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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dave Spits his Dummy at Bishop Spong

Stephen wrote:

Bp Spong in his book "Resciung the bible from fundamentalism" talks of the inerrancy of the Bible being developed because the Reformation could hardly accept the papal infallibility against which they were so busy rebelling. So they (prodestants) elevated the scriptures to the status of the "revealed word of God". One wonders first which version of the Bible was the inerrant one since they differ widely.

Dave responded:

This is a good reminder of why I don't like Bishop Spong. His scholarship is often as simplistic as the positions he is attacking! I remember when I first read his 'Living in Sin' - what a disappointment! Sorry, I digress.

Spong's reading of history is simplistic. It is simply not true that the concept of Biblical innerancy only developed through the Reformation. The oft-quoted verse from 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is "inspired by God" may not carry the load of meaning often attributed to it by fundamentalists, but neither can it be dismissed as readily as it is by Spong.

The ancient Hebrews had a very high view of their sacred texts. You'll find that many of the earliest Hebrew manuscripts still in existence include constant marginal notes along the lines of 'this is the 4000th occurence of the letter 'H'', designed to make sure that all copies of the text are identical to their predecessors.

Likewise, there was a rigid code for dealing with mistakes among copyists - destroying whole scrolls and whole Bibles when variations where discovered. The process itself is unimportant, except for the way it reflects the reverence these people held for the text.

Similarly, the reason we have no sure knowledge of what the original 'name of God' is, as revealed to the Patriarchs, is because the copyists didn't write the vowel markers on the Hebrew letters when they wrote YHWH. The word was so sacred that they weren't even game to write it down in full! View this as superstitious by all means, but recognise that it is an attitude that predates the reformation by a long way.

Stephen wrote:

Second, Spong explains that people are generally unaware that the original texts of the gospels had no punctuation, no paragraphs, no capital letters and no space between words. All of those things were imposed on the gospels by interpreters hundreds of years after they were written. Were these grammarians also inerrant? It next needs to be stated that we have no complete manuscript of any single gospel that dates any earlier than the 6th Century of the Christian era. We have only handwritten copies of handwritten copies of handwritten copies. Were all of the copiers inerrant? Finally we recall that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but the gospels were written in Greek. Thus before the first word attributed to Jesus was recorded, it had to be translated. Were the translators also inerrant? How many layers of inerrancy claims can rationality absorb before collapsing?

Dave responded:

Again this is simplistic. To say that 'the original texts had no punctuation' is to imply that we have copies of the original texts. We don't. They would be long disintegrated, along with all other paper texts from the first century. What we can say is that amongst the 1000's of early texts, some of the earliest don't have punctuation, which I don't think was a practice unique to the New Testament manuscirpts.

This doesn't in itself imply that the punctuation was imposed by later scholars. In many cases, it might be as simple as leaving the dot off an 'i'. There is no ambiguity about the punctuation. And there's no evidence that the earliest texts (now disintegrated) didn't have punctuation.

Finally, it may be true that we have no complete New Testament manuscripts more than 1500 years old, but there are bucket loads of fragments and entire books that go back to the earliest centuries.

Now, I am not a fundamentalist/literalist by any stretch of the imagination, but neither would I pretend that the position is as stupid as Spong makes out. Biblical fundamentalists hold to the infallibility of the original documents which, they openly admit, are no longer in existence. I believe this creates problems for the fundamentalist position, but this is a long way removed from where Spong is directing his fire.

In short, I am sympathetic with Spong's motivation - to make Biblical religion more accessible to the modern mind - and I likewise take a stand against fundamentalism, but I will not do so by over-simplifying my opponent's position and then rubbishing it.

Here endeth the rave ...


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