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Check and Mate

By JadedAtheist ~

Nailing Jell-O to a Wall

Many people get frustrated with Christians because they always seem to have an “answer” to every problem you present to them. This in their mind seems to prove that their God exists but this is far from the truth as we are all aware. They have a few tricks up their sleeves and one of them might consist of an answer that requires you to prove otherwise. To illustrate this, we can look at a primary example: Jesus’ birth in Luke.

check and mateImage by electrobrainpdx via Flickr
Luke states that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was ruling AND during the time of Quirinius’ census. Herod died 4BCE but Quirinius’ census was held around 6-7CE. The Christian explanation? Quirinius served an earlier term and held a census at that time as well. Just because we don’t have the evidence for it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! Prove otherwise!

Then of course we have the “trust God™” answers that so many of us ex-Christians detest with a passion. It doesn’t take too much effort to elicit this answer from Christians and the funny thing is despite you pointing out so many things where they need to “trust God” in they will say that they trust God because he has shown himself to be trustworthy! Because he has been consistent with his word and there is so much evidence in favor of Jesus and the Bible (if you ignore the stuff you can’t answer and reply with assertions that cannot be disproved) he is worthy of our trust!

Second Thought, Let’s Just Obliterate it

Well, I think this following example is the perfect stick to jam into their spokes (To be forthright, I didn’t come up with this myself but came across it via Bart Ehrman). Of course the reaction I expect from most will be to ignore the problem and just “trust God™” but I’m hoping at least some will use the little bit of rational thinking needed to realize how big of a problem this issue is.

The problem is in the Gospel of John. In John 3, the very same chapter where get all those billboards proclaiming “John 3:16” is where we find our interesting problem. I’ll quote the passage here for all of us to read:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ – John 3:1-7 (ESV)
I’m sure many of us are familiar with this passage; essentially the passage boils down to Nicodemus misunderstanding Jesus’ statement and then Jesus proceeding to expand upon his statement. Now your pastor probably skips past the reason for the misunderstanding but I’ll explain it to you.
When Jesus says “born again” in this passage, the Koine Greek word behind it has a variety of meanings. It doesn’t just mean “again” but can also mean “a second time” or “from above”. Now there it’s obvious that Jesus in this narrative probably means all of these various meanings. Not only must Nicodemus be born again but he must also be born a second time, the second time being his birth from above, in other words, his spiritual birth.

It’s understandable in this context why Nicodemus is confused. Which of these meanings does Jesus intend? Surely he doesn’t mean a physical rebirth? That is an impossibility! The author through Nicodemus’ confusion uses it as a plot device to enable Jesus to hammer his point on. Simple enough, yes? No issues so far, right? Wrong.

Wait, What?!

You see, Jesus wasn’t actually speaking in Greek (nor would any Jew at that time) to his fellow man. He was speaking Aramaic. In Aramaic, there is no such confusion possible because the word “again” simply means again, as it does in English. What does this mean?

It means that this conversation couldn’t have happened. Jesus’ skillful wordplay on the word “again” wasn’t used because it was invented by the author who was writing in the Greek language. Nicodemus’ confusion didn’t occur because he misunderstood Jesus, it occurred because the author thought it’d be a great way to show off Jesus and expand upon the sermonette.

Conclusion

I remember coming across this example through either a lecture of or a book by Bart Ehrman (I can’t for the life of me remember which). I remember how shocked I was when I first read that. It really shook me as a Christian. Everything else I read that he critiqued I dismissed without batting an eyelid but this unnerved me. It unnerved me because it made so much sense.

The author did intend without a shadow of a doubt to use the word “again” in this wordplay. So he either made up the situation completely (which would be the option I’d personally take) or he basically “accentuated” (i.e. told lies to make it sound better than it was) the real situation. Either way it’s quite devastating to Christianity’s view of inerrancy, even if Nicodemus was confused despite speaking in Aramaic.


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