My Speech, ‘A Better Place’

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 1, 2009 in General Atheism

Here’s the text of a very short speech I recently gave in Hollywood (for Toastmasters). Unfortunately, the video recording got messed up.

In my youth I was a child of God. I marveled at his splendor. He was bigger than I could even imagine; unfathomable and untameable. But I enjoyed him most when I could catch just a glimpse of how he ticked. All I wanted was to understand God and live in him fully to help make the world a better place.

Yup, I was a born-again, body-baptized, Bible-believin’, Spirit-filled, heaven-bound son of preacher man! I went on missions trips to China and England and Indonesia and the faraway land of Canada. I attended Christian youth groups, led Bible studies, prayed daily, and worshiped earnestly.

In fact, I was such a good, genuine Christian that I started to worry about the sin of pride.

In a worship service one day I felt God nudging me to humble myself. I knew I had to put my body into a position of humility before God, because that would help get my mind in the right place, too. But I was pretty shy at the time, so I looked at all the people nearby me and asked God, “Now?”

“Yes,” he answered.

But I was frozen. I kept hoping the worship band would play their last song, for then I would have missed my opportunity and I would have had to humble myself some other day.

Finally, I asked God for peace, and he gave it to me. My whole body relaxed. I focused on how much I loved God rather than my pounding heart and sweating hands.

I made my way out of the aisle and walked to the front of my church, where there was a large cross on the wall, and I bowed down before it.

About 10 minutes later, I looked up and saw that half the worship band had stopped playing their instruments and were kneeling before the cross. I looked behind me and saw that the whole aisle was filled with people bowing before the cross. The Spirit of God had overwhelmed us.

The question of my life was WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? The problem was, different people had different ideas about who Jesus was and what he would do. So I decided to become an expert on Jesus. I studied what scholars had to say about the real Jesus who ministered to humanity 2,000 years ago.

And what I learned… shocked me. The gospels are riddled with contradictions, myths, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many central issues, and Christian theology had actually sided with Paul, against Jesus! I also started to wonder how I could accept the miracle claims about Jesus but reject the miracle claims of other religions as superstitious nonsense.

I started to panic. I felt like my best friend in the whole world was dying. And worse, I was killing him.

But I had to know the truth. So I studied and studied and studied. And eventually I had to admit I didn’t have any reasons to think Christianity was true. In fact, I didn’t have any good reasons to think God even existed.

I was lost and miserable. As an atheist, I could have no meaning or purpose or morality.

At least, that’s what I’d been told. Later, I learned what hundreds of millions of atheists have known for centuries: there is plenty of purpose and morality without a Supreme Magical Dictator.

There’s art and music and poetry and literature and film. There’s love and heartache and ecstasy and laughter and peace. There’s a world of confusion, and we know how to bring clarity! There’s a world of suffering, and we know how to bring joy. There’s a world of bondage, and we know how to bring freedom!

In my twenties I realized I was a child of this natural world. I marvel at her splendor. She is bigger than I can even imagine: unfathomable and untameable. But I enjoy her most when I can catch just a glimpse of how she ticks. All I want is to understand this natural world and live in her fully to help make the world a better place.

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck November 1, 2009 at 6:54 am

Jesus and Paul disagreed on many central issues, and Christian theology had actually sided with Paul, against Jesus!

You have said this before. Can you give some examples? I’m just curious, what are the disagreements?

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lukeprog November 1, 2009 at 7:31 am

Chuck,

An accessible source (until I have time to write about it) are two recent Reasonable Doubts episodes: The Disunity of the Bible parts 1 and 2.

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Jeff H November 1, 2009 at 7:35 am

“…and the faraway land of Canada.”

Hey, glad you were able to make your way up here to the cold, dark land of the north, eh? Watch out for the moose…

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poban November 1, 2009 at 7:59 am

Last few weeks I have been following your website closely. It has been a very good find so far. Though I never had a chance to believe in a god (i.e. I have found that I have always been a non believer ). Actually I had always liked ( or become jealous ) of other religious rituals and cultures. Then I began noticing “Four Horsemen of Atheism” and found that religions could be bad . Though I was ever an atheist I always felt that religions were less black than they(Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) had painted. Now after I found this site I find myself as a person having a different view towards gods and religions. I came to know some good atheists and debator . Thanks Luke!!

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anon November 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

>>The gospels are riddled with contradictions>>

Really? Flat out contradictions? What’s the most egregious one, do you think? (Just one for now, please.)

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Lee A. P. November 1, 2009 at 8:13 am

How many times did the cock crow before Peter denied Jesus?

When you harmonize the accounts it becomes really awkward.

As far as egregiousness, just the fact that Jesus was certain that the wolrd would end before the end of the lifetimes of his followers, I think counts big.

…and it has caused Christian paranoia about the end of days for the last 2,000 years. When have Christians NOT believed that there were in the “end times”? They are the ultimate conspiracy theorists.

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Apollo November 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

What denomination were you in? I ask because the idea of bowing down before a cross would, without a doubt, be seen as idolatry in any form of church based on the NT…

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Haukur November 1, 2009 at 9:22 am

In my twenties I realized I was a child of this natural world. I marvel at her splendor. She is bigger than I can even imagine: unfathomable and untameable.

Wait, did I get my pagan bookmarks and my atheist bookmarks mixed up? Welcome to pantheism, Luke. It’s a good place to hang out in.

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Noel November 1, 2009 at 10:16 am

Many of the “contradictions” of the Gospels have to do with chronology. For example, John places the “cleansing of the Temple” at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, while the Synoptics place it near the end (for example, during the last week, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the Passover).

Additionally, the length of Jesus’ ministry is contested among the Gospel writers. The Synoptics seem to think it lasted a relatively brief time (a couple of months) while John has it lasting over three years. The crucifixion and death of Jesus also occurs at different times in the Synoptics from in John.

It is obvious that the Gospel writers were not concerned with presenting a “modern” historical picture of Jesus. They collect sayings and narratives about Jesus, create a chronology that best conveys their intended purposes, and alter scenes to fit their agenda. The Gospels are interpretive theological history, not strict biographical history.

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Noel November 1, 2009 at 10:42 am

I think one could also point to the birth narratives as points of contradiction. The Gospel writers don’t seem to agree on what exactly happened in this crucial event.

Two of the Gospel writers don’t seem to know anything about the virgin Mary and the miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus; the other two cannot agree on what exactly happened. There are, simply put, irreconcilable divergences between the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, and no birth narratives at all in Mark and John.

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northportphoneguy November 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Even when I was a believer, I could not reconcile Matt 5:18 with Paul’s teaching. Jesus says the Law will not pass away and Paul says the law does not have to be followed.
This seemed like a huge fundamental difference to me.

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Marco November 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Luke, based on your admiration for Craig and how well spoken you are becoming, are you aiming to become for the atheist side what Craig is for the Christian side? More moderately speaking, are you pursuing a future in dabating people that hold views that differ from yours?

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anon November 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I was hoping someone might give me an example of this form:

Mark X:XX says “p.”
Matthew X:XX says “not-p.”

*That* is a contradiction. Are there any examples like that in the NT?

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Gimpness November 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

How about what happened to Judas anon
Acts 1 18 ” With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.”

Matthew 27 3″When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4″I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners”

How he died and more importantly his reaction to what occurred. In Acts he is not bothered by what he has done where as in Matthew he is so remorseful he hung himself. Also who actually purchased the potters field? Judas or the chief priests?

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Leviathan November 1, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Gimpness:

They have a harmonization for the Judas stories. Oh boy is it a doozy. I’ll let one of they apologists get to it so I dont get accused of building a strawman, but let me give you a preview: it involves Judas hanging himself over a cliff. :)

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ildi November 1, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Well, there’s Matt. 27:11 vs John 18:34-37 re. what Jesus said to Pilate;

there’s Matthew 27:5 vs. Acts of the Apostles 1:18 re, what Judas did with the 30 pieces of silver and how he died;

there’s Luke 24:1-59 vs Acts 1:3 re. when Jesus resurrected;

there’s Matt.28:l6-17 vs Luke 24:33-36 re. the meeting location after the resurrection.

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Jeff H November 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm

One of my favourite contradictions in the Gospel: the date of Jesus’ birth. See here for an explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBufxLab5ns

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Leviathan November 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm

anon:

According to the modern square of opposition, the truth value of a universal affirmantive (All S are P)contradicts that of a particular negative (Some S are not P).

So, compare Romans 10:13 “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” with Matt 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

Let S= persons that call the Lord
and P= persons who will be saved

Romans 10:12- All S are P
Matt 7:21- Some S are not P

It’s not the best example, but it’s a contradictions according to both Aristotelian and modern logic.

Oh, and before you go there, I checked the Greek ;)

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lukeprog November 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Apollo,

I wasnt worshiping the cross.

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lukeprog November 1, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Marco,

I’m not sure about debating, but I would certainly like to be a public speaker.

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Haukur November 2, 2009 at 12:40 am

“I wasnt worshiping the cross.”

That’s what the Catholics say too. :)

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 7:55 am

What denomination were you in? I ask because the idea of bowing down before a cross would, without a doubt, be seen as idolatry in any form of church based on the NT…

Careful, your Puritanism is showing ;)

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anon November 2, 2009 at 8:54 am

Hi Gimpness,

I asked for a contradiction in the Gospels, and you gave me an apparent contradiction between Matthew and Acts. But it’s still interesting, so thank you anyway.

What exactly is the apparent contradiction meant to be? I take it the contradiction is something like this:

Acts 1:18 says that Judas bought a field with the reward he got for betraying Jesus. In that field, he fell head-first and spilled his guts.

Matthew 27:3 says that Judas returned the reward he got for betraying Jesus to the chief priests. The chief priests didn’t want it in the treasury, so they bought a potter’s field. And Judas hung himself.

Well, I take it one point of issue is this: Acts says Judas bought the field, while Matthew says the chief priests bought the field. But I don’t really see a contradiction here. Judas threw his money at the chief priests, sure, but they seemed reluctant to repossess it (blood money, and all that). So when they gave the money to someone else in exchange for the potter’s field, it’s not unreasonable to say that Judas bought it, since it was still his money. And it’s not unreasonable to say the chief priests bought it, since they made the exchange.

Similarly, if I give my friend $10 to go buy some beer, there seem to be two reasonable answers to the question “Who bought the beer?” In one sense, I bought it, since it was my money. In another sense, my friend bought it, since he went to the store and made the exchange. It looks like the same thing happened with Judas and the chief priests: It was Judas’ money, but the chief priests made the exchange.

I guess the other point of issue is this: Acts says Judas fell head-first into the field and spilled his guts. Matthew says Judas hung himself. This is technically a contradiction only if it’s not possible to do both. I think I have heard the suggestion that Leviathan alluded to, namely that he hung himself near the potter’s field, and then fell into the field. That’s logically possible, and so, *even if it didn’t actually happen*, it is sufficient to show that this isn’t a contradiction. Also, it may be that Judas hung himself, and then whoever discovered his body threw it into the field. Acts doesn’t say that Judas fell into the field while alive, does it?

So that’s why I don’t think you’ve managed to find a contradiction here between Acts and Matthew.

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anon November 2, 2009 at 8:59 am

Ildi,

Thank you for the response. But would you mind putting the alleged contradiction in this form?

Mark X:XX says “p.”
Matthew X:XX says “not-p.”

Also, would you mind just picking your one favorite contradiction for now, to keep this from spiraling out of control?

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anon November 2, 2009 at 9:16 am

Hi Leviathan,
Thanks very much for the clear and careful response. The alleged contradiction you offer is this:

Romans 10:13 “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved”
Matt 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven”

So the contradiction is meant to be something like this:
Romans says [If you call on the name of the Lord, you'll be saved]. But Matthew says NOT-[If you say to Jesus "Lord, Lord," you'll be saved].

Well, this is a contradiction only if the antecedents of those two conditionals express the same proposition. That is, it’s a contradiction only if “You call on the name of the Lord” means the same thing as “You say to Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’.” But do those two sentences in fact mean the same thing?

Perhaps Jesus meant to warn against mere lip-service. That is, perhaps Jesus meant to tell people that what really matters is what’s in a person’s heart, not merely what’s on his lips. He seems to say many very similar things about adultery (if you even lust, you’ve committed adultery in your heart), food (it’s what comes out of a person that makes him unclean, not what goes in), the Pharisees (he calls them hypocrites and whitewashed tombs).

So it’s not unreasonable to read Jesus as saying “It’s not the case that if you *merely verbally profess* faith in me, then you’ll be saved.”

Meanwhile, perhaps what Paul was saying is that if you *genuinely* have faith, if you *sincerely intend* to call on the name of Jesus, then you’ll be saved.

If these are even POSSIBLE readings of Jesus and Paul, then there’s *no* contradiction here.

Similarly, merely signing your name to a contract is not sufficient for it to be legally binding, since you may be coerced to sign. The sincere intention to sign the contract is required for the contract to be legally binding. Yet the verb “sign” is ambiguous: in one sense, it means an intentional, uncoerced action. In this sense, you cannot torture someone into signing a contract. Yet in another sense, “sign” just means to make one’s mark on a page, which may happen under coercion. In this sense, you *can* torture someone into signing a contract.

So, these are both true things that someone might say about contracts:
“Not everyone who signs a contract will be legally bound to it.”
“Everyone who signs a contract will be legally bound to it.”
These are both true, due to the ambiguity of “sign.”

Likewise, these may both be true, due to an ambiguity in “call”/”say”:
“If you call on the name of the Lord, you’ll be saved.”
“It’s not the case that if you say to Jesus “Lord, Lord,” you’ll be saved.”

So there’s no contradiction here.

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anon November 2, 2009 at 9:22 am

Gimpness,
I said this: “I asked for a contradiction in the Gospels, and you gave me an apparent contradiction between Matthew and Acts.” It’s true that in my first comment in this thread, I asked for a contradiction in the Gospels. But in my second comment, I asked for a contradiction anywhere in the NT. I forgot that, so that’s my mistake. Your response was totally legit, so you didn’t deserve the sass I gave you. Sorry about that.

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 9:26 am

Told ya it was a doozy.

anon, the story you have told is loosely based on two bible stories, but it is not itself a bible story. You can believe it if you want, but it doesn’t seem very plausible to me. I suspect that you don’t really believe it either, but you profess belief in order to conform to some doctrine about the bible you feel is necessary to your faith. Wouldn’t it be more honest to admit that at least one of these authors didn’t really know how Judas died, but he heard a tradition about a “Field of Blood,” so he made something up to fill in the gaps? I don’t think your Christianity will crumble if you admit this, as it is a pretty insignificant detail- not exactly Nicene Creed material.

Then again, the vast amount of believers who do accept in this type of dubious harmonization does make one doubt that they are in touch with a Holy Spirit leading them to wisdom and truth.

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anon November 2, 2009 at 9:37 am

Hi Northportphoneguy,

You said this: “Even when I was a believer, I could not reconcile Matt 5:18 with Paul’s teaching. Jesus says the Law will not pass away and Paul says the law does not have to be followed.”

Well, what Jesus actually says is this: “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

It’s unclear what is meant by “until all is accomplished.” Perhaps he meant his own death, when he said “It is finished.” Or perhaps he meant way in the future, when heaven and Earth are remade. So there are two possible readings of this.

And what Paul says is that Christians do not need to live under the Law, since there is now a righteousness apart from the Law. Now it may be that the Law has been completely abolished for everyone, or it may be that the Law still applies to Jews, but not to Christians. So there are two possible readings of this verse as well.

So it may be that they’re both right, and that the Law was abolished for everyone when Jesus died. Jesus said the Law won’t pass away until all is accomplished. Perhaps all was accomplished at his death, and then the Law passed away. And perhaps that’s why Paul says Christians don’t need to live under the Law anymore.

Or it may be that the Law won’t be abolished until the new heaven and the new Earth. But it may also be that the Law only applies to those to whom it was given, i.e. the Jews. If so, Paul would still be right to say that Christians need not live under the Law, since they’re not Jews.

So I’ve given two possible interpretations of these two verses on which they’re not contradictory. That’s more than sufficient to show that there’s no contradiction here.

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 9:48 am

anon,

I suggest you re-read Matthew without ‘sola fide’ glasses ;) . It seems to me that the author thinks you can sincerely believe in (and call on) Jesus but you will not be saved if you disobey him (that is, works matter for salvation; they are not merely evidence that one is saved. I think you’ll find that in many places in the synoptic gospels, especially Matthew).

Also, I you may be reading Paul with an eye for apologetics but not for understanding. I think the plain sense of the text is closer to what he meant than what you’re reading into it. Read 1 Cor 12.3. Seems to me Paul thinks that only the true believers can confess Jesus is Lord, which is how we can know they are of the spirit. Of course, other NT authors disagree with this too!

Again, like the Judas thing, I don’t think this example is an Achilles heal of Christianity. But it does tie into the who’s and how’s of salvation, which is a major problem, I think.

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anon November 2, 2009 at 9:53 am

Hi Leviathan,
You said:
“Told ya it was a doozy.”

Are you referring to the idea that Judas hung himself near (or over) the potter’s field, and then fell into (or onto) the field? What’s so doozy-ish about that?

Also, I suggested another story: perhaps Judas hung himself, and then some people threw him into the field. That’s not too far-fetched, since Matthew says the potter’s field was used as a burial place. Maybe some people found an open grave in the field, and threw Judas’ body into it.

In any even, it doesn’t really matter if these stories are doozies or not. All that matters is that they’re *logically possible*. That’s sufficient to show that there is no *contradiction* here. I take it you and I agree that there’s no contradiction here.

“anon, the story you have told is loosely based on two bible stories, but it is not itself a bible story.”

That doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that it’s logically possible. That’s enough to defuse the charge of contradiction.

“You can believe it if you want, but it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.”

Well, now we’re getting into new territory here. The original charge was that there’s a contradiction here. Now the charge is that there’s an implausibility here. But the Christian doesn’t need to believe any of these stories that you consider doozies. (The Christian doesn’t even have to believe anything about Judas at all! Judas isn’t mentioned in any of the great Christian creeds that I know of.) The Christian who holds to inerrancy just needs to believe that Judas hung himself and that Judas fell headfirst into a field and spilled his guts. That belief is not contradictory. So, even IF these stories are implausible, that doesn’t matter to the Christian, even the Christian who holds to inerrancy.

And I don’t think the Christian will be much concerned if *you* find the stories implausible, for at least two reasons: (1) Believing these stories is not required for your salvation, and (2) Probably there are many other stories in the NT that you find even more implausible, which stories *are* important for your salvation.

“Wouldn’t it be more honest to admit that at least one of these authors didn’t really know how Judas died, but he heard a tradition about a “Field of Blood,” so he made something up to fill in the gaps?”

I’m not sure why that would be more honest, as you say. I’m at the point where, if the Bible says p, then I take myself to have good grounds for believing p. It’s probably like you and the New York Times, for example. So it’s not dishonest for me to believe p in light of the Bible’s testimony. Also, the Bible does NOT assert that Judas hung himself over/near the potter’s field and then fell into/onto the field. The Bible just says that Judas hung himself, and that he fell into a field. I don’t see any problem believing that, and I take myself to have some evidence going for it (the Bible’s testimony), so I’ll go ahead and believe it in the absence of defeaters. Do you have any defeaters to offer?

“I don’t think your Christianity will crumble if you admit this, as it is a pretty insignificant detail- not exactly Nicene Creed material.”

I agree that these stories about Judas’ death aren’t anywhere near essential for Christianity. So I wouldn’t have a heart attack if I eventually acquired defeaters for them. But, in the absence of defeaters, I’ll go ahead and believe what the Bible actually says about Judas. I don’t hold these beliefs particularly strongly, but there they are nonetheless.

“Then again, the vast amount of believers who do accept in this type of dubious harmonization does make one doubt that they are in touch with a Holy Spirit leading them to wisdom and truth.”

Why is the harmonization dubious? Also, nobody has to accept the harmonization in order to be a Christian. Also, nobody has to accept the harmonization even to be an INERRANTIST. To be an inerrantist, one must accept only that Judas hung himself, and that he fell into a field and spilled his guts. That’s all the Bible says about it. Any beliefs beyond that go beyond what’s required to be an inerrantist, and well beyond what’s required to be a Christian.

These harmonizations are offered ONLY to show that there’s no CONTRADICTION. And, again, I take it we agree that there’s no contradiction here.

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 9:58 am

Also, appealing to “possible” interpretations, for the purpose of resolving contradictions, instead of trying to understand the most probable intention of the author, does not seem to be the best way of studying a text. Unless you are a po-mo literary critic. In that case, read Sontag’s Against Interpretation ;)

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anon November 2, 2009 at 10:08 am

Hi Leviathan
“It seems to me that the author thinks you can sincerely believe in (and call on) Jesus but you will not be saved if you disobey him (that is, works matter for salvation; they are not merely evidence that one is saved.”

What Jesus (reportedly) said was that not everyone who says to him “Lord, Lord” will be saved. You think that the natural reading of this is that not everyone who sincerely believes in Jesus will be saved.

It’s important to note that, *even if you’re right*, there’s still no contradiction here. *Even if* the reading I suggested is not the most natural, nevertheless it is a possible reading of the text, and it is consistent with what Paul says elsewhere. That’s sufficient to defuse the contradiction. So, as I say, even if you’re right, your original charge of contradiction has been defused.

But it’s still interesting to wonder whether you’re right. Is that really the most natural reading? I don’t know. I think that Jesus is distinguishing between two senses of belief, just as James did. It’s not enough to merely verbally profess faith in Jesus, and it’s not enough to merely cognitively assent to the proposition that Jesus is your savior. As James points out, even the demons do that. And insincere pretenders could merely verbally profess faith in Jesus.

Rather, what Jesus and James say is that obedience is required, i.e. works are required. Faith without works is dead, as James says. Work-less faith is not genuine faith. Real faith leads to obedience and good works. That’s what it really means to believe in Jesus, i.e. to call on the name of Jesus. And perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he said that everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. If one sincerely believes in Jesus, one will be saved. And, Jesus and James tell us, one will also do good works.

So I think that my reading is actually more natural than yours. It also has the virtue of concordance with what James and Paul say elsewhere. So I think it’s the reading that Christians should prefer.

In any event, as I said before, this is all beside the point. As long as you grant that my reading is even possible, the charge of contradiction is defused.

“Seems to me Paul thinks that only the true believers can confess Jesus is Lord”

Sure, but as I said in my last comment on this topic, there’s an ambiguity in words like “say,” “call,” and “confess,” just as there’s an ambiguity in words like “sign.” It may be that no one can sincerely affirm that Jesus is Lord but for the Spirit, even if some may insincerely utter the words “Jesus is Lord.” Demons, for example. Or people who are tortured into that sort of ‘confession’.

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anon November 2, 2009 at 10:18 am

Hi Leviathan,
You said:
“Also, appealing to “possible” interpretations, for the purpose of resolving contradictions, instead of trying to understand the most probable intention of the author, does not seem to be the best way of studying a text.”

Well, perhaps you’re right that, if we’re studying one part of a text in isolation, then it’s best to start by trying to find the most plausible, natural reading.

But if we’re studying a text that we take to be a cohesive whole and that we take to be true, then we may have to give up the most natural reading for a less natural reading, in light of apparent contradictions. With that sort of text, keeping possible interpretations in mind IS the best way to study it, contrary to what you say.

But I don’t really think that I’ve had to back off to any less natural readings, though. I think the readings I’ve given are both extremely natural, and have the virtue of agreeing with the other parts of the text that you allege are contradictions.

Also, I’m not really interested in studying this text, in the sense of “studying” that you probably meant. I was just interested in evaluating whether there are any contradictions in the New Testament. And two sentences contradict only if they express propositions that CANNOT both be true. So if I can show that two allegedly contradictory sentences do NOT express propositions that cannot both be true, then I’ve shown that the sentences do not really contradict. One way to show that two sentences do not express propositions that cannot both be true is to describe a possible scenario in which the propositions expressed by the sentences are both true. So it’s perfectly legitimate to consider possible interpretations of the sentences, as I’m doing.

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 10:19 am

anon,

That is a good point about the Judas stories not being a formal logical contradiction, and yes I do agree with you on that. I remind you, I was not the one who offered it up as a contradiction; I only critiqued your harmonization and stated that it doesn’t seem like a historically plausible scenario to me. Of course I realize thats not formal logic! :) I do still stand by the example I did give, between Matthew and Paul.

I don’t mean to go all Freud on you, but I suspect that by “I don’t hold these beliefs particularly strongly,” you actually mean you don’t really believe them or at least have doubts. Thats just me speculating, but perhaps you should consider it.

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northportphoneguy November 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

Anaon,
Thank you. I’m sorry, but I must say that the response left me a bit confused. Allow me to edit your response to indicate the words that jumped out at me as I read it.

“It’s unclear… Perhaps he meant… Or perhaps he meant… So there are two possible readings of this.
Now it may be… or it may be… So there are two possible readings of this verse as well.
So it may be… Perhaps… And perhaps…
Or it may be… But it may also be… If so…
So I’ve given two possible interpretations of these two verses on which they’re not contradictory. That’s more than sufficient to show that there’s no contradiction here.”
Yup, I see your point. There certainly no contradictions. Just a muddled mess.

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 10:38 am

Real quick: I do think you are wrong about the relationship between works and salvation in Matthew and James (and many other places in the NT for that matter), but that would require a bit more time than I have to hash it out (like say, the 2000+ years that Christendom has spent. And still no consensus!). I would suggest reading some Catholic authors on that subject (not that I agree with them either lol). And while you’re at it, check out the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ (EP Sanders, etc). Maybe even Paul believed in salavation by works too, which would make us both wrong and, ironically, provide a legitimate harmonization! :)

I realize the topic of this post was not even about bible contradictions, so let me bow out and say nice speech Luke!

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lukeprog November 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Uh oh. I see a debate over Biblical contradictions has broken out. This will go in circles for all eternity…

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Leviathan November 2, 2009 at 6:51 pm

luke,

Isn’t there some kind of infinte hotel that proves that can’t happen? ;)

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anon November 2, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Luke, in your post you say “The gospels are riddled with contradictions.” What do you think is the single most obvious, egregious, knock-down contradiction?

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ayer November 2, 2009 at 7:25 pm

“Uh oh. I see a debate over Biblical contradictions has broken out. This will go in circles for all eternity…”

It is also irrelevant. If the gospels were seamless in their narrative atheists would just claim that the seamlessness proves they were fictional creations because authentic ancient history would be messier.

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Josh November 2, 2009 at 8:16 pm

“It is also irrelevant. If the gospels were seamless in their narrative atheists would just claim that the seamlessness proves they were fictional creations because authentic ancient history would be messier.”

For once, I have to agree with Ayer. The debate over biblical contradictions is ultimately useless.

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lukeprog November 3, 2009 at 5:52 am

anon,

I suppose I’ll post about that one day…

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anon November 3, 2009 at 9:13 am

Josh,
“The debate over biblical contradictions is ultimately useless.”

Well, I agree that it’s really only a concern to people who think the Bible is inerrant. It’s not really important for Christianity as such, as defined in the great Christian creeds.

But Luke cited Biblical contradictions as a reason that he gave up Christianity. I found that sort of surprising, since as I say the great Christian creeds don’t assert Biblical inerrancy, so it’s weird to give up Christianity in light of Biblical contradictions.

Anyway, since Luke cited it as a reason that he gave up Christianity, I thought it was worth asking whether he really even found any contradictions.

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anon November 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

Luke,
You said “I suppose I’ll post about that one day…”

I can’t stand the suspense! :-)

I don’t think this requires an entire post. I just asked for *one* Biblical contradiction, the one you find most obvious and egregious.

Couldn’t you just post that here in the comments? Just cite two verses that you think contradict. Pretty please? It shouldn’t be difficult, if the Gospels really are “riddled” with contradictions, as you say.

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ildi November 3, 2009 at 11:22 am

anon:

I just asked for *one* Biblical contradiction, the one you find most obvious and egregious.

How about this one?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. and

Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.

vs.

James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. and

Matthew 19:17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

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