Bible comprehension

Yes, yes, I know I’m supposed to be working on climate change at the moment, and I assure you, I am. I will get to that too eventually. Right now, I want to address this, though.

In a recent article, I saw various Christians accusing bible sceptics of ignorance. *insert image of Picard Epic Facepalm here* “Oh boy...” I thought to myself. “Really? You want to accuse US of ignorance...?” *reinsert image of Picard Epic Facepalm*

Then I thought about it. Could it be true? Can we really be ignorant of the bible? It’s possible I suppose, but unlikely. Most of us know the bible pretty well. In some cases, even better than believers do. When it comes to quoting what the bible actually says, meaning the actual written down content, we’re right up there. We can quote the bible as well as you can. Probably even better than you can, because we don’t ignore certain inconvenient bits. So I thought to myself, maybe we’re ignorant on the proper way to interpret the bible. You may have a point there, but once again, not a very large one. Currently, there’s what? 33,000 different interpretations? Each claiming to be the right one. The only one. That presents us with a problem. Even if you disregard the bulk of interpretations due to some very minor differences, you’re still left with a large number of very large differences. Each is supported by scripture, and every single one of them can lay claim to inspiration from god.

So how can anyone tell which is correct? Christians claim that understanding can only come if god gives it to you. Since bible sceptics by definition cannot be inspired by god, our interpretations are routinely shot down. As are every other competing interpretation. There’s no objective, empirical method to distinguish the level of correctness for each interpretation. Sure, there are bible scholars taught at university, but even among them, you’ll find no true consensus. Besides that, how can you tell whether Dominee van Vuuren from Hotazel is better qualified than, say, the Pope, in interpreting the bible? What measure do you use to discern “fact” from “fiction” – and that’s always supposing that the bible isn’t wholly fiction (holy fiction works just as well) to begin with. What would make Reflect014 a higher authority of biblical interpretation than Danie Theron, or Dominee van Vuuren, or the Pope...or Atheitis, for that matter. What credentials can you show? Are credentials even needed, or is faith enough? If having a following is enough, then the Pope is clearly the leading authority. In terms of sheer numbers, there are more than a billion Catholics. But of course, the general consensus here is that the Catholics have it all wrong. Of course, so does everyone else – except you and your small little group.

Which still doesn’t answer the central question: by what means can we be sure that your interpretation is the correct one? You would have us believe that understanding comes from god, and that he gives that understanding to whom he wills. We must just take your word for it that god spoke to you (or your dominee/pastor/priest etc.)  and ONLY you (or your dominee/pastor/priest etc). Everyone else is lying when they say god spoke to them.

If that is the case, then it leaves us with another problem. If god gives that understanding to whom he wills, then how can the people to whom he chooses not to give it be blamed for not understanding? The standard answer, we are told, is that such people obviously didn’t want to understand, because god gives understanding to everyone who wants it. But then do you know Atheitis didn’t truly want to understand? Because if he did, he would understand? But if people didn’t want to know, why would they seek understanding? The reasoning is circular. You can’t know if you don’t seek. If you seek, you will find. If you seek and you don’t find, it’s your fault. That comes down to victim blaming. God gives understanding, and if god doesn’t, then obviously it’s your fault for not seeking hard enough. More than a billion Catholics believe they have it right. God must have given them that understanding. Or did god mislead them? Or was it the devil who spoke to them and gave them understanding?

This whole thing makes no sense to me. So there’s just one thing left to do: concede the point and ask for help.

So, Christians: I concede. It’s possible that I simply lack understanding of how to interpret the bible. So explain it to me. How can anyone be sure of the correct interpretation? And I’m not talking about you yourself. God may or may not be talking to you and giving you understanding. I can’t verify that independently. Anyone could claim to have gained understanding from god. For all I know, that’s what all of you did. Or you could be misguided by the devil. There’s no way for me to know. So explain it to me: what makes you right and every other interpretation wrong, and what qualifies you to make that call? Give me your credentials and prove to me that your interpretation is more valid than anyone else’s, including my own.

Reality 2014/08/13 07:58:12 AM
Very good question..and how do they know, the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are wrong? Does god brand you on your buttocks to show that you are allowed to preach?
Net Crunchie 2014/08/13 08:24:44 AM
Good article
GMitch 2014/08/13 08:28:22 AM
If an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity was in fact the source of inspiration we would see a single, unambiguous message because it's in the best interest of all humanity. What we see is the complete opposite. We see a collection of texts written in extinct languages, after being circulated verbally for extended periods of time, translated and copied and transmitted through the ages such that hundreds of versions exist, none of which can be traced to an original text. Even more damning is that Christians dismiss the word of their Abrahamic deity which is provided in other sources such as the Qur'an, for no good reason, even though it is claimed as such by over a billion people. In the presence of evidence to the contrary, we can simply dismiss claims of inspiration from deity and assume the interpretations are all made up as they go along, hence thousands of Christian cults have and continue to exist.
Adriaan 2014/08/13 08:30:01 AM
GREAT QUESTION! Strangely enough - in the presence of GOD there is no CONFUSION, AND WITH HIM THERE IS CLEAR UNDERSTANDING. while you have a good question - there is a very good answer - one that i will try to answer - a bit later. I have no credentials - maybe just maybe that is exactly what is required to answer this. More Later
RabbleRouser 2014/08/13 08:40:20 AM
Excellent article. It really amazes me how the theists generally claim that they yield the correct interpretation. And everybody else gets it wrong. A straight literal reading is also an interpretation. Why is it wrong?
Bruwer 2014/08/13 08:45:13 AM
I stopped at climate change
David Allcock 2014/08/13 08:53:45 AM
personaly i find that if you do not view the bible as the inspired word of god or anyone else it is more interesting..viewed as a collection of ramblings poems antedotes historical references at times political propaganda and general thoughts and ideas written by many very different people over a very long time....a compilation.....once you try to piece it all together as if it was ever intended to be one comprehensive absolute message it makes no becomes similar to reading all these blogs on my news24 thousand of years after the fact and claiming that we all have the same unified message to tell....we dont
CharlieC 2014/08/13 08:58:00 AM
“Can we really be ignorant of the bible? It’s possible I suppose, but unlikely” Personally I’ve never read the whole bible, I’ve probably seen more scripture on the internet than from the book, so my knowledge of the bible is not that good. I don’t even know how many books are in the bible never mind all their names. On thing I have seen in these debates is that it appears you have to have your God-Goggles on when and if you read the bible, else it will not make sense.
CyberMatix 2014/08/13 09:02:57 AM
Even in the Catholic church there are differences in interpretations. This also causes different "denominations": the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church the Chaldean Catholic Church the Coptic Catholic Church, and the Armenian Catholic Church Some of them even have their own popes, such as the Copts. Screw the Vatican pope, he is not the "true" pope. We have the true pope. Our pope. There are also different "Orders", like the Dominicans and Jesuits. Too many to list, a few hundred, all with smaller or larger differences in interpretations, rituals, etc. And the strange thing, just like the Protestant denominations, they seem to INCREASE as time goes on. One would think that as more time is spent in scholarly studying the religious scripture the ONE revealing of the ONE absolute divine truth would become clearer and all the different interpretations would converge. But in fact exactly the opposite is happening, there is more divergence as time moves forward. The reason for this can only be one of two things: the method of Bible exegesis is incorrect in some fundamental way, OR, there isn't ONE divine truth and everybody is making it up as they go along.
Johnny B Goode 2014/08/13 09:17:57 AM
All xtians claim a "relationship" with their god. If I have to believe one, I have to believe all.