Sunday, August 11, 2019

Hanging Chads in Politics and the Bible in Religious Faith

Hanging chads evoke the presidential election of 2000 (Bush v. Gore). A hanging chad is a partially punched election ballot still connected to the main ballot by a thread (so to speak). The election moved along smoothly until someone had the bright idea of checking for partially punched ballots and then election officials argued over several thousand ballots that would decide the election in Florida. It was the first time (so far as I know) that non-punched ballots decided an election—or were they deliberately punched?—ay, there’s the rub.1

            In the history of religions there are no hanging chads. In the Bible, however, there are loose “threads.” If one picks at them often enough with one’s mind, they may shake confidence in the Bible and in one’s faith. For example, on the Greek Island of Karpathos late one evening after the dishes had been cleared from the table the conversation turned to “what I did.” It was a family gathering of Greeks plus two Americans. Two of the family members were physicians from Athens. As an example of what I did as an Academic, I gave an impromptu summary of the contradictions between the gospels. One of the physicians, a pediatrician, became visibly upset at my comments. She explained that she would not concern herself with such things. Her faith was a settled matter, and such questions were off the table for her.

It has been my experience that the vast majority of folk by middle age are quite comfortable with their religious beliefs. They tend to put them on the shelf and pull them off only in times of crisis trusting that their religious beliefs can be relied on to carry them through the difficulties they face. Occasionally, however, the Bible itself becomes a threat to one’s religious beliefs when one runs across a passage that seems to undermine what they have been taught and believed for so many years.

Here is one threatening “fly” in the ointment (so to speak) of Baptist theology: Baptists believe that salvation comes “by faith in Christ.” In Baptist faith one only needs to believe that Jesus died for one’s sins—nothing else is necessary. Certain other Christian denominations,2 however, believe as a tenant of their faith that Christian baptism is necessary for one’s salvation. In short, they believe in “baptismal regeneration.” Here are certain biblical verses that some denominations believe point to this teaching. In Baptist thinking, however, they are simply “loose threads” that are easily explained: Mark 16:16,3 John 3:5, Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3, Gal 3:27, Ephesians 5:25-27, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:18-21.

Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (New King James translation)

Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (RSV)

Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (RSV)

The Bible itself can become part of what tends to undermine the faith that one believes the Bible proclaims; particularly if one starts pulling at its loose threads.4 What loose threads have you noticed in the Bible?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1From a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To die—to sleep. To sleep—perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.” “Rub” carries the meaning of difficulty, obstacle, or objection.
2For example, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Methodism (infant baptism). 
3Another one of those niggling threads! Modern text critics insist that Mark 16:9-20 was not part of the original Gospel of Mark but was added later. Modern translations do not include the passage Mark 16:9-20. Is it part of the Bible or not?
4See for example Hedrick, Wry Guy Blog: “Can all Bible Translations be Trusted,” September 10, 2018.


  1. Charlie,
    Where to begin? The Bible seems to be like an “all one cares to eat” buffet. A few of the “loose threads” or “entrees” that have been harmful over the ages I have found are;
    1. The idea that authorities are instituted by God, thus one should therefore (blindly?) obey them, since they are doing the bidding of God, (Romans 13.1-2), strategically placed between “Do not be conformed to this world...” in Romans 12 and “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” (13.8).
    2. The notion that Jews/Judeans are the children of the devil (John 8.44).
    3. The idea that humanity is a congenital sinner (Romans 5.14-15) because of the Garden of Eden fable. (It was fully developed later with the likes of Augustine.)
    4. Women should remain silent in church (1 Cor. 14.34-35, which is a migrating text, found after verse 40 in some ancient mss.) Related to this, the idea that since the gospels portray all disciples of Jesus as men women are not to be leaders of the church is somewhat related (and part of the rationale for women being kept from church leadership positions like pastor or priest in some groups).
    5. In the 19th century, to many Christians the story of the Amalekites and Saul (1 Sam. 15) was license to exterminate the Native Americans, since God sanctioned the Amalekite genocide and punished Saul for not completely following through. Still others, grasping at the Assyrian population transference of the “northern tribes” (2 Kings 17) from Israel saw Natives as “the lost tribes of Israel” who had fallen into barbarism, thus it was incumbent for them to be “converted” before Jesus came again, per the imagery of Revelation.
    6. I recall the Genesis 9 story of Noah’s cursing of Canaan because of his father Ham’s uncovering of Noah, as well as Eph. 6.5, Titus 2.9, Col. 3.22 and other scripture, were used to validate slavery. These passages were still being used in the sixties to oppose de-segregation. (That might be considered more of a standard than a hanging chad, though.)
    7. Proscriptions against intermarriage, as found in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13, was both anti-immigration and ethnocentric, picked up by twentieth century racists.
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

  2. Hi Charlie,

    Please comment on the basis of key translation differences in the Pauline literature; e.g., the use of "faith" or "trust" and "faith in" or "trust of." I recall an article in the 4thR some years ago, by Daryl Schmidt I think, showing that the debate has gone on for several hundred years, and it was not uncommon through this time for major translations to use "faith of" rather than "faith in" as is usually found in the translations of the last century.

    The word "of" (an attempt to reflect the genitive case used in the Greek) turns traditional theology upside down: we trust "like Jesus" not "in Jesus."

    For example: Romans 3:21-26
    "But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed... the righteousness of God through (faith in/the faith of; trust in/the trust of) Jesus Christ) for all who believe...whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement...He justifies the one who has (faith in/the trust of) Jesus."

    For example: Galatians 2:15-16
    "...we know that a person is justified not be the works of the law but through (faith in/the trust of) Jesus Christ, and we have come to (believe in/have trust in) Christ Jesus so that we might be made righteous through (faith in/the trust of Christ).

    The scholars' version translation tends to use "confidence" and "confidence of" (The Authentic Letters of Paul, 2010. Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy, Schmidt). For example, Galatians 2:15-16

    " one becomes acceptable to God by relying on religious practices. We gain this acceptance only through a confidence in God like that of we put our confidence in order to be acceptable to God based on a confidence like that of God''s anointed."

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    1. Hi Gene,
      I find Daryl's translation of the passages you mention quite plausible. I have not however made a survey of all the passages where such a translation might be conceivable.

  3. Gene and Charlie,
    I like what Michael Coogan said about “trust in/of Jesus.” “But, perhaps the ambiguity is deliberate” (God’s Favorites, p.144 n9). That “got me thinking,” especially adding Charlie’s astute view that suggests one should examine all the places “trust of/in” is used. The “Christ/Jesus” in the Paulines seems to develop along two separate paths, which could facilitate either. I’ll send an email explaining, Gene and Charlie, probably tomorrow, maybe tonight if I get the thoughts organized.
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

  4. Thank you Charlie for another thought provoking article! Like Dennis- where to begin? Although for me, it has more to do with what I was told the Bible said, not necessarily what it actually said. If that makes any sense. I am learning more and more that what I was told the Bible says does not in actuality constitute the real McCoy. For example, as Dennis mentioned, Original Sin. Only in the NT do we find the concept that "the wages of sin are death." That is no where to be found in Hebrew scripture... Or that one man's sin, Adam, was passed down to everyone else through the ages. Judaism does not teach this- and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Because of free will- how can we have free will to choose good or evil if we were born into "sin" from Adam? That's insane.

    Another loose end that bothers me is this false choice between "faith" and "works." Why does it have to be either/or? Why can't it be both/and?Because Paul said so! Not Jesus... And of course the infamous Anti-Semite Martin Luther prided himself on "Sola Fide." The scripture that gives credence to their "by faith alone" theology comes from Genesis 15:6 where Abram put his faith in the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness... Sounds plausible right? Well, what Christian pastors fail to point out is that that is not the only example in the Tanach of something being credited to someone as "righteousness." There are three other examples- but for some reason Paul is solely focused upon Gen. 15:6. Why? Are we supposed to ignore the other three? Of course we are: Deut. 6:25, Deut. 24:13, and Psalm 106: 30,31.

    So why the false choice between faith and works? Why can't it be both? Why does Paul make us choose between the two- he didn't even know Jesus. I have to point out the fact that this was illustrated to me be Rabbi Michael Skobac- to whom I am extremely grateful. It really pays to have a rabbi cross-examine the NT. (in my opinion)

    Charlie, why do you think Christians are given a false choice between having faith in Jesus and doing "works" (i.e., fulfilling the Law) in order to achieve salvation? How do you see it? Thank you as usual, Elizabeth

    1. Good Morning Elizabeth,
      A welcome relief from the burning sun, today we have cloudy skies and rain!
      The choice between faith and works is a matter of personal opinion. Paul and James disagreed on the issue. For a more detailed answer see "Unmasking Biblical Faiths," 63-65 ("The God Question") and pages 65-67 ("What does God Expect of me").

    2. Hi Elizabeth,

      I'm thinking that what you are calling "works, i.e., fulfilling of the law," Paul calls "fruits of the Spirit."
      In his mind the fruits are not law because there is no law against them. They exist through the priority of spirit in a person's life; behaviors like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (e.g., Galatians 5:22-23)

      Also, if I'm remembering correctly, the "faith and works" debate goes beyond Jews and Christians. Within Christianity Roman Catholocism has always taught that works as well as faith are necessary for salvation, and works, I think, includes the sacraments of the church. Growing up Protestant, I seem to recall, the faith/works debate was always a strong reason given not to become RC (As life turns out, my wife and daughter became RC, and I no longer attend any denomination.).

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

    3. Hi Gene, thanks for weighing in... You know, I have to admit I wasn't aware that RC teaches both faith and works are necessary... that actually makes me even more open to it! I may join your wife and daughter- but getting my husband and son to join would be an uphill battle, I assure you ;-) Here are a few questions for you, but please do not feel obligated to answer if you don't feel comfortable:

      1) Why do you no longer attend any denomination?
      2) Why do you think Paul resorted to calling the Law a "curse?" Doesn't that seem a bit extreme?
      3) Why would God give the Hebrew people a Law and then punish them for not keeping it- only to say "Oh never mind that- you can't keep the law because you're not capable of it." That's like having a child who is handicapped and signing them up to run in the Boston Marathon ... And then when they can't finish the marathon, beating the child for failing to win. We would call that kind of person a monster.
      4) As you know, Charlie has been attending the same Baptist church for 30 years... Even though he may not agree with all the teachings in the pulpit or in the Sunday school. There's something about us humans wanting to "belong" somewhere, which I can relate to. And is why I am open to joining RC... Even though it may not jive with my theological beliefs/opinions (not that I have very many anymore). Is there a part of you that wishes to belong to a church or spiritual group of some kind?

      Many thanks!! Elizabeth
      PS: Charlie, thank you for mentioning "Unmasking Biblical Faiths," I need to buy that!!

    4. 1) Why do you no longer attend any denomination?

      I'm frustrated that the pre-crucifixion life of Jesus receives so little attention.

      2) Why do you think Paul resorted to calling the Law a "curse?" Doesn't that seem a bit extreme?

      Even though he said, "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good," (Romans 6:12) Paul's personality seemed to require the belief that the law required perfect obedience and therefore, he as well as all others, were doomed to failure by human flesh. He viewed the spirit as having more potential for creating fruity (see above) Jesus followers.

      3) Why would God give the Hebrew people a Law and then punish them for not keeping it- only to say "Oh never mind that...?

      "Sin is not reckoned where there is no law....yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses..." (Romans 5:12ff). In other words, Paul was looking for something that would stop death. The only thing that stopped death was the trust of Jesus in God. Therefore, faith/trust replaces law.

      4) Is there a part of you that wishes to belong to a church or spiritual group of some kind?

      Humans aren't meant to live in isolation from an in-person soul enriching group, so to speak! I try to feed off sites like Charlie's blog, with some satisfaction. I've submitted a handbook for publication called Man with an Attitude: Life Challenges from the Jesus Story. Maybe something "groupy" will eventually come of that.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

    5. Gene,
      I don’t think the Paulines call the law a curse. “The curse of the law” is found once in them that I can find – please correct me if I’m wrong – in Gal. 3.13, in which Jesus is also “a curse” because a corpse hanging overnight defiles the land (the author is quoting a version of Deut.21.23). But this reference is not talking about the law as a curse, but defilement of the land as an affront to God.

      Deut. 27.26, quoted in 3.10, curses those who don’t uphold the eleven prior curses, which are general ones dealing with idolatry and moral/sexual turpitude. Two Forms of the word (katara) are used repeatedly in this, a rhetorical device known as adnominatio, in 3.13, two forms pointing to their use twice in 3.10. (In other words, they go together.) Only taking Gal. 3.13 out of context, not realizing it points to v. 10, would one get the idea that this is a blanket curse or condemnation of the law, I think, though it has been used in defense of an anti-Judean or later an anti-Semitic bias.

      As Livesey states (Paul and the Rhetoric of Crisis), the use of curses and words like “bewitched” (3.1, baskaino)are written to besmirch the “opponents” and are emotional words, for Galatians seems built around denigrating opponents and “backsliders,” as once was a popular evangelical term. But, they aren’t cursing the “law.” Curses and bewitchment were a big deal, seen as having supernatural effects, in the ancient world. At any rate, it is people who are cursed, not “the law” in the examples I see, and the purpose isn’t instructional but polemic in the uses of the two words associated (katara & anathema).

      In the examples I see, there are two words used for “curse” (katara and anathema). In the cases I find, the word is speaking of people or quoting the Torah.

      The words:
      Katara – Gal. 3.10, 3.13, Romans 12.14
      Epikartaratos (curse with “epi.” probably “on,” added – Gal 3.10, 3.13
      Anathema – Romans 9.3, 1 Cor. 12.3, 16.22, Gal.1.8-9
      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.

    6. Thank you Gene- I love the name of your handbook! I want a copy of it.... And thank you for your answers to my Paul questions, that was very insightful regarding his personality seeming to require the belief that the law required perfect obedience. Also, that Paul was looking for something that would stop death. I've never heard it put that way- thank you, it helps clarify my difficulty in understanding Paul. Elizabeth

  5. Charlie,

    Your blog allows for a wide range of discussion about the human condition on this good Earth. Religions in general and the Bible influence on human religion is clearly the primary subject of the blog, and I feel my following comments do significantly relate to this general discussion.

    Throughout human history humans suddenly find themselves born into a complex world/environment neither their parents nor society hardly understand. Thousands of years of human evolution and progress has including among other coping mechanisms the creation of various religions that attempt to explain the yet unknown nature of this world and assist each society's ability to cope with it. Over these thousands of years and rapidly accelerating over the past 400 years with the invention of the Scientific Method, vast amount of knowledge & understanding of this world has come about. Though hardly known by the vast % of humans, especially those not acquainted with these scientific discoveries, this increase of knowledge and understanding is not widely known and understood but continues to accelerate.These discoveries have among other contributions to mankind increase every aspect of human well being by a very large measure, i.e. lifetime, health, safety, comfort, security, joy, pleasure, etc. These huge and accelerating benefits to human well being are largely due to human intelligence, spirit, learning, and the implementation of the scientific method. I might point out all these advancements have been discovered and implemented in human living by a relatively small % of skilled craftsmen, an even smaller % of engineers, and an even smaller % of truly gifted scientific discoverers, e.g. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Curie, Salk, DeBakey to name a very few.

    Religion was once one of the primary contributors to human coping with this world, but has made little additional contributions over the past 2000 years. In fact it may well be reasoned the various religions has actually resisted the scientific discoveries that have advanced mankind's well being, even to the point of contributing overall more harm than good.

    I might opinion that one of the characteristics of our world is human politics and economics are by far the primary organized, orchestrated human endeavor that continue to resist these human enhancements being shared widespread among all humans. Religion has always been included among the various tools utilized by this small % of greedy, insane individuals to accomplish their goals of amassing huge amounts of wealth and power.

    Thank you for allowing such discussions!


    1. Hi Jim,
      With regard to the past 400 years and the development of the Scientific Method... along with Gene's list of scientific contributions from our Jewish brothers and sisters... It is fairly evident that humankind has made huge advancements in the areas of physical comfort and basic survival necessities, as well as physical medicine- at least in the United States. (Generally speaking, of course. There are exceptions) In other words- physical survival is not as precarious as it was 400 years ago.... Which begs the question- then why is emotional well being such a problem in the United States? For example, opioid addiction... Any addiction... These afflictions are not due to basic survival needs not being met. And in many cases, opioid addiction is not solely caused by physical pain but by emotional pain. People have much better access to food and shelter for basic survival compared to 400 years ago- again, largely speaking. There are rare exceptions. However, emotional/mental well being seems to be elusive.

      I've heard it said that emotional/mental well being does not come from external sources, but from an internal source. Why do you think so many people have such a difficult time maintaining it? Obviously, no one experiences it 100% of the time... but it does seem that sleep disorders in particular are due to an epidemic of anxiety, not to mention depression. Any thoughts? Elizabeth

  6. Hi Jim,

    Would you agree with the following observations about religion and modernism:

    Judaism, both ancient and modern, has little to say about the afterlife and pursuing it, and therefore those who follow or identify with its teachings have little distraction from pursuing achievement focused on improving this life. After-life did enter into the larger pool of Jewish thought when what happens to martyrs during the rule of the Maccabees (about a century before Jesus) became an issue. That issue seems to have become less important since "martyrdom," so to speak, has since numbered in countless millions around the globe. In the case of the Jews, could we say, that religion has not hindered or resisted scientific advancement. For example:

    Albert Einstein - Physicist
    Jonas Salk - Created first Polio Vaccine
    Albert Sabin - Developed the oral vaccine for Polio
    Galileo - Discovered the speed of light
    Selman Waksman - Discovered Streptomycin. Coined the word 'antibiotic'.
    Gabriel Lipmann - Discovered color photography
    Baruch Blumberg - Discovered origin and spread of infectious diseases
    G. Edelman - Discovered the chemical structure of antibodies
    Briton Epstein - Identified first cancer virus
    Maria Meyer - Structure of atomic nuclei
    Julius Mayer - Discovered law of thermodynamics
    Sigmund Freud - Father of psychotherapy
    Christopher Columbus (Marano) - Discovered the Americas
    Benjamin Disraeli - Prime Minister of Great Britain 1804-1881
    Isaac Singer - Invented the sewing machine
    Levi Strauss - Largest manufacturer of denim jeans
    Joseph Pulitzer - Established 'Pulitzer Prize' for achievements in journalism, literature, music, and art

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  7. Gene & Charlie,

    Wow! You two continue to amaze and encourage me.

    Charlie, I have long both admired the abundance of contribution to mankind made by various members of the the Jewish culture/tradition but never attributed any advantage they may have had due to their lack of belief in an after life. Having briefly considered this possibility, I would rather guess a more likely explanation is some other characteristic of the Jewish culture/tradition not now perceived by me. I will further consider a possible rationale for such an explanation.

    Gene, like Charlie your pursues of knowledge and understanding (of the manner of the universe, by the way) quickly called your awareness of some of the major discoverers of the universe were members of the Jewish culture. They have been/are amazing people, far excelling beyond what one might expect for their relatively small numbers.


    1. HI Gene and Jim,
      In the Israelite Scriptures (Old Testament) there is not a strong tradition of a belief in an afterlife. Gene is correct (from my perspective) that such belief arises in the Hellenistic period in association with Jewish martyrs (see Alan Segal, "Afterlife" in The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. "afterlife"). I don't know enough about the history of modern Judaism to make a link between a lack of belief in the afterlife in Judaism and the many achievements of modern Jews in many fields of endeavor, as you have noted Gene. I would want to hear from scholars of modern Judaism and rabbis on the subject.

    2. The Hellenistic period and martyrs is what I have read, too. The JPS Tanakh places “the doctrine of resurrection and judgment,” not a metaphor but an “individual resurrection for justice” as “probably” during the persecutions of Antiochus IV (175-164 bce). This is a footnote for Daniel 12.2-3. It states this is the only “certain” reference found in the Hebrew scriptures, with Robert Alter’s translation (The Writings) footnoting that the “anticipations in the Prophets... may be either hyperbolic or metaphors of national restoration” (p. 797). Daniel is generally dated around the last year of the Maccabean revolt. I see it as attempting to answer the question of whether there is relief for good people who die horrible deaths at the hands of others.
      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.