Re: [asa] Grains among the chaff (skimming the 'God Delusion')

From: <>
Date: Mon Mar 31 2008 - 11:17:22 EDT

Thanks for humoring me, David; and giving some background on this that I'm sure
has been rehashed thousands of times before. It does alleviate so much pressure
if one is just willing to unclench their tight fist even just a little from
clinging to rigid demands of historicity. Having acquaintances that are
threatened by any suggestion of non-literal truth, I still have part of my mind
asking their questions after them and anticipating their responses. Dawkins'
criticism that we pick and choose the parts we want to take literally does have
some valid sting to it. But only in the matter of degree -- it doesn't justify
the vast sweep of rejection he wants it to. It seems the healthiest
hermeneutics involve reading Scripture with consideration of the literary and
historical background aiding us in the interpretation.

Thanks again. (and sorry for misspelling your name last post.)


Quoting David Opderbeck <>:

> Interesting questions Merv. It's well known that the literary relationship
> between the synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark and Luke) is somewhat unclear,
> hence the term "synoptic problem." Even conservative scholars acknowledge
> that the synoptic Gospel writers selected and arranged some preexisting
> material for theological and literary purposes (in fact, Luke 1 specifically
> mentions pre-existing tradition). So, if you come to the synoptic Gospels
> expecting to find simple, clean timelines, you'll be disappointed (or
> thrilled, depending on your perspective). The events in the synoptic
> Gospels are more like selected portraits or scenes, not necessarily in
> chronological order.
> As to the census, the Greek grammar here apparently presents some
> difficulties. Some have noted that Luke 2:2 points out "this was the first
> census taken while Quirinius was governor...." This could suggest there was
> more than one census. One proposal suggests that Luke is distinguishing the
> census in A.D. 6 from an earlier registration (see here:
> As to Jesus' family traveling to Egypt, Luke 2 seems to suggest that after
> Jesus was blessed at the temple, the family returned to Nazareth; there is a
> verse about Jesus continuing to grow strong, and then the narrative
> continues in the next verse with Jesus as a 12-year-old. In the events in
> Matt. 2, one thing people often note is that Herod's decree was for the
> death of all boys two years old and under (Matt. 2:16). This suggests that
> the Magi did not visit immediately at Jesus' birth, as is popularly
> supposed. It may be that the Magi visited when Jesus was around two years
> old, and that Matthew fills in some details of Jesus' life between when he
> was two and twelve years old that Luke omits. Robert Gundry, however,
> suggests that the Magi scene is a sort of midrash (a non-historical
> interpretive gloss on the underlying events) -- a suggestion that was quite
> controversial in evangelical circles.
> One thing that strikes me -- it seems that the Gospel writers could have
> done a much better job if the Gospels were mere fabrications and these
> "errors" are as obvious as critics such as Dawkins thinks they are.
> Wouldn't Luke's original readers have known immediately if the reference to
> the census was an obvious gaffe? Josephus, writing at around the same time
> or maybe a little later than Luke, refers to the census of Quirinius, so it
> was evidently a significant event that was remembered for some time. One
> might argue that Luke made a mistake of some kind (and I don't think even
> that's necessary), which would question some notions of inerrancy, but this
> hardly suggests a "fabrication."
> On Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 1:16 AM, Merv <> wrote:
> > At our public library, finding its two A. McGrath's holdings ("D.Delusion&
> Twilight of Atheism), I also saw Dawkins' "God Delusion" (three shiny
> > copies!) right next to them and couldn't resist.
> >
> > Now, after having skimmed it (Dawkins' book) at home looking for anything
> > that might be interesting or genuinely insightful, I did find one question
> > that provoked me to look into something in Scriptures. He finds in the
> > Matthew and Luke accounts of Jesus' childhood obviously contradictory
> > accounts regarding childhood travels. Here, any such interest as Dawkins
> > may have purported to have stops, since to him this is only one more
> > 'incoherence' of scripture. But my interest is piqued. Here is what
> > Dawkins' said that caught my attention (p. 93) I'll just summarize it.
> >
> > Dawkins writes to this effect:
> >
> > ...that Luke has Mary & Joseph living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem,
> > fleeing to Egypt, and then returning to Nazareth after Herod dies.
> Whereas
> > Matthew has the family living in Bethlehem all along. (I guess D. gets
> this
> > from Matt 2:19-23 which seem to suggest that Nazareth was an unplanned
> > arrival point rather than a home returned to.)
> > Dawkins also states that Luke's claim about the Roman census, which can be
> > independently verified, shows the whole Luke account to be a fabrication
> > since the only census that occurred was a local one, and was too late for
> > Luke's purposes, being in AD 6 after Herod's death.
> >
> > All this made me wonder how theologians have answered (or not answered)
> > some of this, or if Dawkins' facts are just plain wrong (His other
> > assertions about Scripture that I ran across were light weight --- he can
> > pontificate on how, even in the N.T., Jewish morality and decency towards
> > 'neighbors' meant only 'fellow Jews' with nary a mention of Jesus'
> teaching
> > of the good Samaritan so far as I could find.)
> >
> > But sorting out the childhood travels of the holy family I find more
> > interesting:
> > Matthew states that immediately after the magi visit (to the *house* in
> > Bethlehem), the holy family fled to Egypt. So why does Luke never
> mention
> > the flight to Egypt, but makes it sound like they return forthwith to
> > Nazareth after the circumcision (eighth day) and purification rites in
> > Jerusalem? What are the developed answers theologians have given to these
> > over the ages?
> >
> > I don't raise these questions in the same spirit as Dawkins does (indeed,
> > to him they are not questions at all) Unlike him, I am actually
> interested
> > in the truth. So are his challenges actually real ones here? I should
> > probably go and review the astronomical Star of Bethlehem project again,
> if
> > I could find it. It seemed he had quite a bit to say about some
> timelines
> > that may have answered this.
> >
> > (I pasted in Dawkin's actual paragraphs on this below for the curious.)
> >
> > --Merv
> > p.s. Dave Opderbeck, thanks for the A.McGrath suggestion; he looks like
> > an excellent author, and I'll be reading his work now too.
> >
> > p.p.s. (from a 'Pontius Puddle' religious cartoon):
> > Said parishioner to Pontius: "How was Sunday school this morning?"
> > Replied Pontius: "Great! I scuttled two shallow convictions, exposed
> > three misconceptions, and crushed one individual's entire belief system!"
> > Parting remark of parishioner: "I had no idea religion could be such a
> > contact sport!"
> >

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Received on Mon Mar 31 11:18:35 2008

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