The Errancy of The Bible
by Bruce Renehan
Recently, a couple of people e-mailed me wanting to debate about some things I had written and posted on The Painful Truth website. For instance, I had written that I initially had started a quest to prove whether Herbert Armstrong was right or wrong and ended up discovering that not only were the beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God erroneous, so was the entirety of Christianity and Judaism. Key to all of this, is the discovery that the Bible was actually carefully put together by Constantine's bishops in Rome. I generally let those statements stand on their own because this is a touchy subject with people. If they want to do their own unbiased research they will certainly come to the same conclusions. But for those who are genuinely curious why a person like myself could have read the Bible day after day, version after version, page by page, verse by verse and finally throw the Bible away, let me show you how it happened to me.
I spent 23 years in the Worldwide Church of God. Every Sabbath, I listened to convoluted explanations of how to understand the meaning of the Bible. After that length of time, I learned that the Bible can be used by skillful ministers to justify anything. Eventually, I decided to do my own independent investigations. Some of my early research dealt with trying to get a broader perspective rather than the narrow one I had bought into in the Worldwide Church of God. So I studied about Judaism and Catholicism. I tried to keep an open mind. I actually went to the local synagogue and studied in their library by permission of the Rabbi. One of my main discoveries there was that Armstrong had perverted the Levitical system of tithing. That took me about twenty minutes to determine. Why had I wasted all those years believing those Worldwide Church of God ministers?
I later found a book on understanding the Jewish Talmud. That too created an interesting crack in my Christian foundation. For the Talmud describes what a Messiah is. A Messiah is a chief Rabbi and is not divine. The Talmud is what the Jews were using to recognize their Messiah before Jesus was born. Why did they reject Jesus?
After leaving the Worldwide Church of God and returning to college I made friends with a charismatic Christian and two transfer students from Palestine (Muslims). One day we were all sitting in a room talking about religion and my Christian friend was wearing one of those bodacious tee shirts with a picture of Jesus on it and a slogan like "He is the Son of God." My Muslim friend said casually, "You know, in my country that tee shirt would be blasphemous. How can Allah have a son?" This was a moment of serendipity for me. It has always been the case in the Middle East that God is one and could not have a son. Remember the Arian controversy of the fourth century? But, suddenly in the New Testament there appears someone calling himself the son of God and only the Pharisees seem to get upset about it.
Up until this point in my life I had just assumed that God had directly inspired the writing of the Bible. Now, somehow it appeared that New Testament scriptures had been tampered with by a culture other than a Middle Eastern/Jewish one. But, what about the Old Testament? At the time I began to suspect this, I did not know about the tons of scholarly accounts that completely agreed with my intuitive feelings. I read Harvard scholar Elliot Freedman's book entitled Who wrote the Bible? and discovered that the Old Testament was written by rivaling priests (primarily those who claimed a lineage from either Aaron or Moses). Thus we find two creation stories that contradict each other and so on. Reading the Old Testament in Hebrew, Freedman shows that the Bible can actually be dissected and the separate versions can be clearly seen to be from the different Levitical authors.
So, the questions then became, "Has all scripture been tampered with? Is the Bible the infallible word of God or is it the skillful work of scribes throughout history?" Fundamentalists like Herbert Armstrong, taught that the Bible is inerrant. But, if one is skillful, one can find a scripture to prove any desired belief. Remember, Armstrong emphasized that the Bible was understood "here a little, there a little." In other words its like a smorgasbord of beliefs that anyone can pick and chose from.
Let me list just a few contradictions in scripture. I have provided a sampling from William Burr's book, Self-Contradictions of the Bible:
1. God is satisfied with his works (Gen. 1:31). God is dissatisfied with his works (Gen. 6:6)
2. God dwells in chosen temples (2 Chron. 7:12, 16). God dwells not in temples (Acts 7:48)
3. God dwells in light (1 Tim. 6:16). God dwells in darkness (1 Kings 8:12, Ps. 18:11, Ps. 97:2)
4. God is seen and heard (Ex 33:23; Ex. 33:11; Gen. 3:9,10; Gen. 32:30; Is. 6:1; Ex. 24: 9, 10, 11). God is invisible and cannot be heard (John 1:18; John 5:37; Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16)
8. God is all-powerful (Jer. 32:27; Matt. 19:26). God is not all-powerful (Judg. 1:19)
41. The Sabbath instituted (Ex. 20:8). The Sabbath repudiated (Is. 1:13; Rom. 14:5; Col. 2: 16).
58. Man was created after the other animals (Gen 1:25, 26 27). Man was created before the animals (Gen. 2:18,19).
69. The infant Christ was taken into Egypt (Matt. 2:14, 15, 19, 21, 23). The infant Christ was not taken into Egypt (Luke 2:22,39).
81. There was but one woman who came to the sepulchre (John 20:1). There were two women who came to the sepulchre (Matt. 28:1).
82. There were three women who came to the sepulchre (Mark 16:1). There were more than three women who came to the sepulchre (Luke 24:10).
Burr's examples go on and on. The main point being that the Bible is filled with contradictory statements. How could it be infallible (as most fundamentalists believe)?
It was about this time when I began to hear that the Worldwide Church of God was introducing new doctrines to the Church via resident Greek Scholar K. Stavrinides. Stavrinides was preparing the church to believe in the Trinity concept. He did it by producing a word, "hypostasis," and showing that the word was in the Bible. While in the library, I did a little historical research about that word and serendipity arrived again. The word originated among the Greek philosophers and was used by Plato to describe the earth's elements. Later at the Council of Nicea, the very concept of hypostasis was used to create the doctrine of the Trinity. This was probably the second hint that I had that the other culture that had tampered with the New Testament was in Rome. Just prior to that, I had viewed a series of videos about Bible archeology. In the last video, the narrator had pointed out very specifically that Constantine had commissioned the writing of the New Testament in Rome in the fourth century and that the scribes had hundreds of separate documents that the followers of Christianity and Judaism had written. The problem with those documents was that, not only were they contradictory, some were outrageous, describing Christian orgies and so on. So what do you do when an emperor pays you to create a fairly consistent anthology of books that recreate Christianity in a politically correct manner? You interpolate, edit, delete, and fabricate.
In Golding's Biblical Polemics, he writes:
"First the NT was not written by any of the disciples of Jesus nor by persons who even lived in that era....When the church fathers compiled the NT in the year 397, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. They decided by vote which of the books out of the collection they had made should be the word of God. Had they voted otherwise, all people since calling themselves Christians would have believed otherwise. For the belief of the one comes from the vote of the other (p.23)."
In the Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, author C. Dennis McKinsey writes:
"As stated earlier, quite a few books did not make it into the Bible or what is commonly known as the canon. It might be of interest to note the names of some of these writings. For instance, we find that mentioned in the Old Testament are many books not in the Bible. The Book of the Wars of the Lord is referred to in Num. 21; the Book of Jasher is referred to in Joshua 10:13; the Book of Nathan and Gad is mentioned in First Chronicles and the Book of the Acts of Solomon is mentioned in Second Chronicles. All of these books, as well as many others, did not make it into Scripture, although they are mentioned in the Old Testament. Where they are, no one knows. Why were these books allowed to perish? No one knows. Another group of books were left out of the New Testament. It is a rather lengthy list in which can be found the following: the Gospel According to the Hebrews, the Gospel Written by Judas Iscariot, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Marcion, the Gospel of Matthias, the Gospel of Eve, and the Gospel of Philip. Besides the Gospels are such writings as the Acts of Peter, the Book of the Judgment by Peter, the Hymn by Christ, the Magical Book by Christ, and the Letter to Peter and Paul by Christ. None of these books survived the cut and all were left on the debating room floor, again, primarily because of politics in the religious realm. All of these books had their advocates and all of them lost (p. 20)."
It had been suspected for the past 150 years by scholars, that the original New Testament Gospels would have appeared much different than the ones handed down through the centuries by the Catholic Church. Further, it was believed that there was at least one original copy that the fourth century bishops used to make the books of Luke and Matthew. Certain German theorists decided to make a proto-gospel by taking out the parts of the New Testament that they suspected had been added by the fourth century church. This new gospel was called the book of Q (Quelle--meaning "source"). In 1945 an archeological find was made. The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Nag Hamadi--it is the oldest surviving text written by early Christians. This Gospel of Thomas was interpreted and compared to Q. The two documents were nearly identical. The fifth gospel calls Jesus the son of Joseph, not the son of God, and there is no miraculous virgin birth in it. If we use our imaginations, we can see that it is possible for a virgin to be found with child and not be married. This is exactly what the Talmud says had happened to a virgin by the name of Mary. The Talmud states that this Mary had become pregnant by a Roman soldier named Panthera and a man named Joseph married her to take away the shame.
In John D. Crossan's Book, The Historical Jesus, Crossan takes an anthropological view of the first century and shows that many things claimed in the New Testament would have been historically impossible. For instance, common people were illiterate and thus fishermen could not have been the prolific writers of the Gospels; Pontius Pilate would not have done or said the things that are claimed; the story of John the Baptist was a common story about another king other than Herrod and somehow got attached to John the Baptist. The first thing that struck me in Crossan's book though was a quote about Caesar being the son of god. The Romans and Egyptians deified their kings. It became abundantly clear to me at this point that Jesus too was deified in Rome and not in Jerusalem where the teaching would have been blasphemous. How else would a fourth century Roman scribe emphasize that Jesus was the King of the Jews except to say that he was also a god?
There is much more evidence than what has been presented here to demonstrate that the Bible is a collection of legends and myths carefully woven together in the fourth century which makes it inconsistent with being a book inspired by God. It takes some investigation to discover this and that is where the rub is for the true believer. Among the many contradictory and fantastic statements made in the Bible there is a built in Catch 22. According to Edmund Cohen, The Mind of the Bible Believer, it all boils down to faith for the Christian and the biblical definition of faith is given in Hebrews 11:1 as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I cannot think of a greater double-bind on a person's mind than to ask them to understand their world in such a fashion. Don't let real evidence get in your way, just hope that your belief is right and your blind hope will be your salvation. Can you think of any functional organization that asks its constituents to look the other way in the light of contradictory evidence or to never let facts get in the way of your wishful thinking? Can you think of a healthy system where people are asked to believe fairytale like stories of visions from God, talking snakes and donkeys, sticks that turn into snakes, fiery chariots, long hair making you strong, trumpets knocking down stone walls, people walking on water, commanding the Sun to go backwards in the sky, turning water into wine, raising the dead, and so on to prove their honesty and truthfulness? Is it really sound minded to believe a book claiming that God's people witnessed miracles for thousands of years and then those miracles were written down and no such grand events happened for the next two thousand years?
It seems ironic that people can so readily believe the Bible stories without evidence and yet challenge evolutionists for believing things that have been fossilized in stone for millions of years.
I personally have come to accept the fact that science and education are not going to change the thinking of the majority of religious believers in this world because of the double-bind of biblical faith. I doubt if humans will ever live in a society free from superstition. But, at least for me, the evidence of things seen is more valid than "the evidence of things not seen."
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