Agnosticism, Atheism, Bible Study, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion

Letter to a Friend

Several months ago, I received a letter from a childhood friend whom I haven’t heard from in a very long time. She and I were both raised in the same fundamentalist branch of Christianity (Church of Christ), and our parents are still very close. Her preacher recently did a series of sermons on evidences for Christianity, and they impressed her enough that she felt the need to mail me copies of the CDs (14 of them!) as well as an apologetics book, Surveying the Evidence, by Kyle Butt, Wayne Jackson, and Eric Lyons. I immediately wrote her back and thanked her for sending the material. After all, it shows a deep concern for my eternal well-being, and that of my family, so I know it comes from the best possible motives. It’s a caring gesture. In my response to her I promised to read the book and listen to all the CDs.

A few weeks ago, I finally finished going through all the material. The book was not very good. First of all, I’m definitely not part of its intended audience. I think it was written to be used as a classroom workbook for churches to use in their classes. The chapters are short and not very in-depth, and there are discussion topics and questions at the end of each. The information given is often incomplete, and when the views of “skeptics” and “evolutionists” are given, they’re typically presented as straw men. I’ve read one of Wayne Jackson’s books before, and I wasn’t impressed by it either. In fact, it pushed me closer to non-belief (I read it when I was still going through my deconversion). The authors of this book approach the evidence in the same way that Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell do. They insist on biblical inerrancy, and I feel that they’re forced to be somewhat dishonest in the information they present. I have far more respect for Christian authors like Peter Enns, because he tends to treat the evidence honestly — he just comes to different conclusions about it than I would.

It was evident that some of the sermons had relied heavily on the same book, or at least on material written from the same point of view. However, I’d have to say that I thought the sermons were a bit better than the book, overall. I never got the impression that the preachers on these CDs were being dishonest. I think they’ve just been too heavily influenced by people who either leave out important information, or just misrepresent it altogether.

Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested by the response I wrote to her. I’ve removed her name and the names of the preachers involved.

Hi _______,

I finished reading the book you sent me a little while back, and this week I finally finished listening to all the CDs. Again, I appreciate your sending them to me. Both Mr X and Mr Y are obviously gifted speakers, and they present their cases well.

I actually started a response to you about a week ago, before I had finished the last few CDs, but it started to run into several pages, and I’m just not sure that that’s the best kind of response. So instead, I’m moving to something more general. To put it simply, there’s an awful lot of information that the book and CDs you sent don’t cover. When Mr X and Mr Y talk about what skeptics believe, they’re mostly presenting straw man arguments. In other words, it’s not a very accurate depiction of the reasons why people doubt the Bible, which is why Mr X and Mr Y seem to make such compelling arguments. They may not realize that their characterization of how non-believers view the Bible is inadequate, so I’m not trying to suggest that they’re purposely misleading anyone.

If you like, I can send you specific responses to many of the statements made in the CDs that you sent — that’s actually what I started to do about a week ago. But you may not want to be inundated with all that, which I can understand. So in this letter, I’ll try to cover just a few things quickly to give you an idea of the very real difficulties that make people question the Bible’s legitimacy and Christianity altogether.

First of all, let’s not get sidetracked on things like evolution and the Big Bang. I disagree with most of what Mr X said in those CDs — the evidence for the Big Bang and evolution is pretty overwhelming if you take the time to look into it. And if you’re ever curious, a good starting point is a website called TalkOrigins. That link takes you to their “Index of Creationist Claims.” Most of what Mr X mentioned as evidence for creationism can be found there, along with explanations of why they’re not accurate, and sources for further reading.

But again, I don’t think it’s useful to get bogged down in those issues. For the sake of argument, I’ll go ahead and concede that God exists. But just because a God exists, that doesn’t mean the Bible was inspired by him. So the real discussion should always be about how to defend the Bible.

Here are some things you can check out for yourself:

Read Matthew 27:3-10 and closely compare it to Acts 1:18-19. These are the accounts of Judas’s death. You’re probably already aware that Matthew says Judas died by hanging himself, but Acts says he died by falling headlong in a field, which ruptured his abdomen. Most people put these two accounts together and say something like the following: “Judas hung himself, but at some point, the rope broke, and his body fell and burst open.” That seems to tie everything together, but really look at it for a minute.

First of all, both passages are explaining how Judas died. Well, that could only have happened one way. Either Judas hanged himself and died that way, or he fell and suffered a fatal wound. If we put the accounts together, that still leaves some problems. Let’s say he actually died by hanging himself, but the rope later broke, and his body burst open when it fell to the ground. Well, he still would have died by hanging, which makes Acts inaccurate — we don’t really care what happened to the body once he was dead, after all. What if he attempted to hang himself, but the rope broke before he died, and it was the fall that actually killed him. In that case, Matthew is wrong to say that he died by hanging himself. If it really required both the hanging and the fall, then both accounts are inaccurate.

Now, ask yourself these questions: who bought the field? Can we even be sure that the field in Matthew and the field in Acts are the same, based on the details they offer? Why was the field called “the Field of Blood”? The two accounts answer all of those questions differently.

Finally, Matthew 27:9-10 says that this episode fulfilled a prophecy given by Jeremiah. But Jeremiah didn’t give a prophecy like this. The closest thing to it is something found in Zechariah, and even that isn’t a real prophecy if you go read it in context (Zech 11:12-13).

There have been all kinds of attempts to reconcile this discrepancy, but none of them make much sense. Some have said that the prophets were sometimes collected into a scroll that would start with Jeremiah, and that’s simply what Matthew was referring to. But that’s not what he says. He says that Jeremiah spoke the prophecy. Even if someone had been using a scroll, they would be able to tell when they got to the end of what Jeremiah had written, and it’s easy to see how they may have been troubled by the prophecy not being there. And if Matthew had simply attributed it to Zechariah, his audience still would have known how to look that up — in fact, it would have been much easier for them. Often, Matthew feels comfortable referencing “prophecies” without specifying the prophet that said it. He could easily have done that here as well. And since (if he were inspired) God would want this message to be understandable to all the generations that came after him, it makes absolutely no sense that God would allow this kind of mistake.

I spent a little more time on Judas than I meant to, but it’s a pretty clear place to see the kinds of discrepancies that are throughout the Bible. Another good example concerns Jesus’s birth. Carefully read Matthew 1:18 through chapter 2, and then carefully read Luke 2:1-40. I’d suggest taking notes — a column for Matthew and a column for Luke. Look for these things in particular: how did Jesus’s family get to Bethlehem? Why were they there? What kind of building was Jesus born in? Who came to the birth? How long did they stay in Bethlehem after his birth? Where did they go as soon as they left Bethlehem? Why did they go to those places? Can you combine both narratives into one account that includes all the details from both?

You might be interested to know that Matthew is the only source for the idea that Herod killed a bunch of babies in Bethlehem. No historian, not Josephus, nor any historians who lived during Herod’s reign (even those who were critical of him) ever recorded this event. No other book in the Bible references it. Also, Matthew claims that certain parts of Jesus’s life and ministry fulfill all kinds of Old Testament prophecies. I recommend you read through Matthew, and every time he claims that something fulfills prophecy, go read the passages he’s referencing. See if they actually look like prophecies. Even the virgin birth prophecy. By the way, Matthew was using the Septuagint for the OT, and we’ve discovered that the word for “virgin” in the Septuagint was misleading. The Hebrew text uses a word that simply means “young woman” or “maiden,” which means Isaiah may never have been talking about an actual virgin giving birth at all.

Mr Y spent his last two sermons talking about the canon of scripture versus things like the Apocrypha. But check this out: here’s a quote from the apocryphal (and pseudepigraphal) Book of Enoch (Enoch 1:9):

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:

And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.

Now look at this passage from Jude 14-15:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

If the Book of Enoch was not written by Enoch (as far as I know, no scholars think it was), why does Jude quote it as though it was? And if the Book of Enoch is actually legitimate and contains real prophecy (as Jude claims), why isn’t it in the Bible?

I think that Mr X or Mr Y may have mentioned these next things, but I can’t remember for sure. Because we now have so many manuscripts for the various books in the Bible, we’ve realized that the last 11 verses of Mark were not originally part of Mark. They were added by someone later. In other words, they weren’t inspired. After all, if God had originally wanted them in Mark, they would have been written at the same time as the rest of the book.

John 7:53-8:11 were also added later. They weren’t originally part of John. And this is the story of the woman caught in adultery! Where Jesus says “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”! Can you think of a more famous story about Jesus? But this wasn’t originally part of the Bible. Who added it? Why? Some apologists claim that this was likely a true story about Jesus anyway, but how could they possibly know that? Just taking these two examples, we know for a fact that the Bible contains uninspired material. What else might be uninspired?

Okay, this letter is long enough, I think. I hope that it hasn’t upset you too much, but I know that it might have. It’s hard for me to know how much to write… I’m afraid that if I don’t show you any evidence, you’ll think I’m just willfully ignoring the “clear” evidence that shows how reliable the Bible really is. But this is something that I take very seriously, and I’ve studied it quite a lot over the last several years. The evidence for the Bible is simply not as clear and straightforward as we were always told. In fact, the evidence against it is quite compelling.

Again, if you’d like to know more, I’d be happy to send you more information. You can always visit my blog, if you want, and you can always email me. But unless I hear otherwise, I’ll assume you’d rather not discuss this any further. And I totally understand that — it opens quite a can of worms. And if you’re happy with what you believe, then you may not want to dig any deeper.

I hope you and your family are doing well. Thanks again for sending me all this material — I know how much care and concern it shows.

Take care!

I don’t anticipate hearing back from this friend, but if I do, I’ll give an update.

54 thoughts on “Letter to a Friend”

  1. I really only knew two types of Christians before I started blogging — the devout believers (to whom getting your beliefs right was fatefully critical) and the casual believers (who really could care less about theology and details — it was a club for them). But the blogging world introduced me to liberal Christians who sort of imagine a Jesus of their own liking, and don’t really care too much about what the Bible says or anyone else says.

    To those Christians, arguing the Bible won’t help, but showing them the funny way of creating their own personal Jesus, can help, but usually not, for they are not into it for the belief, but for the warm fuzzy feelings and the righteous belonging.


  2. UnkleE said:

    I have never believed the Bible was inerrant,

    This approach has always baffled me. If one does not accept the bible as inerrant then how can one trust any of it?

    If a Christian acknowledges that the Flood story, for example, is simply a tale adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh or accepts the scientific findings of the Human Genome Project which has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt there never was an Adam and Eve as per the bible, how then can the same person champion the resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth?

    This strikes me as hypocrisy of the highest order; cherry picking par excellence.
    The best scientists in the world have confirmed evolution, the best geologists have confirmed there was no global flood and the best scientists have confirmed the Adam and Evve story is simply nonsense.

    So how does one justify promoting the opinion of someone like Gary Habermas regarding the resurrection of the character, Jesus of Nazareth who has, as far as I am aware, zero scientific credibility and is merely doing a conjuring trick to reach the conclusion that best fits his presuppositional religious belief?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent letter, Nate. If you don’t mind, I’m going to re-post parts of it on my blog.

    Part of my deconversion involved belonging to a Christian denomination which believes in and teaches inerrancy but having a pastor who did not; he believed only that the “message” is inerrant, which seems to be what UnkleE believes. I found this situation untenable.

    My pastor snickered at the “silliness” of the leadership of my denomination for believing in a six day Creation, for denying evolution, for believing that Jonah was literally swallowed by a large fish, etc., but, he was adamant that Jesus had truly been bodily resurrected from the dead!


    So all the other supernatural claims in the Bible are “silly” but you expect me to continue believing that a three-day-brain-dead body came back to life and escaped his sealed tomb; later to fly off into outer space???

    Give me a break.

    That is the problem with “moderate” Christianity. They don’t want to look “silly” on the supernatural Bible claims that science has proven false, so they have reinterpreted those Bible passages to be compatible with modern science. Yet they cling to their sci-fi bodily reanimation story!

    I say that if you are going to toss out some supernatural claims for being silly, toss them all out. If you want to remain Christian, go ahead; but believe in a “spiritual” resurrection. Dump the SILLY bodily resurrection nonsense.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I agree with Ark and Nonsupernaturalist, for whatever that’s worth.

    I could get using the bible as a basis for some philosophy, but I have a lot of trouble understanding belief in God and Resurrected Jesus, while also believing the Bible has errors, is flawed, which many of the other miraculous events being embellishments or falsehoods.

    I just can’t seem to get that. I can’t seem to understand, like the others have pointed out, that this part is false, but this grand miraculous part is true… just because… But to each their own.

    But I could get it of someone wanted to say that the truth of the bible is within the moral teachings, like Matt 5-6, and 1 Cor 13, and passages like Matt 22 where Jesus is quoted as saying Love is the Greatest Commandment; or even in the admonitions to hone one’s own mind and thoughts in wisdom like in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.

    I wouldn’t mind it, since holding that position doesn’t necessitate as many logical gymnastics, or belief in it’s claimed divine origins. Although one would need to cut out the bad in order to hold to the good – Didn’t Thomas Jefferson basically do that?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey Gary (nonsupernaturalist), thanks for the comment! And sure, feel free to re-post any of this.

    Incidentally, I agree with you, Ark, William, and Peter. I don’t really understand why someone would still believe Jesus is divine and the god of the Bible is legit once they recognize that the Bible is not inerrant and likely has some uninspired material. In many ways, I usually prefer Christians who have that viewpoint, because they tend to be less likely to want specific religious beliefs inserted into public schools and legislation. They’re also more honest about the evidence (or maybe “clear-eyed” is a better adjective), as I argued earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to speak Hindi well, lived in homestay situations in India for 2 years, and am a fan of Hindu Holy Myths (Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana — the fodder of common Hindu belief). The variety of ways that Hindus spin their Hinduism is equal in abundance of styles as that of Christianity (and Islam, and Judaism …). Liberal Hindus, like many liberal Christians, do not take their religions (Hinduism) literally but still use their god-images and stories in someway to feed their Hindu identity, are abundant. I get it — it is a common maneuver. If we understand religion more in terms of serving multiple functions other than just truth propositions, it less is puzzling.


  7. That’s interesting… sounds like the way that I use comic book and movie references. Within my social circle, those have become the common mythology that we can use to reference larger truths and experiences.


  8. Unfortunately, Unklee and others like him, have some sort of death anxiety.
    They don’t need the Old Testament to be true and can work around it. But they sure as Gehenna need the barbaric human sacrifice and resurrection of the literary construct , Jesus of Nazareth to be true. Oh, yes indeedy!


  9. Among liberal Christians, there are many different views of what is called “Atonement Theology” and not all are human sacrifice. But I didn’t know about these until I started blogging. And certainly the human sacrifice mentality is a horrible, evil idea.

    Yet even then, though someone may affirm a confession in human sacrifice theology, thanx goodness, most don’t REALLY believe it. For most religious confession is not ascent to truth-propositions but instead some sort of allegiance mechanism.

    But I agree that human sacrifice and death for Allah, and all such nonsense needs to be rooted out of human mentality — the question is, how?


  10. But I agree that human sacrifice and death for Allah, and all such nonsense needs to be rooted out of human mentality — the question is, how?

    As the crucifiction of the character, Jesus of Nazareth is central to christianity I don’t see how it can be ”rooted out”.

    Somehow I can’t imagine someone like unklE ditching it and take up singing, Always Look On The Bright Side of LIfe as a viable alternative.


  11. @ Nate: Not sure what your comment to Ark meant.

    Meanwhile, just because Ark can’t imagine something, don’t mean it can’t happen. That reminds me of the arrogance of creationists who say, “I can’t imagine how an eye ball came to be by little steps.” Well, just because the creationist has a limited imagination, doesn’t mean the truth has to be limited by them — well, unless they are a god of course.

    Most Christians (granted, the sloppy ones) think mainly of Christianity as their club. They have absolutely no idea of atonement theology and could care less — mind you, blogging ones (just like blogging atheists) can be different because they are combative about their ideas and labeling others.

    The No-True-Scotsman prescriptivism of Ark which tells self-labeling Christians what MUST be central to their Christianity is naive at best.

    Sure almost all Christians believe Jesus was crucified, but as the previous comments and link illustrate it is how this is viewed that matters. Ark is confusing crucifixion (a execution method) and human sacrifice for atonement (one particular sort of theology).

    For a huge number of non-doctrinal Christians (they could give a shit) , their Jesus is about being good and belonging to the right club. He was killed because he was good and we should forgive like he did. Even that they believe half-ass. Just “belief” is not what it is all about for them at all.


  12. Ark’s previous comment about “always look on the bright side of life” is from the Monty Python movie The Life of Brian:

    Just reminded me of our earlier observation that people use things like movies today in the same way that humans use(d) religion, mythology, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. For what it’s worth, one of the things I take from Sabio’s point is that the spectrum of what constitutes “Christianity” (or any other religion) runs all over the board. It’s almost impossible to find even one aspect of doctrine that all Christians would agree with.

    And I sort of see Ark and Sabio as saying the same thing: the notion that human sacrifice could somehow absolve “sins” is dangerous, but how do you change people’s minds about it? Obviously, people’s minds can change, but the reasons for change are as varied as the individuals in question. There’s no “one size fits all” solution. :/


  14. “”I don’t really understand why someone would still believe Jesus is divine and the god of the Bible is legit once they recognize that the Bible is not inerrant and likely has some uninspired material.

    Hi Nate, it seems you are as mystified about my reasons as I am about yours! Here are my thoughts…..

    How is it that in everything else in life – whether it be ethics, or politics, relationships, science, history, law, even disbelief – we are willing to make decisions based on non-inerrant evidence and reasoning, but when it is belief in God we require inerrant evidence? I reckon your first thought might be that the stakes are so much higher. But that logic applies to disbelief as well. If we applied that logic, no-one would be an atheist because they didn’t have inerrant knowledge for that conclusion. You would not have any belief either way until you gained inerrant knowledge.

    Why don’t you do a post explaining how you see this question? I would be very interested.

    “the notion that human sacrifice could somehow absolve “sins” is dangerous, but how do you change people’s minds about it?”

    For me, the answer to your question is quite clear. I don’t think the idea of atonement for sins is a very intuitive concept, in fact I think it is quite difficult. I only believe it because I believe what the historians say about Jesus, I believe that Jesus told the truth, and I believe he said things about his death and atonement. So if you convinced me that Jesus didn’t tell the truth or he was mis-reported, then I’d have no trouble at all giving up atonement. Not sure if that helps, but at least you know where to “attack” my beliefs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks unkleE. 🙂

    And I think I will do a post about the point you made on inerrancy, certainty, etc. I’ll try to have it up around this time tomorrow, if possible. I hope everyone will hold off and comment on that thread once it’s up. Should be a good discussion!


  16. UnkleE said, “How is it that in everything else in life – whether it be ethics, or politics, relationships, science, history, law, even disbelief – we are willing to make decisions based on non-inerrant evidence and reasoning, but when it is belief in God we require inerrant evidence?”

    My answer would be that ethics, politics, relationships, science, history, and law do not involve supernatural claims. When someone makes a supernatural claim, the standard of evidence required by most educated people in the western world to believe that claim is much, much higher than a claim involving natural evidence.

    Let’s look at “history”. If someone tells me that most historians believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that Alexander the Great sacked the city of Tyre, I accept those claims without demanding a great deal of evidence. However, if someone claims that the Buddha caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language for over one half hour or that Mohammad rode on a winged horse to heaven, I am going to demand MASSIVE quantities of evidence to believe these claims.

    I think that most Christians would agree with my thinking, here, until I make the same assertion regarding the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. Then Christians will shake their heads in disgust and accuse me of being biased and unreasonable.

    No. I am not being biased and unreasonable. I am being consistent. It is the Christian who is being inconsistent: demanding more evidence to believe the supernatural claims of other religions than he or she demands of his own.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. (Continued)

    And it isn’t just supernatural claims. Most educated people in the western world would demand much more evidence for very rare natural claims than we would for non-rare natural claims.

    Imagine if someone at work tells you that his sister just gave birth to twins. How much evidence would you demand to believe this claim? Probably not much. You would probably take the guy’s word for it. Now imagine if the same coworker tells you that, yesterday, in the local hospital, his sister gave birth to twelve babies! Would you take the guy’s word for it? I doubt it.

    So it isn’t that we skeptics are biased against Christianity or even that we are biased against the supernatural. We are simply applying the same reason, logic, and skepticism to YOUR very extra-ordinary religious claim that we apply to ALL very rare, extra-ordinary claims, including very rare, extraordinary natural claims.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. @ Nate:
    Ah yes, never was a Monty Python fan — though some classmates were. Now I get the allusion and your joke back. Criticisms of Ark’s reply remain the same, however.

    Monty Python humor always seemed a bit like the jokes of young teenagers — which I never enjoyed either. Must be me. Perhaps my mother dropped me.


  19. @Nate:
    I love breaking up discussions into sections — sections that reveal themselves during a debate. Two here are:
    (1) Human Sacrifice
    (2) Atonement for Sins
    The latter itself is packed, of course, with the notion of sin and atonement. But it is a crime and punishment issue when taken out of the religious realm. It is debated in all religions, because it is an obvious universal issue.


  20. Monty Python humor always seemed a bit like the jokes of young teenagers — which I never enjoyed either.

    Having a well-rounded sense of humour suggests a certain level of higher intellect.
    I guess you just missed out?
    Sad really.

    Criticisms of Ark’s reply remain the same, however.

    Of course they do!
    A visit from Sabio wouldn’t be quite the same if you didn’t whine about someone. This is one of your more endearing qualities,

    Perhaps my mother dropped me.

    As good a reason as any.


  21. @ Ark,
    Just as you use your lack of imagination judge your world, your lack of understanding the varieties of senses of humor try to label. You want to tell others what REAL Christianity is, and you want to tell me that if I don’t like Monty Python, I don’t have a sense of humor and therefore am dumb.

    If nothing else, you are consistent in all your limited evaluations.


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