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The Gospels and History


Machine_Washable

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I have been reading history of late antiquity lately and some of this reading touches on Christian history and beliefs. I am confused about the Christian point of view of the historicity  of the Gospels. In Islam we believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God (SWT) and exists uncreated (at least in mainstream Sunni Islam). From my research I do not think that this is the mainstream Christian point of view. But I am having trouble understanding what exactly the mainstream view is. For example, I watched a youtube video by an atheist scholar about contradictions in the Gospels. He claimed things like that the Gospels disagree with Joseph's lineage or whether the Apostles stayed in Galilee or Jerusalem after Jesus (AS) supposedly rose from the dead.

The reason that I am confused is that these seem like contradictions that would be pretty easy to notice. And I know that the Bible was put together in a Council. So I don't see why you all would include all four of the Gospels if these contradictions were considered significant. And I have read some Christians say that these issues are not seen as significant by Christians. Can you explain this?

In summary, I really have three questions:

Firstly, do Christians believe that contradictions in the Bible do exist? Or do you think these apparent contradictions are misunderstandings by non-Christians?

Secondly, if Christians do believe that these contradictions exist then why don't they matter?

Finally, when Christians say that these books are inspired by God (SAW) what exactly does that mean? Is this why it does not matter if there are discrepancies?

 

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3 hours ago, Machine_Washable said:

In summary, I really have three questions:

Well I can't give you an answer on behalf on all Christians but I can give you my own personal take on it.

3 hours ago, Machine_Washable said:

Firstly, do Christians believe that contradictions in the Bible do exist? Or do you think these apparent contradictions are misunderstandings by non-Christians?

I'd say that there are some apparent contradictions. But just because there is an apparent contradiction, does not mean that there is an actual contradiction. It could be that we simply do not know how to resolve the apparent contradiction, to demonstrate that there is no actual inconsistency.

I mean in Ephesians you have: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Then in James you have:  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Martin Luther saw this as an apparent contradiction and decided to remove the book of James from the Bible. Catholics and other Christians know how to resolve the apparent contradiction, so there is no issue.

3 hours ago, Machine_Washable said:

Secondly, if Christians do believe that these contradictions exist then why don't they matter?

Well they don't matter because I believe as a matter of faith that Sacred Scripture is the inspired word of God. Would it be reasonable to think that a human being could fully comprehend the word of God? From my standpoint there are things about Sacred Scripture that I do not fully understand and that I cannot explain from a purely logical standpoint, but that does not bother me because I am not reading a mathematics book or a scientific text. I am reading the word of God itself, so I should naturally expect that there are things about it that will not make complete sense to me.

Also one has to keep in mind the different senses of Sacred Scripture. In the Bible you see historical accounts, letters, parables, poems, prayers, etc. Not everything in the Bible is meant to be read as like as a historical account, or a scientific text. When we see that God created the universe in 7 days, you don't have to literally read that as seven 24 hour periods (although you can if you like). The Church does interpret everything that you see in the Bible literally.

3 hours ago, Machine_Washable said:

Finally, when Christians say that these books are inspired by God (SAW) what exactly does that mean? Is this why it does not matter if there are discrepancies?

Well to me it means that the books (at least the originals) are perfect. Just as God intended them. If I see something in the Bible that I cannot explain, or that seem to contradict, I look at it as my own personal limitation, not as a limitation of the text itself.

I mean, what the atheists and the other folks do with the Christian Scriptures, people can do with the Quran as well. I know you don't see it that way, since the book is Holy to you and all of that Jazz. But whenever I pick up the Quran I see it as a nonsensical ramble of sorts and wonder how anybody could possibly believe that it is the word of God.

One example, doesn't Muhammad indicate an understanding of the Trinity as the Father, Jesus, and Mary? To me, that's ridiculous. It's historically inaccurate. It's absurd. But I'm sure you've got some "explanation" for that because you start off from the premise that the Quran is the word of God.

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11 hours ago, Peace said:

Well I can't give you an answer on behalf on all Christians but I can give you my own personal take on it.

I'd say that there are some apparent contradictions. But just because there is an apparent contradiction, does not mean that there is an actual contradiction. It could be that we simply do not know how to resolve the apparent contradiction, to demonstrate that there is no actual inconsistency.

I mean in Ephesians you have: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Then in James you have:  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Martin Luther saw this as an apparent contradiction and decided to remove the book of James from the Bible. Catholics and other Christians know how to resolve the apparent contradiction, so there is no issue.

Well they don't matter because I believe as a matter of faith that Sacred Scripture is the inspired word of God. Would it be reasonable to think that a human being could fully comprehend the word of God? From my standpoint there are things about Sacred Scripture that I do not fully understand and that I cannot explain from a purely logical standpoint, but that does not bother me because I am not reading a mathematics book or a scientific text. I am reading the word of God itself, so I should naturally expect that there are things about it that will not make complete sense to me.

Also one has to keep in mind the different senses of Sacred Scripture. In the Bible you see historical accounts, letters, parables, poems, prayers, etc. Not everything in the Bible is meant to be read as like as a historical account, or a scientific text. When we see that God created the universe in 7 days, you don't have to literally read that as seven 24 hour periods (although you can if you like). The Church does interpret everything that you see in the Bible literally.

Well to me it means that the books (at least the originals) are perfect. Just as God intended them. If I see something in the Bible that I cannot explain, or that seem to contradict, I look at it as my own personal limitation, not as a limitation of the text itself.

I mean, what the atheists and the other folks do with the Christian Scriptures, people can do with the Quran as well. I know you don't see it that way, since the book is Holy to you and all of that Jazz. But whenever I pick up the Quran I see it as a nonsensical ramble of sorts and wonder how anybody could possibly believe that it is the word of God.

One example, doesn't Muhammad indicate an understanding of the Trinity as the Father, Jesus, and Mary? To me, that's ridiculous. It's historically inaccurate. It's absurd. But I'm sure you've got some "explanation" for that because you start off from the premise that the Quran is the word of God.

Yes. Let me address this last point so you can see where I am coming from. There is a verse in the Qur'an that could be read this way.

Here is the verse (sura 5:116)

“And when God said, “O Jesus son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind, ‘Take me and my mother as gods apart from God?’” He said, “Glory be to Thee! It is not for me to utter that to which I have no right. Had I said it, Thou wouldst surely have known it. Thou knowest what is in my self and I know not what is in Thy Self. Truly it is Thou Who knowest best the things unseen.”

So is this verse claiming that Mary is part of the trinity? It's ambiguious. It does not explicitly say that Mary is in the trinity but, yes, it could be read this way. In the tafsir we find a couple responses. Some muffasir say that this is not saying Mary is part of the trinity but, rather, it is a rhetorical point about the way that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox venerate Mary. Others say that this verse is indeed putting Mary in the trinity but that this was a belief of some small, local break away sect of Christians that the Qur'an is addressing.

Obviously, muffasir must start from the assumption that this is not a simple mistake. I have read some secular scholars who agree that the point of this verse is rhetorical and intended to attack the veneration of Mary. I have ready others that say it was an error. Both positions are reasonable from within their secular paradigm.

However a muffasir would never say that it is a mistake because that would be kufr within the paradigm of Sunni Islam. In the same way that if the Qur'an listed Muhammad's (SAW) genealogy there could be no mistake because if there was then that would be kufr in the paradigm of Sunni islam.

So you see why I am trying to understand the Christian paradigm because, as I understand it, if one of the Gospel writers did get Joseph's genealogy wrong that would not necessarily be a problem because you believe these books are inspired and not the literal word of God (SWT). Is that correct? I'm not trying to do some "gotcha" with Christians. I'm just trying to understand your paradigm.

 

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36 minutes ago, Machine_Washable said:

Yes. Let me address this last point so you can see where I am coming from. There is a verse in the Qur'an that could be read this way.

Here is the verse (sura 5:116)

“And when God said, “O Jesus son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind, ‘Take me and my mother as gods apart from God?’” He said, “Glory be to Thee! It is not for me to utter that to which I have no right. Had I said it, Thou wouldst surely have known it. Thou knowest what is in my self and I know not what is in Thy Self. Truly it is Thou Who knowest best the things unseen.”

So is this verse claiming that Mary is part of the trinity? It's ambiguious. It does not explicitly say that Mary is in the trinity but, yes, it could be read this way. In the tafsir we find a couple responses. Some muffasir say that this is not saying Mary is part of the trinity but, rather, it is a rhetorical point about the way that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox venerate Mary. Others say that this verse is indeed putting Mary in the trinity but that this was a belief of some small, local break away sect of Christians that the Qur'an is addressing.

Obviously, muffasir must start from the assumption that this is not a simple mistake. I have read some secular scholars who agree that the point of this verse is rhetorical and intended to attack the veneration of Mary. I have ready others that say it was an error. Both positions are reasonable from within their secular paradigm.

However a muffasir would never say that it is a mistake because that would be kufr within the paradigm of Sunni Islam. In the same way that if the Qur'an listed Muhammad's (SAW) genealogy there could be no mistake because if there was then that would be kufr in the paradigm of Sunni islam.

Thanks for the explanation.

36 minutes ago, Machine_Washable said:

So you see why I am trying to understand the Christian paradigm because, as I understand it, if one of the Gospel writers did get Joseph's genealogy wrong that would not necessarily be a problem because you believe these books are inspired and not the literal word of God (SWT). Is that correct? I'm not trying to do some "gotcha" with Christians. I'm just trying to understand your paradigm.

Well here is what the Catechism says on the topic:

https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__PP.HTM

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."71

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book". Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, "not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living".73 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."74

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50 minutes ago, Machine_Washable said:

So you see why I am trying to understand the Christian paradigm because, as I understand it, if one of the Gospel writers did get Joseph's genealogy wrong that would not necessarily be a problem because you believe these books are inspired and not the literal word of God (SWT). Is that correct? I'm not trying to do some "gotcha" with Christians. I'm just trying to understand your paradigm.

This article also has a substantial explanation of the topic:

https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08045a.htm

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2 hours ago, Machine_Washable said:

So you see why I am trying to understand the Christian paradigm because, as I understand it, if one of the Gospel writers did get Joseph's genealogy wrong that would not necessarily be a problem because you believe these books are inspired and not the literal word of God (SWT). Is that correct? I'm not trying to do some "gotcha" with Christians. I'm just trying to understand your paradigm.

To put it another way - when I see a question like “if one of the Gospel writers did get Joseph's genealogy wrong . . .” I think to myself “Well that’s a silly question. That’s impossible because the Bible cannot contain error”.

When we say that the Bible is inspired I don’t think we mean that God is literally dictating words out loud, and the human  author simply listens to what God had said and writes it down verbatim, almost like a court reporter records witness testimony. I take it that this is the Muslim view of the Quran?

On the other hand, inspiration isn’t simply like God saying “Matthew, I would like you to write an account today on the life of Jesus. Work out the details as you please and get back to me when you are finished”. Inspiration is a much stronger concept than that, as the article I linked to explains. God works on the will and the intellect of the person writing, so that the end product is exactly as God desires it to be. It cannot contain any error because every single word of the Bible was written exactly as God willed it to be.

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On 11/23/2021 at 6:22 AM, Machine_Washable said:

I have been reading history of late antiquity lately and some of this reading touches on Christian history and beliefs. I am confused about the Christian point of view of the historicity  of the Gospels. In Islam we believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God (SWT) and exists uncreated (at least in mainstream Sunni Islam). From my research I do not think that this is the mainstream Christian point of view. But I am having trouble understanding what exactly the mainstream view is. For example, I watched a youtube video by an atheist scholar about contradictions in the Gospels. He claimed things like that the Gospels disagree with Joseph's lineage or whether the Apostles stayed in Galilee or Jerusalem after Jesus (AS) supposedly rose from the dead.

The reason that I am confused is that these seem like contradictions that would be pretty easy to notice. And I know that the Bible was put together in a Council. So I don't see why you all would include all four of the Gospels if these contradictions were considered significant. And I have read some Christians say that these issues are not seen as significant by Christians. Can you explain this?

In summary, I really have three questions:

Firstly, do Christians believe that contradictions in the Bible do exist? Or do you think these apparent contradictions are misunderstandings by non-Christians?

Secondly, if Christians do believe that these contradictions exist then why don't they matter?

Finally, when Christians say that these books are inspired by God (SAW) what exactly does that mean? Is this why it does not matter if there are discrepancies?

 

In my view... the disciples were all human and were all flawed.. .they all ran away from Jesus at the time of his arrest.  The gospel writings are eye witness accounts by human being who could have missed some important details that one of the other gospel accounts fills in, (for example the full text of what was written by Pilate on the sign over Messiah Yeshua - Jesus - Issa would be the combined words of each gospel account which would be something like "This is Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews."

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