A Tough Questions Debate: DagoodS & Bill Pratt

Continuing the discussion found at Tough Questions Answered, a fellow skeptical blogger, DagoodS of Thoughts From A Sandwich, took unkindly to a comment Bill made about deconverted christians having a “Pollyanna view of Christianity”This began a separate comment theme that brought the skeptics in the thread to the conclusion that no true attempts to answer their questions would be made.  This coupled with the entrance of a typically nasty Troll nearly brought to entire thread to a screeching halt.

Willie G says:

April 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Bill Pratt says: “You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes. We are included in his plans and he allows us to be important actors in the drama he has written, but there is a catch with this approach: Christianity turns out to be messier than some of us would like.”

That is an incredible encapsulation of why so many former evangelicals have turned their backs on their former faith. You paint god as the tyrannical playwright that fully orchestrates the “drama” of human existence in all it’s ugliness, with all it’s tragedy, gross neglect and evil encounters, then add that it is all his plan and he “allows” us to play. There is far too much deleterious inuendo here to ever accept your final appeal to the appreciation of any kind of a divine “plan.” Rather it points clearly to delusion.

Bill Pratt says:

April 22, 2010 at 10:22 pm

…I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.

DagoodS says:

April 23, 2010 at 8:19 am

Bill Pratt says: “By the way, I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.”

Oh, sure…you can say that…you’d be wrong, of course, but nothing prevents you from saying it. *wink* Now—proving it? Whole different kettle of fish…  We understand the claim of human interweaving with divine. Where the trouble comes is determining a method of differentiating between what is “human” compared to “human + divine” (however one cares to define that.) Some claim this writing is just human, others claim the writing is human + divine. Others claim that writing is human + divine; while opponents disagree.  What many of us were faced with was coming up with an arguably consistent method of determining what writings (or persons or miracles or claims) can be differentiated from solely human. Sure, we understood the human element in creating the Protestant Bible. The question is not that at all; the question is how to determine any divine element within something we all agree is human?

In simple question form: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”

Bill Pratt says:

April 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I think I already addressed this in the blog post. The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original writing is inspired by God and therefore without error. Christians are agreed on some 99% of the New Testament text, based on textual criticism, so that’s what we would hold as inerrant, at least in the NT. This number has moved very little since textual critics began their work a couple hundred years ago or so. If it does move a little bit up or down based on new findings, it’s no big deal since we’re dealing with such a small part of the text.  There is no dichotomy between divine and human in the Bible. The church has always held that God, through the agency of humans, inspired the very words of the biblical books. We don’t say this word is from God and that word is from a human. We say that they are all from both, working in coordination.

DagoodS says:

April 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Bill Pratt says: The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original writing is inspired by God and therefore without error.

You do understand that is circular, correct? The Bible is inerrant because the Bible self-claims to be Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos), and theopneustos means it was inspired by God, and since God cannot error, the Bible must be inerrant.

But let’s say, for a moment, it is inerrant. And let’s say, for the moment, our copies are 100% exact duplicates of the original. We both agree the originals (and copies) were made by humans. This still does not answer the question—what method does one use to differentiate between human writings and human + God-inspired writings?  I can grab a Hallmark card. It is inerrant, and 100% exact copy of the original. It was written by a human. What method do I apply to determine whether it is or is not equally God-inspired? Other writings, such as the Book of Mormon, Qur’an and Science and Health with Key to Scriptures claim to be written by humans, but with a divine touch.  If I granted them the same latitude I grant the Bible in terms of inerrancy and copies—what method does one use to determine those are or are not God-inspired?  Simply claiming a human writing has additional divine influence is insufficient. We have plenty of such writings. We have entire books of such writings. We have books that were once in the Bible (Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, Wisdom of Solomon.) We have books that remained in dispute for a long time (James, Epistles of John, Revelation.) We have entire sections of the Bible that have been both in AND out of inspiration–Pericope de Adultera, ending of Mark, Johannine Comma.

I’m sorry, perhaps I missed it in the blog entry. Maybe you can point it out. “Given a string of words, what method do we use to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”*

*I should note I don’t use the term Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) to sound impressive or show off some archaic knowledge of Greek. I use that term because it is singularly used, and we have no other works utilizing it—not even other places in Christian writing. We understand it is a combination of “God” (theo) and “Spirit or wind or breath” (pneuma) yet that is insufficient to necessarily explain what the author meant, nor what he meant by “Scripture” (graphe.)

Bill Pratt says:

April 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Dagoods says: “You do understand that is circular, correct? The Bible is inerrant because the Bible self-claims to be theopneustos, and theopneustos means it was inspired by God, and since God cannot error, the Bible must be inerrant.”

I was not presenting an argument for inerrancy. I was stating what inerrancy is. You’ve made that mistake several times with me now. You criticize me for not presenting sound arguments when I am not presenting arguments at all (you did the same thing with the whole Misquoting Jesus comment string). I like to just discuss things sometimes without always developing a 5-point thesis and then marshaling evidence for it. I would appreciate it if you would try to give me the benefit of the doubt a little more. If you want me to always answer every comment you make with a well-structured argument, then let me know.

How one arrives at the doctrine of inerrancy is through a process that goes through several steps, the first being the demonstration that the God of Christianity exists. Every time you and I correspond we seem to eventually come back to this point. You asked me to prove the historicity of miracles without presupposing the existence of God, and I said that was foolish. You are now asking me to prove inerrancy, and I am telling you that you cannot do so without first establishing the existence of the Christian God. We have done some of that work in previous blog posts, if you’re interested.

DagoodS says:

April 25, 2010 at 11:51 am

I apologize for the confusion I caused with my comment on inerrancy. I should have resisted temptation.

Really, what I am focused on is “inspiration”—what Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) is typically translated in 2 Tim. 3:16. Not inerrancy. In fact, I was attempting to take inerrancy out of the picture, by granting it for the moment. I also tried to take textual variants out by temporarily granting 100% accurate transmission .  It still leaves us the question as to what human writings are theopneustos–presumably divine influenced under orthodox Christian doctrine. Your blog entry indicated (essentially) Christians shouldn’t be worried that flawed and fallible humans were involved in the creating of Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) writing. And we all agree (I think) other writings by other flawed and fallible humans are also claimed to be theopneustos by other flawed and fallible humans.  If we are not to be bothered by this, I am curious what method one would use to differentiate between the correct flawed and fallible humans who declared writings by flawed and fallible humans to be theopneustos as compared to the incorrect flawed and fallible humans who declared writings by other flawed and fallible humans to be theopneustos.

In other words, “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?

Bill Pratt says:

April 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Same answer as before. The existence of the Christian God must be established first. Without that, there is no hope in determining which “inspired” writings from the many religious traditions are truly inspired. We would be left with total agnosticism.

DagoodS says:

April 26, 2010 at 9:22 am

Unfortunately, even establishing the Christian God does little to help us on our way (and can dangerously interject subjectivity into the topic.) I’ll explain. 

First, there is nothing technically within the requirements of a Christian God necessitating inspired writing. Think of it this way, according to Christianity, 1000’s of people were converted to Christianity before there was a single Christian writing! (Acts 2:41, 47) [Arguably, at best one would have the Christian interpretation of the Jewish inspired writing—the Tanakh.]  Therefore, we not only would have to establish a Christian God—but a Christian God that desires to communicate in writing. A narrower version. But even that is not enough. There are various claims as to how this Christian God communicates in writing: Directly by angel (Qur’an), or on golden plates (Mormon) or through human interaction (Creedal Christianity and Christian Science.) Now we either have to establish a method to determine which means the Christian God uses! Creating the same problem I have asked in each comment—what method do we use?  Or, alternatively, we presume it is through human compulsion—“inspiration” if you will. Now we have to establish: 1) A Christian God who 2) communicates in writing by 3)human instrumentality.  Here we come very close to question-begging; assuming the very conclusion we are trying to prove. To prove an inspired writing, we use a particular inspired writing to first establish a God would utilize inspired writing, and then claim this must be the inspired writing! This becomes dangerously circular:

1) The Bible is used to prove a God using inspired writing.
2) A God using inspired writing proves the Bible is inspired.

Secondly, this still leaves us with methodological problems. As I previously pointed out, even Christians who hold to 1) a Christian God that 2) communicates through writing by 3) inspiring humans…even such Christians debate over what phrases, verses, words, clauses and even chapters and books are included within Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos). We are left clamoring for a method to make the same determinations.

Please understand, I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I have asked the same question three times, and have yet to see a method provided. Am I to presume you have such a method—giving you the benefit of the doubt—but that you are not willing to share it with us? Is that what you are saying?  Simply establishing a Christian God is insufficient. Attempting to establish attributes of this God to align with an inspired writing flirts with question-begging, and introduces another question of methodology—how do we determine which means such a God would use? And even after establishing all that, we are still left with the same question—what method do we use to determine a certain string of words is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?

DagoodS says:

May 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

As I had posted a few replies, I remained subscribed to this blog entry and have been following the discussion. There have been numerous occasions where I lifted my fingers to keyboard to write a response, and then refrained to avoid interrupting the conversation.

First of all, I have many sentiments similar to the positions postulated by Willie G & Doubting T. Not a shock, as it sounds we have comparable backgrounds in deconverting from Christianity.  I have respectedyour indication regarding the intent of this blog. That you are providing abbreviated posts to Christians posing inquiries. I think Willie G very accurately reflected my thoughts when he stated this blog could more aptly be named, “Giving Christians the Answers They Want To Hear.”  However, when you make statements like, “I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces,” I do feel a desire to probe your position on that. Since you are informing the world what I (the former Christian) am doing—and I think you are incorrect—I question how you reached that position.

I found your question to Willie G….intriguing:

Bill Pratt says: “Were there certain key facts you learned that made Christianity intellectually impossible to believe, facts that I am not aware of?”

If one looks back at the comments I have asked one question. Four Times. “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  One might also notice that question has remained unanswered.  One fact that made Christian belief difficult and eventually unable to sustain was the fact apologists avoid method questions like the plague. Oh, they love to debate nuance and interpretation and possibilities—but start asking for a method and they find themselves at a loss. Ask them to stay consistent with a method and the system crumbles.  The reason I find method so important is that it works toward removing bias in determining answers. Doubting T correctly asks, “What is your alternative for seeking the truth without bias?“  Therefore when you portrayed my deconversion along lines it was not, I started asking questions. Perhaps I was utilizing some “Pollyanna” view of Christianity; perhaps Bill Pratt had the answers to the tough questions—answers I could not locate on my own research.  Alas, it appears you do not.

The only reason I am posting a reply now is to inform lurkers. You have made a claim about skeptics and former Christians in particular. You now have had three (3) deconverts step in, say, “No, that is not correct” and provide questions. All three have pointed out what appears to be avoidance in answering those questions.

I will leave it to the lurker to determine whether tough questions are being answered.

Bill Pratt says:

May 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

The reason I neglected fully answering your question is the same reason I have not fully answered Willie’s. You are both asking questions that require very complex answers – answers that entail a significant amount of effort on my part to pull together a lot of information and formulate it into a unified and coherent response. I did think about your question, and conceived outlines that would fully deal with it, but then realized that the material needed to fill out the body of the outline would be substantial.  As long as we stick to issues that we can debate in bite-size chunks, I’m glad to – and we did that for a while. But I simply cannot, for time reasons, address the kinds of questions you are asking in the way you would like me to address them.  When I have tried to give you bite-size answers to your complex questions, you have immediately criticized the answers as inadequate and incomplete, so I figured, “What’s the point in continuing?” You and Willie are portraying me as unable to answer your questions, when the truth is that I am unwilling for time reasons.  If you were me, what would you do? I am using a medium (blog) and dealing with time constraints that demands pithy dialogue. Your questions are better suited for book-length efforts, and I simply am not willing to do that. What is the solution?

DagoodS says:

May 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

Bill Pratt says: “When I have tried to give you bite-size answers to your complex questions, you have immediately criticized the answers as inadequate and incomplete…”

Er…um…huh? Can you possibly point out where I indicated your answers were inadequate and incomplete? Irrelevant to the question—yes! Red Herrings—yes! But not “inadequate and incomplete.” Let’s look at the history, and lest you fear I am misrepresenting it any way, I will provide links:

Bill Pratt says: You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes.…
Jesus is both divine and human; the Bible is both divine and human.

Fair enough…based upon your past indication this was addressed to Christians with an abbreviated response…I left it alone. But then in the comments you stated:

Bill Pratt says: By the way, I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.

Whoops. Now you decided to tell the world what I—the former Christian—was all about. As I said, I decided to probe a bit, just to see how “Pollyanna” you thought my position was. How much did YOU think about the questions my “Pollyanna Christianity” thought about?

I asked (essentially) one question, “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You responded with a comment regarding inerrancy and textual criticism. (Curiously you also indicated you dealt with this in the original blog entry, but now seem to claim this would be far too complex to deal with in a blog entry.)  I attempted to keep the focus on the question involved—inspiration—by conceding inerrancy and textual accuracy. I was attempting to demonstrate those were separate and irrelevant issues to the central question, which I repeated: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You again responded about inerrancy, despite my already stating inerrancy was not what I was questioning about.  I reply again explicitly stating I was “taking inerrancy out of the picture” and again asked: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You then claimed the existence of the Christian God must be established first. Again, this was a point already conceded by me.  I pointed out even having a Christian God is not enough, as those claiming such a God exists are still left with the problem of methodology. They may agree such a God divinely inspired writings, but disagree over what writings are inspired. Leaving us with the same question I asked before: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  At this point, you abandoned the conversation. Now you indicate the answer is ”very complex”–why didn’t you say that in the first place?

Bill Pratt says: You and Willie are portraying me as unable to answer your questions, when the truth is that I am unwilling for time reasons.

How can we tell this difference? I’m not trying to be (too) harsh here, but this sounds a lot like something we heard as children in the playground. “I know the answer; I’m just not going to tell you.” When we all knew the kid didn’t actually know the answer.  How can we tell the difference between your not having an answer, and your having an answer, but just not willing to share it with us? “Very complex”? This should be a most basic, foundational question–well-established! Anyone making the claim some writings are human+divine should have a method in place as to how they made such a determination! Especially in light of a blog entry that says, “Don’t worry if those human+divine writings are ‘messier than some of us would like.’”

It has been my past experience (I’ve asked this question before, see) apologists ALL run away from it. I suspect because the method they are using is that of first declaring their particular Bible is inspired, and then looking for support for that conclusion. When poked and prodded on it, they realize it is ad hoc and can be demonstrated as inconsistent. *shrug* I may be wrong, but I haven’t had an apologist take me up on this question. Ever.

Bill Pratt says: If you were me, what would you do?

First, I would be extremely careful to make broad sweeping claims about other people’s motivations. I would avoid terms like “Pollyanna” or “naïve and simplistic.” (I would also avoid terms like “deluded” and “intellectually honest” as well.) I would stay away from generalized psychoanalysis regarding theistic positions and fathers.  If I did make such claims, I would be prepared to back them up, OR willingly apologize for using terms considered offensive by the other. Otherwise the terms tend to backfire in my face. Like calling the other person “naïve and simplistic,” yet they ask one (1) question and I would require (in your words) “book-length efforts.” If they are “naïve and simplistic” yet with one question bury me in months (again your words) worth of work just to respond—what does that make me?

Secondly, in terms of responding to the questions—it would depend on the person I was responding to. I tend to love the in-depth research involved on some minor nuance that only 2 or 3 people actually care about. I revel in minute details. If it was some troll who wandered into my blog and popped off one question…no…I may not answer it. I may search out on my own, but depending on time constraints I may not. If it was someone engaging with me over a period of time; who seemed to put together some rationale for their position—yes, I would spend the time to respond.

Thirdly, it would depend on how important I view the question. I’ve never studied abiogenesis more than a cursory basis; so apparently I have never found that question very important. Although, in my defense, nor would I write a blog entry on it either!

Fourthly, I am extremely cognizant of lurkers. Ever read a deconversion story? One thing that is universal is that we read. We read and we read and we read. We were (are) looking for answers. We read forums and blogs and magazines and articles and books…and anything we can get our hands on. We rarely enter the discussion because we want to see how all the sides respond to each other. Time and again we thought, “There’s a good point by the Christian—what will the skeptic say? There’s a good point by the skeptic—what will the Christian say?”  I lost count of how many times I watched a Christian walk away not answering a question. Questions I, as a lurker, thought were quite legitimate. That bothered me. A lot. So I looked for the answers myself, only to see other Christians walking away. And yes, I often saw, “I know the answer, but I’m not going to invest the time to answer it.” I wondered why not.  In short, Bill Pratt, if it was me—I would be answering the questions.  But I am not you, of course.

Bill Pratt says: Your questions are better suited for book-length efforts, and I simply am not willing to do that.

O.K.—great! Welcome to internet world! Why do you care what I would do, if you have already decided what you—a different person with different motivations—are going to do? It is your privilege as a human to choose to answer what questions you want, and disregard those you do not want. I fully support that.  C’est la vie

DagoodS says:

May 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I will confess a bit of frustration. I often (as in times almost uncountable) see claims made on Christian apologetic sites about what skeptics say. And the Christian apologist then deals with the alleged claim “There were no Hittites” or “There are no non-Christian writings on Jesus prior to the Third Century” (remember that?)  [a]nd the Christian apologist then takes down these straw people or extremely weak arguments. I imagine a chorus round in the background, congratulating the “strenuous defense” [note slight sarcasm] of Christianity.  On rare occasion, I join in and ask a question. 9 times out of 10 it will be on methodology. Then I am bombarded with complaints similar to what I have heard here. “Too hard!” “Too long!” “I know the answer, but don’t have the inclination to share it.” “You ask too much.”  Why don’t Christians want to deal with the hard questions skeptics ask? Why is it they only want to deal with the easiest and lightest objections?  (P.S., I’ve heard Dr. Turek in action and was less than impressed. Does his book provide a method to differentiate what writings are theopneustos and which ones are not?)

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

@DagoodS, What you are asking Bill to do is argue from a non spritual perspective.
You want answers to questions that can only be answered from a Biblical persepective.
The problem is not with Bills answers but with your inability to perceive what is truth.
Since you cannot believe you cannot believe that anybody at all can believe.
Since you cannot see or hear spiritual truth you canot believe anybody else can either.
The problem is not with Christians apologetics but is within you.

DagoodS says:

May 21, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Ah, DiscipleoftheWord, therein lies the rub. In order to have a “biblical perspective,” I would need to know what “biblical” is. The very question I have been asking! What method does a wee humble atheist such as myself, use to determine a certain string of words qualifies to be in the Bible?  Without such a method, I could never gain a “biblical” perspective. Yet no Christian seems willing to provide such a method.

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 21, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Let me define it there for ya genius.  The entire Cannon of Scripture.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Peter 1:20-21 “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

2 Peter 3:14-16 “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Clear it up for ya?

DagoodS says:

May 22, 2010 at 6:25 am

Thanks for the three passages, DiscipleoftheWord. (Thanks especially for recognizing my genius; so rarely acknowledged these days! *wink*).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer the question: “Given a string of words, how do we determine if that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?” All these do is attempt a description—not provide a method.

2 Timothy 3:16 does indicate (although there is a question of grammar I will leave aside for now) “All Scripture is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)…” but it doesn’t tell us what “scripture” is! If you believe Paul wrote this (I suspect you do), this would only include the Tanakh. But does it include the Apocrypha? Is it the Septuagint language or the Masoretic text? Does it include Daniel? Esther?2 Tim. 3:16 doesn’t say.  2 Peter 1:20 is an attempt to describe the doctrine of inspiration, but doesn’t tell us a single writing that is inspired.  And even if we grant 2 Peter 3:15-16 as equating Paul’s letters to Scripture, the author doesn’t list a single book qualifying as “Scripture” NOR does s/he list what letters of Paul they are referring to! Did the author have the same letters we have? Less? More? Did s/he have the other letters to the Corinthians? To the Laodecians?  The three passages do not list a single book qualifying as Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos). After reading them, can we tell if Hebrews is? Or John? Or Gospel of Peter? Or Epistle of Barnabas? Or even, ironically, 2 Timothy or 2 Peter–since they don’t even include themselves!  Nope—we are no further along in our inquiry as to what qualifies as “biblical” in order to have a “biblical perspective.”  Worse, as the verses don’t include even a Book, they certainly do not address the more specific examples I raised earlier such as the Pericope de Adultera or the ending of Mark.  After asking this question so many times my fingers are numb, it appears to me the method Christians use is, “I think this string of words is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) because someone told me it was, and I’ve never sat down and thought of any other way to make the determination.”  In other words, it is opinion.

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 22, 2010 at 10:16 am

LoL…thanks for the laugh this morning.  What part of “all” is confusing you?

Bill Pratt says:

May 24, 2010 at 6:58 pm

DagoodS, thanks for the response. I will take your criticism to heart and try to learn from it. As I said, I am not willing to give a lengthy response to your question, but I will give a brief one which you will surely find inadequate. Here goes:

If I have a text that claims to be inspired by God, I must first ask what kind of God. Step one is using the tools of philosophy and science to establish what kind of God, if any, exists (we are filtering out incorrect worldviews in this step).  If I find that the kind of God exists which the religious tradition attached to the text in question asserts, I must now ask whether the text in question comes from a true representative of that God. Just because a God exists doesn’t mean that every religion that claims a text is from that God truly is.  How do I know who a true representative is? I study the historical records about the alleged representative(s) of the religion attached to the text in question. If I find that history corroborates the status of the alleged representative, I then study what the representative of God said about the text in question. If he says it came from God, then I believe that it came from God.  There is my rough and ready outline. Consider the question answered.

DagoodS says:

May 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Thank you very much for the response. I believe this is the first time anyone has even attempted to frame a method and I confess I was pleasantly surprised to see you try. Yes, I would dig much deeper, but that is not your intent with this blog, nor your style. You have provided something and I do appreciate it.  A few points:

1) I think your approach is correct. I would agree one needs to start off with demonstrating a God, then demonstrate a certain type of God (i.e. one that communicates through writing), and would utilize this method. Your method begins well.

2) If we consistently applied this method, we would have a very different Bible. We would lose Hebrews (the author is unknown, and therefore no determination could be made whether the author was a “true representative.”) We would lose the ending of Mark and the Pericope de Adultera as being unknown authors. We would certainly lose sections that authors explicitly state are NOT from God—e.g. 1 Cor. 7:12-15. In fact, there are only a few areas where authors indicate what they are saying is from God. Much of the Epistles, and Acts of the Apostles would be gone.  Of course, if one argues Jesus was God, we could arguably apply this methodology to say Jesus’ words would qualify, but this means we could include 1 Clement and its quotation regarding Jesus’ statements. Or Papias.  Further, we introduce tension regarding modern scholarship. When to embrace it; when to reject it? Without traditional claims to authorship, we may lose Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, and thus we lose determination of “true representative” Not to mention difficulties surrounding the authors of Isaiah, the Chronicler, Esther, Job, etc. Additionally the problem with the anonymity of the Gospel authors, the pseudo-pauline works, 1 & 11 Peter, the Johannine epistles.  As an example, many Christians extol the scholarship of Dr. Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses–yet Dr. Bauckham indicates Matthew the disciple did not write Matthew the Gospel. Do we gain historical accuracy, only to lose Matthew’s theopneustos? Or do we start to abandon this method to retain Dr. Bauckham?

I am thankful you framed a methodology. I cannot possibly see how this methodology would result in the claim “The Bible, because it is divinely inspired…” [as stated in the original blog entry] since the Protestant Bible does not conform to this method.  And that is something that bothers me about Christianity. (How serendipitous to bring this all together in the end!)  Thank you for the discussion. Unless you provide a different method, or clarify some of the terms, I will end our interaction here. It is only polite to allow the owner of the blog the last word…it is yours, sir!

Bill Pratt says:

May 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm

My method ended before considering the issue of canonicity. Given that we have a religious movement that is authenticated by a true representative of God, and given that this movement has produced many written documents, how does the movement determine which documents come from God. I don’t believe I have ever covered this on the blog, although I have studied the topic in the past. Suffice to say that you raise important issues about the canon of Scripture. I plan on addressing them eventually. For now, I will say that there are criteria, but that they do not always yield certainty. Some books we aren’t sure about, but many of them have passed the criteria with flying colors, so the situation is not so dire! The books that the church has always been sure about give us more than enough information about Jesus and God to make our way home to him.  God bless you.

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  • boz  On June 7, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    Thanks for editing and compiling this conversation, Philistine Dog.

  • DagoodS  On June 8, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    Philistine Dog (Oh, how I love that moniker. I am green with envy. Green.)

    Thank you for this summation. I am always slightly curious if I leave conversations a bit too early. I don’t like beating an idea into the ground, and the thread was moving into a different direction.

    I can’t help wondering…

    Was it obvious DiscipleoftheWord’s question was simply a miniscule moving of the goalposts, by moving the question from “What string of words is theopneustos?” to “What string of words qualifies as ‘Scripture?’” but leaving us with the identical problem of methodology? I didn’t bother answering, as it seemed obvious to me.

    And was it clear Bill Pratt’s method would NOT generate the Bible we have today, not to mention introducing all sorts of additional requirements with their own methodological problems? (E.g.—by what method do we determine a person was a “true representative” of a particular god? Not to mention, what method to use whether they were the author of the string of words!) Again, I left it because his method actually made the problem worse.

    Yet it took almost an act of Congress to even get that scanty description of a method.

  • Philistine Dog  On June 8, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    @boz, thanks for stopping by. Just up and running, hope you’ll stop by again and see where this takes us.


  • Philistine Dog  On June 8, 2010 at 2:18 PM


    I know right!! I nearly fell in the floor laughing when DOTW called me that and banished me to “my little corner of hell.”

    I’m not sure if DOTW was moving the goalpost’s or simply spouting the indoctrination the only way he knew how. He totally missed or ignored your question entirely, and obviously ignored all the conversation between you and Bill from previous comments. He came to the post with an agenda, to condemn skeptics and chastise believers.

    You asked: “And was it clear Bill Pratt’s method would NOT generate the Bible we have today, not to mention introducing all sorts of additional requirements with their own methodological problems?”

    Absolutely clear. I believe the authors and readers of that blog are so deeply entrenched that they are terrified to question anything that they hold dear. And bottom line their final argument/defense is: I believe it because this is what I want to believe and you are wrong, so there.

    You made one incredibly convincing point that I had never considered before. What scripture was Paul referring to, and did he have any inkling that his personal correspondence was scriptural? That is a great point to make. I want to develop that more deeply for myself, any sources you can point me to would be appreciated.

  • DagoodS  On June 8, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Philistine Dog,

    The short answer would be “No…Paul did not consider his writing to be Scripture.” Of course there is a great deal more unpacking to do here. I don’t know how much you are familiar with this—it may be of some interest to a passer-by.

    The Greek word for writing is graphe Technically, the literal translation of “scripture” in verses like 1 Cor. 15:3 or 2 Tim. 3:16 would be “writing,” as in “according to the writing” or “Every writing is inspired…” However, in reading other works of the period (I would suggest a book like 1 Clement) and even within the Gospels, we see the formula, “as it is written” to refer to the Tanakh—a revered volume held to be Scripture. Therefore, when we see authors referring to graphe in an authoritative sense, we understand they are referring not just to “writing,” but to “Scripture.”

    Hence, translating graphe in 2 Tim. 3:16 is appropriately “Scripture.”

    However, Paul did not include in any of his letters,that they should be held to the same level as Scripture. It should be strongly noted that 1 Clement, writing about 95 C.E., referred to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, but did not indicate it was “Scripture.” Not until 2 Peter (written at the beginning of the Second Century to mid Second Century) were Paul’s letters considered equal with Scripture.

    Of course, this is further complicated by the fact 2 Peter does not list which letters of Paul the author is referring to. And even further complicated by the fact Paul wrote letters we do not have.

    Oh, heck. Let’s throw two more complications on the pile. First–I presume you know 2 Timothy was not written by Paul, probably dating anywhere from late First Century to mid-Second Century, and arguably could have been written after 2 Peter! Second—the word theopneustos is a combination word of “God” and “Spirit” or “breath” or “wind” and we do not have any other instance of it ever being used in any other Greek work. We do not have a comparison to understand precisely what the author was getting at—we can only speculate.

    (To demonstrate the complexities, think of our combination word “chalkboard” made up of “chalk” and “board.” We understood it to mean a “board” that is written on by “chalk.” So is a “blackboard” likewise a “board” that is written on by “black”? Of course not! Now think of waterboard, baseboard, aboard, backboard, billboard, checkerboard, dartboard, keyboard, overboard, skateboard….What if those words were in a dead language? Could you imagine the person attempting to resolve “skateboard” and “keyboard”?)

    I’ll give you another problem—did the author of 2 Timothy include the apocrypha when referring to the “Scriptures”? Remember, Jude quotes the book of Enoch! (And 2 Peter copies Jude.)

    I do think it helpful to see how the early church fathers utilized 2 Tim. 3:16. You might be interested in reading Tertullian (Late Second Century) who argued Enoch should be included in the Canon. His argument is that there is good teaching in Enoch, and he uses 2 Tim. 3:16 to argue, “Every scripture suitable for instruction is divinely inspired.” (Notice how that is a reverse to our traditional application of 2 Tim. 3:16, in that we tend to claim Scripture is inspired and therefore suitable for instruction. He claims the opposite.)


    If you want some books to read, I would always be happy to recommend.

  • Philistine Dog  On June 8, 2010 at 11:58 PM

    DagoodS, thanks for the information. I have read many of the early church fathers, but not with the critical eye that you obviously have. Curiosity question: is this line of thinking yours originally, or are there sources that your thoughts tie back to. I am very intrigued by this. As a dyed-in-the-wool ex-fundamentalist I have never heard this critique of theopneustos and find it very poignant with regards to the authenticity of the accepted canon.

    I would love to know any sources you are referring to, as well as any other books you would recommend for research.

    Thanks for your participation here, and your inspiration!


  • DagoodS  On June 9, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    Philistine Dog,

    Long, long ago, in a thread far, far away, I saw a skeptic ask this exact question, “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is inspired?” I wish I could give credit. All I recall is that I thought it was a very valid question, and eagerly anticipated some Christian answering it. (I was either a Christian at the time, or still in a state of flux.)

    Alas, no answer was forthcoming. So I did some searching on my own. And found an eerie silence. As I stated to Bill Pratt, I have asked and asked and asked this question with little luck. Any method proposed ends up being ad hoc where the person desires a certain result and manufactures the method to derive said result. May as well say, “My method is that any writing sitting on my coffee table is inspired, and if it is not sitting on the coffee table, it is not inspired” where (lo and behold) the only item on the coffee table is the Holy Bible.

    Much of the further complications come from my own study. I am unaware of a single book dealing with the issue of theopneustos–rather a conglomeration of impacts from other areas.

    If anyone is interested, my recommendations for study:

    The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings by Udo Schnelle. If I was only allowed to recommend one (1) book—this is it. The author (a Christian, by the way, so none of this “predisposed against supernaturalism” bollocks) goes through each New Testament book, explaining the pros’ and cons of claims regarding dating, authorship, location, etc. Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, this is a tremendous resource giving a fairly balanced approach.

    Read this book, and you will know more about the New Testament documents than 99% of Christians.

    Alternatively, Dr. Wallace’s on-line commentary also presents some arguments both pro and con regarding authorship and dating. See his introduction on 1 Timothy, for example, to understand the Pauline authorship issue regarding 2 Timothy. While he holds to the traditional authorship, he does give a fair presentation of both sides. (Again, he is obviously a Christian.)

    While it is a bit out-dated, F.F. Bruce’s The Canon of Scripture is a good background for how the canon developed. If you would like an abbreviated description, see Dr. Carrier’s article that follows the same outline. (Dr. Carrier is an atheist, so if you refer to his article, you may get dismissed. F.F. Bruce is a Christian. Also, be aware Dr. Carrier puts his own slant in the article.)

    Finally, for textual criticism, I read Dr. Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption and restoration. (Worst updating system.) I’m told, even by Christians like Dr. Wallace, that Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” gives an accurate depiction of Textual Criticism in the beginning of the book (even though they disagree with his conclusions, obviously). I haven’t read it, as I haven’t heard it contains any new information beyond Dr. Metzger.

    Canonicity demonstrates the difficulties in determining even what books should be included, Textual criticism takes it one step farther by demonstrating the difficulties in determining what words should be included (even if we agreed on the books) and Schnelle demonstrates the difficulties in determining dating and authorship even if we agreed on the words!

    All of which adds up to a mess in developing a method for what words are theopneustos. For example, if one decides to use the method of “What the Early Church Fathers determined as inspired” we have the problem that 1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Gospel of Peter, and Apocalypse of Peter we considered inspired by some Early Church Fathers. Apocalypse of John, Peterine epistles, James and Johannine epistles were not always.

    Therefore, the person has to start picking and choosing which early church fathers they mean—picking the ones that agree with the Christian’s chosen books; disagreeing with the Church fathers who did not agree with the Christian’s chosen books. See how that starts to become ad hoc?

    Or (as Bill Pratt attempted) start to claim apostolic authorship is necessary. Course this creates the problem that the apostle Paul wrote other books not included in the canon—why not? Apparently simply because an apostle wrote them, doesn’t make them inspired. Not to mention the authorship problems regarding Matthew, the pseudo-pauline works, and 1 & 2 Peter. Take Mark or Luke—were they apostles? The argument is made that they obtained their information from an apostle—Peter and Paul respectively—so they count. But wouldn’t that mean 1 Clement (who likewise obtained his information from Peter and Paul) would have equal standing?

    Worse, Hebrews’ author is unknown. How do we know that was written by an apostle, or a person associated with an apostle?

    You may see the method of timing—that which was written within 100 years of Jesus death. Of course, the question then comes up—why just 100 years? Christians believe Moses wrote the Torah at best 1500 years after some of the events recorded. What happened to the “100 years” requirement?

    Also, the 100 years gives rise to the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, 1 Clement, and Epistle of Barnabas. Not to mention the Book of Enoch I talked about before.

    Here, make it simple as pie. Come up with a method whereby Hebrews IS inspired and 1 Clement IS NOT. I haven’t seen one (other than ad hoc as previously mentioned.)

  • Philistine Dog  On June 9, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    Thanks for the additional context and the book recommendations. I enjoyed the Carrier article very much. Very informative.

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