God is Not Imaginary: Apologetic #1

I have recent­ly been intro­duced to the site called God is imag­i­nary, and the mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed there have been described as hin­drances to bib­li­cal faith. And of the “50 sim­ple proofs” pre­sent­ed there, the first is the one which I will look at today: “Proof #1 — Try pray­ing.” I will do my best to give a defense of prayer both for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers and that Christ would be glo­ri­fied in the defense. If any­one can add to this defense, please leave a com­ment. As is appro­pri­ate, quo­ta­tions from Proof #1 will be block quot­ed with my respons­es fol­low­ing. Warn­ing: This could get lengthy. 

What would hap­pen if we get down on our knees and pray to God in this way:

Dear God, almighty, all-pow­er­ful, all-lov­ing cre­ator of the uni­verse, we pray to you to cure every case of can­cer on this plan­et tonight. We pray in faith, know­ing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12–14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15–16. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

We pray sin­cere­ly, know­ing that when God answers this com­plete­ly heart­felt, unselfish, non-mate­ri­al­is­tic prayer, it will glo­ri­fy God and help mil­lions of peo­ple in remark­able ways.

Will any­thing hap­pen? No. Of course not.

That’s quite a prayer, and the best response would be look­ing at each of those vers­es to see if they are being used prop­er­ly or not. Bib­li­cal truth is fool­ish­ness to unbe­liev­ers, and it is exceed­ing­ly rare that I see Bible vers­es used cor­rect­ly in argu­ments against Chris­tian­i­ty. That is prob­a­bly the case here as well, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Look­ing at the verse ref­er­ences them­selves, it is notable that sev­en of the eight occur pri­or to the death, bur­ial, and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ; this means that they were giv­en in a sit­u­a­tion where the Old Covenant was still in force. Very often, a fail­ure to note that the New Tes­ta­ment does­n’t begin with Matthew 1:1 but with the death, bur­ial, and res­ur­rec­tion of Christ is a cause of error. That may or may not be the case here, and we’ll find out as we exam­ine the verses.

And even though they quot­ed James, one of the New Tes­ta­ment epis­tles, I can already tell you that they failed to con­sid­er any­thing the verse actu­al­ly says.

This is very odd. Jesus makes spe­cif­ic promis­es in the Bible about how prayer is sup­posed to work. Jesus says in many dif­fer­ent places that he and God will answer your prayers. And Chris­tians believe Jesus — accord­ing to this recent arti­cle, “54% of Amer­i­can adults believe the Bible is lit­er­al­ly true.” In some areas of the coun­try the num­ber goes as high as 75%.

If the Bible is lit­er­al­ly true, then some­thing is seri­ous­ly amiss. Sim­ply look at the facts.

If you want to exam­ine Bible vers­es and test God there­by, you would do well to remem­ber some­thing else Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7). If you are not will­ing to believe Him but would rather test Him, what oblig­a­tion has He to answer any prayer that comes from your lips?

In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says:

Ask, and it will be giv­en you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a ser­pent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your chil­dren, how much more will your Father who is in heav­en give good things to those who ask him!

If “every one who asks receives”, then if we ask for can­cer to be cured, it should be cured. Right? If “our Father who is in heav­en gives good things to those who ask him”, then if we ask him to cure can­cer, he should cure it. Right? And yet noth­ing happens.

This is far from a blank check for prayer. Jesus encour­ages believ­ers to prayer to the Father just as a child would ask his earth­ly father for things. Should an earth­ly father spoil a child, giv­ing them each and every thing they ask for or seek? Of course not! Why expect God to do the same? The cross ref­er­ence of Luke 11:13 spec­i­fies that it is the Holy Spir­it which the Father gives to peo­ple who ask.

In Matthew 17:20 Jesus says:

For tru­ly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mus­tard seed, you will say to this moun­tain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and noth­ing will be impos­si­ble to you.

If “noth­ing will be impos­si­ble to you”, then if we ask to cure can­cer tonight, can­cer should dis­ap­pear. Right? Yet noth­ing hap­pens. Note that if we take the Bible less-than-lit­er­al­ly here, the state­ment “noth­ing will be impos­si­ble to you” becomes “lots of things will be impos­si­ble to you,” and that would mean that Jesus is lying.

This He spoke to the dis­ci­ples and their unique min­istry. How­ev­er, the dis­ci­ples did not move moun­tains; what need would there have been for such a task? The Lord uses hyper­bole to com­mu­ni­cate that with even a tiny amount of faith, seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble and ardu­ous­ly dif­fi­cult tasks are possible.

In Matthew 21:21:

I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this moun­tain, ‘Go, throw your­self into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive what­ev­er you ask for in prayer.

If “you will receive what­ev­er you ask for in prayer”, then if we ask to cure can­cer tonight, can­cer should dis­s­ap­pear [sic]. Right? Yet noth­ing hap­pens. Note again that there is not a non-lit­er­al way to inter­pret “you will receive what­ev­er you ask for in prayer”, unless you replace “what­ev­er” with “noth­ing” or “lit­tle.”

Even if lit­er­al moun­tains were meant (and we have no rea­son to believe so since the apos­tles nev­er demon­strat­ed such a feat), the con­text is Jesus speak­ing to the dis­ci­ples. This is not a gen­er­al com­mand to every believ­er in the world. Jesus spoke in a con­text rel­e­vant to the King­dom of Heav­en, the Jews, and oth­er things close­ly relat­ed by not iden­ti­cal to the King­dom of God and the church. Such dis­tinc­tions are vital, for if they are not made we end up with peo­ple mock­ing God due to their own fail­ure to com­pre­hend the Bible.

The mes­sage is reit­er­at­ed Mark 11:24:

There­fore I tell you, what­ev­er you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

If God says, “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and if we believe in God and his pow­er, then what should hap­pen if we pray to cure can­cer tonight? It should be cured. Either that, or God is lying.

Con­sid­er­ing this verse comes from Mark’s report of what was hap­pen­ing in Matthew 21:21, the expla­na­tion above applies here as well.

In John chap­ter 14, vers­es 12 through 14, Jesus tells all of us just how easy prayer can be:

“I tell you the truth, any­one who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do what­ev­er you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glo­ry to the Father. You may ask me for any­thing in my name, and I will do it.” [ref]

Look at how direct this state­ment is: “You may ask me for any­thing in my name, and I will do it.” This is the “Son of God” speak­ing. Have we tak­en him “too lit­er­al­ly?” No. This is a sim­ple, unam­bigu­ous state­ment. Have we tak­en his state­ment “out of con­text?” No — Jesus uses the word any­one. Yet Jesus’ state­ment is obvi­ous­ly false. Because when we ask God to cure can­cer tonight, noth­ing happens.

If you read this as a blank check, you do not know Christ or very much about His nature at all. He acts only in a man­ner accord­ing to the Father’s will, His glo­ry, and the greater good. Human­i­ty does not define the Father’s will, His glo­ry, or the greater good, so one would expect many peti­tions made to be ignored by God, and right­ful­ly so. Could you imag­ine the state of the world if every prayer ever uttered with “in Jesus’ name” tacked on the end was actu­al­ly answered? That would not be a world I’d want to live in. Remem­ber that Jesus taught us how to pray, and He explic­it­ly men­tioned to pray that God’s will be done. In oth­er words, regard­less of what our desires are and what our peti­tions are, we should expect and desire God’s will above all else.

We see the same thing over and over again…

In Matthew 18:19 Jesus says:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about any­thing they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heav­en. For where two or three are gath­ered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

As we are to pray for the Lord’s will, it isn’t sur­pris­ing that the Lord’s will should be done. Think not that we can sim­ply pray any­thing at all and expect it to come to pass. Pri­or to any and all of these vers­es quot­ed thus far, Jesus told us that our prayers should be of a cer­tain pat­tern. Prayers designed to test God’s promis­es do not fit the pat­tern. Prayers designed to get your own way or to glo­ri­fy man do not fit the pat­tern. Pray­ing for the Lord’s will and wait­ing upon Him… Now that fits the pattern!

In James 5:15–16 the Bible says:

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. There­fore con­fess your sins to each oth­er and pray for each oth­er so that you may be healed. The prayer of a right­eous man is pow­er­ful and effective.

Con­ve­nient­ly, verse 14 was not ref­er­enced. After all, it qual­i­fies the fol­low­ing vers­es by refer­ring to those who are sick and come before the elders of the church to be prayed for. That is the prayer of faith that will save the sick. Sad­ly, there are so few bib­li­cal­ly qual­i­fied elders in the world (see 1 Tim­o­thy 3:1–7). Don’t expect every church in town to have one (let alone mul­ti­ple elders, as the pas­sage in James requires).

The con­clu­sion I’m already draw­ing based upon the mock prayer and hand­ful of verse ref­er­ences is that the object­ing par­ty either has no inter­est in actu­al­ly under­stand­ing what the Bible teach­es or is sim­ply blind to the truth due to being spir­i­tu­al­ly dead. Or both.

In Mark 9:23:

All things are pos­si­ble to him who believes.

In Luke 1:37:

For with God noth­ing will be impossible.

Both pas­sages have direct ref­er­ence to actions of the Lord; in Mark the belief was con­nect­ed with Jesus’ cast­ing out of an unclean spir­it, and in Luke we find Gabriel explain­ing how it would be pos­si­ble for a vir­gin (Mary) to conceive.

Okay, so we’re done with the run­down of vers­es. Please make note that while objec­tors will pick and choose vers­es to suit their goals, they rarely pick ones which effec­tive­ly ruin their argu­ment right from the begin­ning. I point you to Matthew 4:7, at which point Jesus reit­er­ates an Old Tes­ta­ment com­mand that “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” The word “tempt” means to “test thor­ough­ly” accord­ing to Strong’s Con­cor­dance, and is not pray­ing a prayer sim­ply to see if it’s answered a test of God’s faith­ful­ness to His Word? God is not our guinea pig. Who is the cre­at­ed to test the Cre­ator? We are dirt. Sin­ful, unwor­thy, and impure dirt. (Prais­es be to God that He is able to change us into a son of the Most High!)

Noth­ing could be sim­pler or clear­er than Jesus’ promis­es about prayer in the Bible. Yet, when we pray to elim­i­nate can­cer, noth­ing happens.

Those hear­ing Jesus speak of prayer would be well famil­iar with a notable por­tion of His most influ­en­tial ser­mon: Matthew 6:9–13, the mod­el prayer. In addi­tion to what­ev­er oth­er peti­tions we may offer up before the Lord, they are sec­ondary to the core ele­ments of a prayer (it is notable that the oft added “in Jesus’ name” is not part of the Lord’s mod­el prayer; “in Jesus’ name” is a heart atti­tude, not a ver­bal rep­e­ti­tion). When we pray for God’s will to be done while expect­ing God to answer any list of requests we could come up with, we are being hyp­o­crit­i­cal and lying to God. Do you want God’s will be done? Then pray it, and don’t get upset when what­ev­er you want and request does­n’t come to pass. That is the con­di­tion by which God answers prayer: His will be done!

And keep in mind that this is Jesus talk­ing here. These are not the words of human beings. These are not the words of “inspired” human beings. These are sup­pos­ed­ly the words of God him­self, incar­nat­ed in a human body. Jesus is sup­posed to be a per­fect, sin­less being. And yet, it is obvi­ous that Jesus is lying. What Jesus says is clear­ly incorrect.

What Jesus says stands. You sim­ply are inca­pable of under­stand­ing them prop­er­ly (John 1:5). Shall I fault the artist because I can­not under­stand his mes­sage? Or the pro­gram­mer because I can­not make heads or tales of a pro­gram? Then why fault God for your own blind­ness? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be cured of your spir­i­tu­al blind­ness now and forever!

If you would like addi­tion­al proof, gath­er a mil­lion faith­ful believ­ers togeth­er into a giant prayer cir­cle. Have them all pray togeth­er in Jesus’ name that God cures every case of can­cer on the plan­et tomor­row. Pray sin­cere­ly, know­ing that when God answers this com­plete­ly heart­felt, unselfish, non-mate­ri­al­is­tic prayer, it will glo­ri­fy God and help mil­lions of peo­ple in remark­able ways. Now, we cer­tain­ly have two or more peo­ple gath­ered togeth­er, and they have asked in Jesus’ name, and we have not one but a mil­lion faith­ful believ­ers who, by def­i­n­i­tion, have faith and believe. We have ful­filled every one of Jesus’ requirements.

Have you prayed for God’s will? If not, you have not met all of Jesus’ require­ments. You can’t talk about prayer and Jesus with­out talk­ing about the prayer Jesus told us to pray. Keep that in mind.

Will Jesus answer the prayer now? Of course not. Your prayer will go unan­swered, in direct defi­ance to Jesus’ promis­es in the Bible. In fact, if you pray for any­thing that is impos­si­ble, your prayer will always go unanswered.

It is notable that quite often, mir­a­cles in the Bible did not pro­duce faith. This can be seen through­out Scrip­ture. How faith­ful were the Israelites after all the mir­a­cles God employed in free­ing them from Egypt? After all of Jesus’ mir­a­cles, how many were left stand­ing for Him at His cru­ci­fix­ion? Even Peter had betrayed Him as the oth­ers walked away!

And you want mir­a­cles? If you will not believe in Jesus Christ through the tes­ti­mo­ny of even the Old Tes­ta­ment Scrip­tures, you won’t believe in Him even if a man is raised from the dead!

Sure, the ear­ly church exhib­it­ed mir­a­cles. They fol­lowed the apos­tles min­istry. But the mir­a­cles were phased out as the church was estab­lished and the New Tes­ta­ment canon was com­plet­ed to serve as con­fir­ma­tion as God’s message.

Regard­less, if it is not God’s will to do some­thing, no amount of prayer will change that. Tru­ly, our Father knows best, even if that does involve leav­ing can­cer uncured. We all have our part to play in His glorification!

If you are an intel­li­gent, ratio­nal human being, all of the exam­ples men­tioned above show you that the God of the Bible is imag­i­nary. What Jesus says about prayer in the Bible clear­ly is not true.

And what the objec­tor says about what Jesus says in the Bible about prayer is clear­ly not true. If one does not begin where Jesus began on the sub­ject, one lacks the basis for under­stand­ing. Just as reject­ing the truth of Gen­e­sis will lead to all sorts of errant inter­pre­ta­tions through­out the rest of the Bible, so does ignor­ing the Ser­mon on the Mount result in errant under­stand­ings of every­thing else Jesus said.

Under­stand­ing the Rationalizations

A favorite Chris­t­ian ratio­nal­iza­tion for why God does not answer our prayer to elim­i­nate can­cer is because “it would take away free will.” The log­ic: If you pray and God answers your prayer, then God would have revealed him­self to you, and you would know that God exists. That would take away your free will to believe in him. Of course, if this is true, then by default all of Jesus’ state­ments about prayer in the Bible are false. It means that God can­not answer any prayer. Also, why is a God who must remain hid­den like this incar­nat­ing him­self and writ­ing the Bible?

This ratio­nal­iza­tion indeed does­n’t make any sense. God is sov­er­eign and per­fect­ly able to act with­in the lives of man. He healed numer­ous peo­ple dur­ing the Incar­na­tion; oth­ers He left sick. He spir­i­tu­al­ly heals mul­ti­tudes through sal­va­tion; oth­ers He allows to remain in their sins. Why? It isn’t because of free will!

What­ev­er will we do pos­sess, it in no way is a restric­tion upon God. Can a pot talk back to the pot­ter? Can the pot resist being moved, paint­ed, or bro­ken by the potter?

Can the cre­at­ed deter­mine the Cre­ator’s actions? Such a thought is absurd!

If Jesus is God, and if God is per­fect, why aren’t all of Jesus’s [sic] vers­es about prayer true? Was Jesus exager­at­ing [sic]? Was he fib­bing? If Jesus is per­fect, why would­n’t he speak the truth? Why does­n’t a prayer to cure can­cer world­wide tomor­row work?

If you are such an expert on the Bible and know it well enough to point out “holes in the plot,” why have you ignored piv­otal mate­r­i­al, such as the mod­el prayer in the Ser­mon on the Mount or James 5:14?

Believ­ers have many dif­fer­ent ways to explain why all these vers­es in the Bible do not work, even if you are pray­ing sin­cere­ly, unselfish­ly and non-mate­ri­al­is­ti­cal­ly, and even if the answer to your prayer would help mil­lions of peo­ple and glo­ri­fy God in the process. They will say things like this:

“You need to under­stand what Jesus was say­ing in the con­text the first cen­tu­ry civ­i­liza­tion in which he was speaking…”

You sim­ply need to under­stand Jesus’ teach­ing on prayer holis­ti­cal­ly; tak­ing sub­se­quent vers­es with­out the ini­tial vers­es avails noth­ing. Remem­ber that dur­ing the Incar­na­tion, Jesus was focus­ing on devel­op­ing a small group of dis­ci­ples so that they could be the apos­tles of the church. His doc­trine, like that of any teacher, was pro­gres­sive, build­ing upon past teach­ing. Ignore the basics, and the rest lacks coherence.


“When Jesus talked about ‘mov­ing a moun­tain’, he was speak­ing metaphor­i­cal­ly. When some­one says, ‘it is rain­ing cats and dogs,’ no one takes him lit­er­al­ly. Jesus was using a fig­ure of speech rather than speak­ing literally…”

Whether Jesus’ speech was lit­er­al or fig­u­ra­tive still requires that a request be in line with the will of God. That is basic and fun­da­men­tal to every­thing else Jesus said about prayer.


God is not a thing. He is a being. He has a will. He has desires. He relates to peo­ple. He has per­son­al­i­ty traits. Prayer is a fan­cy word for talk­ing to God. God, who knows every­thing, even before we say it, knows the dif­fer­ence between our thoughts and wish­es, and when we are actu­al­ly address­ing him. He hears our prayers and responds. His respons­es are based on his per­son­al deci­sions. We can­not pre­dict how he will respond to our prayers… [ref]

That is actu­al­ly quite true. The only pre­dic­tion I would ever make regard­ing my prayers is that His will shall be done. Why I would actu­al­ly need any­thing beyond His will escapes me!

The prob­lem is, all of these ratio­nal­iza­tions miss two impor­tant points:

  1. God is sup­posed to be an all-pow­er­ful, all-know­ing, per­fect being.
  2. The state­ment, “Noth­ing will be impos­si­ble for you”, along with the oth­er Bible vers­es quot­ed above, are false. The fact is, lots of things are impos­si­ble for you.

But liv­ing out the Lord’s will is not impos­si­ble for us. An all-pow­er­ful, all-know­ing being that grants us our hearts desire is known as San­ta Claus. An all-pow­er­ful, all-know­ing being who has His own pur­pos­es and His own will which are far above our own… That is God. Sad­ly, there are many sim­i­lar­i­ties between San­ta and God, so the con­fu­sion is under­stand­able, but you should real­ly take the time to get to know God before seek­ing to say He was wrong while ignor­ing the vers­es which defeat your entire premise.

If a per­fect being is going to make state­ments about how prayer works in the Bible, then three things are cer­tain: 1) He would speak clear­ly, 2) he would say what he means, and 3) he would speak the truth. That is what “being per­fect” is all about. A per­fect, all-know­ing God would know that peo­ple would be read­ing the Bible 2,000 years lat­er, and there­fore he would not use first-cen­tu­ry idioms (he would say what he means).

Upon what basis do you come to these con­clu­sions? You are seek­ing to cre­ate a god to your own spec­i­fi­ca­tions, com­par­ing it with the true God and com­plain­ing that He does­n’t mea­sure up. God incor­po­rat­ed the idiom and cul­ture of the day through­out the Bible; remem­ber that the Bible is inspired by God, not dic­tat­ed by Him. The per­son­al­i­ties of those He used to pen its words can be seen through­out the pages. Even Jesus used the cul­ture around Him dur­ing the Incar­na­tion to get His points across; for exam­ple, I have yet to see a coin with Cae­sar on it, but I’m still able to under­stand what Jesus was talk­ing about when He men­tioned it.

Jesus said exact­ly what need­ed to be said to the dis­ci­ples, which is evi­denced in the suc­cess of the ear­ly church in such a short span of time, all under the lead­er­ship of the apostles.

You don’t have to under­stand it. You don’t have to like it. But what He said got the job done because God’s Word does not return void.

Besides all of that, your three points apply just as much to the Ser­mon on the Moun­t’s mod­el prayer as they do to the vers­es you have cho­sen to high­light. God’s will be done.

He would know that nor­mal peo­ple will be read­ing the Bible and inter­pret­ing it in nor­mal ways, so he would speak in such a way as to avoid mis-inter­pre­ta­tion (he would speak clear­ly). He would know that when you say, “Noth­ing will be impos­si­ble for you”, that what it means is, “Noth­ing will be impos­si­ble for you” and he would make sure that the state­ment “Noth­ing will be impos­si­ble for you” is accu­rate (he would speak the truth). If God says it, it should be true — oth­er­wise he is not perfect.

With­out con­sid­er­ing the whole of Scrip­ture, many vers­es are eas­i­ly man­gled to sup­port what­ev­er an imag­i­na­tion can devise. The Lord expects us to know the Scrip­tures. Such is admon­ished so often with­in its pages.

And what one finds when search­ing the Scrip­tures and study­ing in order to be approved unto God is a lit­tle verse tucked away in Proverbs 16. Verse 9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

If the Lord is direct­ing my steps, I can be assured that nowhere He will lead me will be impos­si­ble for me to go. See how well this works out when the Bible is con­sid­ered as a whole?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fact is that thou­sands of things are impos­si­ble for you no mat­ter how much you pray, and no one (includ­ing Jesus) has ever moved a mountain.

Jesus formed the moun­tains; I find that a bit more remark­able than mov­ing them. Job 9:5 tes­ti­fies that God (Jesus) removes moun­tains, and goes on to list oth­er dis­plays of God’s pow­er. Sure, Jesus could do all sorts of things to prove to you He is God, but even if He did, you still would­n’t believe. The human heart is a very decep­tive thing in that way. And the spir­i­tu­al dead have a ten­den­cy to like being spir­i­tu­al dead.

Speak­ing flu­ent­ly in unknown for­eign tongues is an impos­si­ble feat, but it was done. Rais­ing the dead is an impos­si­ble feat, but it was done. Sur­viv­ing a dead­ly snake’s bite with­out harm is an impos­si­ble feat, but it was done. Walk­ing on liq­uid water is an impos­si­ble feat, but it was done. Proph­esy­ing the future is an impos­si­ble feat, but it was done.

The Lord does allow the impos­si­ble to be done. That does­n’t mean you’ll accept it. Objec­tors rarely will accept the truth when it’s pre­sent­ed to them, which is why the Romans did­n’t all imme­di­ate­ly con­vert after the cru­ci­fied and dead Jesus was once again walk­ing their streets. How hard must their hearts have been! How hard is yours?

In order to see the truth, you need to accept the fact that all of the above vers­es are wrong. The fact is, God does not answer prayers. The rea­son why God does not answer your prayers is sim­ple: God is imaginary.

God can­not be test­ed. Any attempt to tempt or pro­voke the Lord will not be met with boun­ti­ful bless­ing, so why bother?

Aside from that, the for­mu­la of prayer that the test is designed to prove or dis­prove is not at all Bib­li­cal and there­fore God would be under no oblig­a­tion to answer it, whether it was a test or not. Pray the Lord’s will, and remem­ber that when you don’t, God can and will say “no” to you.

Thanks for read­ing. I apol­o­gize for the length, espe­cial­ly since much of the mate­r­i­al was repet­i­tive (such is the case when the same error is made repeat­ed­ly on the objec­tor’s part).

I do hope oth­ers are able to offer fur­ther defense of the faith; I cer­tain­ly don’t claim my defense to be flaw­less! And I wel­come any feed­back or ques­tions which you may have.






28 responses to “God is Not Imaginary: Apologetic #1”

  1. Justin Avatar

    I agree whole­heart­ed­ly with all of your respons­es, and I thank you for defend­ing Christ like you did. The objecter, to men­tion him nice­ly, has such an erod­ed under­stand­ing of the Bible and God that I am tru­ly amazed he even man­aged to make what looked like a decent refu­ta­tion. How­ev­er, upon stack­ing up his human per­ceived claims next to the Liv­ing Word, it eas­i­ly and entire­ly falls apart.

    I shall be report­ing this web­site (both your’s and the objecter’s) to Alpha and Omega Min­istries. I would love to see what they have to say in response to this man’s joke.

  2. Justin Avatar

    The Lord has shown me a verse in addi­tion to this response.

    1 John 5:14–15, “This is the con­fi­dence we have in approach­ing God: that IF WE ASK ANYTHING ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of Him.”

  3. Colin Avatar

    (in addi­tion) “Have them all pray togeth­er in Jesus’ name that God cures every case of can­cer on the plan­et tomor­row. Pray sin­cere­ly, know­ing that when God answers this com­plete­ly heart­felt, unselfish”

    That is, indeed, self­ish. Test­ing God in any way is a form of self­ish­ness, for all you wish to gain of this test is the knowl­edge that God exists.

    “Jesus formed the moun­tains; I find that a bit more remark­able than mov­ing them.”

    You have a point there. :)

    Great response. I love it.

  4. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Justin: Yikes! I can’t believe I over­looked 1 John 5:14,15!

    I also want to add a few more vers­es in addi­tion to that passage:

    “And what­ev­er we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His com­mand­ments and do those things that are pleas­ing in His sight.1 John 5:22

    (Many say they are Chris­tians, but how many can hon­est­ly say they are keep­ing Jesus’ com­mand­ments and doing things which are pleas­ing in His sight? I know I often do not.)

    “You lust and do not have. You mur­der and cov­et and can­not obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your plea­sures.James 4:2,3

    Just as it is impos­si­ble to right­ly give any glo­ry to man in sal­va­tion because it all belongs to the Lord, so does prayer’s response. Man has always asked for his hearts desires. Man is a lust­ful crea­ture. We can­not help but ask, to want, to desire. Wars have been fought (and are being fought) because of this. Count­less souls have left this earth by sword, bul­let, and explo­sion because the desires of man are not satisfied.

    Thanks for the com­ments both of ya. They are very encouraging!

    Also, I fixed some minor gram­mar and for­mat­ting issues in the orig­i­nal post; thanks to Col­in, who point­ed them out in IM.

  5. Steve Avatar

    I looked at the web site you men­tioned here.


    Such sites get under my skin. May the author not draw away a sin­gle soul

    Thanks for tak­ing up the charge to cor­rect it.

  6. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Steve: Thanks for the encour­age­ment. It was­n’t my idea to write a rebut­tal; I did it for a friend (whom I have nev­er actu­al­ly met, thanks to the Inter­net) who cit­ed the arti­cle as a hin­drance to their faith.

    And I firm­ly believe that such bur­dens ought to be shared so that they might not be a hin­drance at all.

  7. Justin Avatar

    Rick: “Yikes! I can’t believe I over­looked 1 John 5:14,15!”
    Haha­ha! That’s okay, we for­give you. ;) I’m just glad that I was shown this pas­sage, because tru­ly it does shoot down the objecter’s… well, objec­tions. Hahaha!

    “Many say they are Chris­tians, but how many can hon­est­ly say they are keep­ing Jesus’ com­mand­ments and doing things which are pleas­ing in His sight? I know I often do not.”

    Rick, if ever you have the time or the patience, I would thor­ough­ly enjoy it if you wrote up a rebut­tal for each of his argu­ments. Thanks if you do!

    Steve: “UGH!”
    I affirm that “ugh”. It makes me won­der some­times, but it just goes to show you the true depth of the dead­ness in sin. 1 Corinthi­ans 2:14, “A nat­ur­al man does not accept the things of the Spir­it of God, for they are fool­ish­ness to him; and he can­not under­stand them, because they are spir­i­tu­al­ly appraised.”

    “May the author not draw away a sin­gle soul.”
    Amen! Rest assured that His “sheep lis­ten to My voice; I know them, and they fol­low Me. I give them eter­nal life, and they shall nev­er per­ish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” Thank You, Lord Jesus, for this awe­some promise.

    I also referred both this site and the “God is imag­i­nary” site to a broth­er at church. He is an apol­o­gist (not pro­fes­sion­al­ly), and he might stop by on this blog.
    I can­not wait until col­lege, because I am going to be a pro­fes­sion­al apol­o­gist, God willing.

    And, BTW, HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE! ^_^ Hope you all have a great day with your fam­i­lies, and most impor­tant­ly, giv­ing thanks to the One who is faithful.

  8. Justin Avatar

    Okay, sor­ry if I am break­ing any rules, such as dou­ble post­ing, but I don’t know how to edit my for­mer blog in order to add to it.

    Rick: From the way you write, I assume you are Reformed? If yes, yay! If not, sor­ry for the con­fu­sion. If you are, I sug­gest these two sites to you: monergism.com and aomin.org Both are exceed­ing­ly great Reformed sites, and the sec­ond one is an apolo­get­ics site.

    I was also won­der­ing if there is a way for me to, say, write up an arti­cle of my own and post it on here. If I could, I thank you! I have so much I want to say and write, but with vir­tu­al­ly nowhere that I know of to do so, and with no way of cre­at­ing my own website/blog, I am with­out an outlet.

    Thanks for respond­ing when you do!

  9. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Justin: No, you aren’t break­ing any rules; user-edit­ing of their own com­ments cur­rent­ly isn’t pos­si­ble here, nor will it be in the fore­see­able future. But since post counts aren’t dis­played nor are ranks giv­en based on posts, there is no harm in mul­ti-post­ing if needed.

    Also, I am famil­iar with both of those web­sites (Monergism.org and Aomin.org); I have read a cou­ple of books by James White and it is par­tial­ly thanks to his teach­ings (cou­pled with Shawn’s encour­age­ment that I am not a King James Only­ist any­more. And yes, I could be described as Reformed, hold­ing to the Five Solas as well as the Doc­trines of Grace.

    You are wel­come to reg­is­ter here; there should be a link at the very top of every page to reg­is­ter. When you do, I’ll give you author­ing priv­i­leges so that you can save writ­ings. I’ll review what­ev­er you work up and pub­lish it if it’s accept­ed. I’m sor­ry I can’t guar­an­tee that what­ev­er you write will be post­ed, but when it is pos­si­ble to be bet­ter safe than sor­ry, one should be bet­ter safe than sor­ry — espe­cial­ly when truth is concerned. :)

    God bless.

  10. Justin Avatar

    Rick: Okay, thanks. I did­n’t know if it was against site rules or not, but I just real­ly, real­ly need­ed to ask you and I was­n’t about to wait for some­one to post in order for me to post. Hahaha!

    I know what you mean about James’ teach­ings on the Bible. I was­n’t a KJO, but I did­n’t hold to the doc­trines of grace, nor did I even know about them. Which is under­stand­able con­sid­er­ing I’ve only been a Chris­t­ian since about my six­teenth birth­day sev­en or eight months ago. But any­ways, I had read the book “Debat­ing Calvin­ism” by Dave Hunt and James White, and I had no idea what Calvin­ism was all about. But as I read the book, not only did I learn about it, but the Spir­it used the book to show Calvin­is­m’s valid­i­ty. Ever since I’ve been read­ing as much as I could about Reformed theology.

    Thanks for allow­ing me to reg­is­ter. I com­plete­ly under­stand your want­i­ng to approve of what I’m say­ing, I would prob­a­bly do the same thing, and I would find it odd if you did­n’t. I may be smart, but that does­n’t mean I’m going to know it all, espe­cial­ly when it comes to God’s infal­li­ble Word. Even the Bible says (I for­get where at the moment) that some parts of the Bible are hard to under­stand, and need to be med­i­tat­ed on.

    If and when I do sub­mit some­thing to be post­ed, and you find it unac­cept­able, I would enjoy if you gave me some feed­back as to what you found wrong with it AND what you found right with it. Please and thank you!

  11. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Justin, I set your user account to “Con­trib­u­tor,” so you should be able to login & write now. Tog­gling on or off the visu­al rich text edi­tor (WYSIWYG) can be done via the Users area of the admin panel.

    Any­way, I look for­ward to what you offer!

  12. Justin Avatar

    Hey Rick, thanks! I just typed up my first deal, and I hope to see it in soon. I don’t know how I’m sup­posed to get it onto the blog, though. Unless you’re the one who man­ages that, then okay. But I have it saved in my drafts sec­tion, so if I’m sup­posed to be the one to post it, you’re gonna haf­ta show me the ropes. Thanks again!

  13. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Here you go, Justin. I did a lit­tle copy edit­ing (had a few spelling/grammar mis­takes) and added a lit­tle seman­tic markup, such as using CITE to denote a few cita­tions. Oth­er than that, great and thanks for sharing!

  14. Roel Meeuws Avatar


    Thank you for this enlight­en­ing dis­cus­sion of the first socalled proof against God. I pray these false teach­ings don’t keep peo­ple from our Lord. I would, how­ev­er, encour­age every­one to pray for the peo­ple behind the web­site. Pray they may tru­ly hear and under­stand Gods word. There is tremen­dous joy in heav­en and in fact here on earth among Chris­tians for each per­son that finds his way to God. Gods will be done!

    greet­ings and in Christ,


  15. Robert Avatar

    I have no ill feel­ings toward Chris­tians, so please for­give me for say­ing this: Most of the respons­es here sound as delud­ed as the authors of the God Is Imag­i­nary Web site make believ­ers out to be.

    Justin, you say that the Lord showed you a spe­cif­ic verse that was rel­e­vant to the dis­cus­sion (and it is a rel­e­vant verse). Might I posit to you that a ratio­nal per­son would believe that he dis­cov­ered the verse through the act of search­ing through the Bible with the goal of find­ing such a verse, or even by ran­dom chance, or through look­ing at the con­cor­dance to find a rel­e­vant verse, or even through mem­o­ry of such a verse exist­ing? The odds of one of those sit­u­a­tions being true seems far more plau­si­ble than receiv­ing a divine rev­e­la­tion for some­thing that could be accom­plished far more eas­i­ly through a Google search.

    I have anoth­er set of ques­tion to pose to you, Jason, and they come almost direct­ly from the site you all agree egre­gious­ly mis­un­der­stands Chris­t­ian beliefs. You say that some parts of the Bible are dif­fi­cult to under­stand and need to be med­i­tat­ed on. But if God is an all-pow­er­ful, intel­li­gent being, why could­n’t or did­n’t he inspire the Bible’s authors to write in clear, easy-to-com­pre­hend lan­guage? Why did God leave the words so ambigu­ous as to allow the faith to frac­ture into so many dif­fer­ent fac­tions? Why can’t peo­ple like the God is Imag­i­nary Web site authors or myself under­stand them? I cer­tain­ly did­n’t set out as a child to under­take some cru­sade against Chris­tian­i­ty, so why, despite years and years of teach­ing from faith­ful peo­ple, can I not under­stand why a per­son should believe any of what is in the Bible?

    As for the response Mr. Beck­man has kind­ly pro­vid­ed — and thank you for that, as I was search­ing for a coun­ter­point to the God is Imag­i­nary Web site — am I cor­rect in sum­ming up that much of the site’s argu­ment is flawed because it failed to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the require­ment that a prayer ask for God’s will to be done?

    If that is the case — and although I re-word your response to par­al­lel the orig­i­nal mes­sage, I do sin­cere­ly hope that I have avoid­ed build­ing a straw man of your argu­ment — the two sides can be sim­pli­fied this way:

    God is Imag­i­nary: “If you pray to God, your prayer will have no effect because God is imaginary.”

    Rick Beck­man: “If you pray to God, your prayer will have no effect because prayers can be only for some­thing that already is God’s will.”

    I thus ask of all of you, Why would you spend pre­cious time per­form­ing any action that will not yield a result? And should we not be ashamed for wast­ing a valu­able resource (time) on futility?

  16. jake Avatar

    ok first of all as one of the videos states on godisimaginary.com all chris­tans are in a bub­ble of delu­sion and u will all think of any excuse any ratio­nal­i­sa­tion to try to prove to you­self that god is not imag­i­nary when in fact there is no such thing as god for instance if god is per­fect and the bible are gods exact words and god is the all know­ing cre­ater of the earth and the uni­verse why is there so much anti­si­en­tif­ic nonsence in the bible

    1. the earth was not cre­at­ed 10,000 years ago
    2. jona did not live in the stom­ach of a whale for wat­ev­er amount of time the bible says i do not recal that right now
    3. the earth was not coverd in water up to mount everest
    4.god did not cre­ate adam from a pile of dust
    5.as the vidoes also state what makes your reli­gion any less beliv­e­able than sci­en­tol­ogy or mus­lim there is no difer­ent ther just both reli­gions that both make no sence yet both groups belive there reli­gion is right with absa­loot certanty
    6.the video is asum­ing u are a inteligent col­lege edu­cat­ed chris­tan witch most of you peo­ple arent if u dont see that each one of the videos make com­plete sence and are absa­loot­ly corect and all of your suposed dis­proofs of the videos are rationiza­tions that actu­aly dont prove any­thing becides your absa­loot delusion

  17. jake Avatar

    sor­ry for the few typos that were in the above paragraph

  18. jake Avatar

    this web­site is pathet­ic its just some guy who thinks he can dis­prove every video on godisimaginary.com and a bunch of idiots who prob­a­bly havent even watched the videos agree­ing with him over and over

  19. jake Avatar

    Under­stand­ing the Rationalizations
    The most com­mon ratio­nal­iza­tion for the lack of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence is the “God must remain hid­den” argument.
    Many believ­ers try to ratio­nal­ize God’s exis­tence by say­ing some­thing like this: “The exis­tence of the uni­verse proves God’s exis­tence. Some­thing had to cre­ate the uni­verse. Sci­ence has no expla­na­tion for the uni­verse’s cre­ation. There­fore, God cre­at­ed it.”

    The way to under­stand that this is a ratio­nal­iza­tion is to look back in his­to­ry. Ancient peo­ple, before they had sci­ence, explained many things that they did not under­stand with “gods.” There have been sun gods, thun­der gods, fer­til­i­ty gods, rain gods, etc.

    The Bible works the same way. It tries to explain many things that its ancient authors did not under­stand by attribut­ing them in God. For exam­ple, if you read Gen­e­sis 9:12–13 you will find this:

    And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every liv­ing crea­ture that is with you, for all future gen­er­a­tions: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth…”
    This is the Bible’s expla­na­tion of rain­bows. Of course we now know that rain­bows are a pris­mat­ic effect of rain­drops. In the same way, Gen­e­sis chap­ter 3 tries to explain why human child­birth is so painful and Gen­e­sis chap­ter 11 tries to explain why there are so many human lan­guages. These are myths, noth­ing more.
    In the same way, Gen­e­sis chap­ter 1 con­tains the Bible’s cre­ation myth. The cre­ation of the uni­verse and life is attrib­uted to God. We already know that God had noth­ing to do with the cre­ation of life but reli­gious peo­ple still try to attribute the cre­ation of the uni­verse to God.

    The fact is, God had noth­ing to do with the cre­ation of the uni­verse, in the same way that God has noth­ing to do with the sun ris­ing or rain­bows appear­ing. Sci­ence does not have a com­plete expla­na­tion for the uni­verse’s cre­ation, yet. While it is true that sci­ence does not yet know every­thing there is to know about the uni­verse, sci­en­tists will even­tu­al­ly fig­ure it out. When they do, what they will find is that nature cre­at­ed the uni­verse, not an imag­i­nary being.

  20. Roel Avatar

    Dear jake,

    It is a pity you respond so agi­tat­ed about the con­tents of this web­site. I can assure you that sen­si­ble and crit­i­cal chris­tians exist. I am a PhD stu­dent, and got my MSc cum laude, that would require me to be a sen­si­ble per­son, right? Still I am a devout Chris­t­ian! Fur­ther­more, I have looked at the argu­ments on the godisimaginary.com site and do not find them convincing…

    I do not have time to write large arti­cles about this like Tim­o­thy, but at least I can com­ment on your points:

    1) The bible does not require the earth to be just a few thou­sand years old. Only mankind is sup­posed to be that old, and even that can be viewed dif­fer­ent­ly, with­out view­ing the bible as a nice sto­ry book. (I know that mankind (homo sapi­ens sapi­ens) is alleged­ly 40000 years old… but as a sci­en­tist I have seri­ous reser­va­tions on stretch­ing car­bon dat­ing that far.)

    2) Well, prove it! were you there? If there is a God, then this would be pos­si­ble. But just assum­ing that it did­n’t hap­pen does not dis­prove that God does not exist.

    3) Well, it is still inter­est­ing to see that all ancient cul­tures remem­ber a gigan­tic flood in their sto­ries! Fur­ther­more, you will be able to find seashells etc. on Mt. Ever­est. Although we can debate about the age of those shells

    4) Were you there? How do you know this? You can ask me the same thing, but at least it is not a valid argu­ment against faith.

    5) Of course one’s belief does not make a reli­gion true! But still this does not prove whether one of those reli­gions is true, regard­less of what peo­ple believe, i.e. this argu­ment does not dis­prove anything

    6) So you say: if you do not believe what I believe you are not intel­li­gent? Please, tell me you are more intel­li­gent than that!

    Dear Jake, I hope you will see that chris­tians are not prov­ably delu­sion­al! You may believe I am delu­sion­al, but at least you must admit there will remain a pos­si­bil­i­ty that in fact you are delusional.

    I hope that you will give God a fair chance, because He has made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice for you. If only you believe in Him and his Son Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven.

    greet­ings and God bless,


  21. Roel Avatar


    Short remark about your ratio­nal­iza­tions post. The sto­ries in the bible you cite explain why things are as they are. Sci­ence can only explain how they are as they are. Sci­ence can nev­er say any­thing about the pur­pose of any­thing in nature.



  22. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Roel: Thanks for your replies; I no longer take much time to update timothysburden.com — I’m slow­ly build­ing up rickbeckman.org to replace this blog. And from that, I’ll note that my name is Rick, not Tim­o­thy. The con­fus­ing names is one of the rea­sons why I’m jump­ing ship to a dif­fer­ent domain. :P

    Jake: Thanks for your posts. I’m sor­ry that you were so upset that you felt the need to respond thrice in a row, but I will point out that you offered noth­ing I haven’t heard before. I’m very much aware of the argu­ments you present, but thank you for remind­ing me of them. Have a great day.

  23. Roel Avatar

    Thanks rick! Look­ing for­ward to read­ing some of your posts on your new site.

    God bless!


  24. jake Avatar

    why would u say “where u there” i dont haft to be there to know the facts its sci­ence and i am fair­ly sure the bible does say the earth was cre­at­ed 10,000 years ago not just humans and btw its kind of pathet­ic that your so wrapped up in your own delu­sion you cant see that my com­ments make per­fect sence and you do not say any­thing about my most pre­vi­ous com­ment witch i didint type but i got from godisimaginary.com and on your all cul­tures have records of a giant flood com­ment, floods hap­pen all the time and u cant prove that there was a giant flood cov­er­ing the whole earth because a few cul­tures have report­ed floods around the same time. and if what u say about the sea shells on mount ever­est is true (witch ive nev­er heard of) there would be tons of seashells all over the world and in the desert and the arc­tic witch there ARENT and there would also be oth­er sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence of a flood. the bible says god made the flood hap­pen to kill every­thing on earth and if god is GOD then how could peo­ple have survived?

  25. Boy Avatar

    I like how you explain things did you know that there is a few web sites doing what your doing try to prove that site wrong

  26. Joshua Avatar

    I have no prob­lem with peo­ple believ­ing there is a God. Peo­ple have been believ­ing in all kinds of Gods for thou­sands and thou­sands of years, so no argu­ment there. If you believe or want to believe in God, bless you. How­ev­er the bible is not an author­i­ta­tive unadul­ter­at­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tive voice of an omnipo­tent omni­scient being. If it were so, it would not be shroud­ed in instru­men­ta­tion of prayer with spe­cif­ic modal­i­ties to spe­cif­ic per­sons with specif­i­cal­ly vague lan­guage require­ments. Re: spe­cif­ic prayers or state­ments of God’s absolute pow­ers to grant things (“all things are pos­si­ble…) are pos­si­ble only to dis­ci­ples or to Jesus’ moth­er upon her immac­u­late birth. That cer­tain hap­pen­ings can only apply for those peo­ple pre­sent­ing before church elders ‘which, unfor­tu­nate­ly today, there are very few’. Was­n’t the Bible meant for all peo­ple, not just Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture majors and His­to­ri­ans who can deci­pher the metaphors, under­stand what prayers should be asked or answered, God’s strict doc­trine regard­ing prayer (Please dear God, let my infant son not die of sud­den infant death syn­drome — this is a non-answer­able prayer because it’s not suc­ceed­ed by “if it be God’s will”) I’ve prayed my whole life and nev­er knew that. i sup­pose those things, those “answered prayers” I ascribed to God’s omni­science and omnipo­tence, are stu­pid attrib­u­ti­za­tions as I used the wrong lan­guage to pray. Ask­ing ques­tions to help one under­stand the lan­guage of the bible hinges upon man’s “We are dirt. Sin­ful, unwor­thy, and impure dirt.” unwor­thy, sin­ful, impure, dirt[y]” inter­pre­ta­tion and per­son­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion. As the bible teach­es, man is imper­fect and thus any inter­pre­ta­tion is wrong, imper­fect, and an instru­ment of his own pride. This means that we must read the bible and take it com­plete­ly lit­er­al­ly because to allow any oth­er per­son who is not God to tell us what God means, if the Bible is what God means, is wrong because they (man, men) are impure, sin­ful, unwor­thy, biased and clear­ly not God. God did not say, “Please have these words inter­pret­ed for me because I may be speak­ing out of con­text or you may not under­stand. ” God also did not say “Please pray like I said, because if you are unaware of this I will auto­mat­i­cal­ly dis­re­gard your plight due to your improp­er lan­guage, inabil­i­ty to read, blind­ness, men­tal dis­abil­i­ty, etc, what­ev­er your prob­lem , even if you are the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Jesus Christ on earth” if he meant all that, then even the Pope is insult­ing us all with his prayers.
    The Pope’s Insult­ing Prayer
    The sick, the elder­ly, the hand­i­capped, and the dying teach us that weak­ness is a cre­ative part of human liv­ing, and that suf­fer­ing can be embraced with no loss of dig­ni­ty. With­out the pres­ence of these peo­ple in your midst you might be tempt­ed to think of health, strength, and pow­er as the only impor­tant val­ues to be pur­sued in life. But the wis­dom of Christ and the pow­er of Christ are to be seen in the weak­ness of those who share His sufferings.

    Let us keep the sick and hand­i­capped at the cen­ter of our lives. Let us trea­sure them and rec­og­nize with grat­i­tude the debt we owe them. We begin by imag­in­ing that we are giv­ing to them; we end by real­iz­ing that they have enriched us.

    May God bless and com­fort all who suf­fer. And may Jesus Christ, the Sav­ior of the world and heal­er of the sick, make His light shine through human weak­ness as a bea­con for us and for all mankind. Amen. [L’Osservatore Romano, 5−31−82, 3]. 

    Fur­ther, the bible has been changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly from when it was orig­i­nal­ly written.

  27. Joshua Avatar

    of course you would make my intel­li­gent rebut­tal be screened before you post it.

  28. Joshua Avatar

    The Bible, we are told, is the inerrant word of God. But what word is it? And how should that word be trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish? One might think there are straight­for­ward answers to those ques­tions, but there are not. Just last week, in fact, a brand new Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the biggest-sell­ing Bible, the “New Inter­na­tion­al Ver­sion” (“NIV”) was announced. All-new and improved from the last ver­sion, pub­lished in 2005, and the one before that, in 1984. Harper­Collins, the pub­lish­er, moves mil­lions of these prod­ucts every year; it’s good for busi­ness to toss in changes peri­od­i­cal­ly, like auto man­u­fac­tur­ers do, to help meet sales targets.
    All the bet­ter if the changes arouse con­tro­ver­sy. In 2005 there was a storm of protest, as Harper­Collins made sweep­ing changes to more gen­der-neu­tral lan­guage than God had orig­i­nal­ly used. For exam­ple, right at the out­set, the 1984 edi­tion has God say­ing “Let us make man in our image.” In 2005, this was polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect­ed­to read “Let us make human beings in our image.” So were thou­sands of oth­er sim­i­lar ref­er­ences, like “The Sab­bath was made for man, not man for the Sab­bath,” which was changed to “The Sab­bath was made for peo­ple, not peo­ple for the Sab­bath.” The 2005 mod­el was so hip, Harper­Collins even adver­tised it in Rolling Stone magazine.
    But now the empire is strik­ing back. The new, improved 2010 mod­el throws women back over­board, with God say­ing “Let us make mankind in our image” and Jesus say­ing “The Sab­bath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
    Still, male cheer­lead­ers remain dis­grun­tled. Take I Tim­o­thy 2:12, which used to read “I do not per­mit a woman to teach or to haveau­thor­i­ty over a man; she must be silent.” Now it is toned down­in­to “I do not per­mit a woman to teach or to assume author­i­ty over a man; she must be quiet.”
    Some of the attempts at com­pro­mise sim­ply pro­duce bad gram­mar. Rev­e­la­tions 3:20 now reads: “If any­one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that per­son, and they with me.” I’d have had sore knuck­les if I turned in a sen­tence like that to my 4th grade gram­mar teacher.
    Choos­ing Sources
    The first step in trans­lat­ing the Bible is to decide what source to trans­late from. This is no easy task, because there are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent ear­ly ver­sions of the Bible to choose from, each one a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers. In fact, accord­ing to Bib­li­cal schol­ar­Bart Ehrman, there are more vari­a­tions among the dif­fer­ent ear­ly ver­sions of the New Tes­ta­ment than there are words in the New Tes­ta­ment. The com­mit­tee of God experts in charge of pro­duc­ing the lat­est mod­el for Harper­Collins to sell says that “We use what Bible trans­la­tors call an ‘eclec­tic text’ draw­ing on all the major pub­lished orig­i­nal texts, but mak­ing our own deci­sions about the tex­tu­al vari­ants found in those tra­di­tions.” In oth­er words, they pick the parts they like from each one, and toss the parts they dis­like, based on their per­son­al knowl­edge of what God real­ly thinks.
    Take for exam­ple the sto­ry of the woman found in adul­tery, where Jesus says “He that is with­out sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” This sto­ry does not appear in any of the ear­li­est ver­sions of the New Tes­ta­ment. When it does start to pop up, hun­dreds of years after the death of Jesus, it lands in dif­fer­ent spots with­in the Gospel of John – one ear­ly Bible even plants it in the Gospel of Luke. It is vir­tu­al­ly cer­tain, there­fore, that this lit­tle gem was not actu­al­ly writ­ten by the author of the Gospel of John. So did the Harper­Collins team leave it out, because it is not authen­tic? Of course not, because it’s the sort of thing the char­ac­ter they want to por­tray would have said, if he had only thought of it. Besides, they would sell few­er books that way.
    Once the sources are combed for “all the news that fits,” the work of trans­la­tion begins. The ear­li­est Gospel texts we have are writ­ten in Greek, a lan­guage not spo­ken in 1st cen­tu­ry Galilee. These were trans­lat­ed into Latin, the lan­guage of the west­ern half of the Roman Empire, by Jerome in the 4th cen­tu­ry, in a work that became known as the “Vul­gate.” When the human­ist schol­ar Eras­mus began com­par­ing the Vul­gate with the ear­ly Greek texts in the 16thcentury, though, he found it rid­dled with sim­ple errors – at the rate of bet­ter than one per page. So he pro­duced a new, far more accu­rate trans­la­tion, ded­i­cat­ed to Pope Leo X. Though Leo seemed pleased, oth­ers in the hier­ar­chy were out­raged, because it was­d­if­fer­ent from what they had learned. Who cares about accu­ra­cy? At the Coun­cil of Trent, Pope Paul IV con­demned Eras­mus as “the leader of all heretics” and sought to have all of his books burned. Jerome’s inac­cu­rate Vul­gate remains the offi­cial Latin text used by the Catholic Church today.
    One per­son who did like Eras­mus’ work was Mar­tin Luther, who trans­lat­ed it into Ger­man. When he got to parts that didn’t fit his pecu­liar the­ol­o­gy, though, he sim­ply changed them, or delet­ed them. The whole Epis­tle of James, for exam­ple, he dis­missed as “apoc­rypha.” At the crit­i­cal point of Romans 3:28 [KJV], “There­fore we con­clude that a man is jus­ti­fied by faith with­out the deeds of the law,” Luther chose to insert the word “only” in front of “faith,” since Paul had erred by not going quite far enough in dri­ving home the point Luther want­ed him to make.
    Gen­der issues
    Today’s gen­der issues are not at all new. Many Bible pub­lish­ers have gone to great lengths to down­play the role of women, some­times in the pet­ti­est of ways. Acts 17:4, in the NIV and even in King James, says “And some of them were per­suad­ed and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the pious Greeks, along with a large num­ber of promi­nent women.” Promi­nent women? How un-Chris­t­ian! Lots of Bibles, such as the “God’s Word” ver­sion, trans­late this as “And some of them were per­suad­ed and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the pious Greeks, along with a large num­ber of wives of promi­nent men” – putting women in their prop­er place.
    Then there is the famous pas­sage from I Corinthi­ans 14 [1984 NIV]:
    Women should remain silent in the church­es. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in sub­mis­sion, as the law says. If they want to inquire about some­thing, they should ask their own hus­bands at home; for it is dis­grace­ful for a woman to speak in the church.
    Ehrman and oth­er schol­ars make a per­sua­sive case that Paul nev­er actu­al­ly wrote this pas­sage, and that it was writ­ten in lat­er by a misog­y­nist. It sticks out like a sore thumb, because the vers­es before it and imme­di­ate­ly after it deal with rules of eti­quette while some­one is proph­esy­ing, such as not inter­rupt­ing in mid-prophe­cy, and these words inter­rupt the nat­ur­al flow. More­over, some of the best ear­ly texts put this pas­sage at oth­er places in the Epis­tle, sug­gest­ing it was a lat­er inser­tion like the sto­ry of the woman found in adul­tery. Most impor­tant­ly, in the very same Epis­tle, just three chap­ters ear­li­er, Paul says that women should wear veils on their heads while they are proph­esy­ing in church. How can they be proph­esy­ing in church if they are remain­ing silent? I guess that’s what is called a “mir­a­cle.” It would be even more of a mir­a­cle if the God experts rewrit­ing the Bible decid­ed to leave rub­bish like this out of the books they are try­ing to sell – and we all know that the age of mir­a­cles has passed.

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Rick Beckman