Thursday, 24 June 2010

Stories & Reading the Bible

Why I am having problems believing in the Bible? I met someone at Easter who said the first 11 chapters of Genesis were literally true, the earth is made in seven days etc, now 99% of scientists agree with evolution, most people in western society agree with evolution, we come from a process of natural selection and adapting to specific environmental terrains to survive and we at one point split from apes to develop our own form of primate species we call man. Every sane human being would agree with evolution, the evidence is overwhelming; we have fossils and bones that we can date from millions of years ago, no problem. The Earth is over 4 billion years old is not a problem as well for sane human beings, the universe is much older, no problem. So why in this modern age do people keep going on about Genesis? Is it that there faith has be literal as doubt is too scary, I wonder what this says about certain interpretations.

The account of Genesis is even more interesting as it was written by effectively two different scholars who were using previous material at about the time of 600BC, while the Jews very exile in Babylon. The writing of Genesis shows a very different if not schizophrenic view of God, with him being show as indecisive, loving, caring and ruthless & very human in the whole book.

This gets now on how do we read the Bible, as a book of fact or as a folk history, written from a specific bias perspective? I personally view the Bible as a folk history, the stories are true from a certain perspective but they have been embellished and added to prove a specific viewpoint, in a way we could view the Bible as propaganda for a Jehovah religion. I also of course view the bible as showing man’s ongoing stupidity, if we looked at the mistakes of people in the past they all suffer from anger, greed, lust, gluttony, avarice and sloth, nothing different from the modern era. Faith means by human nature that we have to have some doubts, which is not a bad thing as it can develop us in so many different ways.


  1. Just stumbled across your blog I noticed that you stated that the book of Genesis was written by two scholars around 600 BC. The majority of scholars I've ever read have never dated it that early the most common date of authorship given is sometime between 1440 and 1400 B.C., between the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and his death.

    I can't help but feel after reading your posts that the reading you have done is somewhat limited to certain 'Scholars' and you seem quick to cast doubt where I really feel such a stance isn't warranted.

    Archaeology continues to show us that the Old Testament can at the very least be trusted where it touches on history and geography.

    For example why not spend some time examining some of the following, Adam and Eve Seal (3500 BC), Amarna Tablets (1400 BC), Babylonian Chronicles (600 BC), Black Obelisk of Shalmanaser (841 BC), Ebla Tablets (2350 BC), Cyrus Cylinder (500 BC), The Hittites (1300 BC), Goliath Inscription (900 BC) and the Moabite stone (850 BC) for starters?

    People may still have doubts yes, but this is why its so important to know that there is sound and reasonable evidence surrounding what we believe to be true. It can be very easy to read a sceptical book and think that, thats the final authority on the matter, this is rarely true. I spend lots of time reading sceptical books that I disagree with but I also read plenty of the opposite views as-well. Biblical faith is not a Richard Dawkins definition of blind faith, historical, biblical faith is trust based on reason, in the sense we trust God with the backing of reason not in the face of it.

    For of list of great books if you would be interested, have a look here:

  2. Please note, I said it was written by two scholars using previous material, the examples you have given of evidence I have also looked at, the problem we have with the Old Testament is that we have no examples of Genesis before the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is 150BC to 70AD, most analysis says that the Genesis text was written between 1450BC and 300BC, the Conservatives say 1450BC and Minimalists say 300BC, I personally go with the argument for about 600BC, the time of the exile of the Jews in Babylon where scholars using manuscripts and records that they had saved from the seize of Jerusalem, which where taken and written in the current scriptural form, the evidence I have read for that makes sense, as the Jews were trying to make sense of what had happened and why their kingdom no longer existed, if anyone shows overwhelming contrary evidence I will accept that. I am mainly using books such as Karen Armstrong’s In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996).

    Please also note, I do not deny the events of the Old Testament, I am just saying that they are written from a certain point of view, in a certain way for a certain audience, my problem with the current Conservative Christian viewpoint, is this is not taken into account that the way of storytelling and oral history of that time is different from now, I would like Christians to be a little more open minded and discuss problems with Scripture. I am personally of the opinion that narrative is exceptionally important when reading scriptures and it is something that we have lost, the Old Testament is a story and when read in the right order tells the story of a nation which we could say “Struggles with God”.

    Also thank you for your comments, I have been hoping and praying that this blog might get people thinking and discussing a lot of the questions that need to be considered about scripture in the modern age, you have helped restore that faith. I am looking forward reading some of the books that you have put on apologetics.

  3. In what sense is Genesis by two different people? Having spent the last two years studying the book through with a number of people it very much has the feel of being one single piece of literature, thoroughly consistent throughout - it bears no marks of being editted together. Sometimes people approach it with a hermeneutic of suspicion and find holes but I really don't see them. Likewise it's approach to storytelling makes a lot of sense if it's a book written in the wilderness - with a strong theme suggesting that to go into the land rather than back to Egypt is the right move. I'd love to see some examples that make the case that it's patched together or written later.

    The OT certainly is a story and Genesis is the foundation stone of the whole thing - which in no way means it's not historical (the gospel are story too, but they are definitely historical...). Granted we want to take science seriously we surely don't need to sacrifice the Pentateuch or the rest of the Bible on the laboratory altar.

  4. Compare the text of Genesis chapter 1 v26 to v31 to Genesis Chapter 2 v4 to v7, you have two different accounts of the creation of human beings and life on earth. It was only when this was pointed out to me did I notice the differences in the text, chapter 1 and chapter 2 do not fit together evenly, it is almost essentially two different textual sources have been put next to each other. The main point is that in Chapter 1 we have the normal ordered account of creation, which we always remember, in chapter 2 v4 to 7, we have God making man when there was only dust on the earth.

    I recommend the following book:

    Karen Armstrong’s In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996)

    I originally have always considered them one account of creation, but there are differences, I am not saying the Karen Armstrong’s book is correct, but I am now convinced that Genesis was essentially written by two people, using different sources and records from the time.

  5. It's true that those chapters tell a slightly different story, but one could make the same observations about the four gospels.

    It is possible to tell true narrative from different angles and for different purposes. I don't think we have to say that it's two different people or contradictory.

    It's just how literature and narrative work, and it works very effectively imho. Chapter 1 demonstrates the spreading goodness of the Triune God who overcomes darkness, emptiness and formlessness... chapter 2 sets up the first temple where man and this same God walk together.

    The trajectories of both narratives, combined with chapter 3 flow through the rest of Genesis and the rest of Scripture for that matter. Themes of light/dark, multiplication/fruitfulness, days, the temple, the seed run through the whole volume. Works like Greg Beale's The Temple & The Church's Mission and Stephen Dempster's Dominion & Dynasty, are helpful in seeing this.

  6. Please note that the Gospels tell different view of Christ, from different perspectives of the authors, orginally there were something like 39 different Gospels all written by different authors. I am at the moment convinced that Genesis was written from different sources at about 600BC to 450BC, or came into the form we know it at about that point in time.

    I would recommend Diarmaid MacCulloch's "A History of Christianity" as he says about some of the problems with Genesis. All I am asking is people to ask questions of what they are reading, who wrote it, why was it wrote and keep an open mind.

  7. I agree it's good to be reading with questions, equally there is more coherence to see that is often acknowledged, particularly in a lot of commentaries that get so into detail that they miss the big flow of things.

  8. The narrative of the Old Testament has a certain flow, I recommend the The Daily Bible In Chronological Order 365 Daily Readings, the author has decided to take all the books of the bible and put everything in chronological order, this is especially helpful when looking at the prophets as the writings are placed next to the events in Chronicles and Kings, it makes the whole process of reading it more coherent. I have studied several Near Eastern civilisations and you notice an amazing similarity between the worship required in the books of Moses and the other civilisations, there is an excpetional amount of overlap between Mesopotamian literature and the early chapters of Genesis.

  9. A chronological re-structuring can be helpful, but the books do come as carefully structured books - things are placed where they are and when they are for a purpose, as they are in the gospels. Harmonised readings risk obscuring the authors purpose even if they do help us get a feel for the flow of the narrative - history isn't just ordered facts, it's about why you're telling it, to whom and when... and about what you're not saying too.

    It's helpful to see the extra-biblical resonances, but just as important to see how the books hang together as books - the themes that run through Genesis, how those same themes run through Exodus - the same kind of camera angles, the same soundtrack, the same stockphrases that show how coherent the story is, and help us to see what it's really about.

    Reading through the Bible is like watching a DVD boxset series straight through - rather than hanging together various series in chronological order. Not least because each series tends to exist in a different universe, with substantially different assumptions about how reality hangs together.

  10. Please note that the Gospels tell different view of Christ, from different perspectives of the authors, orginally there were something like 39 different Gospels all written by different authors.

    There weren't originally 39 Gospels, that's pure fiction. There weren't, what we do have is four Gospels or better framed Greek Hellenistic biographies and the 'other' gospels that don't date before the end of the second century. Have a read of the Gospel of the Egyptians to get a taste of how different they are to the biographical accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    Gospel of Egyptians -

    Enjoying your thoughts though Andy even if I may disagree on certain matters. I've written a series on why we can trust the Canonical Gospels on my blog. If you wanted further reading, can I recommend 'Can we trust the Gospels?' By Mark D Roberts. Like you said its good to ask questions :P

  11. Just a side thought do you know Robert and Julie Pearson at the Bedford Church?

  12. I stand corrected on 39 gospels, it is 37 depend on how you count them, some would say 60 if you include lost gospels, a large number of what we would call gospels were written in the 1st Century/2nd century AD, we use four now, the three synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John, there was an argument when compiling the New Testament why did we need four gospels in scriptures when 2 may have done. The other gospels such as Peter, Barnabas, Judas, Mary, Thomas, etc, did not get included in the New Testament due to inaccuracies or not considered authentic. Of the gospels about ten we have that are complete, a number of infancy gospels, some partially recovered gospels, some reconstructed and a large number that have been lost, the number of complete, Infancy, partially recovered and reconstructed gospels is 37, it is actually 60 if you include lost gospels, that have been referenced in the certain documents, whether the non-canonical gospels can be trusted is a good argument, or are written as propaganda for certain Christian viewpoints such as Gnosticism. More than likely there were other gospels written, but there names have been lost in history.

    Interestingly the Islamic view of Jesus seems to come from the Gospel of Barnabas; there are an incredible number of problems with this document.

    I am not sure if I know the Pearson’s or not, the church is very big and I know quite a lot of the people, but quite a few people only by sight.