A frustrating aspect in discussing with Christians is how often they utilize one method or system in a conversation, but in another utilize the exact opposite. As outsiders—as skeptics—this causes us to question if they are looking for any rationalization to support the argument. Even if they have to disagree with what was said earlier.
I was part of a Long comment interaction over at Grace & Miracles, touching on a variety of topics. From historicity within New Testament Documents, apologetic tactics, inerrancy and inspiration.
I happened to be conversing on theopneustos (inspiration); other participants were talking about contradictions. As I read through, it struck me how on one hand Christians claim the Bible is confined by human limitations; yet on the other they think the Bible does not have such human limitations.
For example, one criterion given for determining which writings were theopneustos was time—had to be written within the apostolic period. When I asked why, it was pointed out how memories fade, legends are introduced, and we expect greater reliability closer to the event.
That is true. All things being considered equal, we give higher weight to accounts closer to the events. Humans do tend to forget or modify memories. Humans do introduce legend for their own agenda. Accounts are lost to history.
But isn’t that a human limitation? Let’s face it—we’re talking about a God interacting (in some way) on certain writings, unlike any other writings in all recorded time. Does a God forget? Is a God limited by the human mind’s frailty? Couldn’t a God “inspire” a document written today about an event in 3127 BCE that is 100% historically accurate?
Or is a God hampered by the human conduit it must use?
What made this particularly interesting was the parallel conversation about contradictions.
Besides humans forgetting, and introducing agenda, and modifying memories—do you know what else humans do? They contradict each other. They correct what they perceive as a mistake by another author. Yet the Christian defending inerrancy would not concede such a human limitation within the Bible.
Do you see the irony? One Christian claiming (under “inspiration”) a human limit upon God; another Christian refusing to recognize an equal human limitation in another aspect.
We see this with slavery. Both the broad claim it was Christianity that did away with slavery upon the human recognition of its evil; and the reluctant shrug that it was the best God could do was to “temper” slavery within the Tanakh.
That the genocides committed by the Hebrews were the best God could do with what he had, due to human limitations. Yet the doctrines within the Bible are pure God—no such human limitation. No human tampered with what God really wanted.
That God could “inspire” writings, but it took Christians 100’s of years to sort out which ones he did. (And still debate as to Canonicity.) That humans modified texts (such as the ending of Mark), and we find those by textual criticism, purging them out. But no human could have modified the original story.
Bart Ehrman is coming out with a book about Forgeries in the First Century. Including within the New Testament writings. (No surprise here to anyone studying the pseudopauline corpus.) I imagine a few Christians will be up in arms over the term “Forgery.”
Why? Humans forge. If God is limited by Humans’ ability to act, observe, remember, modify and converse, yet still manage to muddle through with a bit of “inspiration”—couldn’t this God equally work through the human limitation of forgery?
So which is it? Is the Bible the best a God can do, while utilizing the weak link of humanity, thus incorporating error, memory limitations and even forgery? Or is the Bible some great work where we have no such limitations, and shouldn’t claim human inabilities as an excuse for what is there?