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Friday, July 15, 2005

Biblical Inerrancy: New Testament Reliability II

The Internal Evidence Test

Aristotle stated that when considering a text, "the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself". We typically forget this dictum when considering Scripture (primarily due to our pride) when we say nonsensical things such as, "Well, I think that it really means" or, "I don't think that applies". Essentially, instead of assuming we are right and the document is wrong, we actually have to use facts and logic in the analysis of a document. Therefore, we must listen to the claims of the document and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.

That is the test of internal evidence - is the document free of known contradictions, and does it contain factual inaccuracies? If the answer to both questions is "No", then we must give the document the benefit of the doubt as to its truthfulness in areas that we are not able to verify independently. Clearly, if the Bible is truly the infallible, inerrant word of God, then it must be free of contradictions and errors.

The challenges when approaching this topic is that the ignorant assume that there are contradictions in the Bible, the aware have seen claims of contradictions in the Bible, and the faithful are unaware of the explanations for these apparent discrepancies.

Here are 15 principles for understanding apparent discrepancies in the Bible, as outlined by Josh McDowell in "Evidence That Demands a Verdict":

1) The Unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable. Just because you don't understand how the Red Sea can be parted with dry ground left (and neither do I) doesn't mean it didn't happen.

2) Fallible interpretations do not mean fallible revelation. This is one of the ones that irk me. Just because some fools claiming to be Christians used Bible verses to justify slavery, opposing women's suffrage, the Inquisition, or persecuting John Wycliffe does not make those verses wrong, not any more than moron SCOTUS judges twisting the Constitution to justify limiting crop growth, taking your property for a developer or preventing an invocation at a school board meeting invalidate the Constitution.

3) Understand the context of the message. If you've visited team Hammer before, you've likely seen this come up - and that it means Biblical context, not cultural context. "Give to those who ask you" does not mean give a child a handgun if he asks, and "Resist not evil" is part of a context against seeking revenge.

4) Interpret difficult passages in light of clearer ones. The Bible is not a collection of random ideas, and should be considered on the holistic level it is meant to be. This leads to number five -

5) Don't base teaching on obscure passages. This is the case in the Mormon "church", where they choose a single passage and interpret it alone, and subsequently give it higher regard than key Christian doctrines (such as baptizing the dead, sacred underwear, and three levels of heaven).

6) The Bible is a human book with human characteristics. God used the human personalities to receive and communicate eternal truths, and knew the way they would be presented. To take expressions of speech (such as "hate your father and mother") and consider them literal and pit them against other Scriptures is, well, silly.

7) Just because a report is incomplete does not mean it is false. A frustrating criticism I hear is when some fool mentions that an account is not in all four gospels, then says that the Gospels must not then be true. No part of the Bible is intended to present an exhaustive account of any event. It is intended to communicate the message we are to receive.

8) The New Testament Citations of the Old Testament need not always be exact. They were written in different languages, so some words and phrases won't translate the same anyway.

9) The Bible does not necessarily approve of all it records. The Bible no more approves of Solomon's 300 wives than it does the lies of Satan. A sin recorded is not a sin approved of.

10) The Bible uses non-technical, everyday language. Just because it says that the sun rises instead of "the earth rotated about its axis until the light of the sun shone forth" doesn't make it invalid - it makes it readable.

11) The Bible may use exact numbers as well as round numbers. Round numbers are often used in ancient as well as modern literature. This should be a no-brainer.

12) Note when the Bible uses different literary devices. usual the text will dictate is a term should be taken literally or figuratively.

13) An error in a copy does not equate to an error in the original. There are plenty of copies of scriptures with slight errors in them. Those who put the Bible together were easily able to discern them, as they were different from the others. We can be confident that our Bible is true to the originals (see the last post).

14) General statements do not necessarily mean universal promises. An example is proverbs - they are general statements on life and living, and are meant to guide us to the right ways. Pointing to a Biblical event in which someone does right but is then wronged does not invalidate a generalized proverb!

15) Later revelations supersede previous revelation. UK John has claimed that God "changes his mind" when later revelation is presented that changes the landscape. Consider this: I let my toddler eat with his fingers now. When I push him to use his utensils only, have I contradicted myself? Have I changed my mind on what the plan was r even how to execute it? Of course not. I have progressively revealed to him the rules he is able to understand at the right time. God has done the same thing.

Considering these simple guidelines, which people would generally apply to any text that is NOT the Bible, we fail to find a single contradiction or error in the NT. A person who takes the Bible seriously, rather than trying to explain it away, may agree with Mark Twain when he said that it was not the parts of the Bible that he did not understand that bothered him, but those that he did!

Another test for internal evidence is if the writer use primary sources. The NT does, as evidenced in Luke 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:3, Acts 2:22, John 19:35, Luke 3:1, and Acts 26:24-26. One of the strongest cases for the veracity of the NT is that even hostile witnesses confirm its reliability.

The last section on NT reliability will address an issue that I am sure many are curious about - external evidence, or how the NT compares to archaeology and external historical accounts of the events contained within it.

51 Comments:

  • Generally, an excellent summary. However, I do have a few thoughts on this article.

    Is "the faithful are unaware of the explanations for these apparent discrepancies" what you meant (perhaps "aware" rather than "unaware")?

    On to the article itself! First, Aristotle's dictum applies only to logical texts - it can't be applied trivially to a narrative or poetical work. We must first do the work of extracting those elements to which Aristotle's dictum applies before we can work that way. In other words, when the Beloved in Song of Songs says that "my breasts are like towers", she doesn't mean that they are made of stone and cylindrical! When we look at those apparently contradictory texts, we cannot say "they don't contradict" - we explain the apparent contradiction, revealing the deeper truth. We cannot explain a contradiction by simply claiming that it does not exist; rather, we face it, examine it and find a solution. The texts still contradict - it's just that we now know why they do so, and which reading we should therefore take.

    Second, as for "changing of mind", you have slightly misunderstood what I was saying. My main point is that, reading what the Bible actually says, we are presented not only with a great many occasions on which does God seem to have changed God's mind, but also with many on which God explicitly tells us that God has changed God's mind. That is the problem here. My secondary point was that setting this against the Biblical statements that God is unchanging leads to the conclusion that, although God's character is constant, God's mind need not be. I then went a step further, pointing out that if God reveals a decision to us ("I will destroy Ninevah") and we then act (by going to preach repentance at Ninevah, so that the people repent), God may make a different decision (not to destroy Ninevah). However, this isn't God being capricious or inconstant. Rather, God wanted all along for Ninevah to repent of its sin. The path God chose to follow was a declaration of judgement, knowing that this would lead to repentance. Thus, both decisions were real but the second decision (to spare the sinner) could not be made without the first (to condemn the sinner).

    pax et bonum

    By Anonymous John, at 7/15/2005 08:30:00 AM  

  • Sorry Hammer, but the 4 resurection stories cannot all be true, can they? I mean how many women went to the tomb? What time was it when they went? Who was waiting there for them? From each gospel you get different answers to these same questions. Non-contradictory indeed!

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/15/2005 02:11:00 PM  

  • Forgive me for jumping ahead of you here, Hammer, but I can’t resist.

    John: The texts still contradict - it's just that we now know why they do so, and which reading we should therefore take.

    I think that you’re using an inapt definition of contradict here. For if ANY passages of the Bible truly contradicted one another, at least one portion of the text would be unreliable. This simply is not the case.

    liberpaul: From each gospel you get different answers to these same questions. Non-contradictory indeed!

    Suppose that four people witness a car crash and are subsequently asked to give an account of the accident. Is it not typical that each individual with have a unique perception and recollection of the selfsame event? Slightly differing accounts of the scene would not render it a non-event…would it?

    By Blogger Robert, at 7/15/2005 08:57:00 PM  

  • From the dictionary link you gave, "contradict" means:

    "1 : to assert the contrary of : take issue with
    2 : to imply the opposite or a denial of
    "

    Both of those meanings apply to certain biblical passages on their face. For example, the OT says "hate your enemy", Jesus says "love your enemy". That is a contradiction. We need to understand how and why this arises and, once we do that, we see that Jesus was extending and fulfilling the message that the law had brought.

    Some people seem to have a problem with "contradict" but, in its normal English usage, that is exactly the correct word. We need to be careful with implications and to spell those out carefully, but that doesn't mean that the passages don't contradict. They aren't incompatible, but they do say opposite things on their face.

    pax et bonum

    By Anonymous John, at 7/16/2005 03:22:00 AM  

  • Great comments all!

    John,
    I typed this before I went back to your site and realized you were describing progressive revelation, which means (for others who may think "progressive" means "liberal") that God reveals things to us at the appropriate time. Our failure to see God's plan does not mean he changed his mind, but that we never knew it in the first place.

    As an aside, God never said he'd destroy Nineveh...and he didn't. You'll have to work harder to find a contradiction. The two you've mentioned so far required an assumption not stated (Jonah) and an assertation that the word "and" was meant to be taken as a "then" (creation story). I also canot find "hate thine enemy" in the OT anywhere. Can you point me to it?
    What you need is God saying, "I hate divorce" then later saying "Divorce is always cool". I would hold that such contradictions still do not exist.

    I don't disagree with Aristotle's dictum being non-applicable to poetry. Hence, it is silly to take a poetical writing literally or try to compare it to a non-poetical writing. I'm not sure what you mean by "trivially". I don't understand why it is not to be applied to narrative - doesn't it make sense that an author should be trusted until proven untrustworthy?

    Liberal Paul, thanks for stopping in! See rule #7, "Just because the report is incomplete does not mean that the report is false." The Gospels are not meant to be an exhaustive account. The resurrection events, once all four Gospels are read, would go like this:

    Three women, Mary Magdelene,
    Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, start for the sepulchre, followed by other women bearing spices. The three find the stone roled away, and Mary Magdelene goes to tell the disciples. Mary (2) draws nearer to the tomb and sees the angel of the Lord. She goes back to the other women who were following with the spices. Meanwhile, Peter and John, warned by Mary Magdalene, arrive, look in, and go away. Mary Magdalene returns weeping, sees two angels and then Jesus and goes as he bade her to tell the disciples. Mary (2) meanwhile has met the women with the spices and, returning with them, they see the two angels. They also receive the angelic message, and, going to seek the disciples, are met by Jesus.

    Robert, thanks for the backup.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/16/2005 05:27:00 AM  

  • Re Jonah - it's not absolutely explicit that God proclaims destruction on Ninevah (i.e. there is no incidence of God actually saying it), but it is very strongly implied. God says in 3:2 "Go to the great city of Ninevah and proclaim to it the message I give you." Then, in 3:4, Jonah proclaims "Forty days more and Ninevah will be overturned." Nowhere does God ever say to Jonah that this message was wrong, and there was plenty of opportunity and motive. So, we must assume, I think, that Jonah was right when he preached this. And thus that God did explicitly say that God would do something, and then actually did something else. So, either God was deceptive or there is some sense in which both the first and the second decisions were real - for example, if (in some speculative universe) Ninevah hadn't repented, God really would have restroyed them but, in our universe, the city repented and God decided not to destroy them.

    As for contradictions - "hate your enemy" is a summary that Jesus made ("You have heard that it was said..."). It's implicit in various places in the OT rather than being stated in this form. Also, to demonstrate contradiction, we do not need "I hate divorce" and "divorce is always cool". We only need "I hate divorce" and "divorce is sometimes OK". That is, we don't need polar opposites.

    The thought also occurred to me that perhaps we should stop using "contradiction", because it seems to cause problems. If we said that certain passages "clashed" with one another, would that be more acceptable? It doesn't carry the implication that I admit can be drawn from "contradiction" that no resolution is possible.

    Aristotle's dictum cannot be applied to narrative without care. For example, we might admit that Jesus' parables are deeply insightful and that Jesus didn't lie. However, do we have to maintain that the stories were absolutely factual (there really was a woman who had 10 coins, or a son who squandered his inheritance and was welcomed back, or that the beggar Lazarus really was asked to dip his finger in water to cool the rich man's tongue in heaven)? In other words, even though Jesus was supremely reliable, we cannot assume (and should not assume) that every element in a story is factual. What I mean is that only certain elements of narrative are amenable to Aristotle's approach and we must establish what they are carefully if we are not to make silly mistakes. That is, the process isn't trivial - we have to take some care over it.

    pax et bonum

    By Anonymous John, at 7/18/2005 05:13:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/19/2005 07:13:00 AM  

  • A potential answer to your question, Allen, and one that you may well have heard already, has to do w/ the placement of this pericope in Mt., Mk., and Lk. This statement is always found prior to the transfiguration episode. Advocates of the 2/4-source hypothesis would argue that Mt. and Lk. are following Mark in this. In any event, is it possible/likely that the author of the gospels (or at the very least Mark) placed these two together to demonstrate how Jesus' prediction did indeed come true? That is for you to decide, I suppose, but it is a text-based answer.

    Counter arguments to this very position could easily be summoned, I suppose, but I will also leave that to you.

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/20/2005 10:52:00 AM  

  • You guys will beleive anything as long as it doesn't upset your extremely narrow world-view. If this is supposedly God's will being given to mankind, then why all of the disagreement?

    "Every sect is a certificate that god has not plainly revealed his will to Mankind. To each reader the bible conveys a different meaning." - Col. Robert Ingersoll

    If this is what god wants from us, then why is it so ambiguous? Why do we have xtians clammoring for war when JC told us to love our enemies? Why do some xtians protest war as unchristian? I suppose I should take the genesis account of creation as read too? Creationist, hey?

    I suppose I will never convince you that the bible is the longest running work of fiction on the planet, but please don't try to use your concept of a "non-clashing" bible to convince me your religion is somehow the truth while all other religions are false. The bible is unconvincing and contradictory to every non-beleiver who reads it, but somehow, through an excersize in mental incongruity believers can't see it for the bunch of garbage it is. Speculations of tribal sheepherders who thought the world was only a few generations old which was later used by a Roman Emporer to hold on to power.

    Aren't we all Agnostic? Even those who claim to KNOW, in reality know nothing, they only believe in that which they can not know! You have substituted belief for knowledge and this is the beginnning of the xtian problem.

    I hate this infinite lie and I will work from now until the day I die debunking the xtian myth. It has been a force of evil on this planet that has seen no match in the course of history. This evil continues on to this day in the form of Right Wing Conservatism. Let's go kill those brown muslims, it's what god wants right (What-so-ever you do to the least of my brethern)? Let's place women back where they belong, barefoot and pregnant (I suppose I can't find a biblical verse to contradict, sorry - clash, this one). Let's not look into embryonic stem-cell research and find cures for diseases that destroy the living (in the OT, a man has to pay for destroying a gestating fetus, with cash, not with his life as murderers as suppossed to). Man, oh, man, the list goes on and on and on.

    Keep your religion out of politics, why do you think the Founders of this great nations kept god out of the Constitution? Because they saw what happened in Europe and in our colonies when religion was mixed with politics. Many people DIED for no other reason than the fact that they disagreed with someone else's interpretation of the bible.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/20/2005 01:43:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/20/2005 05:54:00 PM  

  • No, I am serious, very serious. If god is so very powerful and he created everything, then why can't he give mankind a book that isn't open to interpretation? Why is there no uniformity in xtianity? Why does god need his faithful to work as agents here, I mean after all, he is all-powerful?

    The story just starts out bad.

    "An all-powerful, all knowing god creates faulty humans and then blames us for his mistakes." - Gene Roddenberry

    Jesus; Santa Claus for adults. Saw that one on a bumper sticker, it really sits well with me.

    The truth is found in science and in mathematics. 2+2=4, did in the beginning, does now and will in the end. You base your concept of truth on an ancient conjecture. Funny how this so-called truth has had to change, evolve if you will, through the ages to keep up with mankinds rise. Slavery used to be considered good and also god-ordained, read the bible and you can see why there are still some out there that would like to return to the days of slavery. Let's not forget that the earth has four pillars, that the firmament, which divides the waters above from the waters below, is opened to allow rain. Does the space shuttle use the same hole in the firmament or does it punch a new hole everytime?

    What other cockamamy BS do we find in the "divinely inspired" work? Jesus said he would return before those living at the time died....dang there must be some 2000 yr old dude running around somewhere, I suppose he would be in a nursing home at this point.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/21/2005 07:56:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/21/2005 08:57:00 AM  

  • Pelty,

    Science changes as new knowledge is uncovered, so spare me the 4 humors BS. Science has cured diseases, has religion cured anything? Science gives us the MRI scan, science gives us every modern convenience, electricity, TV, DSL & the interenet. Science is not complete but true enough for theories to provide technology. What has religion provided? Comfort at best.

    Science is far truer than any religion, because it actually works! We oxidize hydrocarbons and produce water, CO2 and a myriad of other chemicals. This occurs everytime, without question.

    What scientific truth has religion been a champion to? Maybe the earth centered universe, the flat earth. So much for eternal truths revealed to man by god.....

    As a former xtian with 12 years of solid xtian education, my biblical knowledge is fairly good. I find it funny now that we rarely touched on the more controversial biblical verses and instead concentrated on the stories that had less problems. I thought they were supposed to call JC, Emmanuel, they didn't. This list is huge, but I understand you will only think they are apparent problems and if I had a degree in ancient hebrew I would better understand their context. What BS, so I need to have special knowledge to understand god's will? But I thought that the word of god is suppossed to be clear, even to the simple minded.....

    The devil has apparently tried in vain to sow the seeds of doubt in your mind. LOL!

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/21/2005 09:28:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/21/2005 02:08:00 PM  

  • AT,

    Excellent points and a much more realistic vision of what the bible may be. What it is not, is consistent (better word than non-contradictory). I will always take to task any group or individual that claims the bible is the inerrant, divinely inspired word of god. It is my contention that those type of people don't have faith in god, but faith in the inerrancy of the bible which is really two different things.

    Belief in the inerrancy of the bible also leads to moral certainty which, as far as history has shown, has been a bane to the progress of mankind as well as being very deadly to those who don't agree! Hitler KNEW he was right, Stalin KNEW, Torquemada KNEW and apparently our fearless leader KNOWS as well (talking about "W", whom I like to refer to as the shrub). A real recipe for disaster....

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/21/2005 04:04:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/21/2005 09:17:00 PM  

  • "This list is huge, but I understand you will only think they are apparent problems and if I had a degree in ancient hebrew I would better understand their context. What BS, so I need to have special knowledge to understand god's will? But I thought that the word of god is suppossed to be clear, even to the simple minded....."

    Not sure where you garnered evidence for your last comment. I think that most would agree that the Gospel message is rather simple, but few would argue that the texts themselves are.

    It *would* help if you were educated for then you might understand context, use of typology, etc. That being said, I would agree that Matthew has some difficulties in the birth narrative (as does Luke for that matter), but apparently you have confused me w/ someone who places the Bible and its supposed inerrancy before the person of Jesus. Give me Romans, 1 & 2 Cor, and Galatians and I can feel very good about the fact that Jesus was viewed as divine, that he died and rose again, and was the propitiation of the sins of humankind... all without leaving the comforts of my own home! So I will cede you - UP FRONT - all four gospels and still be content. Can we then agree not to worry ourselves over all those pesky contradictions?

    As for my barb about the four humors, you miss the point. Was there not a time when that was viewed as True, as accepted physiological knowledge? Yet some 2,000 years later we have a more complete understanding of human anatomy and understand that the ancients were wrong on this account. Thus science, like religion, is a search for Truth, the former being a method more easily accessed to be sure, but the blithe dismissal of those who give accounts of religious experience (see William James) indicates to me that you are more interested in your agenda than in reaching any sort of Truth. That's OK, but at least be up front about it...

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/21/2005 10:24:00 PM  

  • Pelty,
    You'll cede the gospels and still expect to salvage Christianity? There is no Christianity without Jesus, and you won't find many details about his life outside the gospels. Paul talks a lot about the significance of Jesus, but without knowing who Jesus was, we can't talk about his significance at all.

    The gospels appear to be good history - their differences are to be expected from accounts written decades apart by different witnesses (some first hand, some second hand) for different purposes, as short summaries of a three-year period.

    Without the gospels, we have a philosophy, not a religion. Without the person of Jesus, there is no power in Christianity.

    pax et bonum

    By Anonymous John, at 7/22/2005 04:49:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/22/2005 06:39:00 AM  

  • Hmnnn,

    AT,
    Slavery is absolutely condoned in the bible. While yes, LIBERAL christians led the fight against slavery here, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed primarily to condone slavery. Again, god's divinely inspired word can't find commonality. For a slave condoning verse see Deuteronomy 20:11-14 for a prime example! There are dozens more, but I am sure you know that being the biblical scholar that you are!

    No, I had 12 years of christian education, and I was not convinced of its truth then, nor am I now. It makes no sense that a perfect, all-powerful god needed to sacrifice anything to forgive us. It makes no sense that this god couldn't produce anything better than the KKK, Islamo-fascits, Hitler etc... It makes no sense that this god could not produce a book that was clear and concise that would instruct mankind on exactly what he wanted!

    Pelty,

    The four humors barb was funny, give you that, but lets not forget that the four humors crap predated the scientific method which has served mankind far more than christianity has! Again, I ask the question, what disease has christianity cured? That's right, it "exorsized" demons and devils from people?!?!?! Strange how there is no modern occcurances of demons or devils possessing humans.

    Agnosticism is defined primarily as a complete lack of faith, I just don't know! Not a faith statement! It takes NO faith to admit you don't know something. I always hear about this agnostic faith thing from beleivers, it is simply a smokescreen to divert attention away from the issues. Truth, what is its nature? Sure, I'll admit my agenda (not that I will ever be successful) is to turn as many people away from this ancient hogwash as possible. That said, you want to place guesses and conjecture in the same category as truth? I know, I know, all religious folks want to believe they have the truth, but where is the evidence? The bible says the bible is true so it must be true???? How the hell is that truth?

    Just because writers of the gospels used real places, real leaders etc. in their writings makes it no more true than the Da Vinci Code. In that work of fiction, the author uses plenty of real places and real people to set a better background for the story, doesn't make it true, now does it?

    There is a verse in the OT that mentions god's word is understandable, even to the simple, but, alas , I can not remember where it is right now.

    You can hardly have a conversation about what christianity has done and leave out all of the atrocities committed in its name. Sure politics was at play but these politicians used the believers incredulous minds to whoop them up to commit these things, all in Jesus's name! This can hradly be flicked away. Either god/JC works through people and influences all things or they don't! So god just let's humans hijack his name and kill others without doing a damn thing about it(what-so-ever you do to the least of my brother, the golden rule)?? It is primarliy these negative effects that christianity has left in its wake. Again, what good has christianity been to man? Did it make men just by killing heretics? Did it make men merciful by burning witches (you can not suffer a witch to live)? Does it give intrinsic value to all people, even though women are treated as second class citizens?

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/22/2005 08:04:00 AM  

  • "The gospels appear to be good history - their differences are to be expected from accounts written decades apart by different witnesses (some first hand, some second hand) for different purposes, as short summaries of a three-year period."

    Or is it a one-year period? If you compare the Synoptic accounts w/ those of John, you will see that it is not so clear. One also has to deal w/ the Quirinius problem, the geneological difficulties and others. My question for many Christians is why their faith is more centered upon the Book than the Person? I do not recall finding any place in the Bible in which it states that salvation comes from the Book; rather, it is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Gospels point to Jesus Christ. The Pauline materials point to Jesus Christ. The other epistles, for the most part (one might be able to argue about James, I suppose), point to Jesus Christ. The Apocalypse of John points to Jesus Christ. To my mind, this demonstrates that the authors of these works were, first and foremost, interested in focusing their hearers/readers on the real Prize.

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/22/2005 09:38:00 AM  

  • The above was for John...

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/22/2005 09:38:00 AM  

  • Pelty,
    I totally agree about the focus - I've argued here and elsewhere that we should beware of elevating the Bible too high. My concern here is that, if you dispense with the gospels, you really have very little idea about the teaching and life of Jesus.

    pax et bonum

    By Anonymous John, at 7/22/2005 10:17:00 AM  

  • John,

    You wrote:

    "I totally agree about the focus - I've argued here and elsewhere that we should beware of elevating the Bible too high. My concern here is that, if you dispense with the gospels, you really have very little idea about the teaching and life of Jesus."

    I think Allen got the gist of what I was saying. I do not want to dispense w/ the Gospels, but I can still find a deified Jesus in the four major Pauline books. Re: the Gospels, I think that they do tell us about Jesus, but I am still wary of their "historical" value to some degree. The difference between the Jesus of the Synoptics and that of John is as great as that between the Socrates of Xenophon and Plato. Is it possible that the Johannine and Synoptic portraits of Jesus are reconcilable? Yes. But there is alot of ground to cover to get to that point. The argument from four different points of view, etc. does not hold a whole lot of water for me on textual grounds, assuming that one ascribes some form of dependeny among the Synoptics. It seems a tad too pat to say (assuming Markan priority), "Mark had it right but I think that I will add on Q because Mark left that out. And, oh! I will also add a bit of my source from "M" or "L" to flesh this whole thing out. Now that is the true version of Jesus!" A re-telling of events from four different perspectives does not generally show such great amounts of dependency on other works. I can buy that four different people might view a car crash in four different ways (although some of the major details - such as the crash itself - would be consistent), but I would have a harder time believing that 3 of the sources would have independently used, for extended periods, the exact same verbiage to tell their stories. Thus, I have to question whether Matthew and Luke were not using the general Markan outline and then molding on material that was well-suited towards presenting material salient to their respective audiences and their interests. I do not *mind* if they do do this, but it certainly makes the whole notion of historicity a "fuzzier" proposition (to my mind at least). That is not to say that there is *no* history to be found; to the contrary, I think there is much to be found of historical value in the gospels, but it is not as easy to get at as I might like (again, to my mind...).

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/22/2005 11:15:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/22/2005 01:51:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/23/2005 10:53:00 AM  

  • Allen,

    I think "sin" is a loaded term for the non-Christian. Perhaps you would do well to either choose a different term or define sin in such a way that it will make sense to an agnostic/atheist. Sin as a basic concept is rooted in the premise that there is a deity. I am not sure that LP will accept the term as being relevant. So what do *you* mean by "sin"? How might you define it outside of a theological framework?

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/23/2005 11:27:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/23/2005 12:35:00 PM  

  • Pelty,

    Alow me to requote the start of this post:

    "the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself".

    With the vast array of material providing evidence to the NT autheticity, reliability and uniqueness, I cannot grasp why you choose to go with theories such as "Q" or a dependency at all. The evidence of dependency and of "Q" is contrived. It is only arrived at by seeking to explain why the Gospel are not all the same...which they would not be if they were four points of view.

    I, like LP, don't have Hebrew or Greek knowledge. However, if to realize that the NT is true reqires it, and thus requires a priestly, educated class to "explain" it to us, the Reformation was a waste of our bloody time.

    Liberal Paul's problem is not with hypocrisy, politics, Crusades, alleged discrepancies in the text, or anything else but one thing. It is the one thing that keeps us all fom Christ - a desire to remain free of God's constraints upon our behavior (which are actually freeing) and refusal to submit. Pride, in other words. Note how he has not actully conceded anything in the discussion. By the way, LP, if you are still reading, Agnosticism takes faith, because you are saying, "if there is a God or not, it doesn't matter to me - or at least won't when I die". No decision is still a refusal to accept Christ.

    There is too much here for me to talk it all, so I'l have to leave it at that. I suppose my difficulty is that I cannot understand why someone would believe that God, the almight and all-powerful, came to earth as a baby in a nasty stable, walked the earth as a homeless evangelist, was crucified by jealous political leaders, rose fom the dead, and provided a salvation by grace through faith which we cannot have earned that is free...but he can't preserve us a written Word with the exactly perfect message in it? He can make the King of Babylon rebuild Jerusalem, but not stop people form corrupting the Scriptures in a convincing fashion?

    Just try it - start with the assumption that God can do it, instead of the assumption that he cannot - and the sheer volume of evidence for it will astound you.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/24/2005 02:56:00 PM  

  • Gentlemen,

    First of all, here is a quote from an infamous individual

    "We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit...We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press-in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past...(few) years." - Adolph Hitler

    The Holocaust is a direct result of a man who thought he was doing god's will. Why did the SS have "Gott Mit Uns" on their belt buckles? Again I say, it is moral certainty that leads to these atrocities, not necessarily religious or athiestic beleifs.

    Right and wrong etc are pure social conventions. As long as a majority of people don't want to be murdered or stolen from, these will remain illegal. Morals are completely relative, depends on where you are and what era you are from. So, no there is nothing sinful...sin was created by the Judeo-xtian tradition, created ex-nihilio. Societies themselves determine right and wrong through the rule of law and I follow the laws I think, yes just me, are beneficial and ignore the rest.

    My problem with xtianity and all religions for that matter is that they are nothing but speculation propigated by chance, war, and a whole lot of empty minds. The fact that I make no decision on this or any other religion is based upon the fact that there are 6 major religions in the world, all of them say they are the only way to god. If I decided not to be an agnostic, which religion should I embrace? Yours, Islam, Hinduism?

    Basically, people take the religion of their ancestors. You are xtian because you were born in a xtian dominated country and your parents are xtian. It isn't that xtianity has the best miracles (which by the way, how come there are no more), the best plan to live your life or even the neatest gods, you beleive because you were told to beleive, you went along to get along and now you mind can not possibly grasp that maybe it's all bullshit. In sociology its called socialization, in other circles we call it brain-washing. Look at all of the beliefs you hold sacred, religion or not and you will see that these are learned behaviors foisted upon you by the culture and your family.

    Why, oh why, should I believe that book known as the bible has any truth in it what-so-ever? I have seen the same defenses you use here for the Koran and Islam. Why shouldn't I become Muslim? Agnosticism is the only defensible position considering the lack of any evidence that a personal god exists.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/25/2005 08:27:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/25/2005 09:19:00 AM  

  • AT,

    Good enough, I'll stop the nazi references when you stop your biblical references for morality and law.

    At one time the morals of the day said child sex was ok in the form of pederasty, times have changed and so has the "morals" related to this. Again, morals are based upon the society and the era. I think Hitler was wrong. Since it is likely that there is no life after death, taking away someone's life, to me, is wrong. To the Germans at the time Hitler was right, to the Allies Hitler was wrong, we won, we write the history. But, our glorious christian nation decides all the time whose life is worth what. Take a look around, we still practice moral relativism, the war in Iraq is a prime example. Killing the heathen brown people of Iraq is morally correct at this time! How many years will pass before we apply the "everyone has innate worth" to all peoples of all races and creeds and actually do this with the support of xtianity?

    The main point I bring with the Nazi references is about moral certainty! People who KNOW they have the proper morals and try to force them on others leads to Nazi-like atrocities. Main reason I hate the religious right.

    Again AT, there is plenty of fuel in the bible to condone slavery. Please show me where god/JC condemns the practive of slavery.

    An individual who rapes my child will pay....whether through the courts or at my own hand. This statement alone shows why we have laws at all, to stop everyone from claiming this or that is wrong and then acting against these things; vigilantism. To the ax murderer, there is nothing wrong with what he did, its the rest of society that disagrees and we have made a structure of laws to deal with these things. A social construct differing only in magnitude from other primates.

    I always love the child rape things you religionists grab onto when someone points out that morals are relative. It amuses me! We all know primates will protect their young with their lives, we are just a bit smarter than your average primate. Morals and laws should be formulated around mankinds nature, not forced upon mankind because some jackass 2000 years ago thought it should be a certain way.

    Think of your worldview, then think of the bible and xtianity. It is my contention, that everyone starts with a worldview and then chisles away whatever in their religion that does not fit. You start out a certain way (based upon genetics and the way you were raised) then you make your religion suit you....

    Hammer,

    "No decision is still a refusal to accept christ"
    Biggest bunch of crap that's ever been served up. Again, you assume you religion and worldview to be absolutely true, how else can you make this statement. It is my contention, that nobody knows whether there is a god or not. You can believe a great deal, but that doesn't make it true.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/25/2005 11:22:00 AM  

  • LP,
    I didn't say my worldview was true. I said that no decision is choosing not to believe. Do you disagree? Or do you think that ignorance of the rule provides a cover? It doesn't work for humans, why should it for the Almighty?

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/25/2005 12:12:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    Choosing to ignore (not believe) a lie (xtianity) doesn't affect me in the least! "Or do you think that ignorance of the rule provides a cover? It doesn't work for humans, why should it for the Almighty?" Again, you have to beleive it to be true in order to even use that line of thought which is why so many religious folks can not grasp the mind of the unbeliever.

    I know, we could go into Pascal's wager here, but the biggest flaw with that arguement rests on which religion to choose if believing is the best idea. Which god to worship, which shrine to bow to, which charity to give to?

    On another note:
    God is all-knowing
    God is all-powerful
    God is all-loving

    Seems to me, if you are a xtian you must believe the above. Being all powerful he created the universe. Being all knowing, he knew that, I, LiberPaul would be slamming him on this day July 25th, 2005 even before he created us. In the act of creation, god pre-ordained me to be doing this today. There is no free-will in a universe with an all-knowing, all-powerful creator. What about that all-loving thing? Seems a bit hateful to put someone in hell for ETERNITY just because he couldn't believe the inconsistent crap you sent to him via a 2000 year old proxie who refused to speak in common terms to his own apostles (he like parables instead). Can't buy it, won't buy it.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/25/2005 02:43:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/25/2005 03:05:00 PM  

  • AT,

    Sorry, I was trying to answer so many things, that I didn't get to that one.

    Yes there are absolute truths! But these are not of the same kind that you might imagine.

    2+2=4, is an absolute truth. The fact that blood runs through our veins and is oxygenated in our lungs is an absolute truth. As far as human behavior goes, no, no absolute truths that I can see. It is merely social constructs that define our "morality". Many of these constructs have been beneficial to mankind, in fact, I think much of what secularism has done for this country has allowed us to progress to where we are. What we call morality and ethics has been a trial and error effort dating back to when we first settled in Mesopotamia and civilize, maybe even goes back to our nomadic tribal years. The closest thing, as far absolute truths go, that we can get to is this; if a majority of humanity sees something as wrong, then it must be wrong, for that time......

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/25/2005 03:32:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/25/2005 05:03:00 PM  

  • "With the vast array of material providing evidence to the NT autheticity, reliability and uniqueness, I cannot grasp why you choose to go with theories such as "Q" or a dependency at all. The evidence of dependency and of "Q" is contrived. It is only arrived at by seeking to explain why the Gospel are not all the same...which they would not be if they were four points of view."

    Here is the problem: there is little doubt from a source critical perspective, a method we use to inform understanding of not only biblical documents but as many ancient documents for which it is useful, that one of the synoptics served as a source for the others. A *possibility* remains that there was no such literary dependence but rather a well-established oral tradition from which the authors drew, but even this does not do away with the fact that certain difficulties of a historical nature are found within the text. Could the answers be explained away? Yes, but they have not been explained away in a particularly compelling way up to this point (to my mind).

    I would say that viewing Q, etc. as "contrived" is true in some way - we do not possess a Q per se and I balk when I see scholars who attempt to reconstruct Q - but the source critical method is a relatively sound method that is generally accepted by scholarship to be of some degree of value. Not sure if this matters, but the vast majority of evangelical scholars would hold to some form of the 2/4-source hypothesis.

    "I, like LP, don't have Hebrew or Greek knowledge. However, if to realize that the NT is true reqires it, and thus requires a priestly, educated class to "explain" it to us, the Reformation was a waste of our bloody time."

    This is a red herring. It is possible to grasp the simple and beautiful gospel message without the need for a priestly caste. OTOH, good exposition of the scriptures does require education, thus the need for seminaries and the like...

    "There is too much here for me to talk it all, so I'l have to leave it at that. I suppose my difficulty is that I cannot understand why someone would believe that God, the almight and all-powerful, came to earth as a baby in a nasty stable, walked the earth as a homeless evangelist, was crucified by jealous political leaders, rose fom the dead, and provided a salvation by grace through faith which we cannot have earned that is free...but he can't preserve us a written Word with the exactly perfect message in it? He can make the King of Babylon rebuild Jerusalem, but not stop people form corrupting the Scriptures in a convincing fashion?"

    Pedantic moment - it was the king of Persia. Sorry.

    I think God can preserve his word the way he wishes, but the current evangelical assertions that it is without error are difficult to accept. I would love to be convinced, but thus far I do find agendas, historical inaccuracies (although new light could be shed upon some of these), etc. that still do not nullify the impact of the teachings or the mission of Jesus. Why is it necessary to deify the Bible? Can't a perfect God use an imperfect vessel to do His work? Why yes, he does that with His people on a daily basis... Seems like God is big enough to deal with it...

    By Blogger Pelty, at 7/25/2005 07:33:00 PM  

  • AT,

    If you look at Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler you will see one underlying theme to all of their atrocities, moral certainty. It wasn't agnosticism/atheism that drove these men, but the idea that their ideaology was absolutely right, they could not be wrong, which to them justified anything, much like the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition, Witch Hunts and Heretic burnings. You can continue to harp about their lack of faith in a creator, but their strong faith in their ideology is on par with religious zealotry which drove them to do these things.

    Look throughout history and tell me there is some absolute moral truth. Every time some asshole says that there is, there the first to go rushing out to battle the heathen forces. My creed lies in what little I have been able to observe throughout history. If JC said one thing worthwhile it was this "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Therein lies the only moral I live by. Mostly because, if you fuck with people, they will fuck with you back, a lesson not learned by so many Moral and ethical people running our goverment these days. Screw you absolute moral crap, look at our fearless leader, Bush, where did JC say to kill the brown people? Why is killing these people justified? Because, morals are relative?!?!?!

    You can go on and think about your moral absolutes and how they apply to your life. I will go on and think that mankind will figure out all on our own how we should live our lives and treat each other. There may be an ultimate way to treat each other, but we will not find that in a collection of ancient writings, but in our trial and error, observational style that has served us well.

    Legitimacy?!? History determines legitimacy. While many look upon what Hitler did as horrible, no one in the US (at least white people anyway) thinks that the genocide we did against the Native American Tribes is wrong. Don't kill those Jews, but hey, indigenous people's are OK. Moral Relativism at work once again!!! While history sees Hitler in a bad light, we don't quit think the same way about our own wars of destruction.

    Yes, in my world view, I refuse to pass judgement on groups of people. When people get sick of being treated like shit, they'll do something about it. Not my job to worry about the african girls getting mutilated. Not my concern whether or not Israel gets pushed into the sea, or whether the Palestinians ever get a homeland. They'll fight, they'll kill and sooner or later someone will win and the fighting will stop.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/26/2005 07:49:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/26/2005 09:37:00 AM  

  • Man, I like playing that game......

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/26/2005 09:59:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/26/2005 10:23:00 AM  

  • Pelty,
    You have successfully exposed my laziness! I was typing, and struggling between remembering whether Nehemiah was the cup bearer to the King of Persia or Babylon, and didn't even Google it or heck the Bible no more than three feet away! I, with my distaste for laziness, still display it.

    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, says the NT. What edification do we gain by attempting to explain that away?

    I don't think it is a red herring at all to say that those with knowledge of Greek textual criticism are the only ones who can explain the Bible to us. I did not compare it with the Gospel at all, did I? That, sir, was a false dilemma. Also, I understand the value of theological education - I merely point out that it should not be necessary to understand any important aspect of the Bible, nor to have a fruitful ministry.

    I simply cannor comprehend what purpose you aspire to by claiming that the gospels have errors. Why should we beleive that Romand, 1&2 Corinthians and Galatians do not? Are we, like the Mohameddians, to rely upon the writings of a single man for our faith? Our do we base it upon a unique book by authors hundreds and thousands of years apart who seem to be united in their subject and ideas?

    if we are to discard the accounts of those who were there with Christ, why would we accept anyone else's? There is no source more objective between believers than the NT. Either you believe that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works", or you don't.

    Why not? I guess that is my question. It is not about "worshipping a book" (red herring) or "losing the message", but the reliability of the message when discussing the details. as I presented in my initial post, if you can't believe a book with these qualifications, why would you believe someone's "personal spiritual experience"? Helping me to understand your motive may help me to understand your posiiton better. Thanks.

    Also, please present the "difficulties of a historical nature found in the text" or "historical innacuracies" as well as the "agendas" and "problems with the birth account". I have not seen these mentioned before.

    ...

    After thinking about it, I don't have a problem at all with your assertion that Mark or even Q was a source for other Gospels. "Inspiration of God" need not be in absence of all other inputs, just that the final product is His by design. What is more important to me is, why does it matter? Thanks!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/26/2005 01:20:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/26/2005 04:56:00 PM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/26/2005 06:29:00 PM  

  • AT,

    Sorry to keep you waiting. Busy day yesterday.

    I will make moral judgements and I will base these judgements upon two things; intellect and observation. You can continue to ignore the fact that morals are relative, have been and always will be. I would like to think that killing and mutilating people for anything other than self-defense is just wrong. Look at history and how you would actually feel about these sorts of crimes being waged against you or someone you care about and the remaining fact is; I don't want these things to happen to me....so I probably shouldn't do it to them.

    It's not that I am biased against moral truth....my observations of history tell me we haven't found these moral truths, if we have, we certainly don't know how to apply them.

    If there are moral truth that are biblically based, I challenge you to show me how these have been applied by christians throughout history. The Roman Catholic Church, when first founded, hunted down heretics in the Marcionite Heresy, why, because god's mercy endures forever. Then they went after the Gnostics and killed them off, why, because they were suppossed to turn the other cheek. Christianity was a defender of slavery and the divine right of kings. The Inquisition, the witch burnings. Damn this list goes on and on. Where are the moral absolutes as practiced by christians? Today, many, if not most christians agree that slavery is wrong. No American christians defend the divine right of kings nor are there too many chrisitans calling for the heads of the "heretics" from other sects. Moral relativism; relative to the time and relative to the culture.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/27/2005 07:45:00 AM  

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    By Blogger A.T., at 7/27/2005 09:53:00 AM  

  • The validity of a religion is not to be judged based upon the selective analysis of its members - that is foolish at best, deceptive at worst.

    If you wish to evaluate any religions, LP, you need to examine two things - the holy book and the founder. Men are cpable of justifying and twisting anything, so to lay the evil of some men who claim to be Christians at the feet of Christianity is a distractor. Instead, examine the writings and the founder. Without those two, there is no religion.

    Until you do that, you are being as unreasonable as judging the US Constitution and our freedoms by the actions of the KKK, the Bloods and the Crips, and the Hatfields and the McCoys.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/27/2005 12:34:00 PM  

  • AT,

    Perhaps when I speak of Pol Pot and Stalin, I should have substituted ammoral certainty. My main point is that these people knew they were right. In defense of whatever objective they had, they knew they were allowed to perpetrate any crime, kill any person who got in their way.

    Your last point is a good one. Why should xtianity be blamed for all of the atrocities committed in its name? I think because it laid the foundation for the moral certainty these men had. They felt that god was on their side and that anything was permissible to defend this grand religion. Maybe your right, maybe I shouldn't blame xtianity exclusively for these acts. If you are right, then you can't blame agnostic/athiests for the acts of others either.

    I just find religion in general to be incredibly divisive. I pick on xtianity mainly because it is the religion of the masses here in the US. If we took every resource ever devoted to religious activity (money and time) and put those resources to something that would better mankind, it is impossible to estimate where we would be now. Yet the xtian church still fights progress much as they did in the past. They used to know that astronomy, geology, human origens and just about everything we needed to know was in the bible. We know better now. The earth is not flat, the earth s not the center of the universe. But today we have a fight about embryonic stem cell research, as if they really know what is best for mankind. They have had to change their minds so many times, that I refuse to believe that they are even close to right on stem cells.

    Although I am an agnostic, I find myself to be a moral person based upon what society dictates and my own personal ethos. I'm married and I have never cheated on my wife. I have never harmed anyone....well there was that fight in High School. But you get my drift, I think. Religion is not a necessity when it comes to morals as many claim it is.

    See this:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2005/001/3.8.html

    The link above actually shows that, compared to Evangelicals in any case, non-believers live a more moral life....go figure.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/27/2005 01:24:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    Hey, I think someone said "you reap what you sow" and regarding religous atrocities, this is quite on the mark. Keep telling people that they are the only ones who are right, keep telling them that all others are wrong and what should a good believer do?

    You do have a point, a point I think AT made also.

    I have examined the holy book and the founder, Emporer Constantine, and have found xtianity to be lacking to the degree that I actually hate the infinite lie that it is based upon. While JC had some great things to say and some of his philosophy I do embrace, the logic of the whole story makes no sense. I quote a few folks below who have said it better than I could:

    "We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes." Gene Roddenberry

    or

    "God now decided upon another plan -- namely, to send his son -- who was as old as himself, and, therefore, not his son -- to die, but who was invested with immortality and could not die, to atone for sins that had never been committed by people who were not then born, and who could not, therefore, have been guilty of any sin. As a conclusion to the whole scheme, this all-merciful God prepared a hell, containing material fire of brimstone, to burn the immaterial souls of all persons who should fail to believe the truth, justice, and necessity of this jumble of cruelty and absurdity." – Charles Watts

    It just makes no sense to me. Not that any religion does, mind you. If god really wanted to speak to us, I can only imagine he would have come back again and tried to smooth over all of the ignorant BS found in the bible. Maybe actually give us an unambiguous decree, here's how you treat others, here's how you treat me etc etc etc.

    By Blogger LiberPaul, at 7/27/2005 03:26:00 PM  

  • " For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
    The First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 1, Verse 18

    Of course you don't understand it, LP. That's predicted in the book itself. The cause of your skepticism is neither your intellect nor your behavioral learning and observation, but your pride. You won't accept a God who has rules you don't like. Thus, you attribute the evil that men to to Christianity, with logic that is anything but.

    You basically say this:

    1) Christians think that they are right that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God, based upon the uniqueness and unmatched reliability of the Bible.

    2) Therefore, they think they are right in horrible acts, which are specifically prohibited in the Bible.

    Make sense? Not to us, either. You may want to rethink your reasoning.

    My posts on inerrancy have done their work - no matter how convincing a case is made for the Bible, men still reject the message of salvation. Why? Because they don't want anyone to be God but themselves.

    "My intellect and observation".

    Exactly.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 8/01/2005 05:35:00 PM  

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