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REPLY #57a TO
"RELIGION"



Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) Hey buddy. I'm replying to your reply. I wrote you a few days ago and you posted your response as "Reply #54 to 'Religion'". I have a few things to say about your response to my response. Thanks for answering me.
(MB) I answer everybody who sends me a response. Of course, there are times when the writer uses a bogus return e-mail address. Can't imagine why somebody might not want to hear what I have to say...*grin*


(R) Please read it carefully. I know it is long and I apologize, but it is very important.
(MB) The length of a response makes no difference to me so long as there is some useful content and good debate material.


(R) I am a bit up front in some sections, and perhaps a little rude. Please don't take it to heart. I don't want to turn you off to the Gospel, I am just passionate about it.
(MB) My overriding concern is with the facts and opinions being debated and not with anything else that might be said. The best debate issues are the ones which inspire passionate opinions!


(R) Take as much time as you want to respond: days, weeks, months. I will be waiting to hear your response. Have fun!
(MB) I always have fun doing this. Let's see what you have to say this time...


Which God? If I may assume that you are referring to the God of the Bible, my skepticism does not derive from never having heard any or all of the stories about him. It's just that stories themselves prove nothing and there's no independent evidence upon which to base a belief in that God(or any other God) or to blindly accept the stories as read.
(R) Yes, I am referring to the God of the Bible. You are right, stories don't prove anything. However, there is independent evidence upon which to base a belief in the God of the Bible. One of these is the unity of Scripture. The Bible claims to be the Word of God. "All Scripture is God-breathed"(2 Timothy 3:16). The fact that the Bible claims to be the Word of God is not evidence, however, because other books claim the same thing. The Bible was composed by men, but its unity reveals the hand of the Almighty.
(MB) "Unity"??? The Bible is only "unified" in the respect that it features the same central character throughout. But, the same can be said for the holy books of any other religion -- most of which also claim to be inspired by the deity or deities which those books feature. There is nothing at all special about the Bible in this regard and no reason to set it apart from or above any other religion's holy book(s). Independent evidence for the existence of any God must come from sources other than any given religion's holy book(s). That's what "independent" means. To use any holy book as some sort of proof of its own validity is the essence of circular reasoning.


(R) The Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years by more than forty different authors from a variety of backgrounds. It was written on three different continents and in three different languages(Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The Bible contains many controversial subjects yet agrees on everything.
(MB) That is easily refuted just by examining some of the numerous internal contradictions between various Bible verses. These contradictions run the gamut from different and incompatible versions of facts between different books relating the same stories to disputes on the very natures of God and Jesus.     Examples of factual contradictions include 2 Samuel 24:9 (which says 800,000 men drew the sword) vs. 1 Chronicles 21:5 (which says it was 1,100,000), Matthew 27:5 (which says Judas died by hanging himself) vs. Acts 1:18 (which says he died by falling, bursting open, and having his innards gush out), and, of course, the famous problem with the conflicting genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.
    Examples of doctrinal and philosophical contradictions include Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16 (which say Man is justified by faith alone) vs. James 2:20 (which says the faith without works is insufficient), Deuteronomy 24:16 (which says that children are not to be punished for the sins of their parents) vs. Exodus 20:5, 34:7 and Isaiah 14:21 (where God orders such punishment), and the ever-interesting 1 John 3:6 ("Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not") vs. 1 John 1:8 ("If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us").
    It also seems fairly obvious that Peter, Paul, and Jesus have three differing views about what Christians are supposed to believe or practice. To relate just a few of the numerous examples, Jesus says at least three different times that his teachings are not meant for non-Jews (Matthew 10:5, Matthew 15:24, John 4:22) while Paul, in Acts 13:47, says that the Lord commanded him to "be a light for the Gentiles". Peter, in Acts 2:22, says that the ability to do signs and wonders can be used to prove that one is approved by God while Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, says that Satan and his followers can also do signs and wonders. Peter, in Acts 15:8-10, counsels that adherence to the Law is no longer necessary, while Jesus, in Matthew 5:8, advocates strict adherence to the Law.
    It's clear that the Bible, when read in toto, presents a rather confusing story. Yes, it holds that God and Jesus are #1, but that's about it as far as any "unity" goes between the stories.



(R) From start to finish, there is one unfolding plan of God's salvation for mankind. This salvation is through Jesus(John 14:6). Jesus Himself testified He was the theme of the Bible(John 5:39, 46, 47)(Luke 24:27). The Old Testament is the preparation, the gospels are the manifestation, the Book of Acts is the propagation, the epistles the explanation, and revelation the consummation.
(MB) The Gospels were written *after* the epistles. It is now widely accepted that the Epistles of Paul were the first writings concerning Christian belief. It is more likely, therefore, that the Gospels were written to flesh out the philosophy of Paul. The four Gospels that made it into the New Testament were the survivors of several dozen Gospels that were considered for inclusion at the Councils of Nicea, Hippo, and Carthage between 325 and 397 CE.


(R) The entire Bible is a unity with each part needing the others to be complete.
(MB) It's difficult to see how the books can make an orderly progression of a unified story when their selection, ordering, and canonization didn't take place until three centuries after they were written!


(R) It this isn't amazing, I give you a challenge. Find ten people from your local area having similar backgrounds, who speak the same language, and all are from basically the same culture. Then separate them and ask them to write their opinion on only one controversial subject, such as the meaning of life. When they have finished, compare the conclusions. Do they agree? Of course not.
(MB) So, what does that prove? I'll bet that those same ten people couldn't agree on *anything* -- important or not. The longer the time between the event in question and the stated opinions of those individuals concerning that event, the more muddled the accounts are likely to be. That's what we observe in the contradictory stories in the Bible which speak of events that took place anywhere from decades to centuries prior to having been written down.


(R) But the Bible did not consist of merely ten authors, but forty. It was not written in one generation, but over a period of 1500 years; not by authors with the same education, culture, and language, but with vastly different education, many different cultures, from three continents and three different languages, and finally not just one subject but hundreds. And yet the Bible is a unity which cannot be explained by coincidence or collusion.
(MB) The "unity" consists only of the main theme -- as should be expected since that is the overriding reason for the Bible's existence in the first place. The details, however, quickly degrade into a murky mess upon closer inspection. Then, consider that most Christians' ideas about what's written in the Bible are even foggier and more contradictory than the actual stories themselves.


(R) Other evidence is the testimony of the early Church. 11 of the 12 original apostles were martyred for their faith. Why would they give their lives for something they "made up"? All they had to do was renounce their faith in Jesus. Yet they saw His resurrection and knew He was alive.
(MB) "The cause" overrides any personal concerns. We see that happening even today. If the original apostles had preferred self-preservation to the message they were attempting to spread, that message would have quickly died away and been forgotten. Remember, also, that part of "the message" was to help free the Jews from the Roman occupation. Obviously, there was more involved than just spreading stories about Jesus.


(R) Other evidence is archaeological evidence. There is so much evidence here I don't have enough paper.
(MB) This is secular history and is no verification of either the existence or the divinity of God and/or Jesus.


(R) Scientists used to say "The pool of Bethesda? What is that? It never existed! This proves the error of the Bible!" They said that, of course, until archaeologists dug it up.
(MB) Which "scientists" were those? The pool of Bethesda was uncovered over 80 years ago, so any supposed objections must have been very old, indeed. By the way, the description of it in the Bible doesn't match the reality of the archaeological evidence.


(R) "Pontius Pilate? Who's that? He never existed!" They said that, of course, until his name was discovered on engraved stones with Caesars.
(MB) This is not in accordance with the facts. Pontius Pilate was known from Roman records and from the histories of Josephus and Tacitus. As to the particulars of his supposed trial of Jesus....well, that's another issue entirely.


(R) Prophecy is another evidence I will discuss later.
(MB) And one which will also prove to be groundless.


Not true. Jesus repeatedly referred to God in terms that make it quite clear that God is somebody different from and greater than Jesus himself. For example, see Matthew 19:17 and 27:46, and John 5:30, 6:38, 7:16, 14:28, and 20:17.
(R) (Here you were referring to my statement that Jesus claimed to be God.) Jesus did claim to be God! In John 14:9 Jesus says "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." In John 8:58, Jesus tells us that He existed before Abraham, "before Abraham was born, I am." In John 10:30, He claimed to be equal with God, "I and the Father are one."
(MB) So, why does John have Jesus saying contradictory things about himself and why do his accounts not square with those in the other three Gospels? After all, Jesus can't claim to be one with the Father if he also says "my Father is greater than I".


(R) Jesus claimed the ability to forgive sins(Mark 2:5-7), which the Bible teaches was something that God alone could do(Isaiah 43:25).
(MB) Such a claim is not proof that one actually has that ability, nor is it proof that the claimant has become co-equal with God.


(R) The New Testament equated Jesus as the Creator of the universe(John 1:3), and that He is the one who holds everything together(Colossians 1:17).
(MB) It is important to note that those are not claims made by Jesus himself, but claims of those who are writing in support of Jesus' divinity. They do not automatically gain validity just because of the subject involved.


(R) Not only did his friends notice that He claimed to be God, but so did His enemies. There may be some doubt today among the skeptics who refuse to examine the evidence, but there was no doubt on the part of the Jewish authorities.
(MB) The doubts arise *from* examining the evidence, not by refusing to look at it -- and the only evidence available is the contradictory accounts in the Gospels.


(R) When Jesus asked them why they wanted to stone Him, they replied, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God"(John 10:33).
(MB) First, merely claiming to be the Son of God was not an offense against Jewish law, much less one that could have resulted in stoning.
    Second, the Gospel stories contain several errors of historical fact concerning the procedures observed by the Sanhedrin and the dictates of Jewish law that combine to cast serious doubts about them -- perhaps the most critical being that it was illegal under the law to begin such a trial on the day before the Sabbath (which is when Matthew, Mark, and Luke say it took place).



(R) Why should we believe Jesus was the Son of God? Miracles and fulfilled prophecy are some reasons.
(MB) First, a "miracle" is nothing more than an event that an observer can't explain. If I could bring some of today's technological wonders back in time and demonstrate them for the same crowd that is said to have followed Jesus, I could also "perform miracles".
    Second, as stated above, the Bible also says that Satan can perform miracles. Furthermore, Jesus states that his followers will also be able to perform miracles. In addition, Exodus tells of the ability of the magicians of Pharaoh to duplicate some of the "miracles" performed by Moses and Aaron (who were, of course, not divine in their own right). Therefore, miracles themselves are not sufficient cause to believe in the divinity of the performer.
    Third, we only have the Bible's say-so that any miracles were actually performed. There is no independent verification of any of the miracles attributed to Jesus (or to anybody else, for that matter).
    Fourth, the Gospels themselves disagree on the details surrounding several of the purported miracles of Jesus.



(R) The main reason, or the sign which Jesus Himself would demonstrate that He was the Son of God, was His resurrection from the dead(Matt. 12:40, John 2:19,21). Anyone wishing to refute the case for Christianity must explain away the story of the resurrection. Therefore, according to the Bible, Jesus proves to be the Son of God by coming back from the dead(Romans 1:4). The evidence is overwhelming that Jesus did rise from the grave, and it is this fact that proves Jesus to be God.
(MB) One needs only to read the Bible itself to refute this. Jesus was certainly not the only person to have risen from the dead, so that incident itself can't be taken as any proof that Jesus is God (even if we accept the absurd notion that God could die in the first place). Also, Jesus was not the only person ever to have raised another person from the dead. Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-22), Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-35), Peter (Acts 9:36-41), and Paul (Acts 20:9-10) are all said to have raised at least one person from the dead.
    As to the "overwhelming evidence" that Jesus actually rose from the dead, once again we only have the Bible's say-so for that. There are no independent accounts with which to verify the story. Also, the various Gospel accounts differ in several critical details that are enough to inspire grave doubts (no pun intended) about any purported resurrection. Ask yourself some of these questions:
    What time did the women visit the tomb? Which women came? Was the tomb open or closed when they arrived? Whom did they see at the tomb? Were they inside or outside the tomb? Were they standing or sitting? Did the women tell the disciples what they had seen? How did the women find out that Jesus had risen? Since these questions are unreconcilable in the Gospel accounts, the veracity of the entire story must be seriously questioned.



(R) The verses that you quote above in opposition to my argument are misunderstandings of the verses meaning and context. You quote Matthew 19:17 where the rich young ruler called Jesus "Good Teacher". Jesus seems to rebuke him by saying "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." Jesus did not deny He was God to the young ruler. He simply asked him to examine the implications of what he was saying. In effect, Jesus was saying to him, "Do you realize what you are saying when you call Me Good? Are you saying I am God?" The young man did not realize the implications of what he was saying. Thus Jesus was forcing him to a very uncomfortable dilemma.
(MB) This is the standard apologetics interpretation of what is really a simple and straight question asked by Jesus. The question is a perfectly understandable and honest one if Jesus is actually a mortal man who is preaching the love and worship of God and involves no linguistic trickery.


(R) Either Jesus was good and God, or else He was bad and man. A good God or a bad man, but not merely a good man. Those are the real alternatives with regard to Christ. For no good man would claim to be God when he was not.
(MB) Agreed. But, since Jesus' own words show that he does not claim to be God, he can still be a good man. He is not placing the ruler under any dilemma.


(R) The liberal Christ, who was only a good moral teacher but not God, is a figment of human imagination.
(MB) It wasn't until the Council of Nicea in 325 CE that Christian doctrine changed Jesus from a man to God in the flesh. Therefore, it would seem that Jesus' contemporaries viewed him as a man -- albeit, a rather special man.


(R) The other verses you quote in opposition come from a misunderstanding of the Trinity. This is a very difficult doctrine to explain with my finite mind. There is one God who has revealed Himself in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three persons are the one God.
(MB) It would seem that the only people who misunderstand this concept are the ones who believe in it. Nowhere in the Bible is any mention made of a Trinity and many verses make it clear that there can be no such thing. For example, Deuteronomy 4:39, Isaiah 45:6, 1 Samuel 2:2, and 2 Samuel 7:22 all clearly state that there is none other than God -- in other words, that God is a unity and is neither a composite entity or included in any multi-part Trinity. In addition, Genesis 6:3, God says "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh". This means that Jesus could not be God if he existed in a flesh and blood human body. The concept of the Trinity is nothing but an invention of Christian doctrine. Furthermore, since God is said to have raised Jesus from the dead, God and Jesus cannot be one and the same.


(R) God has to speak. He speaks through His breath, the Holy Spirit. Try to talk without breath. Can you do it? No.
(MB) Then again, I'm not an omnipotent being, either. Why should such a being have limits placed upon his ability to speak? Why, indeed, should such a being need to speak at all?


(R) The spoken word of God, through His breath, is also God. We call that the Word. The Word is Jesus(John 1:1-3).
(MB) Actually, all John says is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But, Genesis 6:3 denies that such a thing could actually happen. Finally, let's remember that this is nothing but an attribution of John and is something that is not echoed in any of the other Gospels.


(R) So in a sense, it is kind of like us. We have a body. We need to speak. We speak through breath which is also part of us. What we speak through that breath, our word, is also a part of us. So we have three parts to us that make up one person: our body, our breath, and our word. This comparison is lacking but it helps me understand anyway.
(MB) So, a non-sequitur comparison helps you understand? It should be fairly obvious that spoken words are not "us". They are the vibrations of air molecules produced by a coordinated series of actions of mouth, lips, tongue, vocal cords, lungs, and diaphragm. In reality, this is little different from the noises made by any animal capable of growling, barking, meowing, mooing, etc. Also, it is debatable that we "need" to speak. Mute people can certainly get along well and there are others who take vows of silence and also get along well. "Breath" itself is not a part of our body. It is the result of the motion of the diaphragm that allows gases to enter or exit the lungs.



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