Question from an Atheist

(Hamilton) #1

One of my atheist colleagues stated that the Bible is self-contradicting and when asked to clarify, he pointed out a verse from NT where Paul refers that it is not good for men to grow long hair - but Jesus’ present day pictures all project him with long hair (I suspect the verse is somewhere in I or II Corinthians). I was puzzled at the question and did not answer but kept quiet. Is this a common question and how do we help people like my friend with this question?

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

Hello @gjhamilton78. I find the assertion of your colleague as weird personally. If you say that something is self-contradicting, it’s something you would find within itself. If there’s a statement for example, that “there is no truth,” it wants you to affirm the statement that there is no truth as something true. If you say the Bible is self-contradicting, the contradiction that we should find is within the text itself and not something outside of it. If it’s something that will be taken outside the Bible, it should be something that is taken near its time to be valid, like claims on certain names or geography, it could be confirmed via archaeology.

Your colleague begs the question how the present day pictures of Jesus contradict the Bible? It’s a burden of proof that he could not bear based on the considerations I provided.

Here’s a link you could read about Jesus having long hair:

I hope this helps! :slight_smile:

(Tim Behan) #3

Hi Hamilton,

I must admit I don’t think I’ve ever had that particular question thrown at me… But your friend is right in one respect… there sometimes seem to be contradictions within scripture. If forced to pick one I probably wouldn’t have chosen the issue your friend did as I think there are some slightly more (forgive me) hairy passages he could have chosen. But I think if your colleague is genuinely interested and you felt comfortable doing it, I would suggest to him that if he wants to sit down and discuss some of the contradictions then you’d be happy to spend some time doing that with him. You might even suggest that you know some even more difficult apparent contradictions and invite him to think about resolving them with you?

Those are just some ideas… it will obviously be dependent on your relationship and how far you think you could take it.

I hope and pray that more opportunities arise for you and God gives you the right words to say when they do.

(SeanO) #4

@gjhamilton78 I must admit, I have never heard that exact question before. If your friend is asking the question sincerely, then I would provide the below answer. However, if he is simply poking fun or trying to make light of religion to avoid discussing it, then I might try a different approach. This question might not be very significant for him at all - as @tsbehan noted it may not be the right time - he may just be trying to avoid the topic. In that case, you may try asking questions to point to ‘signals of transcendence’ that would help him consider the possibility that maybe there is, after all, a God.

If I were actually going to answer, I might change his question a bit to make it more fact based. If Paul is saying in I Cor 11 that long hair is itself unnatural on a man - we have a problem - the Nazirite vow (Number 6:1-21). Many faithful Jews took this vow, which involved not cutting your hair (famously Samson took this vow from birth). In fact, if we look at the following Scriptures, it is possible that even Paul and his companions took this vow.

Acts 18:16-18 - “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.”

Acts 21:22-24 - “There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.”

But what is 1 Cor 11 really saying? If we take a step back, the entire point of this passage is orderly worship that is respectful of all who come. In this same passage, Paul rebukes the rich for eating large meals during the Lord’s Supper before the poor arrive and causing division in the body.

So 1 Cor 11 is about order in worship, but how does that change our understanding of what Paul said about long hair? I believe Paul is exhorting the people to maintain the cultural customs of propriety - to be a Greek to the Greek, so to speak. Paul was using the culturally normative argument for hair to exhort them to maintain order and respect one another.

John Piper explains it this way - "How does nature teach what length hair is “proper”? If nature takes its course, man’s hair gets as long as woman’s. That women wore long hair in those days and men relatively short hair was due to cultural custom, not any absolute natural law.

What nature prescribed was that in general men feel ashamed when they are effeminate and women incline naturally to being feminine. The cultural symbols of femininity and masculinity change. (In America Paul could say, “Doesn’t nature teach you that a man should not wear a dress?”)"

In addition, and this is a bit technical, so more for you than your friend. I Cor 11:16 is often translated “if anyone wishes to quarrel, we have no other practice”. However, if we look up the word translated ‘other’ we see that is not its clearest reading:

Morphology: A-DAF-S Strong’s: 5108 Transliterated: toiautēn Root: τοιοῦτος

  1. such as this, of this kind or sort

Properly translated, I believe I Cor 11:16 would be rendered “we have no such practice, nor do the Churches of God”. In that case, the argument would be that the Corinthians should respect the culture by using head coverings. But if people are going to be contentious about it, its not the main thing. This point is debatable, but I think significant.

What are your thoughts on this approach? May the Spirit of Christ give you wisdom as you seek to love your friend and teach him about our Lord and God.

(Hamilton) #5

Hey Omar - this is very helpful, appreciate your time and kindness. Thank you.

(Hamilton) #6

Perfect Tim, thanks a lot !

(Hamilton) #7

Thank you Sean, after reading all the replies I have understood that the question is legitimate and requires an answer, but not the #1 deterrent to keep God at arms length. Its vital to focus more on our inner quality/relationship with God as opposed to worrying about external appearances or how Jesus looked. Thanks for your prayers and your reply, I find this very meaningful and blessed !

(MARK) #8

Quite an insightful response. It really helps to understand what is contradictory. it definitely is not the Bible in this case but rather the modern portrayal of Jesus and our understanding of what it means to have short hair