I finally got around to wrapping up this topic. I’m going to cover it briefly and would recommend The Uniqueness of the Bible, an essay by Farrell Till for anyone who wants to delve deeper. Following are my responses to McDowell’s claims listed in the previous post. If I reference something you don’t believe or haven’t heard before and would like more information, please let me know and I’ll provide sources.
Continuity and Cohesiveness
The claim here is that the Bible, written over many years by a variety of authors, presents a certain continuity from beginning to end.
Right off the bat we have a problem because people picked which books were “holy” after the fact, so they could simply choose ones that agreed with their overall sense of what the correct teachings were. But, even so, we do not see the kind of cohesiveness one would expect from the word of God, written directly or inspired. Here are a few of many examples from Till:
In 2 Kings, God praises Jehu for his destruction of the royal family at Jezreel. God says “You have done well in carrying out what I consider right.” Later, in Hosea, God says, “for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel.” Biblical innerantists, like McDowell, have a difficult task ahead because such passages exist. If you think it’s God’s infallible word, then how can he contradict himself? However, if you realize these are men writing with agendas that sometimes conflict, it is perfectly natural to have disagreement. But that is not McDowell’s assertion.
In Leviticus, and throughout the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, animal sacrifices are encouraged and even commanded. You can note this is still the case in the time of the New Testament. However, in Jeremiah, God said, “For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Also in Psalms we have “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” Several other OT sources also contradict the idea of required burnt offerings.
Also pointed out by Till, the bible states that “God shows no favoritism to people (Acts 10:34; Deut. 10:17; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6: Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17), but it also states that Yahweh selected one people ‘above all people on the face of the earth’ to be his chosen people (Deut. 7:6).”
Not pointed out by Till are the many New Testament inconsistencies, especially between gospel writers concerning the lineage of Jesus, the time and date of his death, OT prophecy mistakes, and much more.
And of course you have the issue of God being merciful and loving in contradiction with the mass killing in the OT.
The Bible is the most printed book of all time (I think it also may be the best selling). This is true, but as I had issue with the claim in Part 1, survival has nothing to do with truth – only popularity. I believe the second most printed book of all time was by Chairman Mao. Does that require us to think that Communism is the ideal form of government because it’s the most popular book on the subject? I think we can also give very convincing historical reasons for the spread of Christianity as the dominant religion.
This is one of my favorite topics because it’s remarkable when you see the similarities between the Bible stories and those of preceding religions, especially Egyptian and Babylonian. I also think the Jesus story being unique is an opinion shared by many Christians, in my experience. In most cases, people are genuinely surprised when they hear that their stories mirror older ones to an uncanny degree. I know I was. Here are a few of many examples:
Monotheism, animal sacrifice, reward/punishment for your deeds, temple building, and many other ideas preceded the Hebrews.
According to Till, “The first 11 chapters of Genesis were derived from Babylonian mythology, as all serious Bible scholars know.” You can find further confirmation of this and many more borrowed OT stories in 101 Myths of the Bible, by Gary Greenburg.
I would like to focus in particular on the story of Jesus. I have to thank Bill Maher for keeping this fresh in my mind, as he brings this up in Religulous. Predating Jesus by a significant period of time was the Egyptian god Horus. Horus was the product of Immaculate Conception – his mother, Isis, was impregnated by divine fire. He was the only son of the God Osiris. His human family was of alleged royal descent. His mother experienced an annunciation by an angel, like Mary. His birth was heralded by a star. Ancient Egyptians celebrated his birth at the winter solstice (around December 21) by parading with a manger and child, representing Horus. (By the way, other deities who are said to have been born on December 25 include Mithra, Dionysus, and Sol Invictus). Shepherds witnessed his birth. During his infancy, a local ruler tried to have him killed. There are no details of his life between childhood and adulthood. He was baptized in a river at age 30. His baptizer was later beheaded. He was taken into the desert alone to be tempted, but he resisted. He had 12 followers. He performed miracles, including walking on water, casting out demons, healing the sick, restoring sight, and he “stilled the sea by his power.” He raised his father from the dead. This father, Osiris, was also called “the Asar” and there are linguistic reasons to believe this translated into Hebrew would be Lazarus. He gave a famous sermon on a mountain. He underwent a transfiguration at one point. When he was killed, he was accompanied by two thieves. He was buried in a tomb and was resurrected three days later. This resurrection was discovered by women. He will later reign for 1,000 years in his role as savior of humanity.
I feel like I just rewrote a synopsis of the gospels. Again, these stories predated Jesus by several centuries. To be completely forthcoming, there are some doubts about the accuracy of some of these comparisons, but even if some are incorrect, there is still remarkable similarity. I would say unbelievable similarity – the kind you can only achieve when you copy. And the really interesting thing is that Horus is not the only deity predating Jesus with this kind of similarity.
Once again, this claim proves nothing about the truth of the Bible (see section on survival and the post in Part 1).
That was quite a bit of info, but hopefully all interesting. I, for one, always find the comparisons of the Jesus story fascinating. If you’d like more details or clarifications, please comment.
- Let him who is without sin fudge the first story.
- Jesus was not a Christian
- The Bible is Unique (Part 1 of 2)