Skeptics, Christians, and the Question of Bias -- Continuing a Skeptic Case Study
In an earlier post I discussed my recent return to Cygnus’ Study (one of the lesser skeptic sites) to find – to my slight surprise – that his list of unanswerable "Bible Errors" was unchanged, with no additions, modifications or deletions (despite my answering the first and third on his own boards two years ago). I dealt with the first of the objections in that earlier post. Here I address the third:
3. Jesus on Scriptures
Here we see the author of John pulling a common trick on his reader. That is the one of inventing scripture.
The erroneous verse is found in chapter 7 of the Gospel of John.
John 7:38- He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of flowing water.
Unfortunately, the words, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" are not found anywhere else in the Bible. This poses two immediate problems.
The first problem is this begs the question as to whether there was some scripture in Jesus' time that it not in our canonized Bible or not. If there was and it is no longer in scripture then it goes against Revelation 22:19 which says that any man who subtracts from scripture would be subtracted from the Book of Life
The second problem with this is the one of addition to scripture and the penalty for such an act. If Jesus added the verse which is not found then he is guilty. If it was John who ascribed the words to Jesus then it is John who is guilty. Revelations 22:18 states, "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book."
The biggest whopper here is Cygnus’ preposteros distortion of Revelation 22:18-19. 22:18-19 does not refer to subtracting or adding to the Bible in its totality. It quite obviously is talking about the book that the author was writing at that time -- Revelation:
"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy in this book... and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part form the Book of life...."
“This book” and “this prophecy” cannot be more clear. The warning is against those who would alter the Book of Revelation, not alter a Canon that did not even exist at that time! The author of Revelation probably had no clue there would be a “New Testament,” much less what its contents would be.
Cygnus’ attempt to use this text in Revelation against Jesus is so simplistic that it’s hard to believe Cygnus is serious. Is he stupid? Not to my knowledge. The website is reasonably well put together. In my encounters with him on the discussion boards he has not impressed me with his intellect, but he has not come across as an idiot. Does he realize that his reading is absurd but uses it anyway to make petty points against Christianity? Perhaps. On his boards, Cygnus did give me reasons to doubt his honesty (or at least his candor). Yes I hesitate to accuse him of making such gross distortions. So I think it is the third option that is most likely: Cygnus’ bias against Christianity overpowered whatever good sense and intelligence he possesses.
When you stop and think about it this makes a lot of sense. After all, why would someone – who professes no religious belief himself – spend so much of his time and creativity on the subject? The site is not one born of mere historical curiosity. Cygnus does not offer both sides of the issue. His site is devoted to attacking Christianity. Obviously he has a lot invested in this and lined up on one side.
Well, you might argue. He really believes Christianity is wrong. Even if he does not necessarily think it is harmful in and of itself (I’m feeling generous today), he no doubt thinks it’s harmful for people to believe something that is not true. So harmful in fact, that he has devoted a lot of his personal time and energy to combating his harm.
In other words, Christianity is a threat and Cygnus sees himself as part of the solution. Whatever the motive, the bias is clear and undeniable. And it is so strong that it clouds his ability to see the clear meaning of a text – so long as his misunderstanding can be turned into a weapon against Christianity.
You might say it’s a secular jihad. So the next time someone tells you that you are biased because you are a Christian while they have “no stake” in the issue, do not be as deceived as they are about their motives. We are biased. So are they. That does not mean informed discussion is fruitless -- so long as we can acknowledge them.
Oh, one other point. It is correct that this phrase does not appear in our Old Testament. There is a similar phrase in the wisdom literature, Sirach, popular in Jesus' time. And I've seen other commentaries note that the term used for "scriptures" is not restricted to the present Old Testament. At most – even if we take Jesus’ use of “scriptures” as implying equal authority with the rest of the Old Testament – all this would tell us is that there was a writing/tradition that Jesus knew of and considered authoritative that is now lost to us. Unfortunate perhaps, but hardly a Biblical Error for which there “is no answer.”