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...."

Revelation 22:18-19.

“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.”


Anonymous said…
So basically Cygnus was quite right to say that John 7:38 is not a quote from scripture, and all you can do is say that there is a 'similar' phrase in Sirach, but can't actually bring yourself to inform readers what that phrase might be.

Well, I'm sure they trust you.

Who needs quotes?
Layman said…

Basically, Cygnus is clueless and hoplessly biased in his understanding of the end of Revelation. Are you not impressed by the stupidity of his take on it? I was. That you can't offer even a word in defense of his understanding of that verse is all the more confirmation of how ridiculous is his take on it.

As for "bringing" myself to quote Sirach, I don't see your point? Are you denying there is a similar statement there? I actually didn't see this point as all that important.

Ironically, you just confirm my point about skeptic bias. You pretend, despite everything Cygnus himself says, that his "basic" point was just that this phrase is not found in our Old Testament. Of course, you ignore the actual point of Cgynus and his butchering of Revelation to try and prop him up.

I pointed all this out to him two years ago. On his own boards. If he wanted to clarify that his "basic" point is that this phrase is not found in our Old Testament then he could have done so. Instead, he still bases his entire argument on an what is obvioulsy an erroneously interpretation of Revelation. One that even a fellow skeptic can't bring himself to defend.

I know I sound like a Republican giving a Democrat advice after the most recent election, but c'mon. If skeptics want to be taken seriously they should act seriously.
Anonymous said…
Please post the similar phrase in Sirach, because some of us are keen to learn just how much Jesus would distort other writings.

There is John 7:38 'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

There is no such scripture.
Layman said…
Please defend Cygnus' rendering of the passage from Revelation.

Regarding Sirach, you realize do you not, that I did not claim that Jesus was quoting Sirach? I said there was a similar passage therein. Most likely the two were aware of a similar tradition.

And aren't you the one who whines that I don't link to your site, even when I'm not responding to you? Yet you distort my comments over at infidels without providing a link at all. I would accuse you of hypocrisy but am not sure that such a charge offends your moral code -- whatever that might be.
Anonymous said…
What is the similar phrase in Sirach?

Lots of texts mention water.
Andrew said…
The reference is to Sirach 24:30-31:
30 As for me, I was like a canal from a river, like a water channel into a garden. 31 I said, "I will water my garden and drench my flower-beds." And lo, my canal became a river, and my river a sea.

In context, the phrase occurs in a passage about "Wisdom". Thus when Jesus speaks of "the one who is faithful to me" (John 7:38) and then paraphrases this passage from Sirach, he is identifying himself as the Wisdom entity.

Paul perhaps also identifies Jesus with the wisdom entity in 1 Cor 1:24. The theme was picked up by later writers... Origen (for example) dwells at length on the "Christ as Wisdom" theme.
Anonymous said…
Doing a search on the Christian Cadre site came up with the following article

This says 'Get thee scissors and paste and add it in - and hope that the warning in Revelation about "adding on" to what has been written means something else other than adding to the Bible!'

This stupid comment by Cygnus is what Christian Cadre members believe!
Anonymous said…
On Theology Web Christians say 'The words are taken from the warning in Deuteronomy, which was intended for the entire Torah. While the words apply explicitly to Revelation, it is hard to not see them extending beyond that when taking into account the OT context.'

Gosh, who would have thought such stupidity was not confined to Cygnus?
Layman said…

Did you not read the blog? I said I did not believe Cygnus was stupid. Rather, he's biased.

And as usual, you can't defend the reading because you agree with me. Cygnus' reading of the text is obviously wrong.

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