I few years ago, I wrote a short book, more as a research project than anything else. It was called “Sins of the Father“. I wrote it under the pseudonym of Thomas, as in, the doubter. It is Kindle only, so do not purchase it if you do not have a way to read Kindle content. I am researching my next couple of projects, so I will take a break from writing. However, I thought I would release the text of that book, one chapter at a time until I am ready to start my next series. Enjoy.
Bearing False Witness
The witness of the Christian god is wrapped up completely in the testimony of scripture. That means that in order to have an accurate understanding of god, we need to have and accurate understanding of the bible. If our holy book bears false witness, then we have no hope of knowing and pleasing god. We just as well throw babies in active volcanos hoping to satisfy the unknowable deity. For the Jew as well as the Christian, it is the bible or nothing.
I accuse the god of the bible of not giving us a reliable record of his written word. If he gave exact words for us to read and follow, he did not preserve those words and we are left to make our best guess. I accuse him of not using a more reliable way of communicating his message of life and death. I refuse to be held accountable for a law that was not made clear and accessible. I accuse the god of the bible of offering, at best, a confusing, and at worse, false witness. I present the next three chapters as my case against the bible.
By Inspiration of God
I guess it is inevitable that here is where I am compelled to begin. After all, there is no Christianity without a clear and abiding mandate from God. There can apparently be no such mandate without the sacred writings that constitute the word of God. I say apparently because it is not the obvious first choice. It seems the bible was written during a time when most people could not read. This ensured that most people would be receiving the word of God through some type of intermediary. Someone would have to be assigned the task of reading the holy words. The bible itself describes no such office.
Ironically, the written word records god’s messages being transmitted by special men and women to whom god miraculously spoke. These prophets would then declare God’s words to the illiterate populous. Only once did god personally write or dictate a sacred document: the Ten Commandments. Even those commands were not copied and handed out to the people in written form. They were spoken aloud and memorized by the people. God’s mighty deeds were told and retold as stories that could be easily remembered and passed on. When the Jewish bible refers to the word of god, it is not referring to a written word. It is not referring to the bible.
Also conspicuously absent from the bible is a definition of the bible. Today, we think of the bible as a sacred collection of sixty-six separate writings by a number of writers over the course of a few thousand years. Never does one of these writings self identify as a sacred text of God. Each writing claims many things that are highly suspect. None claim to be the bible, or any part of the bible. Canonicity is entirely an act of man. To believe otherwise requires the first of many leaps of faith.
God did not claim to write any books or compile a canon of scriptures. Nowhere in the canon can one find instructions on compiling a canon. There is no passage that tells us who’s writings are to be considered sacred. We know that the apostle Paul wrote many letters that are not a part of our canon. Why do we believe that the letters we have are the letters intended to be read as scripture? The letters themselves give no such indication, nor do the letters of any other biblical writer. The writer of 2 Peter believes that Paul’s letters are scripture, but which letters? It does not say. If we say that all of Paul’s letters are scripture, then we must admit that our Bible is incomplete. We are missing some sacred words of god. If we think we have the only letters that qualify as scripture, then we must come up with some explanation that makes these scripture and not the others.
The classic explanation (and the only one I know of) is that god in his infinite wisdom, oversaw the canonization process and made sure that the right books made it into the canon. I find this reasoning to be more than a little circular. What it is arguing is that we know we have the proper canon of god because it is the canon we have. If we had a different set of books, then that would be the canon. We have what we have and therefore must believe that it is what God intended us to have.
All of that presupposes that all the books in the canon are exactly what they claim to be. I do not presuppose that. In fact, I have serious doubts about the authenticity of many of the books we blindly accept. We know a great deal more about spotting fakes than did the early church fathers. Of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul, fully six of them are considered deuteropauline because they are hotly disputed by many scholars as written by followers of Paul after his death. Would you like to guess which books those are? Ephesian, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus are all under suspicion of fraud. I do not believe you have to be a scholar to come to the same conclusions. I have come to suspect that most of the New Testament is not what it claims to be.
The picture does not get any better in the Old Testament: the doctrinal foundation of the New Testament. If you ask most people who wrote the Pentateuch, they are likely to give you a blank stare. If you ask them who wrote the books of Moses, they bright ones will tell you Moses wrote the books of Moses. In fact, the ones who gave you the blank look are probably the brighter of the two. More and more conservative scholars have come to believe that Moses did not actually write the books of the torah. They are believed to be a conflation of several sources compiled 800 years after Moses died.
The torah is presented as something that was handed down by god to Moses. If it is not exactly that, then it is exactly a fraud. What do Jewish scholars do with this information? They do the same thing that Christian scholars do with it. They claim that though the writings are not necessarily as they are presented, they are still in some way divinely inspired by god. In other words, do not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. Everything in the bible is divinely inspired by god. That is our story and we’re sticking to it.
It seems to me that if god wanted to pass down a lot of very detailed information to a preliterate society, he would have implanted his words directly in their minds for the sake of clarity and perfect recall. Instead, the best option he could come up with was a lengthy book composed of many lengthy and complex writings that were subject to degradation, errors common to copying by hand, and the ravages of time. The all powerful god who hangs life and death on his words has given us his words in a way that assures we can never know exactly what they were.
“But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” (Matt 4:4 NLT-SE)
As a child growing up in the church, this was one of many verses that was drilled into my head. Never mind what this verse really means. What matters is how it was interpreted. I was taught that this was one of many verses that demonstrates the importance of every word of the bible. God spoke every word of scripture and every word is what we must live on. We are not to add or subtract any of his sacred words. If we did, among other bad things, we would be stricken from the book of life. (Great, another book.) Well, there you have it. The bible represents the exact words of god as he handed them down to the various writers. Fine. Only one question: which bible? Is it the King James 1611, or the NIV?
I know, I know, these are only translations of the one true bible. That one true bible with the true and complete words of god was not written in our language. Therefore, it was necessary to translate the bible into something that we could understand. The translations themselves are more or less the same. The problem is they are not at all the same. The different translations have many irreconcilable differences. Between the different translations, words, phrases, and whole verses are left out. In many other occasions, different words were used that convey different meanings. There are many examples of this type of dissimilarity. Just google it.
Of course this is not the most interesting problem with the words of the bible. By far, the most interesting thing is that we do not have the words of the bible. We do not have any original copies of the sacred text that god somehow dictated and handed down to the writers. Such autographs do not exist. What we have are thousands of apographs. These are the copies. Unfortunately, we do not have any complete copies of the entire bible. Mostly what we have are fragments containing parts of the bible that we have pieced together. Remember, there was no canon. That would have to wait until well into the fourth century.
Further complicating the matter is that the copies do not agree. It is not that one of the copies is correct and we just have to figure out which one it is. The task is even more impossible. There is no correct copy. We have to figure out what the correct text should be by comparing all the corrupted texts. Indeed, the texts are corrupt if off by only one letter of one word. The inspired word of god has to be as perfect as the one who inspired it. If it is imperfect, then it is not the perfect word of God. Well, the texts we have are not perfect. (Houston, we have a problem.)
Again, I suggest you google for results. The textual variants are both numerous and significant. I underscore this because many would like to dismiss the problem of textual variants by claiming that they are few and insignificant. This is just flat out wrong. Dare I call it a bare faced lie. As I have stated, even one misquote of the holy word of god is enough to corrupt it. That is what conservatives have been teaching for years. Every word matters. When it comes to textual variants, we are not talking about one, or scores, or hundreds. We are talking thousands. Even if most of them are common spelling errors, they are still proven to be mistakes of men, not words of god.
But the types of variants go well beyond inconsequential misspellings. There are many that change the meaning of the text. Some even change whole doctrines. In many cases, we have no idea what was originally written. We are taking our best, scholarly guess. Sometimes we guess well, sometimes not. The point is god is not guiding us to one conclusion or another. We are guessing and our guesses are not in any way, shape, form, or fashion, inspired. I know this because we keep refining our guesses and experts do not agree. God has not chosen to call out any of the textual traditions as his inspired work.
The conclusion to all of this is that god’s perfect, inspired word does not exist. Whether it ever existed is a matter of another one of those massive leaps of faith. For me, it is academic. If this inspired word ever existed, it doesn’t exist now. Even the most conservative, credible teachers have to admit that we are dealing in the realm of “close enough.” Well I was not taught the close enough doctrine. I was taught the absolute verbal plenary inspiration doctrine. Whatever doctrine is correct, that one is most certainly wrong. We do not have the words of God. We have the words of men. The question now is are any of those words inspired.