disciple) have been falsely given.

    1. It is also why fundamentalists wanted to ban Harry Potter – sure it is a myth, but it makes more sense than a musty collection old sheep-herder tales, so it is a dangerous competitor.

    2. No kidding. If it were simply a matter of feeling moved by material, I’d be very hesitant to ever read another book or watch another movie or listen to another song, otherwise life could become mighty confusing.

  5. When you read the Bible, that is, do you feel God’s touch?

    Isn’t that a euphemism for being insane?

    So bible truth is immaterial, so long as it makes you feel something? It always boils down to feelings, doesn’t it? Truth doesn’t matter so long as lies make us happy.

    At least this gives an opportunity to point out how science is different from religion. In religion the source material must be adhered to, regardless of the truth content or discovery of contradiction by subsequent investigation. In science, if the source material is found to be incorrect, it can and must be thrown out and replaced by a better, more accurate description of reality. The difference is so stark and so simple, it is surprising that it is so hard to grasp or accept.

    1. Yes, if you listened to Ken Ham on The Atheist Experience last week, one of him main complaints about science is that it changes. He can’t cope with the uncertainty, he needs to know for sure. Thus reality doesn’t interest him, he prefers the bible. How he deals with the contradictions in there I don’t know, closes his eyes and goes ‘lalalalalalalala’ I guess.

  6. The problem is that the Gospel writers were attempting to *persuade* by asserting their accounts as factual. In effect they were saying “of course Jesus was the Messiah, after all, all these events happened. If these things happened, how could he not be God?”

    Early church fathers insist over and over that the historicity of Jesus’ biography, miracles, and resurrection are are fundamental to the meaning of the story. Augustine, being a more sophisticated sort, admonished Christians to avoid asserting as fact the obvious fictions of the Genesis account, but his reason for doing this was because he knew that if they didn’t, educated pagans would spot these errors and therefore doubt the Jesus narrative as well.

    An important question is whether the writers of the Gospels knew that they were fabricating in order to persuade, or whether they actually believed their own yarns. There is substantial internal evidence that they did indeed know they were fabricating at least parts of the story, something Lose seems to acknowledge when he agrees that parts of the bible are propaganda. Those of us not in Seminary might use a different word: Lie.

  7. From the first book of Bokonon: “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

    In the beginning, God created earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

    And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

    “Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

    “Certainly,” said man.

    “Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He went away.”

  8. Jerry quoting Lose:

    To attempt to determine whether the Bible is “true” based only on its factual accuracy is therefore to make a profound category mistake, judging its contents by standards its authors were neither cognizant of nor interested in.

    I’m going to agree with Lose that the authors of the bible had no interest in factual accuracy. I just don’t understand why he thinks that’s a good excuse to continue taking the bible seriously.

  9. Let’s be generous, wave our hands, and agree that the Bible is 100% fiction (oh wait — it is!) and that it should merely be read for the “moral truths” it contains.

    What, therefore, are these great “moral truths”?

    That the proper punishment for children who disobediently drink poison on the advice of an irresponsible babysitter is to kick the deathly ill children naked to the curb and forbid them to ever come home again? That’s what the alleged protagonist did in the opening story, after all.

    Or, maybe, that the proper way to wage war is to use mind control on the head of state to force him into acting against his own desires and self interests (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8, and 14:17), which you then use as an excuse to let loose with every biochemical weapon you have in your arsenal, ending with the assassination of every male child in the land, just to prove that you’re the baddest motherfucker there ever was?

    Oh, I know — after you’ve been victorious in your conquests, you should divvy up the spoils, murder every single adult captive in cold blood, enslave all the boys, and rape all the pre-pubescent girls? That’s what YHWH ordered Moses to do in Numbers 31, after all — and Moses was all too happy to oblige. And it’s not like that’s an isolated incident, either: Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, and the walls came a-tumblin’ down, and then he, too, received divine orders to rape and pillage. Gee, come to think of it, every battle in the entire bloody book — and, believe you me, the battles keep on comin’ — ended with YHWH ordering his troops to rape and pillage, and they were always overjoyed to oblige.

    What’s that? The Old Testament is full of nasty shit that got superseded by Jesus? We shouldn’t be paying all that much attention to it (aside from the Ten Commandments on the Proper Treatment of Livestock, Slaves, Wives, and Other Forms of Property)? Really? You mean Jesus was just blowing smoke up our asses when he talked about jots and tittles in the Sermon on the Mount?

    Come to think of it, I guess that’s a good thing, because it’s also in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus commands every man who looks at a woman and thinks, “Yeah, I’d hit that,” that he should therefore immediately gouge out his own eyes and chop off his own hands. Literally.

    Unpossible? Hardly. Remember, this is the same Jesus who came not to bring peace but a sword, who came to set families at war amongst themselves, who forbids entry to heaven to all who fail to hate their families, and who commanded his followers to make human sacrifices of all non-Christians. No, really — according to Luke 19:27, Christians are commanded to round up Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, and all the rest, and slit our throats right there on the altar. “Prince of Peace” my ass.

    I could go on all day, but the point should be abundantly clear. Sure, there’re one or two pleasant-seeming lines about blessings bestowed upon the cheesemakers and what-not. You know what? I can cherry-pick the exact same sorts of banalities out of Mein Kampf or Friday the 13th. How one gets from “Hey, look! I finally found something that isn’t entirely morally repugnant!” to “This is the book you should be modeling your life after and which you should always turn to for guidance” is utterly beyond me.



  10. Here we are again with the “bait and switch”. When trying to argue for the veracity of the bible they go with the “metaphor” and the “allegory” but as soon as anyone looks aways its all “do as I say because the bible is law”.

    If its all metaphor and allegory for the purpose of imparting moral lessons can’t we just make a more direct translation and cut out all the obfuscation. Perhaps a list like…

    Don’t kill people.
    Don’t steal
    Treat people with respect.

    I realize the fundamentalists might like to add things like.

    Kill the gheys
    Women are property
    Stone the non believers

    But at least we would know where people actually stand. As silly as it sounds when I meet someone who claims to be a “god fearing christian” I wonder if I have to fear for my life if they find out i’m atheist.

    I’m a closet atheist not by choice but because it has been made very clear in discussions with my boss and other co workers what they think of atheists. For the same reason I also have to be a closet liberal. My boss actually tried to order everyone to vote republican if they didn’t want to lose their jobs.

  11. Ah, the Certs commercials. They were the start of my loss of religious faith.

    I remember begging my mother to buy me two packages of Certs, because I wanted to duplicate the Certs commercial in which two packages of Certs visibly merged into one. Sadly, it didn’t work, even when I chanted the magic words, “Two, two mints in one.”

  12. “Are you old enough to remember these commercials for Certs mints?”

    Yes, I am old enough to remember these commercials. I also remember the Colgate Twins commercials, but I can’t find any copies of them on the Internet.

  13. It’s not two books in one, it’s dozens of books in one.

    Each source in the Bible was written for a different reason. That reason has to be understood in the context of when and where it was written.

    No book/source in the Bible was written with intention to be included in “The Bible”, so there can’t be any over-arching metaphorical “purpose” outside the confines of each source. (Christians would disagree, since the Hebrew Bible is meaningless to them except as coded references to Jesus.)

    Let’s be generous, wave our hands, and agree that the Bible is 100% fiction (oh wait — it is!)

    Erm, unless you take a radically sceptical view, there is some definite history in the Hebrew Bible, especially Samuel/Kings, Chronicles/Ezra/Nehemiah. Not a whole lot that can be independently accounted for, but it’s not zero.

    1. Erm, unless you take a radically sceptical view, there is some definite history in the Hebrew Bible, especially Samuel/Kings, Chronicles/Ezra/Nehemiah.

      London exists, yet I’m sure we’d agree that Harry Potter is 100% fiction.

      The Great Lakes and the Grand Canyon exist, yet I’m sure we’d agree that Paul Bunyan is 100% fiction.

      There was a certain bishop in fourth century Myra, yet I’m sure we’d agree that Santa Claus is 100% fiction.

      King Herod Agrippa reigned in Judea at the same time that Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator, yet I’m sure we’d agree that the Gospels are 100% fiction.

      Egypt had pharaohs who presided over the building of the Pyramids, yet I’m sure we’d agree that Exodus is 100% fiction.

      Unless it’s your position that only stories explicitly set in alternate universes can be considered 100% fiction, I’m not sure what your point is.



      1. I’m not talking about a few name-drops. Yes, Exodus mentions details about Egypt, but it’s still fiction. So is the entire Torah and the book of Joshua.

        I’m talking about the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The sequence of kings, the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians. Etc. Those are attested historical events recorded by various books in the Bible.

        A lot of the history is problematic (yes, the stories about David and Saul and Soloman are surely mythological, and the extent/duration of the united kingdom is overblown), but few serious historians think the entire history was concocted out of thin air by postexilic Israelites.

        Also, there is also plenty of historic cultural information contained within the Bible, just as Harry Potter contains cultural information about contemporary Britain.

        1. Good point. I don’t think calling it fiction means we should deny that there is some accurate information. (For example, there are movies that are set during WWII and they might include some correct information about the battles, historical time period, etc. even if the characters and specific events in the movie are fictional.)

    2. Fiction does not have to include 100% fictional elements in it to be fiction. Besides, if it did, it would be incomprehensible since anything we can imagine has some basis in reality.

      1. Do you guys apply this rigid scepticism to all ancient documents? Do you toss out the inscriptions of all Egyptian stellae and papyrus with “Well, they mention the Nile, but that doesn’t make them true otherwise.”

        Before they were part of “The Bible” the documents that make up Kings and Chronicles were just old Israelite histories. No more or less biased than the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian histories we’ve received. They should be judged under the same criteria.

        1. @Abbie: I agree that we should use the same criteria for the Bible as we do for other similar documents. One of the things that bothers me is when members of a religious group (particularly fundamentalists) use a different set of standards for their own holy book than for others.

  14. “But liberal theologians have changed their minds: it’s largely metaphor—with, of course, the exception of the divinity, virgin birth, and resurrection of Jesus, which remain as ironclad facts.”

    This really is my main issue with the interpretations of more moderate or liberal believers. If they used evidence about the real world to determine which parts of a the Bible (or other holy book) are factually accurate and which ones are fictional with a metaphorical message, then I wouldn’t really mind the “two books in one” outlook. (After all, even a fictional story can have some meaning or message behind it.)

    The fact that they use what they want to be literally true as the judge (and then come up with nicer interpretations of the metaphorical parts than what the content suggests) is what bothers me. It’s a bit like if someone decided that some of the fictional characters in a fantasy novel are literally real, based on which characters they like, and then came up with excuses for the actions of villains to make them look better, to get a positive message out of the whole thing.

    1. and then came up with excuses for the actions of villains to make them look better

      It’s not the villains whose actions need justification, it’s the protagonists.

      It was the head protagonist who personally drowned all the kittens on the planet, who personally slaughtered all the Egyptian boys, who personally ordered his favorite warlord to rape prepubescent girls by the tens of thousands…who raped a virgin so she could give birth to himself so he could become a living zombie sacrifice…whose trusted lieutenant will oversee the infinite torture of 99.99999999999999999% of everybody who ever lived….



    2. To be fair, not all liberal Christians regard these things as factual — especially the virgin birth.

      There are, however, a great many Christians who look at Genesis as mostly allegorical and have a world view mostly in accord with science, but who still believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This is one of those religious doctrines that gets special treatment even from well-educated, otherwise skeptical people.

  15. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Cor. 15:14

    So, Paul (or the author of 1 Corinthians if not Paul) seems to think that factual accuracy of some claims are essential to Christianity.

  16. Lose remarks that the idea of “verifiable facts” was “a notion largely foreign to ancient writers.” If he can play guessing games with the writers’ intentions, so can we. I would guess that the “prophets” knew when they were telling the truth, and when they were making shit up.

    Why did the gospel-writers lie? Lose says that they “do not seek to prove but to persuade.” I reckon it’s not so much persuade (get people to believe) as recruit (get people to pay all your living expenses).

  17. Clearly there are many ways to answer the question of whether the Bible is true. If you are interested primarily in its factual accuracy, then your options are clear and you might as well pick a side. If, however, you’re interested in a way out of the stalemate and false dichotomy of the present conservative-liberal debate, then you might join Jules in putting the matter differently.

    The term Lose is searching for is

    “truthiness:” the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts; a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

    Otherwise known as “true for me.”

    So I propose a new term for this: Truthiness Theology.

    Truthiness Theology defends its stance on God’s existence by using the language of fiction and narrative in order to disarm criticism and analysis. Personal preferences, helpful therapies, emotional expressions, and heartfelt values are evaluated not for their factual truth, but for their usefulness. Truthiness Theology therefore commits the category error of trying to equate a claim for an objective fact with a subjective assertion of meaning. It demands we use the standards for the latter on the former: God is two kinds of truth in one.

    Truth vs. Truthiness is not a false dichotomy. There’s a real difference, and no use pretending that you can slide easily from one to the other.

    And they do slide. What is the difference between seeing God as a sort of metaphorical truth and seeing Santa Claus as a sort of metaphorical truth? Shouldn’t it be the same sort of thing? Santa Claus is “real” and “true” and “exists” in the emotions, rituals, and behaviors of people. If all you want is a meaningful and compelling story, then Santa Claus ought to be as good as God, and The Night Before Christmas as valid as the Bible.

    And yet Truthiness Theologians get very angry at the comparison. It’s insulting. They don’t really mean to stop at religion being about helpful therapies, emotional expressions, and heartfelt values. They want atheists to leave religion down there in the valley of truthiness — so that believers can be left alone and build it up as a mountain of Truth.

  18. How did they get anything sold back in the days? But the naive sex offer may have done it. Not unlike some cults I heard of, btw.

    Remains to address some empirical claims:

    Does it contain some reliable historical information? … not to make a logical argument but rather to persuade their audiences of a larger “truth” that cannot be proved in a laboratory

    I’m fairly sure the theologian wasn’t trying to make a logical argument or present testable facts but were rather out to persuade us. But I can’t help notice that he inadvertently or not accepted historical facts as empirical, if only for the sake of argument. This isn’t your usually apologetics.

    Too bad he made a mess of it. It is not enough to accept it, since all observation is historical by definition. What he was describing is remote observation, which in itself necessitates careful calibration and verification, compounded with that it is anecdotal information.

    Whether it is a single event or a lasting (say, observing a recurrent historical person), we need verification. (If only to amass statistics in some cases.) In fact, I believe that is the exact requirement for historians re historical persons.

    And of course, Jebus comes up short in that department, as well as in the chromosomal. Hi, Shorty!

    “verifiable facts” — a notion largely foreign to ancient writers

    I’m not a historian, but I don’t see how that works. Algorithms and algebra were developed to establish reliable procedures for meeting out land (after river flooding), economics, et cetera. I’m fairly sure writers should have been familiar with the concept of verifying figures.

    Also, at least the greeks should have taken this to the next level as they started to note down constructional facts of war machines and what not. In as much as they were open with their principles, they couldn’t very well opt for religious “magic” as explanation for failure.

    Perhaps some more well versed in history can contribute here. If not, I will keep thinking that the priest pulled another fast one. Maybe the notion of verifiable facts was largely foreign for him, but that doesn’t excuse the continuing twisting of them.

  19. I’m not sure why everyone is so fussed up about this piece. It’s mostly standard-issue stuff that’s been around for at least a couple of centuries. Modern scholars say similar things about solid Roman historians such as Livy and Tacitus: they were interested in the truth, but their idea of truth was shaped by their rhetorical education and by their concern to make history useful in contemporary politics. People used to take Livy and Tacitus quite literally, but we now recognize that if you want to use them as sources to learn what actually happened, you have to take their cultural context and their goals into account. That means recognizing that a lot of the stories they tell are not factually accurate. The same thing goes for the New Testament, only more so. A lot of conservative believers and biblical scholars would take the NT to be altogether factually accurate, but their position is untenable, as mainstream biblical scholarship, i.e., the kind that now gets taught at real universities, has acknowledged for a long time. To verify this, all you have to do is skim the sort of intro to NT studies that a student would read in a university course nowadays. So what’s not to like? Mainstream biblical scholars agree with you (and me), against the religious conservatives, that the historical record isn’t enough to establish the truth of Christian beliefs. I’ll take that, thanks very much. As for Lose’s next move, that you might feel “God’s touch” when you’re reading the Bible, that’s a separate issue, and it’s easily answered. But I don’t see him trying here to carve out any special exception for the verifiable historicity of any key event, even the resurrection. (Maybe he does that elsewhere.) On his reading here, the resurrection would seem to be something that can’t be confirmed by modern historical methods, but rather a story that could be an occasion for feeling “God’s touch.” I don’t see Lose trying to have it both ways. Lose only has one Bible here, all of which has to be read with due awareness of the cultural contexts in which the various texts it contains were written, contexts which preclude any reading that takes them as consistent attempts to deliver the truth of what actually happened as a modern biblical literalist might wish. By the way, Lose is not calling you naïve for thinking that anybody takes the NT to be historically accurate, or ever did. He acknowledges that there are lots of conservatives who do, and although he doesn’t say it, he doesn’t deny that that would include the majority of believers in the US and most of the prior Christian tradition. You might reasonably ask, why should we care about so-called mainstream biblical scholarship, if it’s had little influence on the thinking of the majority of believers in the US? But you can’t legitimately accuse Lose of claiming to represent the earlier tradition or the current majority here. He’s presenting his own position, for what it’s worth. And it seems to me that it would be better to argue against his position directly, for instance by noting the contradictions and bad consequences that can arise from assuming that your feelings are a reliable guide to the truth about anything outside your own head. Lose is, I believe, implying that it’s naïve to think that the biblical writers were either telling the literal truth or else deliberately lying. And he’s right about that. People in past times did have somewhat different ideas about truth. (How much different is a matter of debate, but certainly somewhat different.) If you want to do any kind of serious historical scholarship, you’re just going to have to deal with that. You don’t have to adopt a relativistic view of truth to do so. It’s perfectly reasonable to judge that some statements in the ancient sources are true and others are false, or that some are more and some less accurate. But you do have to enter into the mental world of the authors and make an effort to understand their rather different view of what is appropriate in a narrative of past events if you want to understand, at the most basic level, what they are trying to do. And you have to have some understanding of what they were trying to do if you want to make a reasonable job of sifting through their narratives to figure out, as far as is possible, what really happened. Want to know more? Read a book! One place to start would be with the Romans. That takes you to several historians who were contemporary with the NT writers, and gets to the issue of different ideas of history and truth without confusing matters by bringing in faith. Try the Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians (A. Feldherr, ed., 2009).

    1. Hear! Hear!

      Would that others would not just put down the first thing that pops into their heads.

      Of course, I guess blogs (in the main)aren’t meant to be scholarly.

  20. Logic? LOGIC? Twisted to say the least, bla, bla, bla and in the end no dicision, Just “have faith” and feel it!

  21. Metaphorical truth? Pet stores don’t sell live snakes that speak human language. And grocery stores don’t sell knowledge of good and evil fruit. So…is the story of Adam and Eve nonsense, or is there meaning beyond their disobedience? Do a search: The First Scandal. Then click twice.

  22. The gospels — and, indeed, all of Scripture — do not seek to prove but to persuade.

    I thought Paul proved it with his invisible things clearly seen baloney. Everything is so obvious that everyone is without excuse of missing the obvious obviousness. Granted it’s a stupid proof, but it’s a proof.

    1. I’m probably being a little rough on Paul by saying it’s “stupid”. He probably got it from other philosophers anyway. Annoyingly thick-headed and self-serving would be a better description than “stupid”.

  23. You’ve reminded me of a good friend, not a writer by gift or profession, who published a fairly recent memoir jammed with platitudes and cliches.
    When she did interviews and speaking engagements, she responded, with a superior and rather smarmy smile, to the question of whether certain events happened as she wrote them, “It may not be fact but it is true.”
    Drove me crazy. Still does.

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