Friday, October 19, 2007

Very Inspiring

Very Inspiring.

In 6th Century BCE lived a Greek philosopher Epimenides. Quite a fellow. Fell asleep for 57 years and woke up with the gift of prophecy. Wrote a poem Cretia. Ever read it? You may have read a portion and never knew it:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Paul, in his speech to Athens, quotes the last line (originally referring to Zeus, but Paul attributes it to the “Unknown God”) stating, “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…” Acts 17:28. The author of Titus quotes the second line with approval in Titus 1:12: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’”

If I declared Epimenides as Divinely inspired writing, after the initial reaction of “Who?” I would be laughed out of most churches. Yet when Luke quotes Paul using Epimenides’ statements, the very same words become forever encased in the Holy Bible. When Titus’ author quotes him directly, Epimenides words become immortal.

In the Second Century, BCE, the apocryphal work, ”Book of Enoch” was written with subsequent revisions over the next 200 years. In the second chapter, Enoch states:

Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.

Jude 14-15 recognizes this portion and writes, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’” I find it amusing every Bible I own has quotation marks within these verses, yet not a single one provides a footnote to inform me where it comes from. Even my Bibles which contain extensive footnotes in other quoted portions, as to where to find the corresponding passage in the Tanakh.

How odd Epimenides and Book of Enoch are solely human works, yet when another author in another time uses their words (even quoting them) these words become “God-breathed.” Did they sit dormant for centuries, waiting for the opportune moment to come alive? Or is it that inspiration comes, not from the words themselves, but the status of the author?

What status must one obtain in order to have one’s words God-Breathed? We know Paul wrote works unpreserved. (1 Cor. 5:9) We know Paul used a secretary. Rom. 16:22. (One of the common apologetics for the difference between 1 Peter and 2 Peter is the use of a Secretary.) What is the status of Hebrew’s author? That person is unknown!

It can’t be just the words. It can’t be just the status of the person putting pen to paper. It cannot be the status of the original author. Could it be the concept of “Inspiration” is a term arbitrarily utilized to grant favored standing to certain writings, but remains elusively undefined?

Naw--only a skeptic would presume that!


  1. A formidable challenge to Christians, Dagoods. My response would be to point to the villians of the Bible. Certainly Ahab and Jezebel were not God-breathed. They weren't even the positive sense of the word at least. Also, what of those events where you think it's God at work and then you realize it's just human superstition that was talking: ex. Elihu's profound speech in Job 35-37 that is immediately rebuked by God, Jacob's crafty sleight of hand with the sheep that makes you think he really knew something about breeding superior races from inferior sheep.

    The trickier of your two examples is the Book of Enoch citation. Paul's use of Epimenides' quote is a good example for us that knowing the audience's history and culture is a valuable tool in witnessing to them. But Enoch was not included in the Bible for the very reason you gave, it's authorship was seriously questionable.

    But here's the rub. Does the fact that the Book of Enoch didn't meet the criteria for canon preclude any use of it in canon? It seems to me that you'd have to show that there was no prior Book of Enoch oral or written in existence that had this excerpt in it. Whereas the skeptic sees a red flag, the believer wouldn't be too preoccupied with this.

    As for who wrote Hebrews the absence of a name does not invalidate the content of the letter. It was obviously someone with a great knowledge of prophecy and history.

    A lot rests on what "God-breathed" means. There is a verse in 1 Samuel that "the Word didn't come around much in those days". How could that be God-breathed? Seems as though He was not omnipresent after all. In my opinion thus far "God-breathed" means that God is in control guiding the action to give us a useful life lesson or guiding the pen itself.

    Sound crazy?

  2. "Could it be the concept of “Inspiration” is a term arbitrarily utilized to grant favored standing to certain writings, but remains elusively undefined?" (Dagoods)

    Possibly. I personally have no problem saying the people that wrote were 'inspired by God' - but what that means - well - also needs further definition. Inspiration does not neccasarily mean 'God breathed' - I actually think humans wrote as they saw fit to. But you'd be correct - in the process of authorizing the books for the bible - I am not sure it was assumed they were 'God breathed' - this was a later creation. I think they were humans writing what they knew of God.

    I like the work you did to find those passages from other works - if you ever write something on that in more depth (or collect more) - I would be more than happy to read it and would want a copy - fascinating!

  3. I don't know why you bring up Ahab and Jezebel. They're villains, sure, but they are in the "God-breathed" books of Kings. Are the portions of Kings that mention Ahab and Jezebel not "God-breathed"? Does this mean that the life works of Elijah and Elisha have to be ignored?

    Is Job meaningless because of Elihu's speech?

    I find it fascinating that you bring up Jacob's "crafty sleight of hand", something I brought up arguing over evolution in John Shuck's blog. For those of you who aren't familiar, in Genesis 30, Jacob gets his father-in-law to agree to let Jacob have all the sheep in the flock that are spotted or striped. Jacob then "craftily" puts striped and spotted bits of wood in front of the ewes as they conceived. The ancient Middle Eastern belief was that the lamb would come out whatever color the ewe saw. This is, as we now know, complete and utter bull$#!&. Coloring has nothing to do with the state of mind of the mother and everything to do with genetics. This is, in fact, a great part of the Bible for non-theists to use to argue against its veracity.
    Dagoods, your examples are very telling ones. Last spring, I in fact stood on the Aeropagus in Athens, the hill where he made the famous speech. While I don't think it's impossible that Paul was consciously or unconsciously quoting Epimenides, I diverge from Jim by saying "so what?". With the way I personally interpret the Bible, it doesn't make any difference whether he's quoting someone else without attribution. The important thing to remember is the upshot of the entire speech and how it fits into the greater Biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption and Jesus himself.

    As far as Enoch goes, there are several places in the Bible where there are explicit references to works that were kept out of the canon by church politicians (though they'd prefer to be called clergy). If Jude is the infallible and inerrant Word of God, how can it be if it includes direct quotes from the non-Holy book of Enoch as proof of its argument?

    It's situations like these that point out one of the big blind spots of fundamentalists: the refusal to acknowledge that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible were picked out by Martin Luther and were in turn whittled down from a list decreed by Pope Athanasius I.

  4. It's always possible to rationalize anything: If you're free to introduce premises at will, you can make any statement valid. This more-or-less "ad hoc" presumption is not by itself a bad thing: it's exactly what a scientist does when she hypothesizes an "invisible" entity to account for some observed phenomenon.

    The problem occurs when you create an ad hoc rationalization to justify a conclusion which is itself in doubt. The reason the scientist can get away with hypothesizing is that the observation that she's accounting for is itself accepted as fact regardless of the truth of any particular hypothesis.

    Many Christians seem to think that all that's necessary is to make their theology internally logically consistent, to protect it against charges of logical contradiction. But that's not enough: If you're free to chose your premises and you're not constrained to accounting for facts, you can make a system of thought where any set of statements valid. (One can invoke differences of meaning to reconcile statements that are even trivially mutually contradictory.)

    We want something more from an epistemic system (i.e. a system of knowledge) than just logical non-contradiction.

    I long ago stopped asking Christians the sort of questions posed in the OP, because Christianity is, with sufficient effort, logically consistent.

    The fundamental issue is the foundation: the statements that are accepted as true a priori. The real question is: why should I take a priori the statements in the Bible as even authoritative, much less veridical? I have a pretty good reason to take the evidence of my senses as authoritative (but not necessarily veridical): my mind (brain) physically compels me to do so.

    But just asking the question about the a priori authority of the Bible undermines that authority. As Dagood has shown, once you question the a priori authority of the Bible, once you cast it in doubt and apply a non-Biblical epistemic methods to try to conclude, and not assume, its truth or falsity, you end up being an atheist.

  5. Jim Jordan,

    I get what you are saying. O.K., we can’t use content to determine inspiration. (Which makes sense, really. Otherwise Christians who hold the Testimonium Flavianum as accurate history would have to explain why it is not inspired. As well as all those other non-canonical gospels.) We can’t use authorship. We can’t even use the words themselves.

    So what DO we use? Christians create this concept of “God-breathed” and claim it defines very specific and very limited writings as being so. How many sermons have we all heard where the pastor focused on one little word within a passage? A few letters put together, and it has more value than all of Shakespeare’s works put together. Or an apologetic that focuses on one word, or the order of words.

    Yet with all that focus, Christians can’t even state with any certainty what “God-breathed” is. And this indefinable thing, they cannot explain with any consist method what is part of the indefinable, and what is not. Yet they want to skip these steps as minor considerations and jump right into a presumption this is the written WORD OF GOD.

    Jim Jordan: Whereas the skeptic sees a red flag, the believer wouldn't be too preoccupied with this.

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  6. SocietyVs,

    No one knows what “God-wind” means in 2 Tim. 3:16. It is a combination of two Greek Words, “God” and “Wind.” We have no other instances (except possibly one) in all of Greek literature, so we have no way of comparing within context in anything to see what the author meant by it.

    We presume, based on the combination of words. Imagine if I stated you had a “PoliceBrute” mentality. 2000 years from now, a person could search in all our literature and not find the term “PoliceBrute” since I just made it up. However, they could research “Police” and “Brute” and come up with a guess as to my meaning. We do the same with “God-wind.”

    The King James Version translated this word theopneustos as “Inspiration” whereas more recent translations to the more accurate “God-Breathed.” Therefore, I am uncertain as to what you mean by “Inspiration does not necessarily mean ‘God-breathed.’” It is two different translations of the same word. How can it not mean the same?

    Or, if you prefer, what does theopneustos mean?

  7. The Barefoot Bum,

    I tend to write long posts (as my recent flurry demonstrates). I am trying to shorten my blogs to raise one question. I am not so certain Christianity is sufficiently logical. I will explain in a blog.

    I can only hope questions like cause Christians to pause.

  8. To Everyone,

    I am curious. I attended church for 39 years. I had never heard of Epimenides in all those years. I wonder, how many years have people been to church, and in all those years have they, too, never heard of him? I would be curious if, this Sunday, any commentator that attends church would raise his name and find one (1) person who knows how he is.

    If it is no big deal the author of Titus quotes him, and Paul is alleged to have quoted him, why is it we have never heard of him?

  9. Dagoods how many years have people been to church, and in all those years have they, too, never heard of him?

    Good question. But I bet that almost every week, the pastor used an illustration from the culture; for us that would mean a lot of references to celebrities and TV shows and famous speeches. The pastor then segues into what the Bible says about it. That is what Paul was doing, establishing a common ground with his audience, then weaving it into the Scriptures.

    Unfortunately, thousands of missionaries have wreaked havoc by forgetting this method.

    I believe Barefoot Bum is correct in saying that Christianity is logically consistent and [I expect] you'll probably just pull your hair out eventually. But don't stop writing! Your challenges are excellent.

  10. Jim Jordan says:
    But I bet that almost every week, the pastor used an illustration from the culture; for us that would mean a lot of references to celebrities and TV shows and famous speeches. The pastor then segues into what the Bible says about it. That is what Paul was doing...etc

    This is a good point, Jim. To answer your question DaGoodS, I knew about Biblical writers quoting non-canincal sources, (mostly I knew about 1Enoch), but I just figured that if it was inspired, what does it matter where the source material came from? People who read Jude could relate to it better because it quoted something familiar, like 1 Enoch. Same with John when it references 1 Maccabees, Jesus when he quotes... .. urgh something out of the pseudapigrapha, I forget what.

    To answer your question, DaGoodS, no our church never mentioned Epimenides, or what was derived from it. I do have one taped sermon that references 1 Enoch, but they way 1 Enoch got its stuff from Jude. ok.

  11. This article actually brings up a whole nother issue regarding ancient texts and biblical authority.

    There are many books mentioned in the Bible that we do not have. The Book of the Just, the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel, the History of Nathan, the Annals of Hozai, and many many more are mentioned in the Bible - most of these references are found in 1 and 2 Chronicles.

    My favorite lost book has to be The Book of the Wars of YHWH (Num 21:14). Now come on, what guy would not want to read a book with that title?

    Consider something like Joshua 10, where the Earth stood still and the sun stopped. It makes an odd statement after the battle is won - is this not mentioned in the Book of Jashur? Another lost book where all these stories seem to be mentioned first!!

    When we move onto the new testament, Paul, in a couple of his letters hints that he has written other letters - don't ask me the references now.... I will do it later if somebody asks. But I think there are two or three places where he mentions something about a 'previous letter'. HUH?

    Now here is the problem. Let us suppose that some archeologist digs up what is proven to be one of these lost books authored by Paul, or the Book of Jashur, or the Book of the Wars of YHWH. What does this do, if anything, to Biblical inspiration? Would a newly found authentic letter of Paul be included into the cannon? None of these are far-fetched ideas. So what of it?

  12. Interesting point, HIS
    Finding lost books and letters? I would have to say a great debate would begin. Of course, that debate about their scriptural worth might take a while.

    I think another dynamic might arise, that it would re-inforce what we already have as historically accurate. Many archaeological discoveries have already done just that.

  13. "It is two different translations of the same word. How can it not mean the same?" (Dagoods)

    God-breathed (likely harkens back to Hebrew I am guessing) - it's an 'Adam was born' term. Whereas the definition of inspiration - if that is used - can be simplified to the idea 'inspired by something' (ie: God). But I am open to hearing this all out - If I had the answers they'd be written down - as it is, I do not.

    But if I can - I like the God-breathed idea - since it seems the gospels, letters, and Tanakh can give hope - like giving breath - or life. And maybe Jim is pointing to this route also?

  14. HeIsSailing,

    You ask a good question if any of the “lost” books are found. The last 100 years, with the one-two-three Punch of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, the Dead Sea Scrolls and early manuscripts shows how much is possibly out there.

    However, just like those discoveries have developed, all we have seen is confirmation of the same inspired Bible we had before. Sadly, Christians love to cherry-pick. How many times have we heard about Isaiah 53 being “confirmed” by the Dead Sea Scrolls? Yet equally, how many times have we heard about the lack of Esther in the DSS, or the fact it seems to support the Septuagint rather than the Masoric Text?

    We may have the Book of Jashar and at best we may hear how it confirms the story of Joshua’s sun, but will be ignored when it comes to the other stories related within. The same as Christians do with Papais, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, etc. etc. etc.

  15. **Could it be the concept of “Inspiration” is a term arbitrarily utilized to grant favored standing to certain writings, but remains elusively undefined?**

    I would say yes. :) Even if you look at various Christian sects attempting to define inspiration. One takes it as every word was literally imparted from God to the author, and the author was basically the pen. There was no room for error. Others take a broader picture, and say that the Bible was inspired the way a sunset inspired a poet to compose a poem about said-sunset.

    What gets really interesting about this, as you already mentioned, is how one determiens what is and is not "God-breathed." What was the criteria? How did one determine which authorship was okay, and which one was not? (Especially in light of the scholarship on Paul's pseudo-letters). When the biblical canon was compiled, was each work evaluated independently, or was it evaluated as a whole? As in, did they say the Synoptic Gospels had to be "God-breathed" because they were so similar? If so, would that mean that the Bible was compiled through a circular method?

    As in, we can't say, "The Bible is inspired because it says it's God-breathed," because that's using the Bible to justify the claim about the Bible. Does that mean that we would also not be able to say, "These three gospels are clearly inspired and true, because they are so similiar." Does this fall under the category of using the gospels to prove a claim they make about themselves? Although, you couldnt' say the claim was "God-breathed" as the gospels don't say that. BUt you could use that to address the historical accuracy of the Gospels.

    I'm rambling aloud here, and I think Barefoot Bum addresses this more clearly, in terms of Christianity working the facts around the premise, rather than vice versa.

  16. OneSmallStep sez:
    "Even if you look at various Christian sects attempting to define inspiration. One takes it as every word was literally imparted from God to the author, and the author was basically the pen. There was no room for error. "

    Heather, my arch-nemesis Chuck Missler says something like this about Biblical inspiration:

    "The Bible is an integrated message system. Not in the sense that there is an over-arching theme that points to the Jesus, no much more than that. It is 66 books writen by 40 authors over thousands of years, yet every theme is cohearant. Every word, every place name, every detail is there by the express design of the Holy Spirit. And when the Messiah comes, he will interpret the words, in fact he will interpret the letters, in fact he will interpret the very spaces in between the letters!"

    Have you ever tried reading the Bible with that mindset? I got into the trap of looking for mathematical and other "coincidences" in the Bible text to prove its otherworldly origin. Not Drosnin-style Bible Code stuff, but weird nonetheless.

    I am sure glad I am out of that cycle!!

  17. I am sure glad I am out of that cycle!!

    You appear to be correct, HIS. The power and inspiration of the gospel is in the meaning of the words, NOT in the spaces between them. What happens if your arch-nemesis prints it out in a different font size? I think it's safe to say that that quote resembles "bibliolatry".

  18. HIS,

    **Have you ever tried reading the Bible with that mindset? **

    I think I tried once, and got all of two pages. For instance, take the claim of the entire Bible points to Jesus, including the Tanakh. Well, the Tanakh can't point to God becoming flesh, because that's not part of Judaism, or a concept in the Tanakh. The Tanakh can't point to everyone destined for hell and the savior rescuing people from that default location, because the afterlife is so vague in the Tanakh. The Tanakh can't point to Jesus combating Satan, because Satan is so radically different in the Tanakh, compared to how Christianity made him. The Tanakh can't point to original sin, and so on and so on. Or just look at how many prophecies were re-interpted, or become prophecies for the first time, in light of Jesus.

    Can you make the Tanakh do so? Of course, if you're willing to go with very loose ideas of concepts and words, and make them mean whatever you need to in order to reach a set conclusion.

    It's like person A saying that I did a handstand at 3:47 pm on a specific date, and person B saying that I was riding a bike at the same time. Most would say that's a contradiction and one person is either lying or remembering wrong. Yet, to make this logically consistent, a person could say both are true by raising the possiblity that someone's watch was wrong, or I was riding the bike with my hands on the peddle, and thus doing the handstand while on the bike. Is it possible? Yes, but it also comes across that the very meaning of logic has been knocked down the lowest concept of logic. That's how I tend to see inerrancy.