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Can We Still Believe the Bible in the Twenty-First Century?





See Also: Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, forthcoming April 2014).



By Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary
April 2014


Throughout most of the twenty centuries of church history, most Christians believed that the Old and New Testaments of their Bible were uniquely true and authoritative literature. With the rise of the Scientific Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century, the practice of biblical criticism led to a scholarly minority questioning these beliefs. But the rank and file members of the church continued to remain largely unaffected. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the development of the social gospel that at times said little or nothing about the need for people to repent of personal sin, accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and be transformed by the power of his Holy Spirit. Early-to-mid-twentieth-century fundamentalism swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme in reaction.

As recently as my young adult years, it was common to hear people inside and outside of Christian circles use an expression like “it’s the gospel truth” to stress that something was absolutely factual. Even those who weren’t churchgoers might ask, “Do you swear on the Bible that’s true?” Today I almost never hear anyone use these expressions; apparently they no longer carry the same weight with many. When I was wrestling with the university model of religious studies I encountered as an undergrad, it was frequent for my evangelical Christian friends and I to come across new challenges to the historic Christian faith and scurry back to our library to search for how others had replied to these challenges in the past. In our busiest moments, we just wrote off our critics as overly skeptical and filed their remarks for future analysis. Today it seems that young adult Christians are remarkably vulnerable. Instead of assuming that a challenge to Christianity that they personally haven’t encountered before has been dealt with by others somewhere, many think that scholars must have made some new discoveries that disprove the faith and they wonder if they too should abandon it. It’s a striking inversion of responses within a single generation.

Of course, skeptical writers can couch their views as if they were new. In a pre-internet world, it sometimes took considerable time digging in a library to discover that they weren’t. Ironically, in our digital age, with exponentially greater amounts of information at our finger tips in seconds, a frightening number of people aren’t prepared even to take the much shorter periods of time needed to find good, classic Christian responses to something they have just discovered that is new to them. I’m not sure I understand most of the dynamics behind this shift.

Six areas keep coming to my attention in which numerous people act as if significantly new discoveries have been made since I was in higher education in the 1970s, which for the first time successfully call into question traditional Christian viewpoints. One involves the textual criticism of the Bible—the art and science of establishing as carefully as possible the readings of the original texts of Scripture from the thousands of ancient manuscripts available. A second deals with the canon of Scripture. Should different texts or at least additional texts be included besides the 66 books of the Protestant canon? A third has to do with the proliferation of English translations of the Bible. Doesn’t this show that no one really knows what the original texts of Scripture mean or how they should be rendered?

In light of these three challenges comes a fourth. Don’t these and other questions make belief in Scriptural inerrancy an old-fashioned, outmoded concept? Fifth, and more specifically, doesn’t inerrancy require us to take all narrative genres as intending to teach straightforward history, which is simply no longer credible throughout the entire Bible? Finally, can’t we say once and for all that science has disproved the miraculous, so that a collection of sacred books so consistently infused with accounts of supernatural events simply cannot be taken seriously?

In fact, none of these six areas of inquiry need threaten a Christian’s faith. Again it is fairly ironic that fringe elements of biblical scholarship draw widespread media attention. Meanwhile, a large body of research has been growing, both inside and outside of explicitly evangelical circles, which should actually inspire greater confidence in the reliability of Scripture than the state of the discussion allowed for a generation ago.

With more than 5700 handwritten Greek manuscripts of any or all of the New Testament from the centuries before the invention of the printing press, and another 20,000 or so portions of ancient translations of the New Testament into other languages, Dan Wallace may well be correct when he announces, with some dramatic flair, as he likes to do, that we almost certainly have the very original texts of the New Testament documents in our critical editions of the Greek New Testament! The only question that sometimes remains is whether those originals appear in the text itself, or in one of the textual variants provided in the footnotes. The situation with the Old Testament is somewhat more complicated, but our ability to reconstruct what is most probably the original reading at each juncture still remains much better than with any other ancient documents that have been preserved in numerous manuscripts.

Catholics and Protestants have long debated the value of the Old Testament Apocrypha, but there is growing agreement today even among Catholic scholars that these Greek documents should be at best called “deutero-canonical” (a second canon) and not to be taken as quite on the same level of trustworthiness or authority as the Hebrew Old Testament texts (the Protestant canon). The largely Gnostic texts that are often put forward for potential inclusion in the New Testament typically meet none of the ancient church’s criteria for canonization: they do not come from an apostle or his associate, they do not contain orthodox doctrine, and they were never found widely useful and relevant by large portions of the church.

We probably do have too many English translations of the Bible, especially when a small percentage of the world’s population still has no Bible translated into a language they can read. But many of the recent flurry of new English versions target a specific audience or follow a particular translation theory, all of which have their place. All one has to do is use a computer program that allows one to compare and contrast a dozen or more translations of a particular passage at a time and it becomes crystal clear that their variations are comparatively minor. They may have been designed for different uses and different target audiences. Some prioritize the original structures of passages and precise meanings of words, even when the results may be hard to understand in English. Others focus on fluency and intelligibility. Still others aim to maximize both of these objectives, while recognizing that each will prevent the other from succeeding quite as well. But the good news is that we actually have better understanding today than ever since the biblical texts were first written about what their authors meant.

Does all this mean that the inerrancy of Scripture is no longer a viable concept? Hardly. Of course, we cannot anachronistically impose modern standards of precision onto ancient texts, observe that those texts don’t always live up to them, and then charge them with error! We wouldn’t want forty-first century standards of accuracy, whatever they might be if the world lasts that long, imposed on our writings! But once one understands what the people in the biblical settings would and would not have called an error, the biblical texts pass with flying colors.

Closely related to this last point is the need to examine each book of the Bible and each subsection of each book for its literary form or genre. One cannot merely pontificate that anything that looks like history must be historical, since fiction down through the centuries has taken on the appearance in various ways of historical reporting. The full range of indicators that authors utilize to help their readers understand what they are intending to write must be utilized. Parables are fictitious stories that teach theological truths with rhetorical power, and they may not be the only such category of “fiction” in the Bible. But each alleged claim of a form or genre, especially new ones, not claimed in past generations or centuries, must be examined with great care on a case by case basis to see if it really does measure up to what its proponents claim.

Craig Keener’s recent, meticulously documented compendium of ancient and modern miracles from every continent on the globe massively disproves the notion that supernatural events do not occur today. Particularly striking are the occurrences of instantaneous physical healing without relapse after public, concerted gatherings for Christian prayer. Perhaps as many as 1 in 35 people on the planet have either experienced or personally known someone who has experienced such a miracle. If such events happened much more often, we’d stop calling them miracles and we’d begin to think we could manipulate God as the so-called health-wealth gospel at times already does!

One of the reasons more people don’t recognize the progress that has been made in the last generation in each of these six arenas is because a handful of high-profile, ultraconservative Christians have championed so narrow an approach to the issues at hand that they have actually scared off those who might have otherwise joined or stayed in the evangelical camp. Thus, we still have to deal with the supporters of the Textus Receptus behind the King James Version, even though massive amounts of evidence have shown that it is not as old or reliable as the texts behind virtually all modern English translations. We have some who think that the biblical canon is a comprehensive repository of truth on any topic, such that all that one has to do is compile and organize a list of its teachings on a given topic and we have adequate guidance for Christian living in that arena. We have outspoken advocates of one particular modern translation of the Bible as noticeably superior to all the alternatives, despite the fallacies inherent in such claims. We hear certain supporters of Inerrancy defining the doctrine so narrowly that it fails to take into account what did or didn’t count as errors in the biblical worlds or so that it runs roughshod over the diversity of the Bible’s literary genres. Most astonishing of all are those who argue that all of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, including the working of miracles, have ceased, so that apparent uses of them in the world today are at best human imitation and at worst diabolical.

Fortunately, there are not nearly as many people who hold these ultraconservative Christian positions today as a generation ago, though in some instances those who do hold them have more access to the popular media than used to be the case, so that they are able to wield influence all out of proportion to their numbers or to the strength of their positions. With the remarkable proliferation of mainstream evangelical scholarship worldwide, however, perhaps in another generation the numbers of the extreme skeptics will have diminished as well. Or at least one could hope.





Comments (14)


“Craig Keener’s recent, meticulously documented compendium of ancient and modern miracles from every continent on the globe massively disproves the notion that supernatural events do not occur today. Particularly striking are the occurrences of instantaneous physical healing without relapse after public, concerted gatherings for Christian prayer.”


Maybe the scientific method can help here.

If it is true that instantaneous physical healings without relapse occur after prayer at a frequency greater than for non-prayer, then that should be measurable. As far as I know, the most extensive and rigorous study of prayer and medical healing (headed by Dr. Herbert Benson in 2006) shows no measurable difference. What do you make of the results of this study Dr. Blomberg?

Also, why don’t evangelicals set up a simpler scientific test of the claim of healing through prayer? Instead of using a variety of ailments that are sometimes hard to measure, use one that is unequivocal, perhaps something like complete blindness. Do a rigorous and scientific study of the occurrence of instantaneous healing of blindness in response to prayer and non-prayer and in response to prayer to different Gods.

If there is an objection to scientifically testing for the presence of a supernatural acting God in the present, then why bother testing for the presence of a supernatural acting God in the past through historical inquiry?

It is also interesting to note what Craig Keener says on page 1 of his book: “Some circles whose reports I was exploring invited me to witness their experiences firsthand; while this deeper investigation would have been ideal, my academic schedule and other factors have so far precluded my plan to do so.”

It sounds like the people Keener is referring to here know AHEAD OF TIME that an unusual event is going to happen. If so, again, the scientific method might be of some use. Keener should put these people in touch with the James Randi Educational Foundation one-million-dollar paranormal challenge, which has gone unanswered for approximately a half century:

“At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the “applicant” becomes a “claimant.”” (http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html)

If people felt wrong profiting from a supernatural event, they could donate the prize money to charity or simply throw the money away.

It is illustrative to note that Erin Prophet, who participated in her mother’s leadership of a 1980s cult with thousands of followers, said after her deconversion, “[My mother’s] files were filled with testimonials from those who believed that her prayers and clearance invocations had healed them of serious illnesses and psychic maladies” (Prophet’s Daughter, 2009, pg. 253). Are you willing to accept that Erin Prophet’s mother intervened, or caused God to intervene, in the affairs of any of these people?

The scientific method helps us separate fact from wishful thinking. Dr. Blomberg, are you willing to use the scientific method? If so, then let’s see some serious scientific studies to back up your claims above and those that Keener makes in his book (which are largely second and third hand accounts, with almost no ability for anyone to follow up on).

John
#1 - John Kahl - 04/10/2014 - 15:09



John, thank you. Keener himself finds that the scientific method will not help. Note this statement from p.608 of his work: "Since science depends on observation and experimentation, and since a “miracle is by definition an irreproducible” experience, even document miracle cures by definition cannot fit precisely the expectations of science as it has been most narrowly defined…miracles cannot be investigated by the usual scientific methods since we cannot control the variables and perform experiments."

The citation for the STEP/Benson study is: Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, et al. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer". American Heart Journal 151.4 (April 2006): 934–42.
#2 - Timothy Bagley - 04/10/2014 - 16:47



Dr. Blomberg, can you expand on this statement? "once one understands what the people in the biblical settings would and would not have called an error, the biblical texts pass with flying colors." What are biblical settings? What does it mean to "pass with flying colors"? I would like to understand the apparent ambiguity of this claim.
#3 - Timothy Bagley - 04/10/2014 - 17:13



Thank you too Tim.

The quote you gave from Keener's book is talking about PAST miracles. He is saying that the scientific method will not help confirm or disconfirm “documentED” events (you left off the “ed” for past tense in “documented”). This is even more obvious two sentences later where Keener says, “Miracles are distinct acts in HISTORY, and thus no more subject to experimentation than other historical events like Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.” I wholeheartedly agree.

However, Keener and Blomberg are claiming that these kinds of supernatural events did not just happen in the past, but they are still happening TODAY. If so, then the scientific method most definitely can (and should!) be used. The scientific method can detect the difference in outcomes across a large body of data. If it is true that "instantaneous physical healings without relapse" occur after prayer at a frequency greater than for non-prayer, then that should be measurable.

But not only that, as I said in my first comment, Keener suggests that he knows people who claim to know AHEAD OF TIME that a supernatural event will happen. This is a slam dunk case for the James Randi Educational Foundation one-million-dollar paranormal challenge, which is simply the application of the scientific method.

There may also be another way to scientifically test for supernatural intervention in response to prayer. Check out what Craig Keener says on pg. 737 (including his footnote #144):

“I watched as a Christian group of college students preparing for a ministry outreach event prayed for the stilling of a heavy storm; the storm, which had continued for a couple hours and was expected to continue for much of the day, stopped within seconds….The stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon.”

Instead of testing for the effect of prayer on medical conditions, which is very complicated, costly, and uncertain due to the variables of dealing with a human being, why not test for the effect of prayer on storms? It would be magnitudes cheaper, a lot easier, and a lot more objective. Again, this is just applying the scientific method and it is incredible to me that nobody in the evangelical camp is doing this. If you could show that prayer can still storms, you would change the dialogue about Christian origins more than any amount of bickering over 2000 year old documents.

Lastly, I would really like to know how one gets from this statement on page one of Keener’s book:

“[This] book’s primary thesis is simply that eyewitnesses do offer miracle claims….The secondary thesis is that supernatural explanations, while not suitable in every case, should be welcome on the scholarly table along with other explanations often discussed.”

to this statement by Dr. Blomberg in his op-ed:

“Craig Keener’s recent, meticulously documented compendium of ancient and modern miracles from every continent on the globe massively disproves the notion that supernatural events do not occur today.”

I’ll let Dr. Blomberg explain how he gets from Keener’s modest (but not very useful in settling anything) aims to his statement quoted above.
#4 - John Kahl - 04/10/2014 - 19:08



The issue is not whether miracles can be predicted (they can't) but that events happen that correspond to what people pray for that have no scientific explanation. I suppose if one had access to information about what was going on everywhere at all times you could craft experiments along the lines of how often does cancer go into long-term spontaneous total remission instantaneously when there has not been any Christian prayer vs. how often it does when there has been--that would be the kind of test that would be needed. But to date, even with the internet (!) we don't have that ability. The Christian Scriptures give multiple plausible reasons why God would choose not to heal in a majority of situations, so it is not that Christians should want to try to prove that miracles happen more often than not, after prayer. They don't. The issue is for the pure naturalist to explain any single documented miracle. Could Craig Keener have unwittingly included an account or two that weren't in fact accurately reported. Of course, though his criteria are very stringent and he notes how many he didn't include because of them. And when you read what all he did include you realize no human being could have personally traveled to every location but he certainly did talk to a slough of eyewitnesses. But when it comes to miracles I have witnessed (or the results thereof), then I no longer have any way of denying them.
#5 - Craig Blomberg - 04/10/2014 - 21:03



Dr. Blomberg,

Your method seems overly simplistic – if the naturalist cannot explain a healing, then it must be an act of God.

But the real question is, are unexplained healings (which everyone agrees happen) due to some yet to be discovered natural cause, or are they due to a supernatural intervention by God after prayer? The scientific method can answer that question. If healings occur after prayer at a frequency greater than for non-prayer (your claim), one should be able to predict from a test of groups that more healings will occur in the prayer group than in the non-prayer group (even though one cannot predict which individuals will be healed).

Can I make a request before we have further conversation? Can you please answer the six questions that I asked in my initial interaction with your op-ed, and also explain how you get from Keener’s modest aims in his book:

“[This] book’s primary thesis is simply that eyewitnesses do offer miracle claims….The secondary thesis is that supernatural explanations, while not suitable in every case, should be welcome on the scholarly table along with other explanations often discussed.”

to this conclusion in you op-ed

“Craig Keener’s recent, meticulously documented compendium of ancient and modern miracles from every continent on the globe massively disproves the notion that supernatural events do not occur today.”
#6 - John Kahl - 04/10/2014 - 23:39



I did answer the questions if you read carefully. I answered about the problem of a scientific method as you set it up, I proposed one that would address the question if we had the ability to carry it out, and I explained that Christians do not claim that miracles can be predicted--the premise behind all of your questions. Of course it is true that there may be some unexplained reason for what we call supernatural healings, but when you have thousands of similar cases across time and geography and the only KNOWN variable is immediately preceding public, concerted Christian prayer, the burden of proof would be on the skeptic to suggest another common variable that accounts for things naturalistically. That's why I also quoted Craig in my book as saying this argument is "naturalism of the gaps"--identical to what naturalists charge Christians with making. If we say God must account for what science cannot explain, it is as much a statement of faith and not science to affirm that science will one day explain what today it cannot. And when the only known constant linking many, many events together is a religious element then it is less logical to have faith in science than in God. As for Craig Keener's more modest claims those are to his credit. If you actually read my chapter in the book you'll see that I extrapolate from his citation of a worldwide Pew study in a dozen countries or so of charismatic Christian fellowships on the (scientific!) assumption (which of course could be faulty) of a similar rate in unstudied areas and that is why I make the more optimistic claims than he does.
#7 - Craig Blomberg - 04/11/2014 - 10:59



Oh, I did forget to address the question about the people offering a million dollars. It would be interesting to know what they would require in order to accept a miraculous claim. I could easily produce written statements from doctors who examined patients with various seemingly incurable maladies (and so could plenty of other people) who later tested the same individuals and found no trace of the ailment. Those are actually a matter of public record in numerous books, including the most recent one by the neurologist who was in a week-long coma in which the part of his brain that would be able to sense anything was completely incapacitated and yet he experienced heaven throughout that time. He was not a believer prior to that experience. Documentation is available in my book. So I can only assume that this organization finds ways to claim to invalidate such studies if they have never given out the million dollars. And if that is the case, then I can easily understand why people having experienced miracles would not bother going through the hassle.
#8 - Craig Blomberg - 04/11/2014 - 11:03



Dr. Blomberg, please do not bring up Eben Alexander’s scam experience which has been shown to be a very dubious and duplicitous case of charlatanry. See the superb takedown articles:
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven
http://www.esquire.com/features/the-prophet?click=smart&kw=ist&src=smart&mag=ESQ&link=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.esquire.com%2Ffeatures%2Fthe-prophet
#9 - Timothy Bagley - 04/11/2014 - 12:00



Before continuing, one minor clarification that I hope you were already aware of, but just in case: my premise has never been that Christians claim that individual miracles can be predicted; it has been that the Christian claim of miracles should be predictable in GROUP results, which you seem to agree with, if only the group size could be made big enough.

So, if I understand your position, in the 2006 Benson study on prayer and healing, you do not find it odd that there was no better healing in the six hundred people who were prayed for, because God may not have acted in those six hundred cases. I guess I was misinformed. I thought Christians were claiming a more frequent effect from prayer. I apologize. You are saying that God heals in response to prayer, but only rarely, maybe at a frequency below one out of six hundred times. That is why, in your view, the only way to see the infrequent effect of prayer in group results is to increase the size of the groups to a number that is so large that it is just not feasible to do at the current time. Please clarify if I have gotten something wrong.

If I understand you correctly above, then all prayer studies related to healing are useless in your view. However, we can still approach the question of prayer using the scientific method. You said:

“…when you have thousands of similar cases [of miraculous healings] across time and geography and the only KNOWN variable is immediately preceding public, concerted Christian prayer, the burden of proof would be on the skeptic to suggest another common variable that accounts for things naturalistically.”

Your statement suggests that you are not aware of another possibility. If, out of the seven billion people on the planet, one tenth of one percent have an unexplained medical healing in their lifetime, that would be 700,000 unexplained medical healings. Assuming momentarily that all of these are due to natural causes, if thousands of people prayed while their loved one was sick, it would produce exactly the results you refer to – thousands of seemingly miraculous healings across time and geography with the only known variable being prayer. The conclusion that God must have done it would be in error. The scientific terminology for this error is “correlation does not imply causation”. Have you ever heard of this before? It’s basic science. A gave a good example of an incorrect conclusion based on correlation without causation in my first comment – many in a 1980s cult believed that prayer from their cult leader healed them (unless of course you think the prayers of this cult leader (Erin Prophet) really had an effect).

On the one million dollar offer by the James Randi foundation, I quoted their general requirements in my first comment. The requirement is that the supernatural event be “observed”, so they require that the claimant demonstrate it in real time. Your reference to documented healings suggests that you did not understand this. I would not have even brought this scientific test up if Keener had not said in his book (as I noted in my first comment): “Some circles whose reports I was exploring invited me to witness their experiences firsthand; while this deeper investigation would have been ideal, my academic schedule and other factors have so far precluded my plan to do so.” As I noted before, it sounds like the people Keener is referring to here know AHEAD OF TIME that an unusual event is going to happen (i.e. they are claiming that they CAN predict an individual miracle). Why not put these people in touch with the James Randi Educational Foundation one-million-dollar paranormal challenge?

Also, I know you think that God responds to prayer only very rarely (otherwise group comparisons should be possible), but why not set up a very long term prayer study to see its effect on weather? As I pointed out earlier, Keener thinks prayer can affect the weather, and I assume you do too. Instead of storms, which one has to wait for, you could have participants pray for rain in drought stricken areas across the globe. The result over time could be tens of thousands if not millions of data points. That should be enough to show the effects of prayer. Why not try to do this? If you could show with the scientific method that prayer can affect the weather, you would change the dialogue about Christianity forever. You could even show that Muslim prayer does not work, nor any other non-Christian prayer.
#10 - John Kahl - 04/11/2014 - 15:01



Two more thoughts:

I agree with your point about "naturalism of the gaps" and the faith it takes to assume that the unexplained has a natural cause. I think this kind of faith for many people comes from a long history of humans assuming supernatural causes for things that were later discovered to have natural causes. So I do not think it is a very unreasonable faith. But one should always keep an open mind. But no matter which view is correct, the scientific method is everyone’s friend and can help us separate fact from fiction. Your personal belief that supernatural events are happening does not seem to me to have any basis in the scientific method. As such, it seems to me that the most you can say is that the supernatural MAY be a cause for these unexplained events. That is why your statement that Kenner’s book has “massively” proven that supernatural events are occurring today seems massively over the top. It seems like a statement that comes from someone, and is aimed at people, who do not realize that correlation does not imply causation and where the words “proven” and “disproven” are meaningless.

You said, “…the burden of proof would be on the skeptic to suggest another common variable that accounts for things naturalistically.” When it comes to human healing, science is working on this, but it comes very slowly, and usually only one disease at a time and often after many false leads (because correlation does mean causation). However, when the common variable is found, and science finds a way to control it, the cures seem pretty miraculous to me.
#11 - John Kahl - 04/11/2014 - 15:02



The Blomberg question: “can we still believe the Bible?” points to his Christian apologetic concern of having one’s faith threatened by rational questions raised by skeptics and entertained by youth. His simple thesis is: yes, we can. But initially, it requires the identification of those who are the ‘we’. A sensitive reader knows their/his identification by the adverbial ‘still’. Blomberg is concerned that Christians are losing their faith. Is he writing to encourage Christians to ‘keep the faith’? Is this article a gospel tract or a sermon?
Blomberg’s apologetics points to 6 areas of contention. I would argue that none of them addresses his question of the believability of the Bible. It is irrelevant whether one’s text is the original or a copy. Textual criticism, for all its benefit and beauty, in no way validates the claims of the texts. One’s acceptance of those texts which are considered canonical provides no support to substantiate the truth claims of the writers. How those textually correct, canonically accepted texts are translated has little to do with the extraordinary claims made within their pages. Genre analysis provides no verification of truth as authors often will work within the concept of verisimilitude in creating their narratives. Miracles, in any and every case, do not vindicate the truth of the religion that practices them. (Mr. Kahl’s well-articulated questions have yet to be answered.) The superstitions proffered over the history of humanity in response to those unknown, inexplicable events and experiences cannot support the faith of the Bible any more than those same claims to miracles, inerrancy, textual criticism and translation support the ‘truth’ of the Quran. Devout Muslims utilize the same apologetics – “can we still believe the Quran in the 21st Century?” Blomberg wants to “inspire greater confidence in the reliability of Scripture”. When the ambiguous term of reliability (in relation to what?) is coupled with this demonstration of apologetics, maybe the question should rather be: “Should one still believe Blomberg?”
#12 - Walther Oldenberg - 04/14/2014 - 17:34



Bizarre! Is the inerrancy of Scripture a viable concept? Imagine replacing the word Scripture with The collected works of Shakespeare, Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”, in fact any book or collection of books, then defending the theory that they were without error.
Bloomberg’s article remind me why academic study of the Bible is held in low repute, because people put forward religious theories that have close to 0 chance of being true . If the Bible were without error it would be a miracle. But people and writers are error prone (see Daniel Kahneman ‘s “Thinking fast and slow” for lots of examples). We make lots of mistakes.
If the Bible was written by humans it will have mistakes. If it was written by a god, then there are possibly no errors. So we have a test of whether it was written by a god or God who aims to write texts without errors.
Unfortunately this piece tells us a lot about Bloomberg (and the grip fundamentalism has on parts of Evangelicalism for interpreting the Bible- which is very interesting) but nothing about the Bible.
#13 - Bob Breckwoldt - 04/15/2014 - 07:19



Note to Bloomberg concerning his reliance on Keener: the plural of anecdote is not history. I've read many pages of Keener's book on miracles and he does not separate the wheat from the chaff, he includes a tale about a regrown spleen, without noting that doctors acknowledge that spleens can regrow, he adds a note about a tale of regrown limbs from the 1600s, though even he questions it, and it involves a case of two rival religious groups trying to one-up each other, and Keener even includes a second hand case of resurrection from some Pentecostal evangelists though admits it is questionable. He also admits that for all of his searching he cannot produce any relatively modern anecdotes about limbs regrown, but he repeats some tales "like it."

Bloomberg and other apologists also need to recognize that the fact that Jesus' miracles reflect OT miracles is not a point in favor of their historicity. It means that such miracle tales came out of a long tradition of miracle tales. And if you doubt miracles of feeding via Moses and Elisha or Elijah, then Jesus' feeding tale (which in the earliest Gospel takes place "in the wilderness") is not going to impress. The early followers of Jesus were trying to sell Jesus, and if they believed Jesus was the final eschatological prophet prior to the final judgment, then they would be more than tempted to depict Jesus as having receiving a superior amount of spiritual power, greater than Moses, Elijah, Elisha. Just recall that Elisha prayed for twice as much spiritual power as Elijah and performed twice as many miracles as Elijah, and that tales of Moses' ascension and Elijah's were believed by first century Jews, as well as tales of the Roman Emperor being god's son, and having a Gospel. In such an atmosphere, Jesus himself had to be plumped up, I'm sure, to generate more followers.

According to the Gospels themselves, Jesus never performed miracles in major cities in Galilee, but in small villages. While other miracles were seen by only a few apostles, walking on water, stilling the storm, the transfig, and Mark says Jesus told the three apostles to keep quiet about the last miracle until later. No one saw Jesus exit the tomb, if there was a tomb. And when they introduce the bodily ascension tale in Luke-Acts only the remaining apostles are depicted as seeing such a thing. In the last Gospel one is implored to believe without seeing. In Matthew the raised Jesus appears but some doubted.

Lastly, Bloomberg and Keener ignore even the basics when it comes to NT miracle tales.

1) How many first-person descriptions of them do we possess? How many written documents say that "Jesus appeared to ME?" Compared with how many are second hand or more? We seem to only possess Paul's first hand statement, "He appeared to me," without any further description from Paul himself. Does God really expect that to convince thinking human beings, damning them all to hell for questioning such thin first-person testimony?

2) Where did the earliest appearances take place? When did they take place? What was seen? How far away or close where the ones who saw it? How certain was each of them of what was seen? (Often people in close knit religious groups simply go along with what others say they have seen.)
1 Cor. contains none of that information.

3) Do any of the stories contradict each other? 1 Cor. list contains disagreements with later Gospel tales.

4) Can any of the witnesses be cross-examined today?

5) Do any of Jesus' miracle tales appear to have grown in the telling over time from Gospel to Gospel? Yes they do.

Google: Babinski Gospel Trajectories Resurrection
#14 - edwardtbabinski - 04/18/2014 - 21:47






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