October 9, 2017
I have been taught my entire life that the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, book. Almost every single member of my family refers to is as “the Word of God” and not the Bible. Every time I have a question about anything, I am asked point-blank “well, what does the word of God say?” I have listened to countless lectures about the “Council of Nicea” and how “they” just “knew” what to include in the inerrant Word of God because everything “matched” and they “threw out” teachings that clearly did not match up with the rest.
Over time, I have come to personally believe that the Bible is not inerrant nor infallible. (Gasp – I probably just got myself disinherited, and my entire large, extended family is praying for my soul because I will surely be tossed into the pit of hell for all eternity.) I am not being sarcastic here – in many circles, to question anything in the Word of God is tantamount to heresy, to refusing salvation, to being bold enough to question God.
Given this background, it’s any wonder I still cling to an (admittedly shaky) faith – but, the truth is that I have an overwhelming fear of hell. (I guess we never really get rid of childhood torments.) But, I read a lot – actually I read almost nothing but books about apologetics, faith, Christianity, as well as world affairs, environmental justice, and community service and justice.
No book in my life has ever made me feel quite so shaky as Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. As I mentioned, my rather overly large fear of hell still prevents me from ever giving up my faith, and I really enjoy my social community within the church – but, I confess this book has made me question everything I was raised on. What’s particualy shocking, is that most seminaries teach the material he presents. But, for one reason or another, pastors then conveniently “forget” everything they learn and preach “devotionally” rather than “historically” or “critically.”
The author was himself once upon a time an Evangelical Christian, but he is now an agnostic. It’s important to note that most all of his close friends and colleagues are still Christians, in spite of the facts, and that Dr. Ehrman does not seek to draw people away from their faith. Rather, he wants to inform people – he is, after all, a distinghuised Professor of Religious Studies.
The first part of the book deals with the historical and other inaccuracies contained in the New Testament. It’s okay for myself, and anyone else, to conclude that the Bible is worthy of study, and that Jesus is still God and my personal way to salvation. But, to continue to believe and/or preach that every single period is exactly in the place it should be and that God “wouldn’t allow” anything in the Bible that should not be there, is simply not true. Just a few examples that I certainly never realized – the Gospels do not agree on when Jesus actually died (one says before the Passover another says after), they don’t agree on whether or not Jesus talked the day he died or not, whether he suffered or not, whether or not the stone was moved or not, and whether or not Judas or someone else purchased the potter’s field after his death. (Actually, they don’t agree on when or how Judas died either.) The Gospels also don’t agree on where or when Jesus was born (was it Bethlehem or Nazareth?) And, there is absolutely no historical evidence to support babies under the age of 2 being killed, or a big census drawing everyone back to their hometowns. (One would think there would be some sort of historical documentation to big facts like that, not to mention a bizarre star suddenly shining in the sky and angels singing randomly.) Also, one Gospel says that Jesus’ birth occurred during Herod’s reign, when another says that it happened when Quirinnius was governor of Syria (which cannot be historically accurate, given other historical documentation of the time.) There are differences in Jesus’ genealogy between 2 of the Gospels, as well as what was said to Jesus after his baptism, and what he said at his trial before Pilate. Perhaps these details don’t bother most Christians, but it certainly means that it is not “inerrant” and that every single detail is not accurate.
Continuning on, we have a wide range of discrepancies in the writings of Paul. One letter says he was in one place at the start of his ministry, another says that he didn’t go there at all. (And that’s just part of the problem – scholars really only feel they can prove that he wrote some of the letters, more than half of the letters accredited to Paul weren’t actually written by Paul, according to many experts.) Also, we can see that scribes inserted things at later dates to suit their beliefs at the time. It’s also important to note that we don’t have a single “original” copy of a single book of the New Testament – every single “old” document we have is a copy.
It’s also important to note that quite a number of the books of the New Testament were not written by who they claim to have been written by (Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc.) and that none of the apostles wrote down anything. Every single document written about Jesus is based on a verbal tradition, passed down for decades.
What’s really fascinating is how we came to have a Bible at all. Roman Emperor Constantine came to the faith and he wanted a cohesive book. So, a big bunch of people (with various motivations) got together and put it all together. They threw away quite a few gospels written by various others, and decided what was canon and what was not. It’s interesting to note that Paul’s writings were never intended to be part of scripture as far as Paul was concerned – he was writing to churches. (It kind of feels like prying into someone else’s mail.)
The last section of the book deals with the start and spread of Christianity and it is historically fascinating. I never thought about or realized that Jesus never claimed divinity, or that things like the Trinity, faith by belief alone, heaven and hell, etc. not only don’t match what Jesus taught, but were later contributions by Christian leaders over time. All of our beliefs now (think about the Apostle’s Creed) were developed over time.
The book is definitely worth reading. I couldn’t put it down. As I mentioned, I’m not giving up my faith, and the author is certainly not suggesting that I should. However, turning a blind eye to historical-critical perspectives of the Bible is not okay. It’s important to discuss it, read it, study it, and view it from the very-human perspective of the time in which it was written. Can I still learn something about faith from the Bible today? Yes. Am I still a doubting Thomas a lot of the time? Yes.
I am curious what the rest of the world thinks about the historical inaccuracies, contradicions, and accuracy of the Bible and whether or not it has made them question (or reaffirm) their faith. I can’t be the only one who struggles with doubts.
Matthew 14:31 (NRSV): Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Serve all with love.
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