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Hi everyone,

As some of you may remember, in the past few months I've been struggling with the Church in general. It's come down to the reliability of the Bible particularly.

I'd like to ask a simple question, for ideas and advice, then give two examples of what I mean:

How do we know that the Bible we have is the original material, and not edited to comply with later agendas to a degree that changes the original meaning?

Example #1:

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 (c. 57 AD): Paul says he left Damascus because the pagan Nabataean king Aretas sent guards to seize him.

Acts 9:23-25 (c. 80-90 AD): the historian says that Paul left Damascus because "the Jews" watched the gate, plotting to kill him.

These two claims about Paul's adversaries are approx. 20-25 years apart. We know that the animosity between Christians and Jews was becoming worse during this time. Could it be that the writer of Acts inserted (yet another) polemic against "the Jews", changing the text to fit his agenda?

I realize that both stories could be true: both the King & the Jews wanted to seize Paul -- but neither story seems aware of the other one, in the text itself. There's no hint or mention of the other possibility, across the two sources. Since Paul is the better source for his own experiences, it seems like the writer of Acts changed history to fit an agenda.

Example #2:

Assuming, with most Biblical scholars, that the chronological order of writing for the Gospels is Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, I have a concern about the discrepancies in the Resurrection narratives, in one very specific way:

There is a man at the tomb, then an angel, then two men, then two angels. There is an upgrade, a downgrade with a multiplication, and then an upgrade.

It looks to me like this is an attempt, over time, to make the story more "impressive". Matthew even has the angel descending from Heaven and moving the stone away himself. It's almost as grand as the three heads reaching to the clouds and the talking cross in the "Gospel of Peter".

Ehrman says (based on this) that the later, mythologizing Gnostic gospels are not separate traditions from the canonical Gospels, but rather simply took part in this "escalation of facts" that was already happening in the early days.

I'd really like to remain a Catholic, let alone a Christian, but frankly if the source of our Faith is a patchwork of edited, redacted, interpolated, and unsure texts, I'm not entire sure what to think anymore about the things we "know".

I know you're not all Biblical scholars, but I've exhausted just listening to sermons/reading apologetics, and I'm trying to find more personalized answer to my questions. I just don't know where to look. So if anyone has any suggestions for reading based on this post, please give me a hint!
It seems to me that you are looking for reasons not to believe. The deposit of the faith is a multi faceted patchwork. It is not a forensically worded witness statement.

I think of it as a treasure chest that you can spend your whole lifetime exploring to discover new gems. Each one is precious and tells a different story.

God Bless you and accompany you in the great adventure that is the Faith.
Well, thanks for replying. I was raised agnostic-atheist, and I've always kept the "forensic mindset". Being an archivist-librarian at heart and in work, I think that way in all things. Maybe I've not been "transformed by the renewing of my mind" enough, but God creates all sorts. Telling an intellectual not to be so intellectual doesn't address the problem any more than telling a simple man to be more academic.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and compared with modern Biblical texts, they found that both copies coincided together.
I notice, H., that you refer to Ehrman.  Is that Bart Ehrman?


It doesn't seem to me, solely on the basis of your post, that you're looking for reasons not to believe, as majellan would have it.  God knows, there are plenty of those!!!  At the risk of over-simplifying and sounding trite, the Bible (and Christianity) is chock full of paradoxes, some of which truly boggle the mind and could even lead one away from the Faith if not somehow reconciled.  I'd suggest you take a look at this book.  It has been pivotal for me in bringing me back to Christianity when I was ready to abandon it altogether.  Amongst many other things, the author, Athol Dickson, discusses (near the end of the book) the issue of the paradoxes I refer to, quite specifically and gives, imnsho, good, clear, cogent explanations for them. 

It's a great book and a great read, full of humor, humility, and insight.  Check it out!
Thank you, J. Michael. Something concrete. I like it!

Yes, I mean Bart Ehrman. He's one of the few atheist types I've heard who seems more scholarly than sensational. I somewhat trust his judgments. Of course, he studied under one of the more famous (forget his name) American Biblical professors of the 20th century who, with the same material, remained a believer. Ehrman didn't. It often seems to depend on what you bring to the Faith just as much as what the Faith offers to you.

I think my main difficulty goes beyond even whether there's a Contradiction Here or a Paradox There. Rather, it extends to the level of how we even know the assumptions we make about sin, atonement, forgiveness, etc., are true -- and why we believe the Church, as the Church, has authority to say "X is divine revelation, and Y is not". Is it solely a-priori, or what? How do we "vet" the Church? Can we?

That's a lot of stuff in one shot, I know...
(08-07-2016, 03:14 PM)Heorot Wrote: [ -> ]Thank you, J. Michael. Something concrete. I like it!

Yes, I mean Bart Ehrman. He's one of the few atheist types I've heard who seems more scholarly than sensational. I somewhat trust his judgments. Of course, he studied under one of the more famous (forget his name) American Biblical professors of the 20th century who, with the same material, remained a believer. Ehrman didn't. It often seems to depend on what you bring to the Faith just as much as what the Faith offers to you.

I think my main difficulty goes beyond even whether there's a Contradiction Here or a Paradox There. Rather, it extends to the level of how we even know the assumptions we make about sin, atonement, forgiveness, etc., are true -- and why we believe the Church, as the Church, has authority to say "X is divine revelation, and Y is not". Is it solely a-priori, or what? How do we "vet" the Church? Can we?

That's a lot of stuff in one shot, I know...

Good points, especially the insight that what we bring to the table in the first place can affect our outcome. The way I deal with it is to first and foremost be a man that accepts on Faith  the reality of Jesus Christ even if I am not a man that puts much stock in reason.  I also tend to be more of a fideist,believing that Tradition is much more reliable than reason or reasoned apologetics.  It's also why I am more Orthodox than Roman Catholic,or why I tend to be more comfortable within an Eastern setting, with Eastern theology etc.

Prayer also helps.  The way I see it you enter into a mystery and let it form you.  I don't think there are any silver bullet answers to your questions. This life of faith is one of trusting and walking through luminous darkness.  We trust the scriptures, the Divine Services and the traditions of our Faith because they have been handed onto us,and because we trust that the stories and symbols that are contained within have the power to give meaning and blessing to our lives the way they did for our ancestors.


(08-07-2016, 03:14 PM)Heorot Wrote: [ -> ]Thank you, J. Michael. Something concrete. I like it!

Yes, I mean Bart Ehrman. He's one of the few atheist types I've heard who seems more scholarly than sensational. I somewhat trust his judgments. Of course, he studied under one of the more famous (forget his name) American Biblical professors of the 20th century who, with the same material, remained a believer. Ehrman didn't. It often seems to depend on what you bring to the Faith just as much as what the Faith offers to you.

I think my main difficulty goes beyond even whether there's a Contradiction Here or a Paradox There. Rather, it extends to the level of how we even know the assumptions we make about sin, atonement, forgiveness, etc., are true -- and why we believe the Church, as the Church, has authority to say "X is divine revelation, and Y is not". Is it solely a-priori, or what? How do we "vet" the Church? Can we?

That's a lot of stuff in one shot, I know...

Would it help to talk about/examine some of those assumptions?  Like, what assumptions DO we make about a) sin, b) atonement, c) forgiveness, etc.?  Or, am I getting too nit-picky and maybe missing your point?

I think maybe the bottom line is that we either believe ("Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. Wikipedia") or we do not.  And sometimes, we believe more strongly than at other times.
formerbuddhist, helpful as usual.
J Michael, yes it would help!

Fishies is still a place of kind-hearted offerings of aid and discussion. Funny. I always forget about that.

To answer both of you at once:

To me, Faith is two-fold:

1. love, fidelity, and loyalty to one whom you know is worthy of faith, (a friend, for example)
2. trust that someone who has promised something will do it. (anyone who promises to do something)

We can have faith in a friend's friendship without the friend having promised anything specifically. We can also have faith in an acquaintance's promise to help us with our firewood, whom we know (i.e. have faith) is a good worker and a man of his word. They are separate. One who has promised something must be examined to see if he's worthy of faith -- but still, one who is worthy of faith is worth trusting in their promise.

So I try to apply these "two faiths" definitions to God, the Bible, the Church, stories of prophecies, miracles, saints, etc.

Apply it to God. As to the very first point: is God worthy of faith? Yes. We all know why. I have faith that the world will be here when I wake up tomorrow, because God clearly likes it and it's good, so He will keep it in being. I have faith in that.

Just knowing that God exists and that He created & sustains a good world, however, does not lead to faith in God in the second sense, because God hasn't necessarily promised or offered anything further just by creating the world.

The second point comes in here, then: has God actually promised that He will do something -- anything? In any category, in any part of life. We don't even need to know conditions of fulfillment or requirements. Just, simply: has He promised anything? Here is where I trip and fall, myself.

Friends often tell me I don't trust God, or God's promises, when I lack faith. The problem is that I don't trust God, or God's promises, because as far as I can see, God hasn't made any promises to have faith in. If you're quite careful about it, you'll see that the entire Bible is promises made by people either speaking in the name of God, or, in Christ's case, by a person claiming to be God.

I have not met God; I have not met Jesus, sacramental mysteries aside, I've not met or talked with them as human friends or family-members or co-workers talk. I only know what Moses said, or Moses' scribes wrote, or what the Apostles said, or what the evangelists, wrote, etc.

So for me, this is why the whole thing boils down to reason 'versus" faith. If I dunno whether God has promised to help me lift my firewood next Wednesday, I have no reason to have faith in Him with regards to the act of moving my firewood. Since God doesn't seem to have manifestly promised anything at all (men claim that He has, but usually to them only), I have no object to have faith in, here.

As to prayer: I have heard that it helps. I have never felt helped, or experienced help. However much doctrine about the immanence of God, the love of God, the aid of God, etc., that I hear, I have not been able to sense, know, feel, or intuit God's actual presence anywhere or in anything. Only a few sublime moments may count, but they are not to be relied on because they hardly ever come. Even those could just be emotions.

Speaking about assumptions about atonement, forgiveness, etc., I've always wanted to ask (but never felt free to do so), exactly why do we think we need atonement to forgive our faults? When I sin, I reconcile with the ones I have hurt, and try to be a more loyal, loving, obedient, and good friend/son/brother/father, etc.! What I do not feel the need to do is sacrifice an animal, or my own blood, or fire, or water, or libations.

I'm told by every religion in history that, in order to be right with God, one, some, or all of the above things need to be sacrificed to purify Man... but frankly, even on the night of my Baptism, I had no supernatural sense of "being cleansed", or "forgiven", or "adopted" by God. I've always thought: if God made us out of love, and we are what we are, maybe it's just in our nature to fall and get up again. Maybe there's no final judgment, or original sin (beyond just having free will and being stupid).

I'm just finding myself questioning every assumption I have about how we're forgiven, why we're forgiven, and if God even has anything ontological to forgive. In so vast a created Universe as this, does God really care that much about our stumblings and foibles? Enough to be wroth about it? Enough to demand sacrifice? Why would that even matter to an infinite, eternal being?

formerbuddhist, your trust of the Scriptures, divine Liturgies, etc., is interesting to me. The peace with which you say it clearly makes it a laudable, commendable, "rational" thing (ironically). Stories & symbols mean a lot to me, as a writer, anthropologist, archivist, and lover of Tolkien. I often think "stories" are the way home, but the night is too dark for the road to be clear at this time.

Thanks for your patience, both.
Heorot what you say about stories resonates with me.  "Stories are the way home". I think there's a lot to that insight.  What are the Scriptures,the lives of saints and the texts of the Divine Services other than stories and symbols pointing to that great mystery that is our Faith? 

In some ways I think William James was right in that when it comes to religious things the only way to test their truth is to take them up and live them and see.  Reason only gets you so far.  You take them up and walk through life cautiously, trusting in what was handed down in story and symbol and allow yourself to be formed by them--and by them I mean the stories and symbols of our Faith. 

Christianity is a mystery religion, something you have to immerse yourself in and try to live.

Maybe, just maybe, you're called to have a wintry sort of prayer life, one of obscurity and darkness. Thomas Green S.J. in his series on prayer according to St. John of the Cross (Drinking from a Dry Well etc. ) says this is the lot for most people.  Prayer is not all ecstasy and visions and excitement. 

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