Is the Bible absolute truth, or are its messages largely relative?
Many Christians pride themselves on their absolutist views of everything: "God is absolute," they say, "therefore God's book, the Bible, must be absolute too." According to that view, the Bible is the supernaturally inspired Word of God, so it must be every bit as absolute as the Creator.
Relative from Cover to Cover!Is their case overstated? Yes, only I would go much further: Comparing one scripture with another, a time honored method of Bible study, demonstrates that the Bible offers relative truth from cover to cover and I am okay with that.
For the sake of brevity I will give only a few examples, but there are many found throughout the Bible. Once one knows what to look for, the instances start to appear everywhere.
May we please begin here with an apparent discrepancy or contradiction between verses in Genesis and Exodus? Taken at face value, Exodus 6:3 and Genesis 4:26 blatantly contradict one another.
Let us compare the two passages, using the King James Version.
Genesis 4:26 versus Exodus 6:3Genesis 4: 26, King James 2000 Bible
"And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enosh: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD." [I.e, the name of Jehovah or Yahweh]Exodus 6:3, King James Bible
"And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, [El Shadai] but by my name the LORD [Jehovah or Yahweh] was I not known to them." *
Why is this comparison a problem for the absolutist, or the so-called "high view," but not for those of a more modern view?
For simply this reason: The first passage contradicts the second passage.
Seth was a grandson of Adam, yet he lived a long time before Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Genesis passage claims that men began to call upon the name of Jehovah clear back in the days of Seth.
The Exodus passage indicates that this was not the case.
Exodus 6:3 states that God appeared to Abraham, Issac and Jacob as El-Shadai, which would have been fine, except that the author/s went on to add, " by my name the LORD [Jehovah or Yahweh] was I not known to them."
That is a problem for the inerrant crowd, because it makes no sense that Abraham, the Father of Faith of Judaism, Muhammadanism and Christianity, would not know the name of the God he represented.
If one insists upon interpreting Bible language as absolute truth, he cannot make the two statements agree. Most modernists do not have a problem understanding the bible as relative truth, so this does not present that much of a hurdle for them.
No such thing as an absolutistIf the truth were known, there are no real absolutists when it comes to interpreting the Bible.
I found it amusing to read what the conservative scholars had to say about the above passages. The stalwart Mathew Henry simply did not address it or even mention the contradiction. Other scholars -- of a less cautious bent perhaps -- explained away the passage as, guess what? That's right. They explained that the passage as containing only a relative truth!
Their explanation was that the name Jehovah was used only relatively less by Adam's grandchildren than it was by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, as well as Moses and his true followers.
If so, if this is a relativist interpretation, not that of an absolutist, that is a tacit admission that parts of the bible are not absolute truth but relative truth, and I concur.
As a modern Christian, my view is that this passage could be explained in at least three ways: As a contradiction; as a relative term; or as a mistake, but none of those options are available for a true absolutist. Scriptural errors and good theology cannot co-exist in fundamentalist and orthodox worldviews.
The language of the Bible was never meant to be taken in an absolute sense, and when we try to interpret it that way we only make fools of ourselves.
Here are some more examples of relative language, and I promise to make this short and concise:
Does God save all men? (I Corinthians 15:22)
I can already hear the adamant denials. Well, I agree with my critics this time: God really does not save all men, at least not during this lifetime.(1) However, the scriptures do claim that God does, indeed, save all men:
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." I Corinthians 15:22 KJV
Is tweaking really cheating?
Most Christian literalists, though not all, would tweak this scripture a little, so that it might read, "in Christ shall many be made alive." Or something similar.
For the word "all" they would substitute the word "many," or "some", or "believers", but they would adamantly deny that "all people" will be saved.
So when literalists say that not all humans will be saved, they are admitting -- tacitly at least -- that the Bible language is not absolute, that it is relative. But they just cannot bring themselves to say that, because their world view is based upon what they believe is an absolute Word of God.
I challenge my literalist friends to say it with me out loud: "The language of the Bible is relative, not absolute!"
I would guess that a lot of people could not accept that challenge and admit the obvious truth.
What about absolute terms like "forever"?
Another article quite nicely summarizes the Bible's use of the word "forever" and many other absolute terms. Quoting a portion of it here should make the point:
- Sodom's fiery judgment is "eternal" (Jude verse 7)--until--God "will restore the fortunes of Sodom" (Ezekiel 16:53-55).
- Israel's "affliction is incurable" (Jer. 30:12)-until--the Lord "will restore health" and heal her wounds (Jer. 30:17).
- The sin of Samaria "is incurable" (Mic. 1:9)-until-- Lord "will restore ... the fortunes of Samaria." (Ez. 16:53).
- Ammon is to become a "wasteland forever" and "rise no more" (Zeph. 2:9, Jer. 25:27 --until--the Lord will "restore the fortunes of the Ammonites" (Jer. 49:6).
- An Ammonite or Moabite is forbidden to enter the Lord's congregation "forever"-until--the tenth generation (Deut. 23:3):
- Habakkuk tells us of mountains that were "everlasting", that is -until-- they "were shattered" Hab. 3 3:6).
- The Aaronic Priesthood was to be an "everlasting" priesthood (Ex. 40:15), that is-until-it was superseded by the Melchizedek Priesthood (Hebrews 7:14-18).
- Many translations of the Bible inform us that God would dwell in Solomon's Temple "forever" (1 Kings 8:13), that is,--until the Temple was destroyed. (Formatting mine)
The list goes on; it is quite lengthy. You may read it on the page: http://www.what-the-hell-is hell.com/HellStudy/HellChart.html.
I suggest skipping down the page to the section with the heading that reads: "The End of 'Forever' in the Bible." (Disclaimer: I am not implying that I would support everything on the page but the section on "Forever" is self explanatory.Denial and betrayal
The Bible clearly says that God was not known as the LORD to Abraham, but many conservative scholars contend that it really means that Abraham was only familiar with that name but did not use it.
Why make that distinction? Because, the literal and absolute crowd refuse to concede that any one Bible verse can possibly contradict another.
Why can they never admit a discrepancy? Because it is against their rules of interpretation. In my opinion, their rules do need to be revised to include the possibility of disagreement among Bible authors, but that must be the topic of other posts.
Fundamentalists, like myself (formerly), have been ingrained with the notion that to admit the relative and evolutionary nature of the Bible is a betrayal. We deny, deny, deny because in our gut we feel that to do otherwise is a deep kind of betrayal, not unlike Peter swearing, "I know not the man."
Nonetheless, the Bible cannot be taken as absolute in any sense of the word (as proven by simply comparing one verse with another).
God bless ...
*Corrections were made in he above paragraph during revision. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Shaddai
** Both Yahweh and the LORD are ways of interpreting the term YHVH. (The letters YHVH are sometimes used to represent the unmentionable name of God, which the Hebrews apparently forgot how to pronounce after the destruction of the Temple by the Roman armies in AD 70).
P.S. Did you know that Frank Ellsworth Lockwood is also the author of the book, "Captains All"? You can view or purchase it now at https://www.createspace.com/4133264