Bible Talk (Part 1)

I’ve been waiting for this.

Why (or why not) is the Bible a reliable source?

Here are some quick responses from others. This question specifically: Is the Bible a reliable source of knowledge?

It feels like we need to define source. And we need to know: a source of what? I think we need a more flushed out explanation of what you mean by reliable. The dictionary definition suggests at least two uses of the word. The first is in the sense that something is dependable, the second usage indicates that something is reproducible.

If we’re relying on the Bible as a source of knowledge, are we asking if the writings of the Bible provide us insights which we can depend on? And depend on for what? Truth springs first to my mind, but truth and knowledge are even more slippery subjects than the one above.

So, if we’re relying on the Bible for knowledge on what is knowable and what is not, even Descartes, a religious man himself, would likely find the Bible unreliable or at least inadequate as a source of knowledge. If you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible as being a product of the omnipotent being described in the Bible, then it must be reliable. The literal interpretation runs into logical problems when contradictions are found within the text.

I have heard while discussing the Bible: we are said to be created by God in his image with free will. However, God is also all knowing and all seeing, beyond space and time. How is it that God has given us the ability to take free action, but is timeless and thus, knows what we have already done. At least when taken with a common definition of the terms.

The concept of omnipotence presents many seeming contradictions in fact, such as in The Problem of Evil. From my perspective, if there is, somehow, a self contained explanation for all of these contradictions, It’s not worth the time spent finding, especially since 2000+ years of many humans who thought longer and harder about the issue than myself and we still have no consensus of the meaning of the knowledge within.

Quite the opposite from my perspective. Consider that Creationists will feel differently than Protestants, from Catholics, Born again, Lutherans, Calvinists, Mormons, New age spiritualists, etc… All forms of literature are written with ambiguity inherent to them. We can’t write out the definitions of all words (which also change through time) and communicate all perspectives on all issues in a single book. Like a 2000 year old game of telephone, the original intended message and use of the text is almost certainly lost forever.

As such, when individuals come to read the text of the Bible, we will see it through the lens of its translations, of the prevalent interpretations in the modern day, of those texts considered canonical and those not, and finally we arrive at our own interpretations; typically, one or more of the above. Each group is distinct from the others because of some fundamental ideological line of disagreement between their interpretation. Who is right, what is true and what is false? What will be the tools by which we decide? Should we look for those tools within the Bible?

Still, the fact that the Christian tradition is so prevalent is compelling. At the very least it suggests that there is something in the Bible which is easily embraced. Having an ideology is an essential part of being a human being and some will be better than others at serving particular needs. From the secular perspective, my views on the prevalence of Christian Ideology is informed by Richard Dawkins’, The Selfish Gene.

Within the book, Dr. Dawkins originated the idea of the “meme”. The concept parallels that of Darwinian evolution, except instead of the transmission of genetic material, it refers to the transfer of ideas copied from mind to mind. In this same sense, different ideas have different levels of fitness, i.e. the ability to transmit themselves more effectively. For example, the Christian tradition has a long history of evangelism which other religions, such as the polytheism of ancient Greece, do not necessarily share. Thus, over time, one idea will naturally “win” out over the other. This has many implications to do with Darwinian Evolution as well, discussed more deeply in the book.

The concept of the meme speaks to the second definition of reliable, as in dependable. The teachings of the Bible have proven themselves to be a dependable source of knowledge, at the very least for all purposes necessary for reproducing themselves. Can we rely on the Bible for particularly effective strategies on how to avert impending oil depletion and climate catastrophe? Probably not. As individuals, can we find something within the Bible which will help us to get through a tough spot and keep us upbeat? Almost certainly.

Nice, and I’d like to offer responses to the following:

  • “The literal interpretation runs into logical problems when [contradictions] are found within the text.”
    This assumes that a “literal interpretation” deals with form rather than content. Why not say that the Bible is literally true, including the contradictions? The conversation need not always be one of factual certainty as much as one of spiritual understanding and conversation. We must assume that this topic, in itself, is the reason for the seeming contradictions.

  • “How is it that God has given us the ability to take free action, but is timeless and thus, knows what we have already done.”
    This assumes that we would be able to understand such a thing, and even frames a misguided dichotomy around our inability to understand. When we consider ourselves as but part of a larger-dimensional temporal structure we allow for one possible comprehension.

  • “Like a 2000 year old game of telephone, the original intended message and use of the text is almost certainly lost forever.”
    This is a faith position that would likely lead to a fruitless experience of reading the Bible. We can just as easily posit that the original message is timeless and thus always available to us here-now.

To be fair, I will also post my own insight into this question :slight_smile:

The Bible is as reliable as it gets.

Let me clarify this first.

All text is reliable when studied as scripture. Scripture is a state of mind, a starting point, for fruiting insight from any set of symbols. There is a tremendous power in starting from this point, and no text is better qualified to be studied as scripture than our Bible.

(Let’s immediately establish that other scripture is possible. This morning’s newspaper may be scripture, and it’s certain that we would gain insight from approaching it in this way. But for this discussion, I will adopt the traditional convention that the Bible is scripture.)

Scripture-mind starts with the premise: “This text is absolutely true as an expression of the Truth of God.”

All too often, this mindset is taken as ignorant and blind to logic-reason. But it’s important to understand that logic and reason are symptoms of a more fundamental cause. Thus, logic and reason are tools of thought which can be used to construct many different structures. The point of this is that logic and reason are not starting points in themselves; rather, they are tools to develop a foundational starting point. Functionally, when we start with the premise that “This text is absolutely true as an expression of God,” we begin to use logic and reason to support this position.

The point of scripture is not to establish a right-wrong paradigm in the world; rather, we use scripture to gain profound insights even from things we would usually discount as trash. This is the power of our starting premise; even when we encounter something that seems wrong or misguided, we are called to try many other perspectives and interpretations in order for the scripture to make sense in a profound way. And speaking from experience, it is quite the universe-expanding paradigm shift to discover deep profound life-truth from something that was once relegated to the recycling bin.

Also, Jake, sorry for being curt with the reply. I had taken your introductory sentence to imply that all of the following writing was simply a set of quick responses from others. I will return here shortly.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts here, @jboes. Now seeing your answer as whole, I believe there is one particular aspect in it that is worthy of a continued conversation: namely, symbolism.

The topic question is certainly vague, and it’s noteworthy that your response focused on a particular kind of thing (knowledge) that seems to be tied strongly to the symbols used to describe it. We can spend centuries refining (or even arguing!) definitions of words, but I’d like to take a moment to step back and offer one take on what this is doing, and how it may be limiting to our experience of All-of-This-Universe-containing-our-Self.

To be fully clear, here is the point I hope to convey:
It is just as much a faith-position to hold that knowledge is dependent upon its symbols as it is independent.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to consider that imagination itself is not confined by the words/symbols used to describe/communicate it. Of course, this may be true for everything else…including our self.

Words/thoughts as symbols are merely neutral; they reflect a deeper insight collapsed into a particular set of scribbles. And so, of course, I can talk about Knowledge. But is it the same knowledge with which you speak?

More fundamentally, is knowledge (in its fullest sense) even valuable? What about Peace? What about Contentment? Is your Knowledge my Contentment?

If we begin our study with the premise that the symbols are more important than the underlying meaning, we would forever be living in the zero-sum-world. But this, admittedly, is just another faith-position.

Symbols may reflect the world of the physical; my giving you an apple means I lose an apple.
But symbols may also reflect the world of the spiritual; my giving you joy means I gain joy.
Slightly more concretely, symbols may reflect the world of the mental; my giving you an idea means we share the idea. If you accept the idea, I still have all of the idea (and now you do, too). Moreover, if you embrace the idea, this idea is strengthened in my own mind.

Admittedly again, these are also faith-positions. But this is where we can invite the scientific method.
Namely: Which faith-position contributes to the Knowledge-Joy-Peace-Contentment that is our collective ideal?

Let me remind the reader that it is yet another faith-position to believe that faith-positions cannot be tested.
But what if our faith-positions can be tested? How would we test them? What would be the measure?
This is the type of question I hope to raise here now. For we can perhaps use symbols to describe the results of our tests, but the results themselves are so intimately personal that they crumble Symbolism’s structure.