A Thought Experiment For Christians

A lot of Christians claim that the Bible is what they base all of their beliefs on, because it is the perfect manual for behaviour given to us directly by God. Let’s ignore the fact that most Christians have never actually read anything more than select passages, usually without any useful context, and the fact that the Bible contains all sorts of things that aren’t particularly manual-like. Let’s assume that the Bible is the basis for your philosophical and moral beliefs.

Here, then, is a very simple thought experiment: how do you know that the Devil did not write or influence the Bible? Yes, the Bible is supposedly perfect – but you only know this because the Bible told you so. But doesn’t the very fact of our fallen nature mean that we would be incapable of producing a perfect work? Sure, it would be different if God intervened, as he supposedly did to produce the Bible. But what if that very notion is nothing but the Devil’s way of trapping humans using their arrogance? According to most Christian theology, that’s precisely the kind of trick the Devil is known for pulling.

Then again, the Devil isn’t really much of a figure in the Bible, and the Devil most Christians believe in is mostly a medieval invention. But what if God made the Bible flawed on purpose? Some might say that parts of the Bible are rather contradictory; even the story of Jesus is told four times, none of which are identical. So how do you know God isn’t testing you by including elements that require a moral decision on your part?

Arrogance is the keyword here. If you blindly accept the Bible – written and translated by humans – are you showing your faith, or simply falling into pride and intellectual sloth? If God truly placed this massive, complex work before you, will you so easily reject the possibility that it contains more than one type of test? You’ve been warned against thinking too highly of yourself. What if you’re buying into a long tradition of people doing just that?

You can’t get out of this without thinking for yourself.


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11 Comments

  1. Ahh, brilliant!

  2. babylonlurker

     /  August 8, 2011

    Two very good questions .

    Let me take the mantle of a Christian person and give my answers .
    1) We can never know if the devil wrote the Bible, since we only have a single source.
    2) The Bible – flawed on purpose ? That is a far more interesting question than the first one.

    Given how many people take the book literally, even with all the inconsistencies – and that is valid for every religious book I know of – I would consider picking and choosing what to cite – and believe as arrogance of the highest degree.

    However, all those books are written through the filter of a human being, so, even if (a) god existed and “dictated” the book, this filter would be present and distort what is “said”. I can see no way out of this.

  3. I don’t think I understand what you say, I’ll read it more carefully later. Then again, I’m not Christian nor religious in any way, so it doesn’t matter whether I get it or not since I’m not the text’s ideal target.

    Bible’s imperfection is just obvious. Assuming there is a god, we’ll have to remember the Bible was written by a lot of people, and many (if not all) of them could be mistaken.

    Even assuming there are holy men capable of writing absolute truths about God, we should remember the Bible was compiled by another big pile of people. So many holy texts (assuming they exist) surely were ignored, and many flawed ones were included.

    Curch lovers are disappearing, fortunately. The saddest ones are those who claim to believe in God and the Bible but not in the Church, because they hate the liar but end up believing the lie.

  4. Wolfgang DelaSangre

     /  August 8, 2011

    If the Bible IS God’s Word written by human hands, then I can understand your concern that it may be flawed in such a way as to render it unbelievable.

    But the thing is, this train of thought’s ultimate goal isn’t to question the validity of the Bible; it’s to question the sovereignty of God.

    And I don’t mean “question” as in you question your parents’ decision of making you go to bed at 8:00 PM; you’re a little kid and you want what you want. That’s just challenging authority (unless that actually is what you’re doing here, which is silly). No, I mean “to question” in the sense that you’re simply asking a question, nothing more.

    Is God sovereign or not? Can he decide what goes into His Word or not?

    Personally, I believe that the answer is, “Yes He can.”

    As far as the Bible itself goes, there is actually proof that the Old Testament is incredibly old and incredibly accurate to the old texts, also commenting on how serious the Jewish people were about preserving it exactly as it was. Seriously, this was severe OCD-level exactness. For example, a page of the Dead Sea Scrolls can be laid over a page of Isaiah in the original Hebrew, and it will match up perfectly. Unless you picked a different page, but it’ll still match up to the right one. We don’t have copies of Shakespeare’s plays that are this accurate.

    And the New Testament? Well, we do actually have proof that the New Testament books were written within the lifetime of the Apostles. Nothing started appearing until about forty years after Christ’s death, but that doesn’t mean the Apostles never lived long enough to write anything.

    All in all, the Bible is the most accurate collection of writings in the world in terms of preservation of the original texts. So it does come down to whether or not God is sovereign.

    By the way, what brought this about all of a sudden?

  5. We can never know if the devil wrote the Bible, since we only have a single source.

    Exactly. Therefore we can only use the Bible once we have come to conclusions about morality on our own. Then we can see whether we truly find this book to contain truth.

    But the thing is, this train of thought’s ultimate goal isn’t to question the validity of the Bible; it’s to question the sovereignty of God.

    Not at all. The almightiness of God doesn’t enter the picture in this thought experiment. The question is our ability to know the will of God. How do you know that the Bible accurately reflects the will of God? Because the Bible says it does? What if that is human arrogance? What if it is a test on God’s part? How do you know the Bible does not contain errors planted simply to test you?

    See, for example, a professor I had at university used to include really bad academic texts in what students were supposed to read. He didn’t tell anyone they were bad, so in class many people started praising them, mindlessly accepting that since they were in this compilation of texts, and since a person with authority had placed them there, their purpose must be to be followed. But what the professor actually expected people to do is to realize that these texts were nonsense, and to criticize them. How do you know God isn’t doing the same?

    As far as the Bible itself goes, there is actually proof that the Old Testament is incredibly old and incredibly accurate to the old texts, also commenting on how serious the Jewish people were about preserving it exactly as it was. Seriously, this was severe OCD-level exactness. For example, a page of the Dead Sea Scrolls can be laid over a page of Isaiah in the original Hebrew, and it will match up perfectly. Unless you picked a different page, but it’ll still match up to the right one. We don’t have copies of Shakespeare’s plays that are this accurate.

    Actually, not quite. The Wikipedia cites The Oxford Companion to Archaeology:

    The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a far older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before. While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around 100 AD

    The more you read about the history of the Bible as a document (which is a fascinating subject), you’ll see that there is a ton of variation: different holy books included, different versions of the texts, highly divergent translations.

    By the way, what brought this about all of a sudden?

    Nothing in particular, really.

  6. I’d suggest browsing Zachary/William Kueker on Facebook. He’s a staunch Calvinist, which seem to be very focused on what’s in the whole of the Bible.

    I’m not as read in the matter (because I don’t believe in it and don’t have a hobby of theology), but from what I think I’ve picked up, there’s likely a verse in the Bible that says it’s true. There’s probably also one that says God would not lie. So, by itself, the Bible is true, because God dictated it is.

    As for how much influence God has in the matter, Calvinism attests that there is no free will, and will cite all sorts of verses to back up that claim. God is entirely in control of His creation (the implication of that and punishment bothers me, but this’ll be my only mention of that stance), so any inconsistencies in the Bible and its formats would be His doing.

    So, the questions may be:
    – In regards to sovereignty, would God contradict what He placed in the Bible?
    – In regards to errors, would it be God’s doing to test us, or, if we have any autonomy, would it be people in control of the materials placing errors intentionally?

    Unless we’re talking about “God” in general rather than Yahweh in particular, in which case I’d actually feel better, since I could accept a god/God that is a dick rather than one that acts like one and claims it’s righteous because He’s God. (Okay, so I slipped more of my stance in here.)

  7. Wolfgang DelaSangre

     /  August 9, 2011

    Well, the thing is that you can say the same thing not only of Christianity, but any religion or belief system with some sort of holy text.

    As for the professor example- well, before I get into that, I’d like to offer some praise for that particular professor; what he did was quite clever. Go exposing blind faith.

    Now, as for the example, I don’t believe God would do that. The Bible does say that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). So if God set up the Bible as a test similar to what your professor did, then there’s really no reason to believe anything in the Bible because the whole thing deserves criticism. If that’s the case, then even 2 Timothy 3:16 is questionable. And if that particular verse is true? Then that means that anything in the Bible that isn’t is a lie, meaning God is a liar and quite possibly a hypocrite. If it isn’t true, then then Christians have the wrong god.

    So there are only three options if God exists: He’s a liar- in which case we can’t trust him no matter what- we’ve got the wrong one, or the Bible is the true Word of God.

  8. I know the Good Book’s good because the Good Book says it’s good, I know the Good Book knows it’s good because a really good book would.

  9. then there’s really no reason to believe anything in the Bible because the whole thing deserves criticism

    There is a reason: reading it and finding in your heart and mind that it is beautiful and true. Anything else is mindless obedience to a text which has only one source of authority – itself.

  10. Wolfgang DelaSangre

     /  August 9, 2011

    The Bible says that the heart is a deceitful thing. You can definitively prove that something is wrong, and someone will still say they believe it.

    In spite of subscribing to Christianity, I don’t follow blind faith. I’m constantly looking for things that connect to God. Oddly enough, I’ve recently found that connection in geometry. Go figure.

  11. Mike

     /  August 22, 2011

    There is an argument the Christian can make to get out of this, and it is based purely on empirical and historical reasoning.

    You can start out with only those parts of the Bible which modern historical critical scholarship considers to be original. From those parts you can make an inference to the historical plausibility of the resurrection of Christ. Thus, you have a good reason to believe those things that we can relatively certainly attribute to Jesus original sayings to be true. Among those things are statements about the reliability of scripture (in other words: If anything is scripture, than it is inerrant). Jesus certainly understood the Old Testament to be scripture, and in a separate argument for the Canon of the New Testament you could then establish that it is similarly inerrant.
    Of course I have not filled out all the blanks in this argument, but in its structure it is completely valid. Voila, bootstrapped an inerrant Bible without presupposing anything other than the mere possibility of God’s existence.