MOF Terry, I have been worried about our last discussion; although we seemed to agree I don’t think that we believe in the same things.
TERRY That is hardly surprising it would take a very long time to explain and cover each and every aspect of our individual beliefs. What would be one of the essential issues on which we appear to differ
MOF Well, do you believe the Bible is true?
TERRY This is a good starting point, I believe the bible is substantially true and although some parts seem to be wrong, I believe these parts still serve an important purpose. For instance in my reading I found that Thomas Jefferson had said “The Christian God is a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” Jefferson, I should add was a God believer and was pointing out how difficult it can be to accept that the revelation of the opening books of the bible is literally true. I agree with him because the early bible writers drew from folk records that had been contaminated by rather primitive interpretation of events and the text was tailored to fit their contemporary understanding.
MOF This simply cannot be the case as God was the author and He accurately revealed Himself throughout the Bible. I can’t see how Jefferson can make such an insulting claim and I can’t see why you should agree with him.
TERRY The passages do not reflect on the true nature of God, but rather they show the understanding of those early persons to whom the biblical inspiration was given. Most people try to imagine God in terms of their familiar world view.
MOF But the one true God was accurately revealing Himself to his prophets; His Holy Spirit would give a clear picture of truth.
TERRY Well let us just consider Jeremiah 8:8. “How do ye say, We [are] wise, and the law of the LORD [is] with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he [it]; the pen of the scribes [is] in vain.” I am quoting the King James version here and if this is considered to be an accurate translation, you must admit that it is not at all clear what God is saying.
MOF Well I agree that we sometimes need to use more modern translations, but these must come from trustworthy translators.
TERRY I think you are starting to support my point. What translation would you consider to be reliable?
MOF Try the RSV.
TERRY OK, here it goes: “How can you say, We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us’? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.”
MOF Here Jeremiah is warning us against false translators, who distort the Word of God.
TERRY That is the very point that I am making you cannot trust the translators who were writing the text.
MOF But the original inspired writers, such as Moses, didn’t make any mistakes they were perfectly inspired. Moses was one of ‘the men [who] spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.’
TERRY True, but please notice that Moses is described as speaking not writing. In those old times of oral tradition the spoken word was honoured, while the written word was mistrusted as few people could read. The ordinary people could only remember and check the oral text as it was recited. Jeremiah was writing about the time that the earliest known texts were being written.
MOF Right, but if you look at John 5:46 and 47 you will see Jesus says: “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” Jesus said that Moses wrote the scriptures and we cannot accuse Him of telling a lie, can we?
TERRY, You have produced a good argument using the bible itself, but this does little to challenge my understanding of the bible. Assuming that Jesus is correctly quoted, the quotation merely shows how Jesus defended himself to the religious authorities who sought to kill him. There was little point in entering into a detailed discussion on how the scriptures were actually written, when other more important matters were on hand.
MOF Yes but Jesus would never have lied as He was sinless.
TERRY None of his parables were strictly true, but he presented them as though they were. One needs to consider the spirit in which he was speaking rather than discuss the literal meaning of each word. I quoted Jeremiah as saying “the false pen of the scribes has made it a lie.” This does not mean to say that when the bible was being written it was deliberately written as lies; rather it serves as a reminder that the written word was prone to distortion by unintentional (and perhaps well intentioned) variations.
MOF If what you say is true, then how could we ever know which bits of the Bible we are supposed to believe?
TERRY I have been asked this question before and it surprises me still. There are many ridiculous interpretations and yet people still  say they believe the bible is inerrant.
MOF Give me an example.
TERRY Well I started by quoting Thomas Jefferson. He could well have been referring to passages such as that in Joshua 6:21. “And they utterly destroyed all that [was] in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” Here the children of Israel, had just conquered Jericho and slaughtered every living thing that they could find in the city, apart from some collaborators. Having done this the biblical writers tried to justify what had happened by claiming that God had instructed their people, usually through a prophet or leader, to act accordingly. I don’t for one minute think that the Christian God directed the above slaughter.
MOF But the bible clearly says that God told them to do these things.
TERRY No that is not so, these claims were made to rationalise and justify the sometimes brutal historical record of the Jews. The bible gives us an almost unique account of what might have happened about three thousand years ago, but the records are quite distorted by the people who recorded these things. There is a modern saying that aptly describes what happened and this is “History is written by the winners”.
MOF If you say the bible is not reliable as history how can you trust or believe it in any other way? St Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3: 16. “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” How can you stand there and deny this?
TERRY I am not denying this at all. First let me point out that Paul didn’t say the scriptures are useful for science, history or other forms of worldly knowledge.
MOF Yes but the Bible is given by inspiration of a sovereign God who wouldn’t lie.
TERRY Of course God does not lie but, as I explained, the scribes who write the text could have been easily mistaken. This is acknowledged in Jeremiah and is also the reason why the earliest temple manuscripts were not revered or trusted over the oral tradition or spoken word. The fact that the spoken tradition is honoured over the written tradition (especially where translations are involved) is still evident amongst the Muslims today. They only accept the true Koran as that recited from the original Arabic in which it was written. Unlike our bible, the English translation of the Koran carries little, if any, religious authority.
MOF Why quote the Muslims when we all know they are wrong.
TERRY I refer to them because they have retained the old habit of honouring the spoken word over the written word. It is certain that the Jews had a similar attitude to their law up to the time their rulers were taken into captivity in Babylon.
MOF I don’t know where you get this rubbish from.
TERRY Well, apart from the bible itself, I have been recently reading a book called The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong; I do have a number of other books on my shelves that cover the question of biblical authorship such as Who Wrote the Bible? by R. E Friedman. Freidman explains that this subject is called ‘higher criticism’.
MOF Well these people are obviously unbelievers who intend to maliciously defame the authority of scripture.
TERRY Friedman points out that most of them have a close church involvement, often having trained as clergy or rabbis. Who else would devote their lives to studying ancient biblical languages and the scriptures?
MOF All this modern higher criticism just reduces people’s confidence in the Bible. It would be better if people were left to read with simple trust and sincerity.
TERRY While I agree on this last point the problem lies not with the scholars but the exploiters who manipulate the biblical interpretation for their own purposes. Jesus, Paul and many of the prophets warned us about this problem and it is not caused by bible scholars.
MOF No I suppose you could have a point there. I can’t think of any cults that have emerged using the latest ‘higher criticism’. I am more worried about books like the Da Vinci Code will lead to weird cults based on those silly assumptions.
TERRY You have added a good argument. The reason I find these discussions with you valuable is that it gives me a chance to test the integrity of my understanding by contrasting my view against someone like your self who has an extensive knowledge of the contents of the bible.
MOF Bible content is one thing, but picking and choosing bits that suit you is quite another.
TERRY Let us go back to the passage you quoted from Paul, Although I am a poor linguist I understand the Greek word to read “ every writing [that is] God-breathed and useful for …”. I particularly like the word God-breathed as it suggests God’s holy spirit breathing in one’s ear.
MOF Yes of course we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when we read the bible.
TERRY Which leaves us with an unresolved problem does the inspiration occur with the original writer/author or the reader?
MOF Both of course.
TERRY I agree. First, as Peter explained in 2 Peter 1:21. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.” Notice that the revelation was spoken, not written. However these original receivers of God’s word were inspired. This does not prove that their understanding was perfect. Second, let me quote Paul in 2 Timothy 2: 15. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This shows that the modern reader must also study the bible with a good spirit if they are to understand what the God is saying to them.
MOF Maybe, but in 2 Peter 1:20, Peter says that no-one can have a private interpretation. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
TERRY This verse refers to ‘private interpretation’ of ‘prophesy’, which can be considered to be both forth-telling as well as fore-telling. These private prophesies lead to the formation of cults, sects and even denominations. You can’t avoid the fact that individual readers of the bible can and must reach their own conclusions about what they are reading. The point is they have no authority to insist that others agree with their private opinions.
MOF But we can’t have everybody holding to their own opinions this will not lead to unity within the church. The church would fall apart and disappear.
TERRY You are concerned about the visible and physical nature of the church. Churches hold their structure and authority by referring to written codes and laws based on biblical texts. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (in 2 Corinthians 3: 6). “Who [God] also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
Let me emphasise what I feel strongly, unity in the church must be a matter of spirit not legalism, no matter whether the law be derived from the bible or elsewhere.
MOF Ok you have made a point. I disagree with the way you interpret the bible, but you are saying that you are happy for me to hold my opinions. For you the more important issue is that we remain friends and work together.

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