Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Honest and Reliable? You Decide.

Tonight I want to take a different tack. In Christianity today there is a diverse set of ways to look at the Bible, with inerrantists saying that everything it says is true, and the most liberal Christians describing it as myth. Ernie seems to be somewhere in the middle, based on statements like "... I find the Bible generally useful in an 'illustrative' way" and "I merely trust that they describe a genuine reality in a mostly reliable and honest way, as the starting point for my personal observations."

While I was still trying to decide whether I could continue to believe or not, one concern that I had was with the development of the Bible. When Paul says in II Timothy 3:16 that "all scripture is God-breathed" (NIV) or "inspired by God" (NASB), what scripture was he talking about? Many of the epistles and perhaps all of the Gospels had not even been written when Paul wrote this. (Or did he really write it? Perhaps not.) And we know of many other gospels and epistles that were written but were not included in what became the Bible as we know it today. None of the New Testament was considered scripture before about 150 A.D. There are still multiple canons accepted by different churches around the world.

In addition, by the second century A.D. there were already various branches of Christianity forming, the Gnostics being (I suppose) the most well-known of the supposed heretics. Each group promoted different writings as authoritative, of course. What eventually became the orthodox church "won" the battle for supremacy. Of course, if a different group had come out on top, that would have been orthodox and the losers, including the forerunners of modern Christianity, would have been the heretics. How was this battle won? Should we believe that the one group was inspired by God and so could be trusted? Even when the means of victory included, perhaps even relied upon, the violent suppression of opposing viewpoints?

And what of church authorities that explicitly condoned deceitfulness as a means of promoting Christianity? For instance, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century, titles a chapter in one of his books "How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived". St. Jerome wrote "To confute the opposer, now this argument is adduced and now that. One argues as one pleases, saying one thing while one means another." (These and many other examples are described in Forgery in Christianity.)

I have already described a variety of problems with Matthew that I believe justify describing it as intentionally deceitful. The authorship of all four gospels and many of the epistles (as I mentioned early) is highly questionable. The Old Testament has significant problems as well. While this is more of a problem for inerrantists than for more liberal readers, the terms "reliable" and "honest" are not ones I would choose to describe them.


Future Geek said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog.

You have a good grasp of the New Testament, but have you read "Who Wrote the Bible" by Richard Friedman? It's a very good book about the historical origins of the Old Testament. You might dig it.

Keep it up.

Alan Lund said...

Thanks for stopping by. I have seen several recommendations for that book, but I have not read it yet. So many books, so little time.