Monday 21 March 2016

Ex 12:37 why do atheists believe in the supernatural?

The Bible contains very modest claims. For example:

  • Around 2000 BC, one family moved from Mesopotamia to Canaan.
  • Around 1400 BC Moses led 20,000 Canaanite workers out of Egypt.
  • Around AD 30 Jesus predicted that if Judea continues to anger Rome it will end very badly for Judea, (See Mark chapter 13)

So far, so unremarkable. But believers (and often translators) expand these claims to ridiculous proportions:

  • 2000 BC becomes an era of major migrations
  • 1400 BC involves two million slaves 
  • Jesus specifically predicted the events of AD 70 (see Matthew and Luke's updated versions of Jesus' words)

I can see why a believer in the supernatural would do that. It makes people listen. But why do atheist critics accept these obviously absurd translations? I think it's a simple question of priorities.

Why should anybody care what the Bible says? People are busy. All the atheist scholars I have read seem to be reacting to evangelical Christians. So naturally they focus on those Christians' interpretations. But I think it is misleading to present this as scholarship about the Bible. It is not. It is scholarship about a particular reading of the Bible.

By accepting the supernatural interpretation they imply that it has validity. I wish that atheist scholars would abandon the supernatural entirely, and instead ask "what does the text say if we ignore all the supernatural interpretations?"

Other interpretations

The Bible has always supported multiple readings. At the time of Jesus (and just before) the most popular theologian by far was Philo of Alexandria. He argued that scripture must not be taken literally, but as allegory., In the time of Jesus the main Jewish parties (the Pharisees and Sadducees) believed it was literal, but disagreed over what it meant (e.g. what was the nature of the resurrection).

Today's supernatural interpretation is basically the Pharisees' interpretation. Paul, for example, was a Pharisee (see Acts 23:6). The more extreme supernatural ideas, such as a supernatural messiah, supernatural Satan, and supernatural end times, are hard to trace back any further than the 300s AD. The supernatural interpretation is only one of many ancient views and, in my view, is the easiest to dismiss.

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