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October 05, 2009

Comments

Beautifully and simply put, Greg!

Well said indeed.

What is it about the Bible that convinces its readers that it is the Word of God?

I think that a lot of people who haven't read the Bible, or who've been the victim of bad teaching about the Bible come to it with the assumption that all religions are more or less the same. Religions exist, they believe, to tell us how to live our lives. Most include God telling us what to do.

Reading John followed by Romans gives the lie to that presupposition.

The Holy Spirit made His own job of calling men to Christ easier when He inspired those books. This is because they show that there is something very different about following Christ. All religions have the Law (and you will find it in John and Romans too). But only Christianity has the Gospel. Not that you can't find the Gospel in other books of the Bible, but it fairly screams from those two.

The Gospel is enough to show that either Christianity is the falsest of all religions and the Bible the most evil words put on paper, or Christianity is the only true religion and the Bible is the very Word of God.

For a lot of readers that simple fact will resonate with their awareness of their own unholiness, and it will be enough to convince them the it's the Bible or nothing. Then, like any sane person, they'll choose something over nothing.

Other readers may still have some intellectual barriers to faith. But the message may be strong enough to compel them to inquire further. This is why you still need good arguments for the Bible from external evidence.

I've read the Bible through several times. I believe it to be true but I'm really struggling with INERRANCY. For example, why would God bother to give us original manuscripts that were inerrant, but not bother to preserve their perfection throughout the ages?

I wonder about things like the obvious contradiction where Jesus says "don't take a staff" and in another gospel "take nothing except a staff." Any thoughts?

I agree that reading the Bible is the most effective way of getting people to believe in it, but it doesn't follow that this is a reliable way of discovering whether something is the word of God or not. After all, this same technique has convinced a lot of people that the Quran or the Book of Mormon is the word of God.

Whatever you do, don't let them read the whole thing until you've got them sufficiently in your grip.

"why would God bother to give us original manuscripts that were inerrant, but not bother to preserve their perfection throughout the ages?"

Kerri-

The case you are bringing up here is a special case of the problem of evil. The evil in this case is the corruption of scripture through copyist errors over time. There are several adequate answers to the problem of evil. I suppose that the same sort of answer that one might give in general to that problem, might apply in this special case.

The thing I remind myself of is that Christ suffered for all the sin and evil that we humans can ever dish out. Because He had to suffer for those evils, God would not have allowed them to exist if He didn't have a very good reason.

The case you bring up, in particular, of the different packing lists for the disciples, does have answers. The most straightforward is that it was a copy error. But it is also possible that the 'anti-staff' accounts were telling the disciples not to go back and get their staves. Whereas the 'pro-staff' accounts were telling the disciples to take the staves they already had in hand and go. You need not assume that there was a copy error in this case. (Though I think there are cases that do require the assumption of a copy error).

Kerri,

I've read the Bible through several times. I believe it to be true but I'm really struggling with INERRANCY. For example, why would God bother to give us original manuscripts that were inerrant, but not bother to preserve their perfection throughout the ages?

I wonder about things like the obvious contradiction where Jesus says "don't take a staff" and in another gospel "take nothing except a staff." Any thoughts?

I would say ditch inerrancy in favor of infallibility.

"In some circles, it is a theological term to describe the belief that the Bible is free from errors on issues of faith and practice, while minor possible contradictions in history (or geography, science etc.) can be overlooked as insignificant to its spiritual purpose. This stance is also known as Limited Inerrancy,[1] in contrast to Biblical inerrancy, which is the belief that the Bible is free from all errors, not only in spiritual areas, but in the natural as well.[2]"

To me, inerrancy is a useless doctrine for the reasons you mentioned. What good are "perfect" original manuscripts if those manuscripts were destroyed thousands of years ago? Furthermore, if God could create perfect manuscripts, why couldn't/didn't God preserve them?

Infallibility is a better way to go. It lets the bible be human and therefore imperfect while still accomplishing the things it is meant to accomplish (witness to salvation).

Kerri,

To continue in the same vein as WisdomLover, it's probable that Luke 9 is saying do not carry an extra staff. It's kind of like the sending of the seventy-two in chapter 10 where Jesus tells them not to carry extra sandals. The point Jesus is making is that the disciples should depend wholly on God for provision.

Nathaniel, respectfully, I have to say that such semantical gyration is a turn-off to thinking people. God gave us our intellect; surely He does not intend for us to suspend it in order to accept such convoluted arguments. It seems to me that the Scriptures need an extraordinary amount of defense if one is to take the "it's perfect in every way, zero errors or omissions, you just gotta fiddle with it" stance. How can Paul ramble on about the people he baptized... he only baptized so-and-so, no wait, he also baptized so-and-so, but now he doesn't remember who else he baptized... are we to take this as the perfect words of God Himself?

On the other hand, if the Bible isn't written by God Himself, but merely by very pious men who "knew God well," then that raises problems. If not necessarily every single word of Scripture is written by God Himself, how do we discern where the writer may be expressing cultural or personal ideals? This is, I fear, how many people today defend homosexual acting-out, i.e. the "that was then, this is now, it's just Paul's bias," etc. viewpoint.

I am not trying to open a can of worms here. I am aware that there are people who lurk and post here who don't respect traditional, evangelical Christian viewpoints, and I don't feel that I'm one of them. I intend these questions in a respectful and sincere way.

"I've read the Bible through several times. I believe it to be true but I'm really struggling with INERRANCY" (Kerri)

I think inerrancy is a flawed position. There are errors - changes to stories - and varying accounts on varying subjects. One just needs to read the bible carefully to see the authors, although inspired, may have made mistakes (not corroborating with one another in these writings as we have them - 27 writngs).

But that doesn't make the bible meaningless - in fact it makes it realisitic and likely honest. I still think it's the word of God to the Gentiles (the NT) so that we might find the path to righteousness also.

Kerri,

You have some great questions and I admire your stance on some of these issues. Thats what it takes to be a good Christian. I use to fire off questions like that as well and STILL do. There are many many good books on this subject. Lee Strobel has many and William Lane Craig is very very helpful on the subject. Your questions are so complex there is no simple answer, it's one that will have to studied. Just my opnion, good luck and God Bless!

"I wonder about things like the obvious contradiction where Jesus says "don't take a staff" and in another gospel "take nothing except a staff." Any thoughts?" (Kerri)

Occams razor: "When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question" (Wiki)

It's likely an easy answer - the two gospels were written by 2 different people in 2 different places to 2 different communities - and maybe the change was made to (a) correct what one saw as an error in the other or (b) maybe the 2 passages were not cross compared and there were a few examples of the story roaming around.

In my opinion, it's going to be something that easy - and has nothing to do with the correlation and harmonization of the texts - texts that originally were not side by side each other in nice binding like we have today.

"Nathaniel, respectfully, I have to say that such semantical gyration is a turn-off to thinking people. God gave us our intellect; surely He does not intend for us to suspend it in order to accept such convoluted arguments."

Kerri-

With all due respect, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand you are deeply troubled by the instruction about staves and sandals (Not quite what I'd call the lead-off problem for inerrancy, but that was your pick).

But on the other hand, when Nathaniel answers the concern you raise about the staves and sandals, you make no effort to engage the argument. Instead, you describe it as a semantical gyration and a convoluted argument...something that turns off thinking people (a group to which Nathaniel, no doubt in your book, does not belong).

Simply calling an argument convoluted or a gyration or a turn off is nothing more than an insult. The mere words do not make it so.

So which is it to be? Genuine concern about inerrancy, or ridicule of inerrantists?

"It's likely an easy answer - the two gospels were written by 2 different people in 2 different places to 2 different communities"

The biblical critics tell us that everyone copied Mark (and possibly Q...though some say that Luke copied Matthew or Matthew copied Luke and there was no Q). Tradition tells us that everyone copied Matthew. Either way, the accounts are not independent. So that doesn't really work.

"and maybe the change was made to (a) correct what one saw as an error in the other."

Exactly what error in Mark would Matthew have been correcting? Or which error in Matthew would Mark have been correcting?

"Maybe the 2 passages were not cross compared and there were a few examples of the story roaming around."

Doesn't this, again, go against the idea that Matthew, Mark and Luke somehow referenced each other. You seem to be treating it as if the Synoptics are three independent compilations of oral accounts.

What seems most likely to me is that the error comes from manuscript damage or corruption during the copying process in the long years before Gutenberg. But the Greek also allows for the possibility that there is no contradiction at all.

I think Greg is right to say that belief in the Bible as God's word comes first and the arguments come second. Same is true of just about every faith. In other areas of our lives we aspire to reverse that sequence, though we fail to do it often.

Kerri,

I don't want to be redundant, but I thought you were genuinely having trouble with inerrancy. If I knew you actually did not believe inerrancy, I would have responded differently. Actually, now that I look at it, I think I could have been more clear about my position.

The issue of the staff doesn't seem to me to be trouble for inerrancy because there are many legitimate explanations (like the ones offered) to those problems.

Jon, I think you are on to something to notice the distinction you do. In theological terms, one might call this the doctrine that says "regeneration preceeds faith". In other words, for one to believe the bible, he must be born again first. This is supported by scriptural proofs. In the case of other faiths, a disposition to worship a god of ones choice as he flees the only true God also comes first, prior to building the case to support that particular faith.

In either case, it is a disposition of the heart that leads one to *want* to believe a certain thing. Now having said that, not all things that people believe are true in an objective sense. The scritures tell us that man is born enslaved to sin, that his mind and will are inclined to all evil. The desire to believe lies is in our DNA.

Whether or not it is rational to believe something is true matters little to the actual status of whether that thing is really true or not. For the unregenerated person, it is irrational to believe in the One true God in spirit and truth. The bible tells us that that type of person is dead to God and cannot even believe because the things he'd need to truly believe, [eyes to see and ears to hear] *he doesn't have*.

WisdomLover,

Frankly I'm shocked by your jump to the assumption that I'm trying to insult anyone, and your rush to mischaracterize my genuine and sincere concern, especially since I stated it as such. Can we stick to the topic?

If you feel that it's not obvious why "He must have meant an EXTRA staff" is a semantic gyration or convoluted argument, let's go there and dissect it. Jesus did NOT say "don't take an extra staff." His words in Luke 9:3 were "no staff." Yet in Mark 6:8 it says "nothing except a staff." Then goes on to say "no extra tunic." If Jesus had meant "no extra staff," we can assume that he would have been just as specific as he had regarding the tunic. Even if the actual MEANING is "depend on God," then we still have the apparent error.

If copyist error is assumed, then we have to ask, why would God not bother to protect the inerrancy of Scripture throughout the ages? Can the Bible have some errors and still be true? How do we defend an imperfect Book to non-believers if we're trying to say "use this as your life authority?"

So, I feel that it is pointless to attempt to unpack every single Bible contradiction, and I feel that this is not a good way to witness to unbelievers (who may surely visit this site), pointing out every place they have legitimate reason to doubt the Bible's authority. Therefore I will not attempt to list the "lead-off problems of inerrancy." I do, however, find these issues troubling, and I would like to resolve them in my own mind using arguments that make obvious sense and do not require lack of consideration for the natural flow of language and grammar.

I find this sort of ironic, as I regularly visit other "Christian" websites where liberal "believers" openly state that they don't believe the Bible is true, and I try to engage them in arguments that they can believe in. I'm looking to settle this in my own mind and strengthen my own defenses in such situations.
Prince, thanks for the advice about those authors. I've read Strobel's books and find them to be too cursory. I will check out Lane's, though. Thank you.

Kerri,

"I wonder about things like the obvious contradiction where Jesus says "don't take a staff" and in another gospel "take nothing except a staff." Any thoughts?"

I am sure that I will likely overlap some of the answers that other have put here, but here goes anyways. What you are pointing out is a genuine problem with the English translation from Greek. The problem results in a sense of urgency as the central point in Matthew not being properly conveyed. The reason behind not getting an extra staff or a staff or sandals or whatever is because of this sense of urgency for departure and execution of the needed preaching. As it states in Matthew "“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach,". This is the central point. It is urgent not to waste time on these other things, but to go post-haste and preach even if you lack staff or sandals or extra pair of them. These things take second seat to what is really important...reaching the lost with the good news. Even if there was a contradiction in the passages, I don't think that anything important is lost in the translation and misleads no one into error with eternal consequences.

Kerri-

If I misread you, sorry. In my own defense, it looked to me like you didn't engage the argument but just characterized it as, to abbreviate, stupid. I was immediately motivated to defend the person whose argument has been so characterized. I'm glad to hear that you did not intend a slight to Nathaniel, and that being the case, I'm also glad to say sorry.

Since you want to engage the argument and show why it's flawed, I'm all for that kind of exchange. I might, of course, disagree with your evaluation of the argument in the final analysis. I don't think that it harms unbelievers who are browsing this kind of site to see honest debate.

On the staves. Matthew's account doesn't actually say "don't take a staff" it says "don't acquire a staff". He uses a different Greek word from Mark, when Mark says "take a staff". Since the disciples all probably had staves, Jesus would be saying, in essence, "Don't take an extra staff". That's the rationale anyway.

Another way to look at the difference in terms is that Jesus was saying that they should take the staves they already have and go. Don't acquire one for the trip. I tend to prefer this way of looking at it just because I'm having trouble imagining why the disciples would want to carry an extra staff. It's not because that isn't a legitimate interpretation of the language in Matthew. It is that. But it just doesn't make sense to forbid the disciples from taking such a bulky item. It would be like saying "don't take a ladder" or some such.

But even this account has its problems. It does fine for harmonizing Mark with Matthew. But Luke is the odd man out. He's 'anti-staff', but he characterizes Jesus as saying that the disciples should not take staves. He does not follow Matthew in saying that they should not acquire staves.

This is why, in the end, I lean toward it being a simple copy error. I'm willing to accept copy errors but not willing to accept autograph errors. The reason for this is that the autographs were inspired, the copies weren't.

You might want to take a moment to think about what the world would be like if copy errors couldn't happen. Would the ink not soak into the parchment when an error was in the offing? Would the copyist about to make the error black out? Or what? How about copies willfully and sinfully altered by the copyist?

You could argue that the erroneous copy could be made, but it would not be propagated. The errors would eventually be discovered and expunged. But why should we not think that this very process is underway right now?

I view copy errors as one of the many instances of evil that exist in this world. Some instances of evil may well be explained to me, some may never be explained. I can only point to the price that Christ paid for all of them and say that God must have had a good reason for allowing them.

Great comment WL!!

Copy error - maybe - it sounds plausible. But then aren't there more of them with 'ink dripping through' as such a problem? I expect to find many errors of this is the case in the process of translation...not just on some staffs. But it is plausible.

The problem is who wrote when and with whom as their guide? Wisdom Lover points this out with the whole 'Q' argument and the synoptics. Fact is, no one knows who copied who and what exactly happened. All we know is we have 3 different synoptics that vary in accuracy on the same exact stories...meaning 'Q' likely didn't provide enough info for the copyist - or the copyist had a set agenda and edited the info they used.

It is also plausible these 2 gospels were not being used 'side by side' - and maybe 'Q' existed and they copied from it in various communities when they developed a gospel account. I mean, those 3 gospels are quite different in case no has bothered to check.

Mark is shorter than Luke and Matthew. Matthew and Luke contain extra stories the other doesn't have - and Mark contains wording neither have also. 2 have a form of geneology (which differ) and one doesn't. 2 have a virgin birth while Mark doesn't. Their stories about the death of Christ are similar - but the last words of Christ are different. Etc.

These are not the same documents - they are 3 seperate gospels written to 3 seperate communities (or people). They likely did not exist side by side or they could of easily harmonized them all into one fixing any and all contradictions they saw fit. None of this was done - and it proven by later community book lists - in which some gospels are in some communities but not in others.

The story about the staffs is exactly that - the problem with copying off 'Q' and inserting a story based on the best knowledge they had while they wrote. Now if Mark, Matthew, and Luke do not agree on this staff point - it's not because of something Jesus said - but because of what some writer thinks Jesus 'should' of said in he scenario - based on the lack of evidence to put the exact wording. Since it was a staff not much thought was likely given.

It's like when we all see the same event and tell thr story from our perspectives - usually in glee. Now if three seperate people wrote their accounts do you think something as small as a staff would truly register correctly on all 3 accounts? It might get mentioned but the point of that story would stick. The point is the key.

Contradictions exist - not so much errors - in the accunts written down by the writers. And Luke, who never met Jesus, would be the best example of how this might happen. He likely travelled around and got all the stories he could find compiled - and if 'Q' existed he likely used that to. The wrote his gospel for his community - a completely gentile one - and his writing kind of shows that. Whereas Matthew looks a lot more Jewish in nature than Luke...perspective is everything in writing.

You found a contradiction - it's not that problematic - it's just a few stories not in total agreeance about the facts - and these books were used in different communities (there was no way then to cross compare the contradiction). It's not the worst thing you will find.

Sad that of all the volumes of arguments out there, he thinks the best one is:

'If you read it, you'll experience an "existential awareness" that will be "validated by the holy spirit" and so that's how you know its true.'

When I read it, I didn't get such magical tinglings.

The mormons down the street tried to use the same argument on me. So I read the Book of Mormon too.

Still no dice.

Maybe i'll try the Koran.

"Copy error - maybe - it sounds plausible. But then aren't there more of them with 'ink dripping through' as such a problem?"

Not every alleged error is a copy error. There are clearly some in both the OT and the NT, but there are not so many that I'd say the ink is dripping through.

The other example Kerri raised, Paul's apparent fumbling over the baptisms, is not a copy error. In that case you have Paul, not fumbling, but anticipating objections from and clarifying confusion among his factious Corinthian readers. He says to them that among them he only baptized Crispus and Gaius. He adds that he also baptized Stephanus. But Stephanus was no longer among the Corinthians (he was with Paul in Ephesus). So Paul placed a special addendum on his comment for Stephanus.

And when Paul said he didn't know whether he had baptized anyone else he did two things. First, he allowed for the possibility that someone that he had baptized might have arrived in Corinth without his knowledge. And second, he saved his most important rhetorical point for last. By saying that he didn't remember whether he had baptized anyone else, he was saying that he didn't care. It was not worth remembering. The important thing is not who baptized you, but whom you were baptized into.

It is really too bad that so many translators include punctuation that practically turns this into a parenthetical remark (the NIV actually places all of the 'fumbling' in parenthesis). There is no such punctuation in the original Greek.

Tony-

I don't think that Greg's point is about magical feelings that the Bible gives you. I've been a Christian for decades and I still don't feel the magic. The point is that the message of the Bible resonates with what a lot of people view as their existential predicament in a way that no other message does.

Let me explain.

It's important first to understand who Greg was giving this advice for. I don't think his advice is directed toward a committed atheist like Richard Dawkins. It's the odd bird in that flock who will get anything from Greg's advice.

So Greg wasn't talking to them. He was talking to the majority who believe in a higher power. Because most people do believe in some higher power. It doesn't matter why.

Let's imagine someone in Greg's audience. Someone who might respond to the message of the Bible. Call him Ned.

When Ned looks around, he sees a universe that is cold and unsympathetic. This initially might lead Ned to think that if there is a higher power, it is also cold and unsympathetic.

If Ned makes the leap to see God as an individual who cares about him at all, he's as likely to see God as evil. Or as a willful god who cares about him in the way that a headstrong child cares about his pets. He might show them affection on occasion, but that doesn't prevent him from tormenting them at other times.

If Ned can get past this view of God as willful, and see Him as just and holy, the real trouble starts. For now Ned's gaze turns inward, and Ned finds all the dark motives that live in his soul. How could he hope to ever find favor with a just and holy God. He might try to follow every command that God gives, but in the end it's no use. Ned's already broken too many of the rules, and even when he keeps the rules, he knows that his heart isn't in it. It would almost be better to go back to be a pet of the willful god. At least sometimes, that god gives affection. The just and holy God is only going to give judgment.

Give Ned the Koran, and he is going to find more rules that he won't follow.

Give Ned the Vedas and he's going to find a host of willful gods, and even if he follows Dayananda and re-interprets the writings as monotheistic, Ned will still only be left with more rules to fail at.

Give Ned the Sutras and he's going to find more rules. Here, at least, the rules will be aimed at coping with the heartless world that seems to surround him, not at pleasing a righteous judge. But Ned will find that, once again, he can't follow the rules and is doomed to continue repeating his mistake again and again in life after life. The most he can hope for is that one day he will abandon all hope.

Give Ned the Bible, and he'll find rules also. Rules that Ned knows he cannot keep. Rules that the Bible itself both asserts and shows by example and argument that Ned cannot keep. But it will also tell Ned that the righteous God who sits in judgment of him is both his father and brother who loves him and yearns to be reunited with him. His judge has also provided a means by which he can escape judgment that does not involve following rules that he knows are impossible.

I think Greg's point, or at least part of his point, is that the message of the Bible is going to move Ned, not with magic feelings, but with such incredible relief that Ned is going to want to accept the Bible as God's word on that alone.

Wisdom,

>> I don't think that Greg's point is about magical feelings

Then i don't know what "validated by the holy spirit" means

"I don't think that Greg's point is about magical feelings" -WL

"I don't know what "validated by the holy spirit" means" -ToNy

"Validated by the Holy Spirit" means that the Holy Spirit will work within the reader to bring about normal feelings of first conviction then relief and comfort such as I described in my post.

In general, I don't think that when we talk about the actions of the Holy Spirit in a person's heart that we are typically talking about something that the person would himself describe as the action of the Holy Spirit. Instead, a person might say something like, "As I was reading it occurred to me that if the words in John are true, then there's a way for me to escape the judgment I deserve."

It seems like a normal thought at the time. We are not talking about a magical liver shiver.

In retrospect, the same person might realize that what "occurred to him" was really the activity of the Holy Spirit. Also, third-party believers might well conclude, as the person describes what 'occurred to him', that the Holy Spirit was at work in the person's soul.

>> 'Validated by the Holy Spirit' means that the Holy Spirit will work within the reader.

exactly.

he's arguing that the best way to convince someone about the validity of the bible, is to invoke a ghost to interplay with the reader's mind.

e.g. to conjure magic

WL,

Give Ned the Sutras and he's going to find more rules... But Ned will find that, once again, he can't follow the rules and is doomed to continue repeating his mistake again and again in life after life. The most he can hope for is that one day he will abandon all hope.

Really? This is completely contrary to all Buddhist thought and the very premise of the Buddhist message is that there is "hope" and that one can indeed learn to "follow the rules" (which is really an inadequate way of stating Buddhist practice; more an eisegesis through projecting classical Christian notions onto Buddhist texts) "life after life". If you are going to critique a view other than your own at least have the decency to get it right (even in short form).

"This is completely contrary to all Buddhist thought"

What is completely contrary to all Buddhist thought? Buddhism teaches that the striving for existence is endemic to all men. Yes, on the one hand, Buddhism promises to give us escape from this striving (which is the root of suffering), through the eightfold path (if you would like to not call the eightfold path a set of rules, fine). And yes, I know that Buddhism makes the claim that you can really follow the eightfold path.

But on the other hand can one really follow the eightfold path?

My point was, that whatever Buddhism may teach, you can't really do it.

"If you are going to critique a view other than your own at least have the decency to get it right."

Did you think that I was saying that Islam teaches that you can't follow the rules in the Koran or that Hinduism teaches that you can't follow the rules in the Vedas?

No. They don't say that, and I wasn't saying they did.

My point was that they do teach that you can follow the rules.

In spite of that, I claimed that you can't really. I may be wrong about this, but I'm not interpreting Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Islam in saying it. I'm expressing my own view about the real prospects of following the rules. As such, I cannot be misinterpreting Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Islam (let alone indecently misinterpreting them).

Only Christianity teaches that you can't follow the rules laid out in its sacred text. Only in Christianity does the sacred text itself teach this.

To recap, the point was:

a) Whatever the texts may say, you really can't follow any of the rules in any of the sacred texts.

b) The Bible is different from the rest in that it acknowledges this, but still offers hope.

Since it's now OK to simply quote part of what someone says and ignore the sense of what they were saying:

"the best way to convince someone about the validity of the bible, is to invoke a ghost to interplay with the reader's mind.

e.g. to conjure magic" -ToNy

Why are you suddenly in favor of magic?

wisdom

no i dont believe in magic and i've never seen any

but it seems to be the best way to verify biblical truth - according to greg

one of the reasons i dont believe anymore i guess

"Only Christianity teaches that you can't follow the rules laid out in its sacred text. Only in Christianity does the sacred text itself teach this" (WL)

I disagree with this claim - nowhere does this claim appear in the NT texts...if it does - let's discuss why you think this is?

Yes we are saved by Grace - Grace being the movement of God towards us. But God has always been gracious from Noah to Abraham to Moses to Judges to Kings to Prophets to Messiah.

Now because God is gracious towards Gentiles we can write off our committments to better ourselves by the teachings of God? Find me that teaching.

WL,

No, the Eightfold Path is not a set of rules. They are a set of mental states that one strives to cultivate. Not cultivating them leads to continued suffering, not because you are angering some deity who punishes you for not following their restrictions and proscriptions, but because that is the natural order of things: grasping, aversion, and ignorance (the three kleshas) lead to suffering, while love, compassion, and equanimity leads to happiness.

Thus, it is not that one 'follows the rules' and, by virtue of that, becomes happy. There are plenty of examples: one can abstain from sex or alcohol in an aversive way, which will then lead to suffering; one can give service to others in order to puff up their own pride or try to 'gain' a higher rebirth, thus by grasping; etc. That is why meditation is so central to Buddhist thought: rule-following is in itself insufficient in that, even though doing it can cultivate good-will and such, it can only go so far without cultivating the proper motivation. So, instead of fixating on this or that rule or vow, they work on their minds, cultivating genuine compassion (which according to the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, is necessary for attaining Buddhahood, as in the Bodhisattva Vow). This is indicated in the Tibetan word for Buddhist, which is nang-pa, which literally means "one who is focused on inner reality", i.e. not external rule following.

That is why focusing on "rules" is a misrepresentation of Buddhist practice and thought: rules, while having a place, are secondary to the cultivation of certain mental qualities through meditative practice. Once those are sufficiently cultivated, one doesn't need to follow rules because wholesome action is elicited naturally from their wholesome minds as the situation dictates (akin to Aristotelian phronesis, understood in a non-conceptual way).

And this is currently being demonstrated in neuroscientific research on meditation adepts (meditators with about 50,000 hours of meditation practice, akin to the amount of time that Olympic athletes train in their sport): while the average non-meditator can maintain their attention for a short time before 'attentional fatigue' sets in (after about 5-10 minutes the number of mistakes done starts to increase exponentially), an adept meditator can sustain attention (with practically no distraction and no fatigue) for at least an hour (that's the extent of the study, though it is likely they could go for much longer). For adepts, when performing a form of compassion meditation, there is a 1200% increase in left prefrontal cortex activity (the area of the brain most correlated with positive affect and compassion), which is a neurological increase that is unprecedented in the literature. There is also a marked decline in activation in the left prefrontal cortex (the area strongly associated with depression, rumination, excessive self-concern, and negative affect) and amygdala (which is strongly associated with fear and anger). Adepts are able to perform better than CIA operatives at detecting emotion (like in the show Lie to Me), even though they have not had explicit training in the detection of micro-expressions. Adepts perform better in relation to the 'startle effect' than trained professionals, able to 'withstand' louder noises with no sign of being startled or their concentration being broken (another phenomenon that is unprecedented in the literature). And this is just scratching the surface as the scientific and neurological research on meditation is still in its relative infancy. These seem to demonstrate, then, that exceptional mental strength, stability, and compassion (beyond what has been seen anywhere else in the literature) can be cultivated, either just in this life or, if you accept the Buddhist view, after many lives. See the following for an extended treatment of this research: http://brainimaging.waisman.wisc.edu/~lutz/Meditation_Neuroscience_2005_AL_JDD_RJD_2.pdf

So, to sum up, I continue to think that your focus on rule-following is a projection of Judeo-Christian categories on Buddhist thought and, thus, misrepresents Buddhist practice and thought. You may now argue that it is impossible to cultivate the mental virtue that can lead one to naturally act in wholesome ways (i.e. without rule-following), but the things I mention above at least point to the possibility of actually doing so.

So all I have to do to be saved is meditate for 50,000 hours (there are about 350,000 waking hours in a human life). I'm about to turn 50, so that gives me 20 years. I only have to spend half of the rest of my waking life meditating. Cool!

Except, that still won't save me will it? I might improve my Karmic situation a bit. But in my next life, I'll drop the ball.

As I said, if you don't want to call the eightfold-path rule-following, I'm perfectly willing to grant you that terminology. But my fate still depends on something I do. And the reality is, I can't do it.

But if you improve your "Karmic situation", that will follow you into your next life and you will again have a chance to improve on it. Nor can we say, within a Buddhist framework, that one cannot 'reach' the state of Buddhahood since there are examples of such, so it is not necessary that one will "drop the ball" nor that, in the next life, one cannot continue to improve. So the reality is that you can do it, though probably not in this life or the next or the next, but it is genuinely possible, which you are still denying but not giving any sufficient rational within the Buddhist system to justify your denial.

"...but it is genuinely possible, which you are still denying but not giving any sufficient rationale within the Buddhist system to justify your denial."

If by "within" you mean "according to", I don't deny that within the Buddhist system you can pull it off. Just as I don't deny that within the Islamic system you can follow Sharia law. Indeed, I positively assert that within each system you can do what the system teaches.

What I'm questioning is whether you really can do it. What would someone not within each system think?

And I don't want to say that whatever an outsider thinks about a system is what's true about that system. That would be silly, of course. It would also, surely, be contradictory. But the larger issue is why the Bible would have a peculiar resonance, as Greg claims, for someone who's 'seeking'. A resonance that the Sutras or the Vedas would not have. Especially someone who's been ground down by life.

On that level, can you see, my point. The choices are:

1) Meditate for 50,000 hours.
2) Give up on your own virtue and trust Christ.

Can you see why someone might want to follow the second path?

WL,

What I'm questioning is whether you really can do it. What would someone not within each system think?

Well, that would depend on which "system" they are then interpreting the claims from. In your original post you said, simply, "Give Ned the Sutras and he's going to find more rules," which I am objecting to because, if he actually read the Sutras the rules would not have as prominent a place as you are giving them, which means that he wouldn't really be reading the Sutras (i.e., in an attempt to actually understand them), but would be committing eisegesis (my original claim, which I have argue for above).

But even if we accept that, Buddhist necessarily understands that the large majority of sentient beings cannot keep their vows or act wholesomely all throughout their lives, or else they wouldn't have antidotes and there would be no need for reincarnation or the Bodhisattva Vow. So, even if we understand the finite role that rule-following has in Buddhism, they accept exactly what you are saying! Yes, you will commit unwholesome deeds, perhaps even many unwholesome deeds throughout your life. But, they would quickly add, that is the joy of the practice: to notice it, to learn to apply the antidote, and to generate further mental calm and compassion through meditation.

Now, "[o]n that level", I can see your point, but also don't know if you are characterizing the point in the best way. I can see why someone would want the second path, because it entails relinquishing any kind of responsibility for one's own actions, wholesome or unwholesome. That is especially the case if we accept some kind of 'irresistible grace' notion, such that my ill actions have absolutely no consequences if I'm fortunate enough for God having chosen to save me. For myself, this victim mentality (we are all victims of God's apparently arbitrary decision to either save or damn us for an eternity) is a turn-off. Furthermore, given the obvious positive effects that meditation makes in its practitioners lives (e.g., the completely unprecedented increase in left prefrontal cortex activation during compassion meditation), including my own (if has helped me with addiction, panic attacks, and overal stress in my life, among other things), I see it as a useful path to take, whose usefulness is being demonstrated to me again and again as I continue on this path.

Kevin-

As I said before, I'm willing to give up the "following the rules" terminology. I gather that you are associating the idea of rule-following with ethics.

Since the eight-fold path is arranged in order of importance (I think), item 8 "Right Concentration" trumps or is at least more important than items 1-7. Now, the things that look like ethics in the 8-fold path are midway through the list. So right concentration outweighs failures to follow the path in every respect ethically.

Is that your point when you say

"if he actually read the Sutras the rules would not have as prominent a place as you are giving them, which means that he wouldn't really be reading the Sutras (i.e., in an attempt to actually understand them), but would be committing eisegesis (my original claim, which I have argue for above)."

If so, I did not intend to place ethics ahead of right concentration in the eight-fold path. My only point, perhaps unfelicitously rendered in the formula "following the rules", is that your destiny depends on your actions.

WL,

Where did you get the notion that the Eightfold Path is listed in terms of "importance"? I'm asking because I have never heard it put like that. In fact, most Buddhist philosophy would say that they are all equally important and need to be developed together if one is to enter Buddhahood (they "inter-are", to use Thich Nhat Hanh's terminology). Even beyond that, you have it wrong: Right View is first, not Right Concentration (which is almost always given as the eighth prong). This fact literally obliterates your point, which was rather impotent to begin with.

Moving beyond the above, yes, Buddhism would say that one's "destiny" (whatever that is) depends on their actions and intentions (a very important factor), but, again, that doesn't require perfection now; unlike your original claim, Buddhism doesn't claim that one can act perfectly in this life nor, if one reads the Sutras without committing eisegesis, is that necessary. I'm sorry, but your are just plain wrong.

Sorry, I forgot to address one thing: I do not equate rule-following with ethics since, as I stated previously, I do believe that there is a point in ethical development when one develops phronesis, which is a skillful elicitation of ethical action given the needs of the immediate context that no longer requires rule-following (like a neophyte or amateur would need). Though not from a Buddhist perspective, here's one useful elucidation of what I mean:

http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/pdf/Dreyfus%20APA%20Address%20%2010.22.05%20.pdf

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