Monday School for Skeptics

If you want to present any real challenge to Jews and Christians, by which I mean a challenge that ought to be taken seriously, please consider that Jews and Christians just don’t accept your demands for a literal interpretation of every verse in the Bible.

Figures of speech used in the Bible, explained and illustrated

For 99 literal cents it can be yours.

33 thoughts on “Monday School for Skeptics

  1. Nobody’s demanding a literal interpretation of every verse. Rather I’m pointing out that you can’t decide between you what verses should be taken literally and which should not.

  2. So, what criterion is used to determine which pieces are allegorical and which are literal, Mung? Is this method used consistenly throughout the bible? How do you know that method is the correct one?

    From where I’m sitting, christians seem to be all over the place regarding this subject, there is no agreement on how to determine these things and much of it is ad-hoc rationalizations done after the fact.

  3. Rumraket:
    So, what criterion is used to determine which pieces are allegorical and which are literal, Mung?

    The Holy Spirit magically bestows the power of Discernment!

    This amazing power gives the faithful, and only the faithful, the ability to correctly interpret the Bible.

    Without the power of Discernment there would be hundreds if not thousands of competing denominations of Christianity all claiming to have the correct interpretation of the Bible.

    Thanks to God we dodged that bullet!

  4. petrushka:
    I would point out that the trend toward allegorical reading began after literal readings failed.

    Yep.

    I’ll bet an expensive single-malt that when Jesus told his disciples….

    Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God

    ….not a single one of them left that meeting believing he was talking about the fall of Jerusalem.

  5. If you want to present any real challenge to Jews and Christians, by which I mean a challenge that ought to be taken seriously, please consider that Jews and Christians just don’t accept your demands for a literal interpretation of every verse in the Bible.

    The real challenge is: Provide objective, empirical evidence that supports your claim that a god or gods exist.

    Once you get past that hurdle we can talk about scriptures.

  6. I guess it might help the discussion if Mung could provide some examples of scripture that are conclusively literal and some that are conclusively allegorical. I will list a few and he can simply categorize them:

    Adam and Eve

    Acartia:

    I guess it might help the discussion if Mung could provide some examples of scripture that are conclusively literal and some that are conclusively allegorical. I will list a few and he can simply categorize them:

    Adam and Eve

    Oops. Fat finger.

    Noah
    Pillar of salt
    Resurrection
    Water into wine
    Genesis
    Stoning of homosexuals
    The proper way to treat slaves

    If you don’t like any of these, feel free to provide your own list.

  7. Woodbine: The Holy Spirit magically bestows the power of Discernment!

    This amazing power gives the faithful, and only the faithful, the ability to correctly interpret the Bible.

    Without the power of Discernment there would be hundreds if not thousands of competing denominations of Christianity all claiming to have the correct interpretation of the Bible.

    Thanks to God we dodged that bullet!

    The true denomination will helpfully point out that all of the other ones have been corrupted by ungodly people pursuing their own selfish agendas.

    Just like all of the false denominations will, of course.

    But see, for the true denomination it will in fact be a true claim.

    Glen Davidson

  8. Alan Fox: Your author, E. W. Bullinger seems quite a character.

    Indeed.

    Are you inclined towards hyperdispensationalism?

    No.

    Are you saying that based on your research into E.W. Bullinger and his beliefs there are no figures of speech used in the Bible?

  9. Mung: Are you saying that based on your research into E.W. Bullinger and his beliefs there are no figures of speech used in the Bible?

    Why bother to start a thread if you are not going to engage with it?

  10. Mung: Indeed.

    No.

    Are you saying that based on your research into E.W. Bullinger and his beliefs there are no figures of speech used in the Bible?

    Not at all. I just checked your link and was curious about the author. Never heard of hyperdispensationalism before. It does seem a bit of an outlier among Christian beliefs, though.

    Regarding literalism, I think Lizzie summed it up neatly in a previous comment. And I also think the Song of Songs is pretty good poetry, even in translation. I’m skeptical on the non-natural claims and aspects to Bible stories.

  11. This comment:

    I don’t regard the New Testament as divine revelation, but as a series of documents, written by different human beings at different times, reflecting different interpretations of a story that may or may not have been handed down by different routes from different sources, and thus not surprisingly sometimes mutually contradictory.

  12. Skeptics are truly an odd species of humanity.

    They demand certainty on how to properly interpret texts that are thousands of years old but deny that they can be certain of anything. There is no one single “scientific method,” but that doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. But there ought to be a way to interpret the Bible that everyone agrees on.

    OMagain complains that I don’t engage with silliness. Well, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

  13. Mung:
    Skeptics are truly an odd species of humanity.

    They demand certainty on how to properly interpret texts that are thousands of years old

    No, I don’t demand certainty. What I want is good reasons to think there’s a “one true interpretation” and then I want to find out what that “one true interpretation” is. You have so far supplied none at all.

    I don’t have to be certain about it, but I do want it to be highly probable that the interpretation offered is “the one true interpretation”. Nobody here has demanded certainty, you made that up.

    Mung: There is no one single “scientific method,” but that doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest.

    That’s because science isn’t claiming to be made by an omnipotent god. It is made and practiced by humans.

    Mung: But there ought to be a way to interpret the Bible that everyone agrees on.

    Given the nature of the Bible, what is purports to be, yes there really does ought to be a way to interpret it that everyone agrees on. If there is not, this is evidence against the Bible being what it claims to be.

    The claim is that the Bible was ultimately authored by the god of Christianity, an omnipotent being that wants us to come to know it, know about it, and what it wants from us. It would seem really odd that an omnipotent being has failed to produce a text that is clear enough that a significant consensus could be reached among it’s followers about what it wants and says.

  14. Rumraket says: The claim is that the Bible was ultimately authored by the god of Christianity, an omnipotent being that wants us to come to know it, know about it, and what it wants from us.

    True, that is the claim. I would point out that a foundational text for that claim is II Timothy 3:16. In that verse the word ‘is’ appears twice, both times in italics, the significance of which is that the word does not appear in the original Greek of the letter. The inclusion or omission of the first ‘is’ completely changes the meaning of the significant part of that verse. The Oxford Study Edition of the New English Bible translates the verse something like this: ‘All writings given by God are profitable for . . .’ (not the exact wording). This would not support the claim that the Bible claims to be authored by God.

  15. Biblical interpretation is no less a human endeavor than science. Christians accept that scientists have differing interpretations about the natural world. Jews and Christians accept that other Jews and Christians have differing interpretations about the text of the Bible.

    I fail to see why this is such a big issue for skeptics.

    As to the “true” interpretation, Christians have long held that there is more than one sense in which Scripture is true.

    Four Senses of Scripture

  16. Mung: “Jews and Christians accept that other Jews and Christians have differing interpretations about the text of the Bible.”

    If they are so accepting, why are there so many thousands of sects, mostly disagreeing about the interpretation of the meaning and importance of some scripture? Why not just have one sect with the motto “you may be right”?

    Then maybe this single universal sect could understand that it doesn’t matter, and maybe do something about this problem:

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-correlation-of-high-religiosity-in-america-with-everything-bad/

  17. Yes, Christians accept that there are other sects of Christians. They don’t always accept all the beliefs of these other sects as their own. It’s true that Christians are not accepting of everything, nor is it clear why they should be.

  18. Rumraket:

    The claim is that the Bible was ultimately authored by the god of Christianity, an omnipotent being that wants us to come to know it, know about it, and what it wants from us. It would seem really odd that an omnipotent being has failed to produce a text that is clear enough that a significant consensus could be reached among it’s followers about what it wants and says.

    Indeed, and odd that Christians don’t reach the obvious conclusion: the Bible isn’t the Word of the God they believe in.

    Either he’s an inept communicator, or he just doesn’t give a damn, or — and this is by far the most likely, given the evidence — the Bible isn’t God’s word at all. It’s just a bunch of contradictory books written by fallible humans and thrown together by committee.

  19. keiths: Indeed, and odd that Christians don’t reach the obvious conclusion: the Bible isn’t the Word of the God they believe in.

    You’ve already had my answer on this, so who on earth are you talking about?.

    Those other Christians, the ones not actually posting here at TSZ, the ones who won’t see your post and so won’t respond to it. That’s awfully brave of you keiths. Courageous keiths.

    From the Four Senses of Scripture links:

    108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living”. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”

  20. Patrick: The real challenge is:Provide objective, empirical evidence that supports your claim that a god or gods exist.

    Once you get past that hurdle we can talk about scriptures.

    No, no, no: We know from sophisticated Christians that you cannot use the Bible for hard knowledge about the Christian God. That comes from the Big Bang.

  21. keiths:

    Indeed, and odd that Christians don’t reach the obvious conclusion: the Bible isn’t the Word of the God they believe in.

    You’ve already had my answer on this, so who on earth are you talking about?.

    Christians, Mung. It’s right there in my comment.

    Are you appointing yourself the spokesman for all Christians? If so, God help them. Christianity is already on the decline in the US. The last thing it needs is you as chief spokesman.

    Those other Christians, the ones not actually posting here at TSZ, the ones who won’t see your post and so won’t respond to it. That’s awfully brave of you keiths. Courageous keiths.

    Are you referring to your courageous fellow Christians at UD? The ones who cower in the UD pillow fort, depending on brave Barry to ban people whom they can’t refute?

  22. Mung: Biblical interpretation is no less a human endeavor than science.

    Then stop blathering about homosexuality, abortion, morality and so on, since clearly you have no idea whether your views on these things are being interpreted correctly.

    Also, it really does raise some questions if the omnipotent and omniscient cosmic intellect has laid it’s rules for living out vaguely in a book so easily subject to wild interpretation.

    Not only does it not reflect perfection (as one might expect a perfect being to produce), it isn’t even particularly good. It’s somewhere between incomprehensible and downright incompetent. Significant portions of the book could be improved for clarity by a teenager.

    Mung: Christians accept that scientists have differing interpretations about the natural world.

    Good for them, nobody cares what they “accept”, it’s about what they believe the bible to be and it’s about them basing their opinions and views on interpretations they have no way of determining whether are correct. Nevertheless they still feel justified in using biblical authority to tell other people how they should live their lives.

    Mung: Jews and Christians accept that other Jews and Christians have differing interpretations about the text of the Bible.

    Except when they get too much political, economic and military power, then the acceptance stops and the murdering begins.

    Remind me again to whom, and for what reason, Thomas Jefferson wrote about the wall of separation between church and state?

    Mung: I fail to see why this is such a big issue for skeptics.

    Then you are blind by volition.

    Mung: As to the “true” interpretation, Christians have long held that there is more than one sense in which Scripture is true.

    Oooh, well isn’t that just convinient? The one true god’s one true guide on how to live life is actually the four true ways you can ad-hoc fit to the situation as you feel!

  23. Rumraket: Significant portions of the book could be improved for clarity by a teenager.

    I think Leviticus is clear enough. Just inconvenient. Ripe cherries.

  24. petrushka:
    I would point out that the trend toward allegorical reading began after literal readings failed.

    I’m not sure that’s actually true. Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo both taught that one should read allegorically any part of Scripture where a literal reading would contradict established science or philosophy (i.e. that of the ancient Greco-Roman world).

    One big factor to consider here is translation. Written Hebrew has no vowels and no punctuation, which means that it is a question of interpretation as to which words are meant in which contexts, and even where a sentence begins and ends. Koine Greek has written vowels but also lacks punctuation marks. A friend pointed out to me the other day that if a written language does not contain quotation marks, it is impossible to keep track of the use/mention distinction.

    My point is that every translation of the Old or New Testaments into English is already an interpretation, and every interpretation has costs and benefits. There is no such thing as a “literal” translation or “literal” reading.

  25. Kantian Naturalist: I’m not sure that’s actually true. Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo both taught that one should read allegorically any part of Scripture where a literal reading would contradict established science or philosophy

    I’m not sure how that is different from what I said. But different biblical statements have come into question at different times.

    Jesus, for example, seems to have read Leviticus allegorically. Else, why are the dietary laws ignored by Christians. Not to mention a lot of other laws that have become inconvenient.

  26. petrushka: Jesus, for example, seems to have read Leviticus allegorically. Else, why are the dietary laws ignored by Christians. Not to mention a lot of other laws that have become inconvenient.

    From what I understand, the whole Second Temple period was characterized by many different sects and cults that had different practices and interpretations. When Jesus says, “it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out” (paraphrasing Matthew 15:11) he is radicalizing the shift from conduct to character that one finds throughout Jewish sects and cults of this period.

    Of course, conservative (American Protestant) Christians have a hard time explaining why, if Paul is right that faith in Christ delivers us from being subjected to the Law, that point doesn’t apply to Leviticus 18:22.

    I don’t dispute the main point made above here — that it is incoherent to hold that the true meaning of Christ’s sacrifice is that one is entitled to be wholly arbitrary as to which passages are to be read literally and which passages are to be ignored.

  27. Kantian Naturalist: I don’t dispute the main point made above here — that it is incoherent to hold that the true meaning of Christ’s sacrifice is that one is entitled to be wholly arbitrary as to which passages are to be read literally and which passages are to be ignored.

    We can always take comfort in the fact that Jesus imparts His TRVTH directly to the minds of the Chosen Ones. We should bow to them and obey them. They know what is best for everyone.

  28. petrushka: We can always take comfort in the fact that Jesus imparts His TRVTH directly to the minds of the Chosen Ones. We should bow to them and obey them. They know what is best for everyone.

    Indeed — that’s precisely what I’ve been calling normative violence.

  29. Here is at least one reason Christians do not follow the Jewish dietary laws:

    They don’t apply to Gentiles.

    Seriously, this is like Christianity 101.

    Now why don’t you ask why Jews don’t follow the sacrificial laws? You know, just to show that you’re not biased against Christians?

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