Monday, 5 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (1)

Having spent much of his minimal wages over Christmas on presents and fine ale, Benny was frugally sipping his tap water. Opposite him, Jimbo nestled himself deeper into one of the student bar's 'comfy chairs' and took a slurp of hot chocolate that, for the sake of Benny, he was pretending to only minimally enjoy. “They never put enough marsh-mellows in.” Benny, having summoned the facebook app on his phone through habit, clicked off it (or rather, touched off it) and nodded.

Both of them sat quietly for a moment, registering the fact that Mr. Brightside had just come on again. Jimbo tapped the beat on the side of his mug. "So I got this pretty sweet book over Christmas."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. It was about the Bible and stuff."

Benny could tell that Jimbo was preparing to bring up something faith related. There was always a strained casualness in the way he'd meet your eyes just before plunging into “this-is-a-hot-topic-that-could-temporarily-strain-our-friendship” territory. Seeing that Benny had stopped being unreasonably sarcastic to Jimbo's unduly pretentious house-mate (the one who was on his way to his second repeat of first year), there wasn't much to broach him about at the moment except religion.

"What did it say?" Benny asked, a little nervous, and a little guilty for feeling nervous.

"Well it was really a sort of overview of it all." Jimbo paused to bite into some of the hot chocolate’s remaining whipped cream. "It said some good things about it but also mentioned some errors in it."

Errors! Okay, just chill out, Benny. You listened to those William Lane Craig podcasts over Christmas. Not all of them that you'd intended to, mind you, but some nonetheless. You can handle this. Just lead him to the Kalam Cosmological argument. You can pin him from there. Wait, no; he knows more about physics than you; that second premise won't hold. Abort, abort!

"That's interesting," Benny said, playing it cool, "What errors did it mention?"

"There were a lot given and I don't remember them all, but... well here's one; in the book of II Kings it says that Ahaziah was twenty years old when he began to reign. But in II Chronicles it says he was only two years old."

Benny finished his water and hoped that it at least looked like he was contemplating a response.

"So yeah," Jimbo continued, "Seems pretty hard to get around that." He sensed Benny's weakness and couldn't help letting out a small smile, but he tried to suppress it and regain the air of cool calculated fact-delivery. "Like, I respect your opinion mate, but it's that sort of thing that makes Christianity seem pretty obviously false to me."

Benny went to take another sip from his already emptied glass but he knew the jig was up. “Gotta be honest mate, I'm not really sure how to answer that.”

"You guys having another heated debate?" Georgie dropped down on Benny's shoulders from behind. Her cross necklace dangled before Benny's eyes. "Y'know, normal people save this stuff for blogs where there isn't the risk of personal confrontation."

"Blogs are for self-important philosophy grads who think they know everything,” Jimbo retorted. “Anyway, we weren't really debating. Benny didn't disagree with me."

"Well I didn't agree with you either. I don't know.” He now relished the chance to change subject. “What's up with you anyway, Georgie?"

"Not much." She stood herself straight. "I was on my way to the Christian Union and I spotted you. Wondered if you were coming. Anyway, what was the issue?" Her eyes were alight.

Benny pushed the glass aside, deflated, "Jimbo claimed that there was an error in the Bible. Something to do with some king in the Old Testament. I didn't exactly disagree or agree. I don't know. Not really sure it's the most important issue to be honest."

"What do you mean?" Jimbo laughed, "I'm claiming the Bible got it wrong!"

"Yeah but..."

Georgie was noticeably surprised, "Sounds important to me, Benny. You have to believe all of it or none of it." 


We haven't heard much from Benny for a while but it looks like he's got himself tangled in yet another philosophically messy matter. And believe it or not, I'm not referring to the issue of whether II Kings contradicts II Chronicles on Ahaziah's reign. Rather the interesting issue is a belief expressed by both Jimbo and Georgie that it matters quite a bit whether there are errors of any sort within the Bible. The intuition they're both getting at, shared by many, is that "you have to believe all of it or none of it."

In the next few posts we'll be looking at what lies behind this intuition and whether it is ultimately correct. I'm going to argue that it isn't. 

Part 2 
Part 3 
Part 4 
Part 5 
Part 6 

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