Your question is a very good one to ask. As you might guess the answer to it can become extremely complex. I will answer your question with a short and a long answer. Both of which will only be fragmentary and incomplete in themselves given the format of the current discussion and my lack of knowledge as to your current perception of various issues. In addition to the short and long answer, I will also give a short bibliography for you to pursue as you desire.
Being a Christian myself I will echo those who point to Jesus. I think Jesus is ultimately how we know God today.
In a response to this basic answer you say this:
“Is the only way to know who god is through Jesus. There are those who say that Jesus isn’t god. If i assume that position I would have to go back to the OT to find god(Yahweh) since Jesus refers to him. But when you go back there seem to be a little bit of a mess.”
Here is my initial response: You have to first decide who Jesus is or isn’t for yourself. You mention people who say Jesus isn’t god. True, there are people who say Jesus isn’t god and there are people who say Jesus is god. The question is not a matter of what people say but rather WHY they say it and whether you think they say it for a good reason.
Once you are able to make a determination as to who you think Jesus is then other questions can be followed up on. Let’s say you think its reasonable that Jesus could be god. You then can follow up with what you bring up “If i assume that position I would have to go back to the OT to find god(Yahweh) since Jesus refers to him. But when you go back there seem to be a little bit of a mess.”. This then opens up discussion of the OT. You state that it is a little bit of a mess. This implies your current thoughts on the OT aren’t particularly positive. This is understandable, the OT is an ancient document that can be difficult for moderns to understand. I know that there are popular conventional Christian views you are likely to be aware of but there are also interpretations that might make a lot of sense as to what it is we are dealing with in regards to the OT.
So in summary my short answer goes like this:
- You need to make some kind of determination as to what you think about Jesus.
- If you don’t think its reasonable that Jesus is god or would be a path for you knowing who god is then you don’t have to worry about the OT.
- If you think Jesus might be an avenue to knowing who God is then you can pursue questions about the OT in more depth. This may affect how you then further assess Jesus.
The Long Answer
Your question is complex and touches on many possible issues. Here I will give a brief outline of the issues I think are most salient and sketch some of the ways I approach them.
- The Bible
Epistemology and Biology go together as I see things.
Epistemology is a topic in philosophy about how we know things.
Biology is about understanding organisms. We humans are biological organisms and to better understand ourselves we have to understand our biology.
With this idea we can state two simple statements about our being human,
We reasoning organisms.
We are biological organisms.
All humans are biological organisms and most fully developed humans are reasoning. These are basic characteristics that we can use to develop a general model for how humans navigate reality.
Our tools for interacting with the world can be summarized with the traditional five senses: Sight, Touch, Hearing, Smell, and Taste.
These are the basic tools that we as biological organisms have to interact with our world. We as humans have the ability to synthesize the data gained from these tools with our ability to reason.
Reason and the data gained from our senses stand in constant reciprocal relationship to each other. No single aspect of the human toolkit is infallible.
We know that all of five senses can be unreliable at times.
Sight: Objects get distorted when submerged in water. The further away an object is the more different it will appear than when viewed up close. Et Cetera.
Hearing: We can misunderstand what we hear: what it was we heard, what direction it came from. Et Cetera.
And so on.
We are able to understand all these things with our ability to reason. However, not even our ability to reason is without problems. We can make mistaken inferences, misinterpret the data gained from our senses. Et Cetera.
From this several things seem the most reasonable to me.
Fallibility: Because none of our tools for interacting with reality are infallible we have to acknowledge that practically any belief we have is possibly incorrect in some way, human knowledge is defeasible knowledge.
Tractability: Any analysis of human knowledge has to work within the limits of human capabilities. This has two sides to it: (1) It limits the kind requirements we can have for knowledge “certainty” is usually best described as a psychological state. If someone thinks infallibility should be an aspect of our beliefs then they are requiring something that is an impossibility for us as humans. (2) The other side of tractability is that all our beliefs should be able to work within our toolkit as humans. If someone says to ignore or suppress our basic tools for interacting with reality then we are being told to ignore how we actually interact with reality.
Summary: Here are fundamental facts about every human we are (a) biological organisms and (b) we reason. Every human shares these things. Whatever else we may be, do, believe, we are at least biological organisms that reason. In accordance with this fact, some amount of Philosophy and Biology is necessary to help us come to terms with what we are. In accordance with this whatever else we do will be enlightened by philosophy and biology.
In accordance with this basic fact we can state the following about how we might think about the ‘Bible’,
Whatever else may be said about the Bible and it’s contents, the one thing we know is that it is the product of humans. Because it is the product of humans, philosophy and biology can shed light on its production and contents.
What this means is that when we try to understand and evaluate who Jesus is/was we do so as we would any other figure in history.
The ‘Bible’ we have today as a single bound volume is not what Jesus would have had nor the earliest Christians. It is in our interest as seekers of truth to understand what exactly the ‘Bible’ is or isn’t.
Here are brief statement of my current beliefs:
- Jesus is God and it is through Jesus that we primarily know God.
- The ‘bible’ is not the “word of god”. It is set of ancient documents wherein each document needs to be evaluated on its own terms, it is not a single work and all documents are not equally important or reliable.
- The OT is not nearly as “messy” as many people think it is. The OT interpreted properly has some surprising things to say and it makes a lot of sense.
Note: I do not fully endorse everything contained in the books I am recommending. I think they are important works that have some important insights in one way or another.
-Knowledge and Christian Belief (Easy)
-Warrant and Proper Function (Medium/Hard)
-Where the Conflict Really Lies (Medium)
-Warranted Christian Belief (Hard)
-Inquiry into the Human Mind (Hard)
-Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (Hard)
David Sloan Wilson
-Does Altruism Exist? (Easy)
-This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution (Easy)
-Philosophy of Science (Easy)
-Philosophy of Biology (Easy)
Mark Allan Powell
-Jesus as a Figure in History (Medium)
Dale Allison Jr.
-Resurrecting Jesus (Medium/Hard)
-Constructing Jesus (Hard)
James D.G. Dunn
-Jesus According to the New Testament (Easy)
-Jesus Remembered (Hard)
-Beginning from Jerusalem (Hard)
-Neither Jew nor Greek (Hard)
-History and Eschatology (Easy/Medium)
-Jesus and the Victory of God (Hard)
-The Resurrection of the Son of God (Hard)
-Are the Gospels Reliable? (Easy)
-A History of the Bible (Medium)
-Holy Writings, Sacred Texts (Medium)
-Reading the Old Testament (Medium/Hard)
-Ethics in Ancient Israel (Hard)
-The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Medium)
-People of the Book? (Easy)
Lee Martin McDonald
The Formation of the Bible (Easy/Medium)
The Origin of the Bible (Easy/Medium)
The Biblical Canon (Hard)
-Is Jesus History? (Easy)
-Doubters Guide to Jesus (Easy)
-Doubters Guide to the Bible (Easy)
-Biblical Theology (Medium/Hard)
-Old Testament Theology 3 vol. (Hard)
-Models for Scripture (Medium)
Christopher J.H. Wright
-Knowing God Through the Old Testament (Medium)
-Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Medium)
-The Mission of God (Medium)
-King Jesus Gospel (Easy)
-The Blue Parakeet (Easy)
-Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (Medium)
Thanks for posting the question, Kev.
If you have any question or would like to dialogue further I would be happy to do so.