Russell XVII: The Joy of (Mis)Reading

kids-reading

Now turning to what he finds objectionable about Christ’s teachings, Russell starts with what he considers to be an obvious inaccuracy:

For one thing, he certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that.

This is an old debate. As far as I know, it centers mostly around whether or not the word “come” in one particular verse describes Christ’s final return before the end of the world, or the coming of the spirit at the Pentecost. It takes very little study, however, to see that “great many” and “prove” are clearly overstatements.

I’ll not add more, because choosing between the resolutions of this issue seems a minor point for those who accept Christianity as true. It is not a major objection to Christ’s teachings as a whole.

What is more relevant is that Russell uses the following as one of his main supports for the point:

When [Christ] said, “Take no thought for the morrow,” and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count.

One wonders how Russell knows this is why Christ said these things. Surely, as a sage, it is not out of the question that he felt people were too worried about personal daily affairs? Is the idea that he thought the world was ending when he said “tomorrow will worry about itself” really the only possible explanation?

Russell seems to think so. In fact, he adds this:

The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent.

I don’t know where Russell has gotten the idea that the early Christians refrained from planting trees, nor am I sure why he feels he can extrapolate from this that Christ had committed himself to a specific time-frame.

This is yet another point at which I am reminded of the New Atheists, who often demand, without support, that their own strange interpretations of the Bible are correct. Of course, if one simply takes full license to completely re-interpret a view, it is easy to “refute” it, but I doubt that the New Atheists would submit to others taking this approach to their own writings.

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5 responses to “Russell XVII: The Joy of (Mis)Reading

  • makagutu

    I’ll not add more, because choosing between the resolutions of this issue seems a minor point for those who accept Christianity as true. It is not a major objection to Christ’s teachings as a whole.

    I think the resolution of this matter is important. St. Paul or whoever wrote his epistles believed the end times were near though I doubt he read the gospels. Jesus, if he existed, believed the end was near and Russell is write in his inferences. In the gospels you find it written Jesus saying there are those of you here alive who will not die before the son of man returns in all glory. In these verses he isn’t referring to anything else but his returning and it has been 2K years and counting without a word from the skies.

    This is yet another point at which I am reminded of the New Atheists, who often demand, without support, that their own strange interpretations of the Bible are correct. Of course, if one simply takes full license to completely re-interpret a view, it is easy to “refute” it, but I doubt that the New Atheists would submit to others taking this approach to their own writings.

    This here is a straw man that is unsupported by evidence. No two christians interpret the bible in a similar manner. They don’t agree when it is literal or allegorical. Why you call the interpretations of Atheists strange I don’t know and I think you should support this claim with evidence.

  • Debilis

    Okay, greetings once again!

    The passage you mention about Christ was the one I had in mind in mentioning the word “come”. Surely, the idea that “he isn’t referring to anything else but his returning” is a live option, but I haven’t yet seen that established.

    I definitely agree that it is an important issue. I’m personally undecided as to what personal beliefs Jesus held regarding the timing of the return. I don’t see how his being wrong is a defeater for Christianity, however. He says directly that he didn’t actually know the time. As such, Christianity was never committed to any particular time (keeping in mind that enthusiastic conservative ministers don’t speak for God of course).

    I should clarify, however, that I am not calling the interpretations of atheists strange. I’ve known several atheists who have very clear and insightful interpretations of the Bible. I was specifically referring to the New Atheists, and did not mean to paint atheists in general with the same brush (apologies if it seemed otherwise).

  • William E. Beers

    Coming in His Kingdom and coming in glory usually refer to different events, although not always. Because a passage can be interpreted in more than one way proves either. Kingdom, likely refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to establish Christ’s rule in the heart as the Kingdom of God is within you. Glory usually refers to an overt manifestation, unmistakable and seen by all.

    The interpretation of “atheists” is only strange in that they insist they know exactly how it should be read and what its meaning should be. Not unlike many of the reformed persuasion for example as Atheists are not the only ones that insist that a passage have only one meaning, theirs.

  • William E. Beers

    Sorry, typos in the previous post…

    Coming in His Kingdom and coming in glory usually refer to different events, although not always. Because a passage can be interpreted in more than one way proves neither. Kingdom, likely refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to establish Christ’s rule in the heart as the Kingdom of God is within you. Glory usually refers to an overt manifestation, unmistakable and seen by all.

    The interpretation of “atheists” is only strange in that they insist they know exactly how it should be read and what its meaning should be, then want “proof” that it is wrong. Not unlike many of the reformed persuasion for example as Atheists are not the only ones that insist that a passage have only one meaning, theirs.

    • Debilis

      That is an excellent summary!
      And, yes, that has been my frustration with the New Atheists’ writings–the strange insistence that they are infallible interpreters of scripture. I hope I didn’t imply that there was no basis at all for their understanding of the passage.

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