I was looking today at the notes prepared by a church for their Bible study groups, and I had a minor epiphany. Really minor, but I thought worth sharing.
The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their travel to the Promised Land is one of the key events in Jewish religious history, and, therefore, in christian belief as well.
But did it actually happen? Did something like 2 million people cross the Red Sea and through the Sinai, aided and guided by miraculous interventions by God?
Scholars from various disciplines have argued about the facts for years now, but perhaps there is some sort of consensus emerging. Perhaps.
I don’t know about you, but when I read the Old Testament accounts of Joshua and the Israelites invading Canaan, I don’t have any picture of the geography or where the cities were located.
The matter is complicated by the fact that many people feel a lot is at stake. Believers generally want to find support for the Bible, and some unbelievers want to undermine it. Some Jews and Palestinians want to support their rival claims for the land.
So when I read the opinions of historians and archaeologists on whether these events were historical or legendary, I have little on which to base a judgment. I don’t think it’s the most important thing in the world, but it has been interesting to try to ferret out the truth, to read all sides of the question and try to come to an honest and true conclusion.
I’m sure you will have read, and heard it said, that archaeology confirms the accuracy of the Bible. But you may also have heard from sceptics that the Bible isn’t historically accurate. So which is true?
This is a complex matter with a wide variety of conclusions among the experts. I have tried to investigate as impartially as I can, and it seems that both views are true (sometimes) …. and false (sometimes).
Here are seven statements I think can be known to be true.
Some books on Jesus and the New Testament are clearly apologetic in nature, seeking to argue or defend a certain viewpoint, whether it be sceptical or believing.
Other books clearly aim at being academic, impartial, seeking to advance academic opinion.
This book, which is almost a decade old, is kind of both. I have only recently read it, and I think it is worthy of a review.
I don’t believe the Bible is necessarily without error (i.e. inerrant). It doesn’t specifically claim to be, and I don’t think any of the arguments for inerrancy stand up to scrutiny.
But I’m not going to argue about that here.
Rather, I want to suggest ways that this doctrine, which I believe is not Biblical, is also doing great harm to christianity.
In my last three posts (plus an earlier post) I have looked at ways that we may see that biological evolution points to God as the creator, perhaps in ways that many would find unexpected.
- If evolution is true, how can consciousness and free will be explained? No-one knows how human consciousness arises, nor how we can have free choice, except if God created us this way.
- How God changes your brain. Belief in God, religious faith and practices, all strengthen our brains and extend our lives. How did evolution produce that result?
- Are people different to animals, really? The differences between people and animals are greater than non-believers might think. Was this evolution alone, or did Go get involved somewhere?
- Does religion do you harm or good? Scientific studies show that religious belief, on average, leads to better physical and mental health and a greater contribution to society. (I posted this more than a year ago.) Why is that?
In all of these ways, I believe science shows that evolution alone is unlikely to lead to the outcomes we actually see, suggesting that God has used evolution to create something more than a smart animal.
So now I want to look at how we may best understand Genesis in the light of evolution.
Differences among christians
We all know there are many, many matters on which christians hold different views. Many of them are merely matters of opinion and taste (though you would sometimes think they were highly important), but they include many important doctrines too.
For many matters, there are a range of views, though often times two opposing views paint themselves as the only alternative to the slippery slope leading to the opposing view.
Over the next few posts I want to look at some of these divergent ideas and doctrines, and see if there are “middle roads” between the extremes. I hope you may wish to constructively join the conversation.
I start with the Bible, a topic on which I have written many times before, but which merits another look.
Difficult issues series
The inerrancy of the Bible has become a divisive doctrine in recent years. Many churches and colleges, in the US in particular, treat this as a “make or break” doctrine, lecturers have been sacked for denying it, and accusations are made against those who hold a different view. At the same time, a growing number of christians, it seems, are questioning the doctrine or saying flat out that it isn’t true.
Is the doctrine worth the fight? Is it necessary to hold it, or the whole of our faith is thrown into doubt? Is it even true?
This post is a summary of what I have written in In what way is the Bible a special book?, and if you want to consider this matter further, please check out that page.