Monday, November 02, 2009

So you believe in the Bible huh?

You just know with a lead in like that I’ve got my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek.

I think the bible is an interesting document. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament contain fascinating snippets of history and wisdom.

But to claim it’s “perfect,” and that’s it’s the infallible word of god that should be followed blindly, is absurd.

Typically, whenever one puts up a questionable passage, the apologists point out why it doesn’t really say what it plainly seems to say. This has always struck me as a contradiction to the principle of Sola Scriptura, which declares that the bible is clearly expressed and self interpreting.

So let’s talk about James 5:14-15.

It’s almost cheating to quote from the Epistle of James considering Martin Luther’s opinion that it was an “epistle of straw.” But Luther was referring mostly to James 2:20-24 which appears to contradict the whole concept of Sola Gratia (by faith alone).

I don’t think he ever raged about James 5:14-15 which says:

James 5:14 - Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15- And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

So how come all you Christians go to doctors? Hell, all you have to do is get the elders of the church together to pray for you and you’ll be as good as new. Already I can hear all of the rationalizations gearing up.

The word used for sick is the Greek astheneo. This word can mean spiritually weak but more often than not it means physically ill. Of course the ancients knew absolutely nothing about what causes illness. Physical injury was easy to understand and often there was a fairly obvious cause and effect, but why someone apparently strong and healthy suddenly became ill was often a complete mystery.

Like other things people didn’t understand there was always “blame the gods” to fall back on. Illness might be a divine judgment, but if god was just, then the person must have deserved it, therefore he must have sinned.

That piece of logic explains the “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” phrase.

Think about this for a second, conservatively speaking, probably about 95% of sick people, even in those days, recovered all on their own. If all of them were prayed for, and lacking any other information, that’s pretty good empirical evidence of the effectiveness of prayer. The key there is “lacking any other information.” Add a control that no one prays for and it immediately becomes clear that 95% would have recovered without the prayer as well. In other words, the prayer is a total non-factor.

So what about the anointing with oil? Some apologists point to this and say aha, that means you should take medicine as well. In other words it’s a ready made excuse to let you go to a doctor and not depend solely on the prayer. The word that James uses is aleipho, which does refer to a medicinal rather than a religious anointing. The problem is that James 5:15 makes it abundantly clear that it’s the prayer and not the oil that cures. But if you insist, I’ll let the elders rub you down with any oil they want. Not a problem.

If you want to go beyond that, like having surgery or taking a pill, then it seems to me that you really don’t believe what your “scripture” is telling you. As far as I can tell, Health Care shouldn’t be a concern of yours whatsoever as you’ve got the big kahuna ready to take care of you with just a little prayer session.

You believe that the bible is inerrant and should be taken literally, then stop going to the doctor when you get sick. As a matter of fact, stop taking even over the counter cold remedies. James says all you need is a little prayer to feel better. And you get your sins forgiven as a bonus.

Until you’re ready to do that, don’t bother me because it means you are picking and choosing the parts you accept. Either accept it all or stop trying to force those parts of it you do accept on the rest of us.

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