• The Bible: An Expose: Scriptures Galore

    In the last piece about the bible’s history I alluded to the fact that there were numerous manuscripts. For the first three centuries of Christianity’s history all the manuscripts were copied by unskilled copyists. Only after this period did trained scribes enter into the picture and begin copying the many manuscripts, reducing the number of errors in the copies. [1] During these first few centuries of Christianity’s development there were multiple “Christianities” and not all of the mistakes in the manuscripts were accidental copyist errors, which make up the vast majority of differences between the surviving manuscripts that we’ve uncovered. [2] Even ancient Christian writers, such as Origen, complained about the many differences between copies of the texts:

    The third-century church father Origen, for example, once registered the following complaint about the copies of the Gospels at his disposal:

    The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. [3]

    The various groups of Christianity disagreed with one another about the “original” doctrines and beliefs of Christianity, and many changes to the texts were due to theological differences, not just copyist errors, which often caused enough problems by itself. Add the fact that many Christians changed the texts to make them agree with their own views and this poses even more problems. Given this fact, it may be impossible to uncover the “original” Christianity.

    The various beliefs of “Christians” during the second and third centuries were highly diverse, and each claimed to be following the “true” teachings of Jesus and his followers. There was no “agreed-upon” canon or scripture, only “diverse groups asserting diverse theologies based on diverse written texts, all claiming to be written by apostles of Jesus.” To quote Bart Ehrman again,

    In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed that there was only one God, the Creator of all there is. Other people who called themselves Christian, however, insisted that there were two different gods – one of the Old Testament (a God of wrath) and one from the New Testament (a God of love and mercy). There were not simply two different facets of the same God: they were actually two different gods. Strikingly, the groups that made these claims […] insisted that their views were the true teachings of Jesus and his apostles. Other groups, for example, of Gnostic Christians, insisted that there were not just two gods, but twelve. Others said thirty. Others still said 365. All these groups claimed to be Christian, insisting that their views were true and had been taught by Jesus and his followers. [4]

    Other views about Jesus were just as diverse as about god. Ehrman writes,

    Some of these groups insisted that Jesus Christ was the one Son of God who was both completely human and completely divine; other groups insisted that Christ was completely human and not at all divine; others maintained that he was completely divine and not at all human; and yet, others asserted that Jesus Christ was two things – a divine being (Christ) and a human being (Jesus). Some of these groups believed that Christ’s death brought about the salvation of the world; others maintained that Christ’s death had nothing to do with the salvation of this world; yet other groups insisted that Christ had never actually died. [5]

    As Ehrman explains about these various beliefs and about the eventual “winner” of these theological disputes:

    Each and every one of these viewpoints – and many others besides – were topics of constant discussion, dialogue, and debate in the early centuries of the church, which Christians of various persuasions tried to convince others of the truth of their own claims. Only one group eventually “won out” in these debates [and decided what Christians from then on would forever believe about Jesus, how many, and which, books would make it into the New Testament and be considered authoritative, etc.]. [6] [7]

    Many beliefs that Christians take for granted today where hotly disputed topics and were not considered part of the canon and were not included into the list of “sacred” scriptures of several early sects of Christianity. The above examples about the number of gods and the divinity of Jesus are two examples. The trinity is another example of Christian disagreement. The passage in question is 1 John 5:7-8: “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one.” (Ehrman’s translation) This is one passage in the bible that clearly affirms the doctrine of the trinity but this passage was not originally there. It originally said the following: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one.” A Christian scribe manufactured the former passage to make it in accordance with his beliefs and it was from then on included in future copies of this gospel because scribes unknowingly copied the change. [8]

    One final example of a belief that many Christians take for granted is one that is widely accepted by Catholics: the belief that all sexual intercourse must be open to procreation. No contraceptives allowed. There seemed to be disagreement about this view, however. A Gospel of the Egyptians “apparently opposed the notion of procreative sex.” [9] This lost gospel survives in fragments and is partially preserved in the writings of an early church father, Clement of Alexandria. This gospel is said to be Jesus speaking with one of his female disciples, Salome. The relevant portion of the gospel says the following, with Clement of Alexandria’s interpretation of the passage:

    Those who oppose God’s creation because of self-control – which at least sounds good – quote the words spoken to Salome, the first of which we have already mentioned, found, I think, in the Gospel according to the Egyptians. For they claim that the Savior himself said, “I have come to destroy the works of the female.” By “the female” he meant desire and by “works” he meant birth and degeneration. (Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 3, 63, 1) [10]

    Some of the books of the New Testament are thought to be forgeries; books, letters, that were not written by the people claimed. For example, scholars are in agreement that Paul didn’t write 2 Thessalonians. Other books that are believed not to have been written by the claimed author is 2 Peter. The same goes for Titus, which does not appear to have been written by Paul since he died long before it was written. [11]

    Some may argue that the books that were chosen to be placed in the canon were wisely hand picked by numerous learned theologians and scholars and they are indeed truly inspired scriptures and do indeed represent the “correct” set of beliefs. There is a huge problem with this argument, however. The criteria that was used to decide which scriptures were canonical and which ones were not was entirely arbitrary. To quote Christian apologist Josh McDowell,

    We don’t know exactly what criteria the early church used to choose the canonical books. There were possible five guiding principles used to determine whether or not a New Testament book is canonical or Scripture. Geisler and Nix record these five principles:

    1. Is it authoritative – did it come from the hand of GOD? (Does this book come with a divine “thus saith the LORD?)

    2. Is it prophetic – was it written by a man of GOD?

    3. Is it authentic? (The fathers had the policy of “if in doubt, throw it out.” This enhanced the “validity of their discernment of canonical books.”)

    4. Is it dynamic – did it come with the life-transforming power of GOD?

    5. Was it received, collected, read and used – was it accepted by the people of GOD? [12]

    Each of these categories are entirely arbitrary. To quote Gary Lenaire,

    There are problems with every one of the listed criteria. The first four categories are subjective judgments. We can’t know if a book is authoritative if we don’t know who the author is! We know the books are not prophetic because none of the alleged prophesies have been verified or proven to come true – absolutely none. We don’t know if a book is authentic because the manuscripts were written many years after the events were said to have occurred. How can we know if a book is dynamic? Dynamic is just another way of saying “lively” [and is a pointless criterion for determining truth]. […] The fifth criteria can be approached somewhat historically. There at [sic] least two problems in applying this to one’s faith, however. If you study how religious groups use a book, you are studying the conclusions reached by humans. The books they chose reflect their own religious views; this is another form of circular thinking. Naturally, they chose books that agreed with their particular religious group. We cannot know the perfect word of God by studying fallible humans, even if those humans are Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, or the Pope. [13]

    I’ve discussed a number of variations and writings of early Christianity and have shown that Christianity did not develop fully formed for several centuries. This came about after long and often heated disputes about the nature of Jesus, god, and morality, among many other subjects. The bible’s divine status has been exposed to be a falsity and the inerrancy of its doctrine shattered. These facts cast serious doubt upon the entire religion of Christianity. If we do not know what Jesus actually taught then the very thought of the religion of Christianity vanishes. There is no such thing as Christianity.

    1. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005; 71

    2. Ibid.; 55

    3. Ibid.; 52

    4. Ibid.; 152

    5. Ibid.;153

    6. Ibid.; 153-154

    7. Many of these diverse early Christian texts can be found in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 2003

    8. Misquoting Jesus; 81-82

    9. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2003; 14

    10. Lost Scriptures Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament, by Bart Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2003; 18

    11. Ibid.; 10-11

    12. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, Vol. 1, by Josh McDowell, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979; 29

    13. An Infidel Manifesto: Why Sincere Believers Lose Faith, by Gary Lenaire, Publish America, 2006; 90

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist