Atheist Bible Studies

First, a particularly helpful post from Doug Wilson, wherein he explains why most Christians don’t read their Bibles, even though they think they do, and why they really need to:

Proper Bible study must always be preceded by thorough reading. Most mistakes in interpretation are caused because the context of the passage is neglected. In most cases, the context is neglected because it is not read.  Often new Christians are introduced to certain “narrow” types of Bible study (memorization, Bible study guides, etc) without having any idea of what the Bible as a whole is all about. This causes several problems. First, someone could “study” the Bible for years in this fashion without ever really learning. Secondly, this ignorance is seldom dealt with because it is hidden behind an impressive array of Bible quotes. When a Christian quotes a passage out of Hosea from memory, it rarely occurs to others to wonder if he has ever read Hosea. If he hasn’t (as is frequently the case), he cannot know the context of the passage he quotes. This is because he learned it off a little white card and the card has no context.

What then is the first step in learning what the Bible has to say?  Continue reading at Blog & Mablog>>

You should finish reading his post before reading my comments.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

All finished?  Now, even though his advice is aimed specifically at new converts, it really should go double for critics.  If a believer, who is presumably sympathetic to the teaching of his faith, can miss the point of a whole passage of the Bible, how much greater is the danger for someone on the hunt for something to pick apart?  One example should suffice to make this perfectly obvious.

In the middle of  a long discussion with an atheist friend a few years ago, I asked if he would provide examples of the Bible’s supposed errors.  He quickly produced an entire list, and I immediately suspected that it was merely the product of five minutes spent on google, rather than the conclusion of serious study.  This suspiscion was confirmed when I saw Daniel 4:11 listed, and the description was something to the effect that the Bible says there was a tree so big that you could see the whole planet from the top.  Indeed, Daniel 4:11 says “The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth.”

Does anyone want to guess where I’m going with this?

Daniel 4:9-10,

I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.  These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous.

Yep.  It’s a vision in a dream.  Armchair Atheists, thinking themselves the next Chris Hitchens, are twitting about the internet claiming that the Old Testament (or least one of its authors) thinks the earth is flat (and, sadly, I suspect that too many Christians are trying to engage arguments of this sort every day without knowing the context of what is being claimed).  All this could have been avoided if only the Junior Hitchens Brigade had read just the preceding verse.  This is an extreme example, of course, but it should serve as a cautionary tale.

Obviously if every atheist were to read the New Testament cover-to-cover four times in a row they would not all suddenly become believers.  We cannot expect every read-through of the Bible to end in a Damascus road experience (though, if every outspoken atheist suddenly decided they ought to sit down and actually read the entire Bible a few times, it would certainly be empirical evidence of divine action in the world).  We may hope, however, that such an occurrence would infinitely improve the quality of public disagreements over the Bible.  Thus we should strenuously and constantly push for improved public awareness of and knowledge about the whole of the Scriptures, and the most appropriate place to begin, as Wilson suggests, is within our own ranks.

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David Nilsen

David graduated from Biola University in 2008, with a B.A. in Philosophy. He studied Historical Theology for three years at Westminster Seminary in California (his essays on Theology, Church History and Eastern Orthodoxy can be found here). David has been blogging about Philosophy, Politics and Culture since 2004. He has contributed to The White Horse Inn and The Gospel Coalition. You can also follow him on Twitter.