Silly Skeptics! You Must Read the Bible in Context!

Content vs Context: What's More Important | by Erin Ashley Simon | Medium

How often has a Christian apologist informed you (the skeptic) that you are reading the Bible like a fundamentalist because you accept the literal reading of a particular Bible passage as the intent of the author, instead of taking the time to understand the nuances of “context”?

All the time, in my experience!

The problem with context is that it is open to interpretation without access to a living author. This is particularly the case when dealing with very ancient texts like the books of the Bible.

How can anyone be 100% certain that the author(s) of the Book of Genesis did not literally intend his readers to believe that the Creation occurred in six literal days? If this was the intention of the author, science has proven him wrong. Christian apologists can argue all day long that the author was using symbolic language or that the ultimate author, God, was accommodating to a scientifically ignorant culture, but there is really no way to know for sure. The context? Who knows!

And what about Noah’s Flood? What if the author(s) of Genesis really did intend his readership to understand that the Great Flood literally covered the entire earth, including the highest mountain (Mt. Everest)? Science has proven the literal reading of this passage absolutely false. So how do we determine the “context” of this story? Did the author believe this story to be literally true or did he intend to use this story as an allegory? Who knows!

And the list goes on and on (Tower of Babel, the Exodus, etc..).

It is odd that many Christian apologists are eager to reinterpret passages in the OT using “context”; stories, which by some odd coincidence, modern science has recently proven cannot be literally true. But these same Christian apologists are reluctant to do the same for similarly fantastical claims in the New Testament!

A virgin birth? Couldn’t we use the same strategy to say that this story was allegorical or theological in intent and not historical? What about the claim of water walking? Turning water into alcohol? Restoring sight to the blind? If the stories of the Old Testament can be reinterpreted using the excuse of “context”, accommodation, or allegory, why can’t we do the same with the stories in the New Testament??

If the stories of Creation and Noah’s Flood are not literal, then maybe the stories of wild eyed, illiterate peasants seeing a “resurrected” corpse are just as non-literal! Maybe the fantastical stories of people seeing and touching the resurrected body of Jesus were never meant to be understood literally. Maybe they too were written for theological/literary purposes. What was their true “context”?

Who knows!!

Context can be a quagmire, my Christian friends. Be careful how often you appeal to it!

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End of post.

21 thoughts on “Silly Skeptics! You Must Read the Bible in Context!

  1. Ironic that the NT writers seemed to have very little idea of context when they ripped off OT verses and changed their meaning when trying to create prophecies about Jesus in the OT that were fulfilled in the new.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well, I think we certainly can get it wrong. But, is this a disaster?

    I feel like it depends on what is actually considered essential to the Christian faith. For instance, I had more than one professor in seminary who did not affirm the literal virgin birth of Jesus. Some Christian scholars feel that even the resurrection of Christ should be seen in a spiritual, metaphorical way rather than to be interpreted literally.

    And, yet these people may totally affirm the reality of the incarnation and that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. They can be very committed and zealous in their faith.

    I think we should study, meditate, look at what the scholars are saying, and make a decision for ourselves, and well, simply trust God.

    A verse that totally speaks to me is this, “He who began a good work in you will complete it to the day of Jesus Christ.”

    I’m more moderate and orthodox in my faith, BTW, not super progressive. But, I understand that people can disagree and still be following Jesus.

    Anyway, I”ll be off the internet for a while, but wanted to share this last comment.

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    1. If a Muslim tried to convince me about the Koran and its truth and relationship to God using the descriptions, methods and ideas you have used for the Bible and Christian faith, I would reject his or her efforts due to lack of evidence. I would say it’s all wishful thinking. Simply saying one trusts God, without providing either non biblical evidence, or evidence as to how and why the bible can be trusted, and what is and isn’t metaphor, are not helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Becky wrote: I think we should study, meditate, look at what the scholars are saying, and make a decision for ourselves … This is EXACTLY what so many non-believers have done — and it’s WHY they no longer believe.

    The difference, of course, lies in the rest of her comment when she adds: and simply trust God. Kinda’ hard to do when “God” remains a mute and out-of-sight entity.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Gary –

    Do you presume that every single book by every single author are all the same genre? Or, for that matter, do you presume that every individual story or pericope in each individual book of the bible are all the same genre?

    Or, is it possible that maybe SOME of the many books of the bible, and even individual pericopes in each book are meant to be taken historically (ie, “literally”) and SOME were not?

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    1. The trick is knowing the intent of authors who have been dead for several thousand years. Question: How do you know that the Virgin Birth stories are not fictional stories, told for theological purposes?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Nan, don’t want you to feel ignored, 🙂 Back in here before I go.

    In retrospect, I suppose I was referring more to my own personal thinking and experience. I feel like there are so many Christian people who just “get their knickers in a total twist” over whether this or that story in the Scripture should be interpreted literally. In my faith, I just don’t stress in that way. I don’t see the Bible as a perfect book dropped down straight from Heaven.

    I make what I think is the best-considered decision possible and trust God. But, I”m speaking for myself and my own faith.

    For one thing, is the authority just in the Scripture or in the historic witness of the church? There were people proclaiming the resurrection and worshipping Jesus as Lord long before a word of the NT was ever penned.

    Part of the reason these books in the NT were ever regarded as canonical in the first place was that they reflected an earlier oral tradition that had been passed down and what people generally believed and were proclaiming.

    Everyone has to decide whether the evidence is sufficient for them and if they accept this witness or not.

    I’ve made my choice, but I can accept and respect that others might disagree.

    With that, I am really off the internet. How often have I said this? I always come back. LOL

    Blessings Nan. Enjoy that turkey. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most Christians would believe in the reality of Lord Jesus their Savior without one shred of historical evidence. Why? Because they feel him so strongly in their hearts.

      I suspect from your many comments that this is the case with you, Becky.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I read this article, I thought… Rauser. He is a smarmy academician who thinks a “sophisticated” and “nuanced” reading of the Bible are in order so one may understand it correctly. How fortunate mankind is to have a “sophisticated” theologian like Rauser to interpret the Bible for the unsophisticated masses. I guess YHWH had some sufficiently good reason to not reveal truth in simple terms so that regular people could understand it without ambiguity. Perhaps YHWH intended for Rauser to do it. If I recall correctly, Rauser thinks YHWH actually did intervene and protect him from harm by a car that supposedly struck his bicycle. Where would the world be without Rauser…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Guest, what is wrong with just thinking that intelligent and thoughtful people might disagree? Why does the person have to be “swarmy” or have some malevolent motive? I can understand how some scholars think the virgin birth of Christ might be a literary device used to point people in that culture to the uniqueness of Jesus. You know, Paul doesn’t explicitly mention the virgin birth of Christ. He says, “born of a woman.”

    I’m more inclined to go with the testimony of the early church toward the virgin birth and it seems fitting to me, though. But, that’s my opinion and conviction.

    It does seem to me that the central issue is not the matter of Christ’s birth, but the reality of the incarnation, “God with us.” The question for me is “Who do you say that I am?”

    I’ll be honest. I don’t understand the contempt and antagonism between these apologists and skeptics or as I’ve shared between folks who disagree in general. It’s all craziness.

    Listen, if Christ is also fully God, the Savior of the world, then in the long run, “The gates of Hell will not prevail against the church.” There is no contest anyway, really. It doesn’t matter what any skeptic does or says.

    And, if the whole thing is a hoax, as I’ve shared, what sane person who cares about truth wants to base their life centered in a fairy tale??

    Truth will always prevail in the end. Hey, we can all share our deep convictions and treat each other with respect and compassion at the same time.

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    1. I refer to Rauser as smarmy because that is how I generally perceive him to be. I have read articles and/or social media posts written by him over a period of years, and that is my opinion. I suspect Gary might agree. I recall several times that Rauser has actually presented the notion that Biblical content may have been intentionally obscure such that a “sophisticated” and “nuanced” reading of the Bible may be necessary just to understand it. Such a position elevates people like him, as he most certainly considers himself to be a “sophisticated” theologian. I think that is a ridiculous take. Was YHWH incapable of revealing truth in some other fashion that didn’t require “sophisticated” scholars to comprehend the content? For that matter, keep in mind that when the Biblical texts were actually written and later reprinted and later made available to the masses, much of the world was functionally illiterate. Couldn’t YHWH simply have revealed truth to everyone in a more direct and infallible way, or was YHWH perfectly fine with so many people having so many misunderstandings. How many different denominations are there these days? How much religious infighting has there been in the history of Christendom?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting that while putting forward the idea of intentional obscurity, Randal also believes in divine accommodation – that some passages maybe be factual incorrect, but were written that way so that people could understand. An idea like Jesus ascending up to heaven when there actually is no up in space.
        I tend to think both of these notions are get out of jail free cards, and are another example of what a religious book would look like if it were NOT inspired by a divine being -that is, solely created out of the minds of humans.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ll also add that I always bring up the quotes from Jesus and Paul about the world ending right away when talking about divine accommodation or intentional obscurity. They spoke plainly and directly, and were wrong. If they were trying to accommodate, they failed. If they were being obscure, they failed. Just like any failed doomsday cult, Christians have refused to face up to their founders botched predictions.

            Liked by 1 person

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