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Archive for February, 2010

 

A Bogus Christianity based on an Incomplete Bible

 On December 25th, 2005, and later during the spring of 2006, the History Channel presented an outstanding 2-hour world premiere documentary called, “Banned from the Bible.” The reader must understand that many Christian documents and gospels on Christ and Christianity may have been destroyed or lost during the last 2000 years. However, many gospels and related documents were not lost or destroyed. They were simply banned from the Bible. What makes the extant Bible the Word of God? Why wouldn’t the volumes of excluded documents also be the Word of God? And if so, who appointed whom to be the editor of God’s word? Could it be then that the existing bogus Bible really had nothing to do with giving voice to God’s word if men decided what was and was not the Word of God?   

It is obvious to religious scholars that these books were in some way objectionable and threatening to the leaders of the orthodox Christian churches. Anything that did not meet with their approval was branded as heresy. Many of the books that were available as possible candidates for inclusion in the New Testament were, in fact, very popular with early Christians. Like today, early Christians hungered for any information about Christ.

The extant Bible today is a bogus version representing the life of Christ in only an incomplete and limited way. Other Christian beliefs, such as those of the Agnostics, never saw the light of day even though many might argue better represented the true nature of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Interpretation and the derivation of meaning from any scriptures are patently unintelligible if the original sources of literary importance were excluded.

 One hundred and fifty years after the birth of Jesus, a man named Marcion decided that a Christian Bible was needed to replace the Hebrew Bible. Church leaders opposed Marcion’s banning of the Hebrew books, but they did agree that Christians should have a Bible of their own. After Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in the 4th century, a serious effort was made to compile a Christian bible, one that included both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and Christian manuscripts (the New Testament). It took another 40 years before a final list of New Testament books was officially canonized by the church. Many of the most popular were excluded. Upon examination today, many of these writings attempt to resolve inconsistencies and questions raised from reading the bible.[i]    

 As pointed out, more gospels and documents were left out than were included. To say that the Bible is the word of God is to miss the mark in a big way. The Bible was the political creation of conservative, Orthodox Church leaders in the 4th century that determined what was included, and what wasn’t included in the Bible.

 It is interesting to note in Bart D. Ehrman’s book, Lost Christianities when he points out,

  It is striking that, for centuries, virtually everyone who studied the history of early Christianity simply accepted the version of the early conflicts written by the orthodox victors. This all began to change in a significant way in the nineteenth century as some scholars began to question the ‘objectivity’ of such early Christian writers as the fourth-century orthodox author Eusebius, the so-called Father of Church History, who reproduced for us the earliest account of the conflict. This initial query into Eusebius’s accuracy eventually became, in some circles, a virtual onslaught on his character, as twentieth-century scholars began to subject his work to an ideological critique that exposed his biases and their role in his presentation. The reevaluation of Eusebius was prompted, in part, by the discovery of additional ancient books, uncovered by trained archaeologists looking for them and by Bedouin who came across them by chance, other gospels, for examples, that also claimed to be written in the names of apostles.[ii]

 Banned Sacred Texts

 A short synopsis of some of the banned sacred texts follows. Each of the books was excluded from the canons of Christianity:

 The Life of Adam and Eve: A more detailed story of creation than what is found in Genesis, this book includes jealous angels, a more devious serpent, and more information about Eve’s fall from grace from her point of view.[iii] 

  • The Book of Jubilees: This obscure Hebrew text offers an answer to a question that has vexed Christians for centuries – if Adam and Eve only had sons, and if no other humans existed, who gave birth to humanity? This text reveals that Adam and Eve had nine children and that Cain’s younger sister Awan became his wife. The idea that humanity was born of incest would have been radical – and heretical.[iv]
  • The Book of Enoch: This scripture reads like a modern day action film, telling of fallen angels, bloodthirsty giants, an earth that had become home to an increasingly flawed humanity and a Devine judgment to be rendered though denied a place in most Western Bibles; it has been used for centuries by Ethiopian Christians. Large portions of this book were found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.[v]
  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: The only book that deals with young Jesus, it indicates that Jesus was a strong-willed child who one historian describes as “Dennis the Menace as God.” The book reveals that at age five, Jesus may have killed a boy by pushing him off a roof and then resurrected him. Perhaps too disturbing for inclusion in the Bible, this book seems to contain traditions, also known to the Koran.[vi]
  • The Protovangelion of James: This book offers details of the life of the Virgin Mary, her parents, her birth and her youth, stories not found in the New Testament Gospels but was beloved by many early Christians.
  • The Gospel of Mary: This Agnostic Text reveals that Mary Magdalene may have been an apostle, perhaps even a leading apostle, not a prostitute. While some texts in the Bible seem to deny women a voice in the Christian community, this text helps spark the debate about the role of women in the church.[vii]
  • The Gospel of Nicodemus: This is the story of Jesus’s trial and execution and descent into hell. According to this gospel the Savior asserts his power over Satan by freeing patriarchs such as Adam, Isaiah and Abraham from Hell.[viii] 
  • The Apocalypse of Peter: Peter’s apocalypse suggests that there is a way out of punishment for evildoers and implies that the threat of the apocalypse is a way for God to scare people into living a moral life, and committing fewer sins.[ix]

 “These books are just a sampling of the hundreds of that were never included in the Holy Bible. Perhaps there are more to be found. Whether one believes these alternative stories or not, they do provide an interesting perspective of the religious culture and propensities of the time.”[x]

 On April 7, 2006 a bombshell rocked the world of modern day Christianity. Another book that had never made its way into the “official Bible” was discovered and found to be, through carbon dating, authentic. After 1700 years The Gospel of Judas was rediscovered. “Judas Iscariot, long reviled as history’s quintessential betrayer, was actually the best friend of Jesus and turned him over to authorities only because Jesus asked him to, according to the Gospel of Judas.”[xi] The long-lost document was revealed by the National Geographic Society. The document is considered by some to be the most important archaeological find in the last 60 years. It “purports to record conversations between Jesus and Judas in the last week of their lives–conversations in which Jesus shared religious secrets not known by the other disciples.”[xii]

This particular gospel, like many others above, was ruled heretical by early church leaders because of its disagreement with the conventionally accepted Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. According to Thomas H. Maugh II, writer for the Los Angeles Times, “Biblical scholars, however, hailed the new text because of the insight it will provide into the exceptionally turbulent period when competing ideologies sought to stake their own claims to the Jesus story, battling in oral stories and written texts until a single, faction eventually won out.”[xiii]

This writer’s article, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee also reported that, “Scholars said the 26-page document was written on 13 sheets of papyrus leaf in ancient Egyptian, or Coptic, and was bound as a book, known as a codex. It is one of dozens of sacred texts from the Christian Gnostics, who believed that salvation came through secret knowledge conveyed by Jesus.”[xiv] 

 The Great Problem of Biblical Interpretation

 One of the greatest problems for Christian believers and non-believers alike is interpretation of biblical scriptures. Historically, this is shown and demonstrated by the plethora of major denominations and splinter groups in the Protestant movement alone. Different groups reflect different perspectives on Christian practice, theology, and the underlying meaning of scripture. All of this is aside from the many religions worldwide that have very different systems of belief from Christianity.

 Fundamentalists in Christianity are more likely to believe in a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Bible. What exactly is a literal interpretation?

 According to Donald K. Campbell, “when we interpret the Bible literally we interpret its words and sentences in their natural, normal, and usual sense.”[xv] He quotes Merrill F. Unger as saying the literal method is “the method which seeks to arrive at the precise meaning of the language of each of the Bible writers as is required by the laws of grammar and the facts of history.”[xvi] At the heart of this approach is to derive ‘meaning’ from the scriptures.

The literal method does not preclude figures of speech such as symbols, allegories, metaphors, and similes.[xvii] The literal method recognizes that sometimes poetical and allegorical language is used to support a literal meaning of the Bible.[xviii] Natural meaning, rather than literal words, per se, is secondary to natural meaning that provides context to underlying biblical truth.

Campbell further asserts that the more important principles of literal interpretation of the Bible include: (1) grammatical interpretation, (2) contextual interpretation, and (3) passages in the Bible have one meaning that should be determined prior to any moral application of the passage.[xix]

However, A.R. Bernard, Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn New York says, “Interpretation of the Bible is more than literal.” That is, he describes the interpretation of the Bible as literal, figurative, and symbolic.[xx] According to Campbell and Bell, coming to agreement about what the Bible means has been quite a difficult task.[xxi] Both authors attribute difficulty to three factors: (1) a changing culture, (2) different and changing religions, and (3) different ways of understanding sacred writing. Within the Christian faith alone there is a plethora of opinions on what scriptures mean.[xxii]

Whether something is told as a parable, appears to be hyperbole, the words themselves always need to have their meaning deciphered. Campbell and Bell generally agreed (also an opinion) that the Bible provides God’s truth for our lives, but how to interpret that truth is another matter. These authors also say, “One reason you need to check out the bible on your own, rather than limiting your knowledge to what we tell you, is that people vary in their opinion of what is to be taken literally and what is figurative or symbolic.”[xxiii]

According to Christian scriptures, only God possesses absolute truth, not man. However, it is still man who must interpret scriptures. If this were not so there wouldn’t be so many religions worldwide, and so many different denominations within Christianity itself. “We all tend to draw those lines in different places, and its no simple matter to say that one person is right and another wrong.”[xxiv] How right one is ought to follow some degree of logic and reason, two things fundamentalists reject, ironically, even when defending their own positions.

There are extremes unfortunately in how scripture is interpreted. Some splinter Christian groups use snakes in their services, and others employ mentally unbalanced oppressive interpretations of God and scripture. Such was the case with charismatic leaders David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, and Jim Jones of Jonestown.

 Freedom of religion is a key freedom in every democracy; but also democracy, to be truly free, requires that there also be freedom from religion. Problems of interpreting the morality underlying many stories in the Bible are very significant. Seeing the Bible as the only source for moral conduct is not only problematic, but downright immoral.

 Using the Bible as any source for moral conduct is not only highly misplaced judgment, but highly dangerous in its implications. Problems of moral interpretation of the Bible reach far beyond the difficulties individuals have with ordinary contradictions and nonsensical or bizarre statements found in the Bible. There are more moral contradictions in the Bible than there are speeders on the nation’s freeways. Rather than address all of them I will concentrate on just a few.

 Is God A Loving God or a Murderous Thug? You Decide.

 In the Bible, many people, including children, are slaughtered. Does God want children to die as some sort of whim? In Matt 18:14. it reads, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” One might conclude from this passage that God doesn’t want any children to die. However, he often kills children and commands others to do so as well. In Gen.7: 21-22. God drowns all children (except for Noah’s) in a worldwide flood. In Gen.19:24. God kills all of the children of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Gen. 22:2. God tells Abraham to kill his son for a burnt offering. Gee, what a loving God!

One must remember that fundamentalists believe in a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. If one does take a literal view, as fundamentalists tell us we should when reading and interpreting the Bible, one certainly can’t simultaneously take a symbolic or metaphorical interpretation just to be able to deny the acts of violence and mass murder committed by a monotheistic God. Fundamentalists must also accept these acts of murder as the will of God.

In Exodus 21:15; Lev. 20:9 and Deut.21: 18-21. the word of God says, “Children who are disobedient, or who curse or strike their parents are to be killed. In 1 Samuel 15: 2-3. God orders Saul to kill all of the Amalekite children, and in 2 Samuel 12: 15, 18, and 20. to punish David for having Uriah killed, God kills David’s newborn son. In Deut. 20:16. and Joshua 10:40. God orders the Israelites to kill everyone including the children in the cities that they invaded.

Another area of interest is modern day Christian writers. One of the most influential contemporary religious writers is Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel has written several books on Christianity including The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, and The Case for the Creator. In the Case for Faith, as in his other books, he takes the approach of stating objections to Christianity as a kind of intellectually presented “straw man.”

His Objection # 4 (in The Case for Faith) is “God Isn’t Worthy of Worship If He Kills Innocent Children.”[xxv] Next in the process he conducts interviews of key religious scholars or academic theologians for their answers.

On the surface this appears to be straightforward and objective. One of his interviews was with a religious expert, Norman L. Geisler. In one example God orders genocide by telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 to totally destroy the Cannanites and six other nations and to show them no mercy. “God orders the execution of every Egyptian firstborn; He flooded the world and killed untold thousands of people; He told the Israelites to now go attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children, and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[xxvi]

Strobel asked a question, “How can people be expected to worship Him if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered? Geisler’s answer was some odd statement about how evil the Amalekites had been, and God’s motive for committing murder. Strobel again asks the question by pressing him, “Why did innocent children need to be killed?” Geisler’s answer then took off in the direction of the totally bizarre. He said “that technically nobody is truly innocent because we’re all born in sin.”[xxvii] Here the Christian concept of Original Sin is invoked again.

This ascribed status for all human beings (rather than judgment based on earned status) of being born in sin is presumably one of God’s justifications for murdering children. Classifying children as full of sin is similar to what often happens to victims of violent crime in the criminal justice system in modern day society. That is, the victim is blamed for the acts of the criminal. For example, “She had it coming to her. She got raped because she lured me.” Blaming the victim is to misplace responsibility for the acts of the offender. When children are blamed through some religiously simplistic explanation of original sin, it only reinforces the non-believer’s perception that people within Christianity are very misguided.

 The Key to Salvation: Faith or Good Works?

 One of the key doctrines of Christianity is salvation. Some believers of the faith believe salvation is by faith alone. What the Bible has to say about it is pure unadulterated contradiction. In Mark16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”[xxviii]

It is said in Acts 16:30-31., “Sirs what must I do to be saved? And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved–you and your household.”[xxix] However, in Psalm 62:12. “For you render to each according to his works,” and in Jer.17: 10. “I the Lord…give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruits of his doing,”[xxx] and in Matt. 16: 27. “For the Son of Man will come in his glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to his works.”[xxxi] And in addition there is James 2:17. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, it is dead.”[xxxii]

Contradictions in scripture are one reason why we have some Christian denominations telling their members that salvation is based on faith alone, while other denominations are preaching salvation by works alone, and others may be saying you can’t have one without the other. This emphasis on salvation, either way or both, probably varies from church-to-church.

  An Approach to Overcoming Conflict with Biblical Interpretation

 One of the ideas surrounding overcoming problems of biblical interpretation in the twentieth century was centered around theistic evolution. This was an effort on the part of some scientists and theologians to bridge the gap between science and religion. Despite the long standing conflict between the two approaches to knowledge and the seeking of “Truth,” there may be a middle ground. Not everyone agrees that there can be a middle ground.

If religion, and in particular Christianity, wants to extricate itself from its losing position in the world today, it will have to take a more reasoned approach (albeit scientific methodology) and play by a different set of rules. In all likelihood this repositioning of the rules of the game will be easier for mainline protestant groups, already many of whom have no quarrel with science, scientists or the concept of theistic evolution.

Theologians who pay lip service to wanting to bridge the gap need to remember the words of Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson in The Dead Pool, “If you want to play in the game love, you better know what the rules are.”[xxxiii]

That means take nothing in religion on faith. Test everything according to the rules of scientific inquiry. In other words prove whatever claims are made. Let the chips fall where they may. Let there be no straw men in such testing, but rather the testing of genuine real hypotheses about biblical scripture.

Even if science isn’t brought to bear in the field of religion and theology, it is very likely that conservative fundamentalists, evangelicals and others, who demand a literal translation of biblical scriptures, will continue to experience a losing uphill battle. This is their propensity to view religious dogma in “absolute” terms. This entrenched position, of course, flies in the face of, not just scientific knowledge that contradicts scripture, but competition from other major religions and even denominations within Christianity itself.

In addition, there is absolute widespread ignorance among most Christian church-goers in the United States on the very history of Christianity itself. There is a profound need to improve the education of Christians themselves. Instead of teaching Christianity from a doctrinal point of view (and doctrine is the “psycho-babble of religion”), churchgoers would be better off initially if they endeavored to learn the actual history of their own religion. Because of this need, education needs to be more detailed as to all of the historical decision-making points in Christianity that are known.

How the Bible was put together in the first place, and how theological issues were decided at various points in Christian history had a tremendous bearing on what finally came forward from the 4th century on as to the “accepted” content of the Bible Christians use today. Much needs to be learned about 4th Century activities that changed Christianity.

Many questions need to be evaluated and discussed such as why did early Christians high-jack the Torah, the first five books of the Bible from Judaism? Where did the idea of the Trinity come from (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)? What was the conflict of Christ’s status as either man or God, or both, and why wasn’t it officially decided until 325 C.E?    While answers to these questions are available in the academic literature on Christianity, very few church-goers have an interest in developing a deeper understanding of the very religion they lay claim to believe in. Some believers want to maintain a comfort zone of belief independent of any effort to learn the facts of the very religion they believe in. The notion of justification of beliefs and faith will be covered in Chapter 10 ahead, Religious Beliefs versus Rationality.

Despite the sometimes antagonistic relationship between science and religion it must be remembered that some scientists, namely biblical archaeologists, have contributed a great deal toward our understanding of the ancient world of the Middle East. Biblical Archaeology, however, has never been able to affirm the divinity of Christ, his miracles, or even his character. What it has been able to do is connect many of the locations and identify (through artifacts) many of the events, individuals and empires described in the Bible.


[i] Banned From the Bible: The Stories That Were Deleted From Biblical History,  25 Dec. 2005 [online]; accessed 19 Mar. 2006; available from http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?Acct=10466story=/www/story/12-19-2003/00

[ii] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5

[iii] Banned From the Bible.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times “Long Lost Document Casts Judas in new light,” in The Sacramento Bee 7 Apr. 2006, A1

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid, A12

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Donald K. Campbell, “We believe in literal interpretation,” Pamplet (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), 4

[xvi] Ibid, 5

[xvii] Ibid, 7

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid, 13-17

[xx] This quote was obtained while watching A.R. Bernard’s television show during the fall of 2004.

[xxi] Jim Bell and Stan Campbell, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, (New York: Alpha Books, A Simon & Shuster Macmillan Company, 1999), 15

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid, 17

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith , (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 113

[xxvi] Ibid, 118

[xxvii] Ibid, 119

[xxviii] “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,” [online]; accessed 16 Mar. 2005; available from http://www.skepticsannotated bible.com/contra/faithalone.html.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Clint Eastwood, The Dead Pool, 1988 VHS Tape, A Malpaso Production (15189), 1997 Warner Home Video.

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