Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Problems with the BASF: Foundation Clause

The BASF is the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, which all members in the Christadelphian Central Fellowship are required to endorse. The foundation clause of this statement of faith contains wording that is either factually inaccurate, or otherwise cannot be demonstrated to be true.

You can find the full statement of faith here.

The BASF Foundation Clause is listed below:
THE FOUNDATION--That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation. 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 2:13; Heb. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 14:37; Neh. 9:30; John 10:35.

The Scriptures of Moses?

See my previous post where I outline some of the evidence against Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Very few scholars today accept even the existence of Moses as a historical figure let alone accept him as the author of the first 5 books of the Bible.

The Bible...the only source of knowledge concerning God?

So why do Christadelphians attempt to use evidence from nature or from other writers to prove the existence of God?

This phrase is especially used to rule out scientific evidence for evolution, since evolution is not found in the Bible, and thus one cannot use external evidence from nature to determine facts about God. But does their definition go too far?

To use a biblical analogy, is it really the case that one cannot infer something about the potter by inspecting the pottery? Indeed Romans 1:20 makes this very claim, in direct contradiction to the BASF foundation clause.

Wholly given by inspiration of God

Emphasis here appears to be on the word "wholly" in order to rule out what is known as the doctrine of "partial inspiration". This term is used as a wide umbrella to cover anything other than the 100% inspiration of the Bible.

The problem begins when you try to define what "inspiration" actually means in this context. 2 Tim 3:16 is often cited, but it does not define what "inspiration" means either, and it is only referring to the Old Testament. There is no verse in the entire Bible that claims the New Testament is or was inspired.

I have known Christadelphians to offer varying interpretations of what "inspiration" means, though it seems that the most common definition is that of "verbal, plenary inspiration", which simply means that every word was dictated by God. We are not told exactly by what means the words were dictated, and any further details are left to one's imagination (and best remain there).

Again, there is no verse in the entire Bible that claims that the Bible was dictated by God in this manner. This is a belief held and required for theological or convenience purposes, and does not derive from the Bible itself. This might surprise some readers, but I would be happy to accept a refutation if you have one.

in the writers

This tiny phrase adds some further clarification to what is meant by "inspiration". It sounds like an adaptation of 2 Pet 1:21:
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Note the word "spake". It does not say "wrote". Perhaps it implies that the words these "holy men of God" spoke were all written down, but even then it specifically only mentions 'prophecy'. What is this verse even referring to? Certainly not the entire Bible. Not even the Old Testament would fit this language. It seems more likely to be referring to the oral traditions, rather than any written text we have access to today. To the extent that it does require to the biblical authors, it refers only to (male) prophets.

What about everything else?

While we're talking about prophecy, did this Holy Ghost (Spirit) also inspire Ezekiel's prophecy on the desolation of Egypt?

Biblical Inerrancy

The last part of the Foundation Clause reads:
"and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation "

This piece is otherwise known as biblical inerrancy. Once again the Bible never actually states this claim anywhere.

The exception of errors of transcription (copying) or translation is obviously needed because the plain fact that there are different translations and different manuscripts demonstrates that they cannot all be correct.

But there are much deeper problems with this part of the Foundation Clause.

It presupposes that there was some original copy which was free of errors. The problem is that no such original copy is available. Nor is it known whether there was one original, or whether there were several revisions, each legitimately an "original" it its own right.

Take the NT gospels for example. These were supposedly written in the late 1st century CE, but the earliest extant manuscript copies are from the late 2nd to the early 3rd centuries CE. Further, it is well known that various manuscript copies were altered by christian scribes during the 2nd century and later.

The only point I'm making here is that the claim of biblical inerrancy is completely dishonest, since such a claim cannot be proven. Christadelphians wanting to join Central Fellowship must declare that they believe all of the points of the BASF, and here we have clear evidence that they are asked to believe something for which there is no evidence. It seems that even the BASF must be accepted on faith. Why make it so?

Using the gospels as examples yet again, there are many contradictions. Many people think these are not really discrepancies but rather that they can be reconciled or explained away. If this is the case, it should be possible, for example, to compile a list of events in correct chronological order showing exactly what happened starting with Jesus' crucifixion and continuing to the end of each gospel. I have not yet seen this done, but you are more than welcome to try.

But the contradictions between the gospels are real. When studied as documents in their own right, each gospel paints a very distinct portrait of Jesus and of the events they narrate. Each author had their own agenda, and may even have been writing to quite different audiences. However, what believers invariably try to do is combine all 4 gospels into a kind of super-gospel, which actually distorts each of the 4 accounts into something they were never intended to be, and many things that make sense in the context of each gospel simply don't make sense when combined. This approach also has to alter history, by insisting that Jesus ransacked the temple twice (to get around chronological contradictions between gospels). You are free to read it that way if you like, but that is not going to yield historically accurate information.

A more complete list of NT contradictions can be found here.

One wonders how it is even possible to compile such a list of errors if the Bible is indeed the inerrant word of God!