Kernels of Truth
Man Behind the Curtain
The man behind the curtain is an allusion to a plot point in the Wizard of Oz. (Spoiler alert!) As it turns out, there was no wizard. There was only a little man using a complicated apparatus to create the illusion of a big voice and magical powers. In other words, he was a fraud. When his deception was uncovered and revealed for what it truly was, he used his phony, godlike voice to say, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
As it happened, the fake wizard did end up speaking a lot of truth. That happened only after his fraud was exposed. He stopped speaking as a wizard and started presenting himself as the mere man that he was. Only then, did the adventurers find what they were seeking.
Such is the case with the bible
To get the most out of the bible and discover the nuggets of truth it holds, we must reveal the frauds and pay close attention to the men behind the curtain. The call to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain is the same as calling for blind faith. What the false wizard was really asking them to do was to have faith in spite of the evidence of their eyes to the contrary.
The purveyors of this fraud, I believe for the most part, are not doing it intentionally. They, themselves, have completely bought into the fraud. They have put on the blinders of faith and expect us to do the same. They have conditioned us to ignore and reject out of hand anything that questions our foundational beliefs. The bible, itself has built-in safeguards to keep the flock in line.
“For I say to every man to whose ears have come the words of this prophet’s book, If any man makes an addition to them, God will put on him the punishments which are in this book: And if any man takes away from the words of this book, God will take away from him his part in the tree of life and the holy town, even the things which are in this book” (Rev 22:18-19 BBE)
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, were to be a preacher to you of good news other than that which we have given you, let there be a curse on him. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man is a preacher to you of any good news other than that which has been given to you, let there be a curse on him” (Gal 1:8-10 BBE)
“I am conscious that after I am gone, evil wolves will come in among you, doing damage to the flock; And from among yourselves will come men who will give wrong teaching, turning away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-31 BBE)
There are many others but these are sufficient. One of the greatest dangers for the Christian is to listen to a dissenting voice. Paul was so concerned that others would come in after him and teach something different that he even warns the people not to listen to an angel from heaven. There are actually Christians that would unceremoniously turn away an angel from heaven because he said something different from Paul’s teaching. God would be wasting his time by coming down to earth to set the record straight because brainwashed Christians wouldn’t listen to him.
Who wants to run the risk of having plagues of the bible added to them, or having their future reward taken away? Who wants to be labeled as a wolf among the sheep? Preachers fresh out of seminary must be very careful about what they teach because anything that sounds like a new teaching could get them labeled as a false teacher. A word to the wise for new preachers, if the congregation will not listen to an angel from heaven, they most certainly will not listen to you.
To make matters worse, there is a bias against anyone who might know enough to challenge the status quo. Scientists are fools. Philosophers know only the wisdom of man. Doctors trust only medicine, not god. According to Jesus and James, the poor are the righteous ones while the rich are the oppressors. According to Paul, an intellect, intellectuals could not understand the truth as well as simple people can. If someone raises a question that is too difficult to answer…
“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (2Tim 2:23 KJVS)
And when confronted with facts that we can no longer avoid and cannot see any way to deal with them that does not compromise our faith, we are to hold on to our faith because…
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb 11:1-3 NIV)
I grew up somewhat contemptuous of college and college educated people because of all the lies they would try to teach me. They would tell me that the universe was not created in the exact manner described in Genesis 1. They would tell me lies about the bible and try to destroy my faith because they themselves had no faith and didn’t want anyone else to have any either. They were foolish and I was wise. What did I need them for?
I was the model of faith. My feet were planted firmly on a rock. I could not be moved. Whenever anyone tried to expose the man behind the curtain, I paid no attention. I squeezed my eyes and ears shut, clicked my heels three times, and I was safely back in my own little world where nothing could shake my faith.
Eventually, I started noticing the man behind the curtain more often. I would only glance at him from the corner of my eye. It was many years before I drew the courage to look at him square on. Now, I see him for what he is, and there is no unseeing him.
Beyond the Curtain
When the dog in the Wizard of Oz exposed the fraud, the adventurers were quite shocked at what they found beyond the curtain. They did not find the workings of a god. They found the apparatus of a man. To be sure, it was an impressive apparatus. Still, it was only a machine, not magic. When we pull back the bible’s curtain, what will we see?
We will see lot’s of men and their apparatus.
We will see men like Luther and Calvin who spent their lives trying to explain the message of the bible. These men were not inspired or directed by god, at least not to their knowledge. They were mere men who acted as men by the authority of men. They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god. They, and men like them had to figure out what the bible was trying to say, then pass that information on to other men. They were sometimes wrong. That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.
We will see men like Marcion, Irenaeus, and Eusebius. These were men who worked tirelessly to establish a set of texts and codify them as scripture. They had no commission from god to do this work. Yet they had a passion, and believed it necessary for the establishment of orthodoxy, for all believers to be on the same page, as it were.
For centuries after the time of Jesus, no one had a compilation of scripture that was just like any other person’s compilation. There were many writings read in the early church that did not make it into the canon centuries later. There were other books that were rejected by the early church that, after a few centuries, did finally make it in. The men who were instrumental in establishing the canon all had theological axes to grind. Naturally, they chose writings that favored their position while excluding those that didn’t.
These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way. They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god. They, and men like them had to figure out what should and should not be considered scripture. They were sometimes wrong. That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.
We will see men like Erasmus, Estienne, and Hort. These are men who devoted their lives to wading through the thousands of copies of manuscripts that make up the bible and trying to figure out what the original documents might have said. This was, and is, no small task. They had to read through hand-copied manuscripts made by people of varying degrees of skill and literacy. Before the printing press, no two copies of the bible were exactly the same. God’s holy and divine word did not just drop from the sky in pristine condition. Nor was it preserved for all generations to read and adore.
Instead, it required men who were wealthy and inclined to spend that wealth on bringing some order to badly corrupted texts. These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way. They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god. They, and men like them had to figure out what words were inspired and which were errors of men. They were sometimes wrong. That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.
We will see men like Jenner, Blahoslav, and Williamson. These are just a few of the men who devoted their lives to providing us with an accurate translation of the bible in the native language of people around the world.
What would the Dakota Indians do without a bible they could understand? What of the Romanians, the Turks, the Brazilians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Zulus? How could they learn of the Judaeo–Christian god and his ordinances? For that matter, what of the English speaking world? What of you? It required men with the vision and passion for providing the bible in the language of every tribe and nation.
These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way. They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god. They, and men like them had to figure out what words to use so that men of every tongue could know the words of the lord. They were sometimes wrong. That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.
We will see men like Ambrose, Athanasius, and Clement. These were a few of the men who gave us the important doctrines of the faith. For centuries, the church went without formalized statements and formulas for important doctrines. People were forming beliefs about doctrinal matters without the guidance and sanction of the church. This was and is a formula for chaos.
Enter the church fathers who codified doctrines such as the trinity, the dual nature of Jesus as fully god and fully human, the sacraments of the church, purgatory, ecclesiology, and pretty much everything else that was not exactly spelled out in scripture.
These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way. They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god. They, and men like them had to figure out which teachings were orthodox and which were heresy. They were sometimes wrong. That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.
We see men like the patriarchs, prophets and apostles. What are we to make of them?
Who are the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles? They are the holy men of the bible. Their stories and legends make up the foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith. When you speak of Moses, Isaiah, and Peter, you are talking about god. For the Jews, if Moses said it, god said it. Later, the words of the prophets gained the same sacred status. For the Christian, it is blasphemy to suggest that the apostle Paul was wrong about something he taught or believed. It would be the same as saying that god was wrong.
In a way, all of these men are priests. A priest is a human intermediary between man and god. All religions require the devotees of the faith to go through some man to get to god. If one could go directly to god without an intermediary, then it would not be a religion. The very fact that there is a religion replete with doctrines and boundaries means that someone has to define it and present it to the people.
That sounds a lot like the job description of a prophet. A prophet is essentially the voice of god spoken through a human vessel. Priests enable access to god by men. Prophets allow access to men by god. In the end, they are both the same. You cannot worship god without doing certain things. For most religions those things must be done or blessed by god’s human representatives. You cannot know what to do to please god if god does not tell you. Since he does not speak directly to you, you must get your information second hand from a prophet.
Even the Christian does not have direct access to god as we claim. We have to hire clergymen to deliver and interpret gods laws. These clergymen deliver the sacraments such as marriage, baptism, and communion. We are just as dependent on holy men as any other religion. Just do a casual search for church budgets on Google. You will find that regardless of the size and geographic location of the church, the clergyman is the number one expense. This is true across all demographics. There is little wonder tithing is one of the favorite subjects of preachers.
The holy men of the bible were even more important than the holy men of today. Their words and actions were considered to be inspired by god. As such, what they did and said is sacred, authoritative, and binding. Even their mistakes are covered under the aegis of sacred infallibility. Rather than look at an obvious error and conclude that it was an obvious human error, we conduct rigorous mental gymnastics to reframe the error so that it is no longer an error.
I have read countless examples of biblical errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, disharmonies, and mistakes, along with the accompanying tortured explanations as to why those examples are nothing more than a misunderstanding of god’s superior wisdom. I have learned that it is possible to harmonize any biblical discrepancy. All you need is a predisposition to the notion that biblical holy men can never be wrong. All you need is faith.
The problem with the reliance on holy men is it gives them too much power. A person who convinces others that he is god’s representative can define religion for his generation. Better yet, if a person invents a holy man, that person can define religion by crediting it to the legendary holy man. That way one can define religion without suffering the martyr’s death.
So what of the holy men of the bible. In the next chapter, we will turn our attention to discovering more about them and the books that were written in their name.
There is much more to say about the problems with the bible. I will say some of it in the following chapters. There are many books and articles on the subject and I highly recommend you read them. They will go into much more detail than what I have briefly touched on here.
My goal in these last three chapters is not to get you to throw away your bibles never to read them again. Rather, I want you to understand that which you read. The bible is not a magic book. It was not written by god. It was not assembled by god. It was not edited by god. It was not translated by god. The original words were not even preserved by god. You believe that it was still, in some way, inspired by god simply because it says so. When it said that, it was not even referring to much of what we think of as the bible today. Also, there is a good chance that the very passage in question was a forgery, not at all written by anyone we think of as inspired.
To get the most out of the bible, we have to throw off the idea of it being some sort of magic book. It was written by a variety of people from a variety of places over a large amount of time. We cannot begin to understand it without some serious dedication to scholarship. That is not to say that it is not worth it to put in the scholastic effort. It is. There are fascinating stories that give us insight into how some of the ancient people tried to understand and relate to god. Some of their struggles and solutions can surely serve to inform us today.
As for claims of its supernatural origins, it is not unique. All religions that have holy books claim similar supernatural origins. A holy book with holy men that does not claim to be from god is not worth reading. However, I, and most of you do not believe in other holy books that claim to be from god. Why not? They all speak of miraculous events to verify their authenticity. What sets the bible apart from all the others. I guarantee that the vast majority of Christians cannot answer that question without an appeal to faith. Well that is no longer good enough for me. Everyone has faith in their holy book. We have to have more.
It is often said that the bible is the only book that is internally consistent. Considering all the writers and places and time covered in the bible, a mere human book would contain mistakes. Well, the bible does contain mistakes, and lots of them. It is said that fulfilled prophecy proves the bible’s authenticity. Prophecy is a slippery eel to catch. I have learned that any prophecy can be shown to have been fulfilled with the proper interpretation. The endless debates over eschatology are proof that even Christians do not agree on exactly what prophecy means. I am convinced that much of what the prophets said had nothing to do with making predictions for the distant future. Their concern was with the people of their own day. Their message was contemporary, not futuristic.
Whither, then, is the evidence for the bible’s authenticity as a sacred book sent from heaven? Remove faith from the equation, and there is none. One might argue that the longevity and proliferation of the bible is evidence enough. Others may point to the changed lives resulting from the adherence to its teachings. Still others may point to anecdotal stories of miracles that they have experienced first hand.
All of these observations are valid if true. But for me, they are not true. There are other religions that are spread just as far and wide as Christianity. Adherence to the teachings of the bible can have positive results. But some teachings in the bible can result in just the opposite. How many wars have been fought and people killed as a result of some group trying to follow the dictates of scripture. As for changed lives, mine is no better than most atheists. Bible believers seem to be just as likely to have divorce, drug addiction, and depression. Talk of miracles all you like, I have yet to see or experience one that could only be an act of god as opposed to a natural occurrence.
Absent any tangible evidence that the bible is anything more than a book of manmade origin, all I can do is examine its message to see if there is some redeeming truth that survives the corruption of the human process.