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Bible interpretation: how do you decide what's "literal"?

QinguQingu Registered User regular
edited April 2007 in Debate and/or Discourse
A number of Christians on this forum—as well as some agnostics—have derided me for my reading of the Bible. They claim that I am being too harsh on the text because I am taking it "literally," and I refuse to try to understand alternate readings of the text. In particular, they object to my reading of God's laws in the Old Testament regarding slavery, rape, and warfare.

My question is, how do you decide which passages to take "literally" and which passages to take "metaphorically?" What criteria do you use to determine that, for example, the ressurection of Jesus described in Matthew 28 really happened, but that the earthquakes, darkness blotting out the sky, and the army of zombie-saints marching into Jerusalem described later in the chapter are "metaphorical"? What is it about the text of Genesis 1-3 that cries out "metaphor," as opposed to an honest attempt by the Hebrews to understand the world? Why, when you read a law that orders you to enslave all the inhabitants of a city or force a rape victim to marry her rapist, do you only care about the abstract "spirit" of the law—while you claim to follow some of Jesus' commandments at their word?

My opinion, of course, is that the "standard" for determining which passages are literal and which are metaphorical is simply how foolish and barbaric the passage in question appears to us today. 3,000 years ago everyone thought the world was flat and deities lived in the sky, just as Genesis 1 describes, but today we "know" that the passage is just a metaphor because we know that such a desription of reality is flat-out-wrong. Similarly, most cultures at the time of the Hebrews had laws that condone slavery and treated women as chattle, but we "know" such laws are to be taken only in "spirit" (whatever that means) because following them at their word today would be exceedingly barbaric and cruel.

That is my take on so-called liberal interpretation of the Bible, but I hope someone here can defend their method of interpretation.

Note: this is not a general atheism thread. For all practical purposes, you might as well assume that the Bible is true. This thread is only concerned with discussing and interpreting the Bible as a work of literature and arriving at the intent of its authors. NO GENERAL GOD ARGUMENTS!

Qingu on
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    Vincent GraysonVincent Grayson Frederick, MDRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Are we talking about the intent of the original storytellers, or of the people who first compiled many of these stories into one book? I'd wager both had very different intentions.

    Vincent Grayson on
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    TuomaTuoma Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    There is no logical way to answer this. Didn't Bullshit! bring up that on one page you have the most quoted passage about not being gay, then on the next page it says you should kill kids that don't behave?

    Me too is very interested how you choose wich rules/stories apply and are real, and wich aren't, even if they are in the same chapter or whatever you call it. Is it even/odd page numbers? Roll of a dice? Lottery?

    Tuoma on
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    TastyfishTastyfish Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Well for a start that assumption you have at the end is going to cause no end of trouble since that is the topic of the debate. You only run into this problem if you insist that the bible is completely true, free of any errors and the divine word of God - Jesus could well be the son of god, got crucified and rose from the dead but that wouldn't necessarily mean that the Bible is 100% fact.

    If people now are quite happy to take the Bible as being a totally accurate recollection of what happened, then I don't think its too much of a stretch to assume that the people at the time thought the same.

    So yeah - the parts which are metaphors depend entirely on which bits you want to be metaphor (either none of its because its all true, the bits that don't make sense because its all true, or none of it because it is just a record of man's experience with god and the history of a particular group of people)

    Tastyfish on
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    The CatThe Cat Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited April 2007
    There's plenty of context around the books themselves, if you know the history side of things. After that, its not so clear. Pretty much everyone just uses it to help them believe what they want on one point or another and dear bright and fluffy lord, do we really need another fucking religion thread? Isn't there anything else you're interested in? Sports? Philately?

    The Cat on
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    BigSpaceMonkeyBigSpaceMonkey Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    The Old Testament rules don't apply anymore because we have a new covenant with God after Christ died for everyone's sins. Those rules were established as part of a covenant for His chosen Jewish people. One logical reason is that they were established because they had did not have a set of laws to live by being newly set free from being slaves in Egypt.

    As such, I cannot logically resolve the literal interpretation in my mind because those laws were given by God, and what is given by God is just, but not necessarily just in our eyes, which is limited. They only make sense if you believe that our views of what is just and righteous is corrupted, but even if that were the case, I think our pride would not allow ourselves to think that we are indeed not masters of the universe.


    So yeah. I'm sure the good people of D&D will jump all over this post like white on rice.

    BigSpaceMonkey on
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    3lwap03lwap0 Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Qingu wrote: »
    Similarly, most cultures at the time of the Hebrews had laws that condone slavery and treated women as chattle, but we "know" such laws are to be taken only in "spirit" (whatever that means) because following them at their word today would be exceedingly barbaric and cruel.

    This is a classic biblical debate - Authorial Intent vs. Reader-Response. The problem of interpretation is whether or not to construe a passage in the bible as a metaphor, rather than a literal interpretation - this dallies a bit into symbolism as well.

    For example - Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42). Some theologians have postulated that this might actualy be Yaweh's wooing of the Samaritan cultural divide, with preceeding veruses (John 3:29) actually lending language that might suggest some kind of betrothal scene of kind. Of course, John didn't focus on this - he didn't care about the Samaritans, he was chronicling Jesus after all. But from those few verses, we examine not just the literal intent, but perhaps the spirit of what John was writing about.

    Symbolism is by its very nature open-ended and that it is satisfying to reflect upon multiple meanings beyond those intended by the original author - it's also hard to build a consensus, since it can mean many things to many people.

    Hell, keeping along this whole biblical theme, the modern term for Pharisee these days is a pejorative for people who place the letter of the law above the spirit (since Pharisees were hardasses back in the day). This kind of idiomatic antithesis is probably why there are so many denominations of the Christian faith.

    3lwap0 on
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    JohannenJohannen Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    The Cat wrote: »
    do we really need another fucking religion thread? Isn't there anything else you're interested in? Sports? Philately?

    Johannen on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Oh this should be fun.

    Here's an example:
    Leviticus wrote:

    1And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

    2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

    3If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.

    4And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

    5And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

    6And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.

    7And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:

    8And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

    9But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

    Yep, animal sacrifice. That make a lot of sense to you, how God wants you to kill an animal, He created no less, and lay it before Him in this ritualistic nature?

    I don't see how you could find any sort of metaphor for that, like, at all.

    Meiz on
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    Torso BoyTorso Boy Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    "Be nice. Try hard. Take it easy."

    Anything more literal or specific than that is too much for me.

    Torso Boy on
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    FunkyWaltDoggFunkyWaltDogg Columbia, SCRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    Oh this should be fun.

    Here's an example:
    Leviticus wrote:

    1And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

    2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

    3If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.

    4And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

    5And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

    6And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.

    7And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:

    8And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

    9But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

    Yep, animal sacrifice. That make a lot of sense to you, how God wants you to kill an animal, He created no less, and lay it before Him in this ritualistic nature?

    I don't see how you could find any sort of metaphor for that, like, at all.

    I'll bite.

    1) The animal sacrifice is symbolic of Jesus' death to come which takes away sin.

    2) God wanted the Israelites to sacrifice because it would cost them. The human tendency is not to value that which costs you nothing.

    FunkyWaltDogg on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    Oh this should be fun.

    Here's an example:
    Leviticus wrote:

    1And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

    2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

    3If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.

    4And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

    5And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

    6And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.

    7And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:

    8And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

    9But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

    Yep, animal sacrifice. That make a lot of sense to you, how God wants you to kill an animal, He created no less, and lay it before Him in this ritualistic nature?

    I don't see how you could find any sort of metaphor for that, like, at all.

    I'll bite.

    1) The animal sacrifice is symbolic of Jesus' death to come which takes away sin.

    2) God wanted the Israelites to sacrifice because it would cost them. The human tendency is not to value that which costs you nothing.

    Well, sure, I see how you could go about yanking that symbolism out of nowhere but after it's done talking about sacrificing the pigeons in a similar fasion, which everyone knows are rather disease ridden, it says, in Leviticus 2, 6
    6Thou shalt part it in pieces, and pour oil thereon: it is a meat offering.

    Plain, simple, sacrifice. Offering to a God, a fucking omnipotent being. So, I ask again, what does God need with a starship, er I mean sacrifice?

    Meiz on
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    FunkyWaltDoggFunkyWaltDogg Columbia, SCRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    Plain, simple, sacrifice. Offering to a God, a fucking omnipotent being. So, I ask again, what does God need with a starship, er I mean sacrifice?

    Neither of my points had anything to do with what God needs.

    EDIT: I didn't read carefully, you've brought up another quote. I'd say my second point above still applies, though.

    FunkyWaltDogg on
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    Me Too!Me Too! __BANNED USERS regular
    edited April 2007
    The only part I take as literal is "Thou shalt not kill."

    After four years of Catholic school, that's all I really remember.

    Along with a couple other Commandments, but I don't follow them too closely.

    Me Too! on
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    SentrySentry Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    The only part I take as literal is "Thou shalt not kill."

    After four years of Catholic school, that's all I really remember.

    Along with a couple other Commandments, but I don't follow them too closely.

    Even that has multiple interpretations. Does it mean kill, or does it mean murder? If it's kill, then what about wars, the death penalty, etc. If it's murder... well...

    Sentry on
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    Me Too!Me Too! __BANNED USERS regular
    edited April 2007
    Sentry wrote: »
    The only part I take as literal is "Thou shalt not kill."

    After four years of Catholic school, that's all I really remember.

    Along with a couple other Commandments, but I don't follow them too closely.

    Even that has multiple interpretations. Does it mean kill, or does it mean murder? If it's kill, then what about wars, the death penalty, etc. If it's murder... well...

    I take it as "murder." Do not walk down the straight and cap a bitch because you can.
    A) It's wrong.
    B) You're an asshole for doing it.

    Me Too! on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Sentry wrote: »
    The only part I take as literal is "Thou shalt not kill."

    After four years of Catholic school, that's all I really remember.

    Along with a couple other Commandments, but I don't follow them too closely.

    Even that has multiple interpretations. Does it mean kill, or does it mean murder? If it's kill, then what about wars, the death penalty, etc. If it's murder... well...

    Just for clarity's sake, the actual word used is "murder". It's still up to the individual to decide what constitutes "murder", but it's less vague than kill.

    MKR on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    Plain, simple, sacrifice. Offering to a God, a fucking omnipotent being. So, I ask again, what does God need with a starship, er I mean sacrifice?

    Neither of my points had anything to do with what God needs.

    EDIT: I didn't read carefully, you've brought up another quote. I'd say my second point above still applies, though.

    Yeah but that's the point that I've made. God's asking for a ritualistic sacrifice with tabernacles and all the trimmings. I fail to see how you could get some other deep rooted meaning through these verse. Why else would the preparation of said sacrifice be so specific if it wasn't some petty need for a nice fluffy God?

    Meiz on
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    redimpulseredimpulse Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    My personal take on the Bible: It's a good book. I think everyone should at least try to read it at some point. It has everything - murder, espionage, love, war, taxes, sacrifices, I could go on for hours.

    However I think there is very little that can be taken literally from the book. Even with all the versions that are floating around, the original translations have been so diluted and changed to fit someone elses will. I think the original meaning is still somewhat intact, but you have to really cut through all the crap in the book to get to it. There are a lot of excellent stories with good morals, and there are still some fairly accurate historical accounts. It's a good read.

    redimpulse on
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    CangoFettCangoFett Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    <--Southern Baptist, one of those crazies who isnt convinced that the world wasnt created in 6 days.


    Stories=real
    Prophecies=metaphor.

    There was a literal garden of eden, a literal serpent, a literal flood.

    There wont be 4 horsemen riding through the sky.


    In one of the Old Testament books, a king has a vision of a giant statue with like, feet of iron, legs of bronze, and other materials thruout the body. The prophet said, "Oh, its a prophecy"

    The prophecy wasnt that the king would turn into a giant statue. Each part of the statue represented a different empire in different stages, or something. Its been a while since I read it, and I didnt pay a ton of attention then.

    Jesus did feed a bunch of people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. He did ressurect. When the stuff prophecies in Revelation goes down, some crazy stuff will happen. There probably will be some sort of marking system on everyones hand or forehead, but not literally a 666, not that we can tell anyways.


    As far as the 'dont kill thing'
    Yeah, its "Do not Murder"
    God told people to kill other people all the dang time. Remember David and Goliath? Goliath wasnt taking a nap. When Samson was enslaved, he cried to God to help, to give him the strength to demolish the balcony, killing him, and everyone with him. God gave him that strength.

    Similar thing with, "Dont lie"
    It says don't bear false witness against your neighbor. As in, not your enemy. I always assume that to mean, "Lying to your enemy for the right reasons is okay," though I could be wrong.

    Meiz wrote:
    Plain, simple, sacrifice. Offering to a God, a fucking omnipotent being. So, I ask again, what does God need with a starship, er I mean sacrifice?

    God doesnt need a sacrifice.

    Put yourself into their shoes. You're a shepherd, or even a land owner. You have your livestock, its your sign of wealth. People now a days have a bunch of cars, then you had a bunch of sheep, or cattle. In addition to that normal attachment though, these are also living beings. Lambs are cute and innocent.

    Do you really want to take one of your lambs, cut it open, and sprinkle its blood, because you screwed up?

    Sacrifices were forms of attonement, and praise. Its saying either, "God, I messed up, and I realize. I realize that sin equals death" or "God, I realize you are more important than my wealth, my livestock. Im giving up something I have to please you"

    CangoFett on
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    RichyRichy Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    My rule-of-thumb is, if it fits with Jesus' "love one another" commandment, then it's probably right. If not, then not.

    Of course, that's just a simple rule for swift decisions. In reality, the Bible is very complex, as you might expect from a book that was written over thousands of years by different people, for different audiences and purposes, all over the world. The fact is, thousands of people have studied it to try to figure out what's "literal", what's true, what was added later on, and so forth, using various scientific and religious tools. And they all came to (sometimes very) different conclusions.

    So, there's no universally-accepted, always-correct answer to the question.

    Richy on
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    Dr. ODr. O Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    Oh this should be fun.

    Here's an example:
    Leviticus wrote:

    1And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

    2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

    3If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.

    4And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

    5And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

    6And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.

    7And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:

    8And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

    9But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

    Yep, animal sacrifice. That make a lot of sense to you, how God wants you to kill an animal, He created no less, and lay it before Him in this ritualistic nature?

    I don't see how you could find any sort of metaphor for that, like, at all.

    Why would you want to? There's nothing wrong with a burnt offering; the point was to take a valuable piece of property and sacrifice it, not for God's benefit but for your own spiritual well-being. Burnt offerings of pristine livestock displayed one's humility and subservience before God.

    This is the problem I have with Biblical debated regarding "controversial" passages of the Old Testament. One ignorant atheist/skeptic will point out a seemingly unjust bible verse that he found on 1001bibleerrors.com (or wherever), and an ignorant Christian will freak out about the verse and claim that it is a metaphor in sheer self defense.

    What I know for sure is that it could take years of study for a person to gain a real understanding of the context and background of the Old Testament, ranging from a knowledge of the history and society of the Ancient Near East to the literary and poetic standards of the times. Such knowledge is necessary to understanding the Old Testament fully, including whether certain verses are metaphorical or literal. I don't have more than a passing knowledge of the subject, and I'm sure none of you do either, so what's the point of even arguing? It would just be the atheists on one side shouting about rape victims marrying their rapists and a few Christians on the other doing cartwheels to avoid their immediate sense of shock at the verse.

    Dr. O on
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    saint2esaint2e Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    As a christian, I'm honestly shocked that:

    a) other Christians use the "metaphor" excuse (let's call it like it is) instead of doing researching and finding the context/real reason
    b) atheists who bring up points like the animal sacrifice thing above don't do research and find out the context/real reason

    Any schmuck can pick out a verse or two from one section of the bible, then take another verse or two from another section, put them together and be all "olol the bible contradicted itself, look!"

    saint2e on
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    DajianDajian Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    MKR wrote: »
    Just for clarity's sake, the actual word used is "murder". It's still up to the individual to decide what constitutes "murder", but it's less vague than kill.
    Just for clarity's sake. The word is ratsach and there is not an accurate translation to English. It is not murder and it is not kill. The closest thing we have is 'to kill in the manner of a predatory animal'

    This is one word from the original texts. Take the concept presented here and apply it to the whole of the Old and New testament. The Bible has been interpreted and re-interpreted many times before you ever read or considered its meaning. New stories were added (the good Samaritan does not exist on the original texts it was added by a monk in a monastery as he scribed new copies because he felt it was within the spirit of the message trying to be portrayed) and there have been passages or whole books omitted.

    My point is literal or metaphor means little unless you view the Bible as a living text. One that is meant to change to fit the needs of society. If you view the Bible in this way then you view it open to your own interpretation and a book meant to grow your own personal relationship with God. If you view it as a static text then you should learn the language it was originally written in and read it in that context (even though by the time the text was written for the first time it was sure to have been distorted by the generations of verbal telling).

    For full disclosure I am agnostic and have a serious bone to pick with all organized religion. My basic view of the bible or any other “religious text” is that even if someone once spoke with God our own human fallacies would have misinterpreted its meaning or perverted it to our owns means. If we once knew Gods intent it has been lost. I have studied many different religious themes and texts and the only constant theme in all of human history is that of kindness and compassion to your fellow man will lead to a better life for all.

    Dajian on
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    LadyMLadyM Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    I'll present the Catholic viewpoint, but keep in mind this won't be the evangelical or fundamentalist view.

    God didn't poop the Bible down from the sky. He didn't walk into Moses' house and say, "Okay, write down what I tell you." He didn't zap the words straight into the writers' brains.

    The Bible is divinely inspired, but written by fallible humans. Humans often misinterpret God's intent or intentions. They apply their own biases. They get things wrong.

    Also, keep in mind that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christianity. It's a great guidebook to the religion. And an atlas is a great guidebook to America's highways. But if you're following an atlas and suddenly you get to a section where the highway's been blown out, you have to stop and THINK about what to do next, not mindlessly continue forward, even if the atlas says the highway is still there.

    Catholics believe in cultivating an "informed conscience." I'm not sure how to explain it. Understanding theological arguments is part of it, but mostly it has to do with awareness and reflection. You have to learn as much as you can about whatever issue you're facing and think logically about it. (This may seem strange to outsiders who consider a lot of the the Church's arguments illogical, such as their views on homosexuality, abortion, birth control, etc. And I'm not saying they're right on those issues; I disagree with them on many of them. But as far as THEY are concerned, they have legitimate theological arguments against those things. I don't want this to turn into a debate about those specifics, because I don't really think that's what the thread's about. So I will move on.) The Church says if someone faces a choice of following their informed conscience versus following Church dogma, they should follow their conscience.

    And Catholics also believe in viewing the Bible with an informed conscience. That means you don't run out and stone a prostitute just because the Old Testament says, "Stone prostitutes." You look at when the book was written, you look at how the people at the time viewed God and morality, you look at their culture, you look at the other place where God wrote his law, "not on stone, but in your heart." In the church's opinion, God's actions have a certain logic. Generally this has to do with preventing harm to yourself or others or to your relationship with people or God. You don't kill others, it harms them. You don't covet your brother's wife, it harms your relationship with him (and presumably his wife.) And so forth.

    Looking at the Bible with this interpretation, it's clear that in the Old Testament you have a lot of laws couched in moral terms that have nothing to do with morality. Why shouldn't the Old Testament guys eat pigs or shellfish? Because God has a soft spot for pigs and clams? OR because pork is riddled with parasites and bad shellfish causes food poisoning? The Leviticus fellows wrote it down in terms of morality because that's what they understood how to do, but it's clearly actually a hygienic reason.

    Or look at the verse saying that men who rape should marry their rape victim. We look at that and say, "What the hell?" But their "logic" was as follows: First, the man will have to provide for the woman, which is good because otherwise no one would marry her because virginity is valued so highly. Second, he won't be able to marry someone else even if he wants to, HA HA SUCKER. Third, he won't get a dowry. Serves the bastard right!

    It's not that God beamed a holographic image to them saying, "Hey guys, marrying victims to their rapists is an AWESOME idea." It's that God's law in their hearts told them, "Rape is bad." And so they said, "Oh, okay. Hmmm, what can we do about that?" And then they came to these bizarre conclusions based on their completely lack of psychological knowledge and sexist view of women. They were trying, poor stupid saps.

    Generally the New Testament is considered more "reliable", if you will, because Jesus, who Christians believe to be the Messiah, son of God, is actually THERE, talking to people. That's not to say the Gospel writers never got anything wrong, never embellished, or never drew theologically inaccurate conclusions. (Keep in mind all but . . . one I think? were writing at least fifty years after the events.) There is a reason there are four gospels and not just one. It just means you're playing "Telephone" with fewer people and are more likely to get an accurate result. The New Testament is also a lot more consistent than the Old Testament, being as it was written down fairly soon after the life of Jesus by only a few people, rather than being passed down through oral tradition through the centuries and written down (and rewritten) by scores of people. You still have to examine everything carefully.

    For example, there's a line about not "casting your pearls before swine", meaning "don't present the precious Good News of God to the gentiles, who are dumbfucks who will just laugh at it." Generally this is thought to have been added in by someone else, since the rest of the time Jesus is running around telling his disciples to preach to whoever will listen and making parables about how when the rich men refused to come to the master's feast, he invited beggars in the street and anyone else who would come. The master is God, the rich men are the Jewish people who reject the Gospel despite being the "chosen people" of the first covenant, and the beggars/lepers/etc are the gentiles who previously have had no contact with the "riches" of the word of God.) Jesus is usually quite consistent, so if he says "Do A" nine places and says "A is bad" in the tenth, generally A is considered to be correct.

    This is why I believe you're wrong to continually point out that Jesus said he wouldn't destroy any part of the law . . . Yeah, he says that in one part, then he breaks the law in a dozen other parts, working on the Sabbath, preventing people from stoning a prostitute, scolding Peter for cutting off the high priest's slave's ear, telling his followers that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, telling them NOT to take an eye for an eye, talking to strange women, and announcing, in answer to the question "who is my brother?", "Even the Samaritans are." (This would be like Jesus telling a parable to an American soldier where an Iraqi baathist who worked for Saddam is the brotherly one. It's like telling a KKK-er a parable where a black man saves him. Unfortunately most people don't understand the relationship the Samaritans had with the other Jews, so it's lost it's earth-shattering effect over time.)

    With regards to literal interpretation of the Bible in terms of creationism, Genesis, etc . . . I don't know how some Christians can accept Jesus' parables so easily and then insist that Genesis is literal. Or is the parable about the seed that falls on fertile ground really about farming? Is the parable about the goats and the sheep really about animal husbandry?

    The important message of the creation myth isn't "SIX DAYS SIX DAYS SIX DAAAAYS!", it's "God created it all." It's "the world is good" (repeated after every single day is completed; this would be as opposed to religions like Hinduism where the material world is an illusion that holds us back.) It's "God created man in his image", which doesn't mean God is bipedal on two spindly legs, but rather that we're INTERNALLY in his image--with a soul, with the ability to reason.

    Well, I hope this helped you understand the viewpoint somewhat. I've rambled at great length, but as I'm at work and can only check PA twice a day, I wanted to cover as much as possible in case the thread is locked before I can check it again. I'm an agnostic, but I do feel the Bible, or specifically the New Testament, is rather amazing, especially for its time. The events in it may or may not be true--maybe Jesus wasn't the son of God, maybe Jesus didn't even exist--but it's true in the way a story the touches you and resonates with you is true. ("All stories are true whether they happened or not, all stories are about us whether we like it or not," the deacon at my old church used to say.) Sadly, those parts are typically ignored by the most annoying and vocal of Christians.

    LadyM on
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    EchoEcho ski-bap ba-dapModerator mod
    edited April 2007
    Along with a couple other Commandments, but I don't follow them too closely.

    They're a bit fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps.

    (Sorry.)

    Echo on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited April 2007
    saint2e wrote: »
    As a christian, I'm honestly shocked that:

    a) other Christians use the "metaphor" excuse (let's call it like it is) instead of doing researching and finding the context/real reason
    b) atheists who bring up points like the animal sacrifice thing above don't do research and find out the context/real reason

    Any schmuck can pick out a verse or two from one section of the bible, then take another verse or two from another section, put them together and be all "olol the bible contradicted itself, look!"

    No, the context doesn't matter because when I criticize the idiotic parts of the Bible I am not criticizing because I'm taking it literally. I'm criticizing it because I know there are many Christians who will take it literally and act on it.

    The Bible is written with the assumption that people are smart and they can distinguish between what to take literally and what not to because they know the history/context of what is written. Whereas common sense dictates that if you're writing a book of commandments for millions of people you should aim it towards the people with the lowest IQ so people can't find creative ways to interpret it according to their own world-view and screw up their religion.

    ege02 on
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    BlutrasereiBlutraserei Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    LadyM wrote: »
    I'll present the Catholic viewpoint, but keep in mind this won't be the evangelical or fundamentalist view.

    God didn't poop the Bible down from the sky. He didn't walk into Moses' house and say, "Okay, write down what I tell you." He didn't zap the words straight into the writers' brains.

    The Bible is divinely inspired, but written by fallible humans. Humans often misinterpret God's intent or intentions. They apply their own biases. They get things wrong.

    Also, keep in mind that the Bible is not the be-all and end-all of Christianity. It's a great guidebook to the religion. And an atlas is a great guidebook to America's highways. But if you're following an atlas and suddenly you get to a section where the highway's been blown out, you have to stop and THINK about what to do next, not mindlessly continue forward, even if the atlas says the highway is still there.

    Catholics believe in cultivating an "informed conscience." I'm not sure how to explain it. Understanding theological arguments is part of it, but mostly it has to do with awareness and reflection. You have to learn as much as you can about whatever issue you're facing and think logically about it. (This may seem strange to outsiders who consider a lot of the the Church's arguments illogical, such as their views on homosexuality, abortion, birth control, etc. And I'm not saying they're right on those issues; I disagree with them on many of them. But as far as THEY are concerned, they have legitimate theological arguments against those things. I don't want this to turn into a debate about those specifics, because I don't really think that's what the thread's about. So I will move on.) The Church says if someone faces a choice of following their informed conscience versus following Church dogma, they should follow their conscience.

    And Catholics also believe in viewing the Bible with an informed conscience. That means you don't run out and stone a prostitute just because the Old Testament says, "Stone prostitutes." You look at when the book was written, you look at how the people at the time viewed God and morality, you look at their culture, you look at the other place where God wrote his law, "not on stone, but in your heart." In the church's opinion, God's actions have a certain logic. Generally this has to do with preventing harm to yourself or others or to your relationship with people or God. You don't kill others, it harms them. You don't covet your brother's wife, it harms your relationship with him (and presumably his wife.) And so forth.

    Looking at the Bible with this interpretation, it's clear that in the Old Testament you have a lot of laws couched in moral terms that have nothing to do with morality. Why shouldn't the Old Testament guys eat pigs or shellfish? Because God has a soft spot for pigs and clams? OR because pork is riddled with parasites and bad shellfish causes food poisoning? The Leviticus fellows wrote it down in terms of morality because that's what they understood how to do, but it's clearly actually a hygienic reason.

    Or look at the verse saying that men who rape should marry their rape victim. We look at that and say, "What the hell?" But their "logic" was as follows: First, the man will have to provide for the woman, which is good because otherwise no one would marry her because virginity is valued so highly. Second, he won't be able to marry someone else even if he wants to, HA HA SUCKER. Third, he won't get a dowry. Serves the bastard right!

    It's not that God beamed a holographic image to them saying, "Hey guys, marrying victims to their rapists is an AWESOME idea." It's that God's law in their hearts told them, "Rape is bad." And so they said, "Oh, okay. Hmmm, what can we do about that?" And then they came to these bizarre conclusions based on their completely lack of psychological knowledge and sexist view of women. They were trying, poor stupid saps.

    Generally the New Testament is considered more "reliable", if you will, because Jesus, who Christians believe to be the Messiah, son of God, is actually THERE, talking to people. That's not to say the Gospel writers never got anything wrong, never embellished, or never drew theologically inaccurate conclusions. (Keep in mind all but . . . one I think? were writing at least fifty years after the events.) There is a reason there are four gospels and not just one. It just means you're playing "Telephone" with fewer people and are more likely to get an accurate result. The New Testament is also a lot more consistent than the Old Testament, being as it was written down fairly soon after the life of Jesus by only a few people, rather than being passed down through oral tradition through the centuries and written down (and rewritten) by scores of people. You still have to examine everything carefully.

    For example, there's a line about not "casting your pearls before swine", meaning "don't present the precious Good News of God to the gentiles, who are dumbfucks who will just laugh at it." Generally this is thought to have been added in by someone else, since the rest of the time Jesus is running around telling his disciples to preach to whoever will listen and making parables about how when the rich men refused to come to the master's feast, he invited beggars in the street and anyone else who would come. The master is God, the rich men are the Jewish people who reject the Gospel despite being the "chosen people" of the first covenant, and the beggars/lepers/etc are the gentiles who previously have had no contact with the "riches" of the word of God.) Jesus is usually quite consistent, so if he says "Do A" nine places and says "A is bad" in the tenth, generally A is considered to be correct.

    This is why I believe you're wrong to continually point out that Jesus said he wouldn't destroy any part of the law . . . Yeah, he says that in one part, then he breaks the law in a dozen other parts, working on the Sabbath, preventing people from stoning a prostitute, scolding Peter for cutting off the high priest's slave's ear, telling his followers that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, telling them NOT to take an eye for an eye, talking to strange women, and announcing, in answer to the question "who is my brother?", "Even the Samaritans are." (This would be like Jesus telling a parable to an American soldier where an Iraqi baathist who worked for Saddam is the brotherly one. It's like telling a KKK-er a parable where a black man saves him. Unfortunately most people don't understand the relationship the Samaritans had with the other Jews, so it's lost it's earth-shattering effect over time.)

    With regards to literal interpretation of the Bible in terms of creationism, Genesis, etc . . . I don't know how some Christians can accept Jesus' parables so easily and then insist that Genesis is literal. Or is the parable about the seed that falls on fertile ground really about farming? Is the parable about the goats and the sheep really about animal husbandry?

    The important message of the creation myth isn't "SIX DAYS SIX DAYS SIX DAAAAYS!", it's "God created it all." It's "the world is good" (repeated after every single day is completed; this would be as opposed to religions like Hinduism where the material world is an illusion that holds us back.) It's "God created man in his image", which doesn't mean God is bipedal on two spindly legs, but rather that we're INTERNALLY in his image--with a soul, with the ability to reason.

    Well, I hope this helped you understand the viewpoint somewhat. I've rambled at great length, but as I'm at work and can only check PA twice a day, I wanted to cover as much as possible in case the thread is locked before I can check it again. I'm an agnostic, but I do feel the Bible, or specifically the New Testament, is rather amazing, especially for its time. The events in it may or may not be true--maybe Jesus wasn't the son of God, maybe Jesus didn't even exist--but it's true in the way a story the touches you and resonates with you is true. ("All stories are true whether they happened or not, all stories are about us whether we like it or not," the deacon at my old church used to say.) Sadly, those parts are typically ignored by the most annoying and vocal of Christians.



    You my friend are three different kinds of awesome. Bravo! :D

    Blutraserei on
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    GregerGreger Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Qingu wrote: »
    A number of Christians on this forum—as well as some agnostics—have derided me for my reading of the Bible. They claim that I am being too harsh on the text because I am taking it "literally," and I refuse to try to understand alternate readings of the text. In particular, they object to my reading of God's laws in the Old Testament regarding slavery, rape, and warfare.

    My question is, how do you decide which passages to take "literally" and which passages to take "metaphorically?" What criteria do you use to determine that, for example, the ressurection of Jesus described in Matthew 28 really happened, but that the earthquakes, darkness blotting out the sky, and the army of zombie-saints marching into Jerusalem described later in the chapter are "metaphorical"? What is it about the text of Genesis 1-3 that cries out "metaphor," as opposed to an honest attempt by the Hebrews to understand the world? Why, when you read a law that orders you to enslave all the inhabitants of a city or force a rape victim to marry her rapist, do you only care about the abstract "spirit" of the law—while you claim to follow some of Jesus' commandments at their word?

    My opinion, of course, is that the "standard" for determining which passages are literal and which are metaphorical is simply how foolish and barbaric the passage in question appears to us today. 3,000 years ago everyone thought the world was flat and deities lived in the sky, just as Genesis 1 describes, but today we "know" that the passage is just a metaphor because we know that such a desription of reality is flat-out-wrong. Similarly, most cultures at the time of the Hebrews had laws that condone slavery and treated women as chattle, but we "know" such laws are to be taken only in "spirit" (whatever that means) because following them at their word today would be exceedingly barbaric and cruel.

    That is my take on so-called liberal interpretation of the Bible, but I hope someone here can defend their method of interpretation.

    Note: this is not a general atheism thread. For all practical purposes, you might as well assume that the Bible is true. This thread is only concerned with discussing and interpreting the Bible as a work of literature and arriving at the intent of its authors. NO GENERAL GOD ARGUMENTS!

    Some things cant be translated any other way. Choose another religion.

    Greger on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    CangoFett wrote: »
    Meiz wrote:
    Plain, simple, sacrifice. Offering to a God, a fucking omnipotent being. So, I ask again, what does God need with a starship, er I mean sacrifice?

    God doesnt need a sacrifice.

    Put yourself into their shoes. You're a shepherd, or even a land owner. You have your livestock, its your sign of wealth. People now a days have a bunch of cars, then you had a bunch of sheep, or cattle. In addition to that normal attachment though, these are also living beings. Lambs are cute and innocent.

    Do you really want to take one of your lambs, cut it open, and sprinkle its blood, because you screwed up?

    Sacrifices were forms of attonement, and praise. Its saying either, "God, I messed up, and I realize. I realize that sin equals death" or "God, I realize you are more important than my wealth, my livestock. Im giving up something I have to please you"

    Ok, yeah, there was a huge need to keep pigeons around and it would be a terrible loss, both morally and ethically, to kill them.

    I don't personally consider that atonement, I consider that pest control.
    And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.

    Meiz on
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    GregerGreger Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    LadyM wrote: »

    The important message of the creation myth isn't "SIX DAYS SIX DAYS SIX DAAAAYS!", it's "God created it all." It's "the world is good" (repeated after every single day is completed; this would be as opposed to religions like Hinduism where the material world is an illusion that holds us back.) It's "God created man in his image", which doesn't mean God is bipedal on two spindly legs, but rather that we're INTERNALLY in his image--with a soul, with the ability to reason.

    Who are you to say what is the important message?

    Greger on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    So I have to believe in God to read the Bible now and offer my interpretations? What's the deal OP?

    Meiz on
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    Vincent GraysonVincent Grayson Frederick, MDRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    It always seemed to me that if God inspired the Bible, he maybe should've done a better job, or like, realizing what fucking idiots people are, he should try inspiring a new one, with updated and clear rules for modern life without room for shitty interpretation.

    You'd think he'd have thought of that in advance though, what with the omniscience and all.

    Vincent Grayson on
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    SithDrummerSithDrummer Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    So I have to believe in God to read the Bible now and offer my interpretations? What's the deal OP?
    Because he's trying to get a feel for how a Christian goes about rationally, fairly, and honestly determining which parts of the Bible, if any, are metaphorical in nature, and which are literal. This isn't a "shit on the Bible because God doesn't exist" thread, it's a "how does one justify taking certain Bible passages as less than literal" thread.
    Greger wrote: »
    Some things cant be translated any other way. Choose another religion.
    Choose a way to post something of substance. Also, waiting on your response in the indoctrination thread. I'd hate to have to quote my request again.


    Edit: to add a little more...

    I think LadyM covered it very, very well. This post is only fluff and support, in my estimation.

    What do you do with a four-millennia-old text that is vitally important even if only some of it is accurate? How do you know what is literal and not? What applies and what doesn't?

    Check for internal consistency - if two passages' literal meanings contradict one another, then one (or both) are metaphorical in nature, or the contexts of each do not overlap, or at least one has been misinterpreted/mistranslated, and so on.

    Compare translations to see differences in wording, or go to the source language (Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek) to determine the meaning.

    Consider the context: the intended audience demographic; the author (see below); the setting and history that coincides with or precludes the passage; the prevalent culture of the author, of the location from which the author is writing, and of the intended recipients. All of these things can influence how an underlying message is actually worded.

    Regarding the author, lots of questions there. Which books of the Bible were in existence, and which ones would be familiar to the author, at the time of the writing? What was his profession? Personality? Region of origin? Social status? What could his intent be in writing what would later become scripture? These all have a bearing on what was written and what was omitted, what biases or ignorance colored his writing, and in general give you a better feel for the text.

    SithDrummer on
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    Vincent GraysonVincent Grayson Frederick, MDRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    So I have to believe in God to read the Bible now and offer my interpretations? What's the deal OP?
    Because he's trying to get a feel for how a Christian goes about rationally, fairly, and honestly determining which parts of the Bible, if any, are metaphorical in nature, and which are literal. This isn't a "shit on the Bible because God doesn't exist" thread, it's a "how does one justify taking certain Bible passages as less than literal" thread.
    Greger wrote: »
    Some things cant be translated any other way. Choose another religion.
    Choose a way to post something of substance. Also, waiting on your response in the indoctrination thread. I'd hate to have to quote my request again.

    That topic got locked.

    Vincent Grayson on
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    MeizMeiz Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    Meiz wrote: »
    So I have to believe in God to read the Bible now and offer my interpretations? What's the deal OP?
    Because he's trying to get a feel for how a Christian goes about rationally, fairly, and honestly determining which parts of the Bible, if any, are metaphorical in nature, and which are literal. This isn't a "shit on the Bible because God doesn't exist" thread, it's a "how does one justify taking certain Bible passages as less than literal" thread.

    Well, I actually took the time to read the Bible and that passage struck me as a literal reference to ritualistic sacrifice which I actually bothered digging up, quoting and giving my take on it. People disagree and offered different interpretations for said passage, hey that's cool.

    You can't really have a thread asking if somethings to be taken literally or metaphorically and at the same time omitting your bias for said passage in the first place. That's called a circle jerk.

    Meiz on
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    SithDrummerSithDrummer Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    The Indoctrination thread, not the American Atheist thread.

    Meiz, could you clarify what you mean by "bias for said passage"? My best guess is that you're referring to the assumption (by Funky/Cango/Mr. O) that God doesn't necessarily "need" a sacrifice. In any case, I don't see how that fits with what I quoted - actually, looking back, I don't really see what prompted the "so I have to believe in God" statement at all.

    SithDrummer on
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    RichyRichy Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    LadyM wrote: »
    A long post that should be entirely limed.

    You my friend are three different kinds of awesome. Bravo! :D

    I'm with LadyM, too. That was a pretty clear and complete answer.

    Richy on
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    saint2esaint2e Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    ege02 wrote: »
    saint2e wrote: »
    As a christian, I'm honestly shocked that:

    a) other Christians use the "metaphor" excuse (let's call it like it is) instead of doing researching and finding the context/real reason
    b) atheists who bring up points like the animal sacrifice thing above don't do research and find out the context/real reason

    Any schmuck can pick out a verse or two from one section of the bible, then take another verse or two from another section, put them together and be all "olol the bible contradicted itself, look!"

    No, the context doesn't matter because when I criticize the idiotic parts of the Bible I am not criticizing because I'm taking it literally. I'm criticizing it because I know there are many Christians who will take it literally and act on it.

    Sounds like you should be criticizing the people, not the book.
    ege02 wrote: »
    The Bible is written with the assumption that people are smart and they can distinguish between what to take literally and what not to because they know the history/context of what is written. Whereas common sense dictates that if you're writing a book of commandments for millions of people you should aim it towards the people with the lowest IQ so people can't find creative ways to interpret it according to their own world-view and screw up their religion.

    Just like the American constitution is written in plain english so that even the dumbest peons can understand it, right? And there's never any confusion about the laws of the land, much less incredibly confusion requiring a whole section of judges who are charged with correctly interpretting it.

    saint2e on
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    BlutrasereiBlutraserei Registered User regular
    edited April 2007
    It always seemed to me that if God inspired the Bible, he maybe should've done a better job, or like, realizing what fucking idiots people are, he should try inspiring a new one, with updated and clear rules for modern life without room for shitty interpretation.

    You'd think he'd have thought of that in advance though, what with the omniscience and all.



    Or maybe it was intentional because in man's fallen nature thats how it works. God punted us out of Eden and essentialy said "I'm still here if you want me, but I'm sorry, ya'll are on your own."


    I find it far wiser to make people think about what they read and subject them to interpretation and fellowship required to do so :P...instead of...y'know..catering to rampant ignorance and lazyness of the mind.


    The rules are pretty damn clear. Read it again. It gets simpler the further you get in. Also: Old Testament = history of Christian faith to the point where Christ split time (i.e.: B.C./A.D.). Pay it only the attention it deserves. You want the main focus of Christianity then read the New Testament.




    Edit: Yes I know. Hypocrisy in regards to my previous dispositions in other threads. Shut up. I know. Thats why I avoid those threads like plagues if I can. Makes me confuse myself.

    Blutraserei on
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    GooeyGooey (\/)┌¶─¶┐(\/) pinch pinchRegistered User regular
    edited April 2007
    I have to admit that I'm not a completely literal reader of the Bible. To answer your question, I pick and choose what I read literally based on what can be explained through science. (Yes, I'm one of those people that believes the complexity of the world around us and our insignificant understanding of that further proves God's existence.)

    I believe that the Bible must be read through the context at which it was written. God did say in Genesis that He created the world in 6 days - maybe because there would be no way that given our limited understanding of the world at the time we would be able to understand a concept like the big bang? I believe that the New Testament was written to be taken more literally.

    The whole Jesus thing, that happened. For sure.

    However, it's not the events of the Bible that are the important part. That's what people get hung up on. It's the lessons and underlying meanings that are what truly matter.

    Of course I could be entirely wrong and headed straight to Hell. Either way I just try to live the best life I can and follow Jesus' teachings.
    It always seemed to me that if God inspired the Bible, he maybe should've done a better job, or like, realizing what fucking idiots people are, he should try inspiring a new one, with updated and clear rules for modern life without room for shitty interpretation.

    You'd think he'd have thought of that in advance though, what with the omniscience and all.

    Maybe we're not listening?

    Man, that was cheesy. Sorry.

    Gooey on
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