THE PARABLES OF CHRIST EXPLAIN WHY NEW ATHEISTS ARE INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: AN OPINION PIECE
From the famed “four horsemen of atheism” to their numerous spawns on YouTube, one with even the slightest understanding of Christianity and the Bible cannot help but wonder how it is that men who are brilliant and well spoken cannot seem to grasp the most basic tenets of scripture. They cannot differentiate the hyperbolic from the literal, commandments of God from actions of men, the descriptive stories from the conduct with God’s approval. They cannot distinguish the new testament from the old, context and every form of nuance goes out the window. One is constrained to ask the same question Philip asked the Ethiopian Eunuch,
“…Do you understand what you are reading?”
But unlike the Eunuch who responds,
“…How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.”
The new atheists believe they have perfect understanding of everything they read and it is in their expert opinion, all garbage and fiction. Never mind that an entire nation of people (the Jews) have their national history firmly intertwined with the Old Testament, never mind that there have been various archaeological discoveries corroborating Biblical narratives, never mind that this “fiction” and “superstition” of the resurrection of Christ started to spread in the very city it happened, within the very lifetime of people who could fact check this. Never mind that this book has influenced virtually every strata of culture from language to literature to the arts and continues to be the best selling book in the history of humanity. Never mind all of the contributions people on the basis of this book have made to humanity, innovation and civilisation. All of this is magically dismissed with the atheist’s wand.
Why is it though that the Bible seems to be very divisive? Why does it look like when an atheist and a Christian discuss the Bible, they are talking about two very different books? Why is there such a barrier between them that it is as though they are speaking two radically different languages? The answer, I submit, can be found in the reason Jesus spoke in parables.
For some background, earlier on in the day, Jesus had the following interaction with the scribes and the Pharisees,
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Note that they were asking for these signs after he had performed numerous miracles in front of them, in fact in the same chapter, they had accused him of casting out demons with a demonic spirit (Matthew 12:22–24). In earlier chapters he had healed the sick, raised the dead, taught them as a person with authority, opened the eyes of the blind, cleansed lepers publicly. The Pharisees knew about this, yet they approached Him for a sign.
Here it is abundantly clear that the Pharisees had no intention of believing in Him despite all the evidence they had seen. These were people who saw Jesus Christ in the flesh, yet they refused to believe! This is instructive to new atheists who believe if they could see God in the flesh and hear Him speak or send them a supernatural sign, they would believe in Him, that is just an excuse to not take responsibility for their unbelief. In fact some atheists, like Richard Dawkins, have now expressly “come out of the closet” to admit that even if they saw God in the flesh in all His glory they would still rather believe it had all been one massive hallucination. This has never had anything to do with evidence or the lack thereof, it is rather an obdurate unwillingness to believe for reasons best known to them.
But I digress…
It was that very day Jesus began to speak in parables, hence Matthew 13:1 begins,
“ On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying…”
The disciples, as puzzled as everybody else at this new trend of parabolising rather than speaking straight quizzed Jesus about this,
“ And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;”
Jesus’ answer it appears was this, parabolising was to further confuse those outside of the kingdom who, considering the state of their hearts, “by the wayside” according to the parable of the sower, would not believe in Him anyway. They had plainly seen Him bringing the kingdom of God with all its supernatural appurtenances but did not believe, they had heard Him teach with an authority they had never experienced before, yet they did not hear Him, so the time for straight forward speaking to them (as in the Sermon on the Mount or “repent and believe the gospel” as was preached in Matthew 4) was over, it was now time for parables which would further confuse them. They were now to hear the parables but not understand them.
Those of the kingdom who believed in Christ however could be illuminated by the parables because they could see and hear with their blessed eyes and ears. Hence the disciples could in private ask Jesus about His parables and He could explain it to them,
“And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.”
The parables then served as a differentiator between those within the kingdom and those outside of it. It was possible to know where a person’s heart stood in relation to the kingdom by their comprehension of the parables.
I submit, once again, that this applies not just to the parables but to the Bible as a whole. The message of the gospel poses the exact same conundrum hence Paul writes,
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18–24)
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
(1 Corinthians 2:14)
The argument might then be, if this is the case, no one would convert at all since they cannot understand the message of the gospel or the Bible to begin with. However, note the overall case that is being submitted here, Christ had overtly manifested His works and His teachings to those who rejected Him, He had spoken plainly and done miracles in their presence, it was when all of this was rejected that the parables began. In like manner, it could be argued that for every one who comes to the scriptures honestly and in good faith, there would have been an era of plain speaking, a window where it is possible to be convicted of sin, of judgment and of righteousness. It is when the heart of the reader becomes inclined to the rejection of Christ as revealed in scripture that it becomes a book of parables.
Christ is the context of the entirety of the Old Testament,
“But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”
(2 Corinthians 3:14–16)
It stands to reason that a great deal (if not the entirety) of the Old Testament would be misunderstood without Christ as the fundamental anchor and framework. This is an attempt to listen to the parables without Christ explaining them to the listener. The result is hearing the hearer will not hear and reading, much like the Ethiopian Eunuch, the reader will not understand.
Finally, a further pushback might be that this is an appeal to Mysticism or that this can be said about the Quran or any other scripture of any religion.
On the Mysticism point, it as well might be, but if Jesus Christ is who He said He is, as reported by multiple Biblical and Historical eye witnesses and if He did in fact rise from the dead as nobody within the vicinity of first century Judea could refute convincingly, then there is a basis for this appeal. This is after all the same Jesus who promised to be with His followers until the end of the age, the same one who said He would not leave His followers orphans (comfortless in some translations of John 14:18).
On whether the same could be said for the Quran or any other scripture, the question is whether the events they record have as much historical attestation as the New Testament upon which Christianity is based. Do the founders of these religions have as much historical evidence as to their existence and ministry from sources other than their scripture to the same level as Jesus Christ? If the answer is no then this objection fails.
The evidence for Christ, Christianity and the gospel exist. It might not be to the new atheists’ liking but that is their problem, not Christianity’s.
I conclude with a verse from apostle Paul which perfectly sums up my thoughts when listening to new atheists discuss the Bible,
“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
(2 Corinthains 4:3–4)