(This piece started out with a long conversation and a challenge. My friend, Andrew and challenged each other to come up with a list of at least five items that in our opinions, would have served the bible well to include. There are a couple of things common between the lists. Rather than combine the lists as if they were written by one hand, I will include both in their entirety. His contribution will follow the subheading, Addendum
What would it have taken to have kept me on as a believer instead of the enemy of religions faith that I have become? It’s an interesting question, and one that I fully intend to explore in more detail. Consider this the first of several such posts. For me, the main tool for belief is the bible. In my faith experience, the bible turned out to be a critical point of failure. Had I been raised Catholic, I would have a couple of fallback positions when the bible proved unreliable. But instead, I was razed to believe that the bible was the inerrant word of God, and the only authority on which right thinking faith should be based. Perhaps if the bible had a few more chapters, it would not have failed me.
The chapter on the virgin birth
Only two of the biblical writers bother to mention the virgin birth. Neither of them was the first writer. The only person who would have known about that birth would have been Mary. She wrote no books, nor dictated any in her name. Luke would not have known her. And it seems highly unlikely that she would have confided in Matthew, but not John: the beloved apostle who was like a son to her. Yet even the clearly fabricated details about the birth are rather sparse. What was it like to be physically entered by the Holy Spirit? Did she get pleasure from the experience. Joseph sure had a lot to live up to after that. The Catholics solve the problem by suggesting that he never tried, and that Mary remained a virgin, despite the other kids the bible says she had.
How long did the pregnancy last? Did she have morning sickness? Was it a painful birth? Was there a need for any recovery time. Inquiry minds want to know. More than any of those things, it seems like those closest to the situation would have found that miraculous birth something worth writing about. Neither Paul, Peter, John, nor James seemed to know anything about it, or if they did, didn’t think it was very important. Consider the implications of the story. If there was no virgin birth, then Jesus was just another man, in no way a god-man. Christianity as we know it ends right there. Resurrection is a neat trick to be sure, but it had already been done several times before. Literally born of God seed, now that’s a miracle worth writing about. The apostles could have spent a little time on that event.
The Chapter on Paul’s time with Jesus
Paul casually mentions that he spent time with Jesus after his ascension. It was done in the space of a couple of verses, and left us guessing about key details. Was it in Arabia? Was it over the course of three years? Was anyone else present, or was Paul the only one who saw Jesus in this second incarnation? Paul’s authority for considering himself an apostle was based on him being taught by Jesus directly. I would think that Jesus coming back to earth for the purpose of teaching one man the ropes would be pretty big news.
How did the apostles who had been with Jesus take this news? According to Paul, they were cool with it. None of them asked for any corroboration or proof of this encounter. None of the other writers ever discussed the time when Jesus came back to earth to make a new apostle. Even Paul never mentions any details about it. Paul also never produces any notes he may have taken in that three years of having the Lord’s undivided attention? What questions did he ask, and what answers did Jesus give? Did Jesus really spend all that time teaching Paul about church organization? At the very least, we could use another chapter or two on that.
The Chapter on the Great Resurrection
In one verse, Matthew drops the equivalent of an atom bomb that left no reverberations. In one verse, he tells us everything we will ever know about an event that took place after the resurrection of Jesus. In Jerusalem, the graves opened and gave up their dead. Oh, and the temple curtain was torn when Jesus died. It seems Mark, the first gospel writer heard about the temple curtain, but knew nothing about the Great Resurrection. As it happens, neither did anyone else. Save for one verse, the bible is completely silent on this event. I’m pretty sure the city would have been packed with visitors there fro passover. How is it that the apostles heard about the resurrection of Jesus, but heard nothing about the resurrection of all of Jerusalem’s dead?
There is no indication that they were taken into Heaven, or were sent back to their graves. You just have a bunch of people who were dead, and now they were not. Paul should have had at least one companion he introduced as, “my friend who arose from the grave just a few years ago”. Is it possible that not one of these people became disciple of note? None of them ever presented themselves before the courts and got into trouble with the conservatives? Not one of them ever rated a mention by any of the people who contributed to the bible? Really? Really?
The chapter about what it was like to hang around Jesus
If you spent three years with Jesus, especially the last three years of his life during the most important time of his life, do you think you may have snapped a few candids, or shared a few stories? Apparently, none of the apostles did. Paul was supposed to have spent time with Jesus. Yet there is no mention of personal details about the time they spent together. Peter, John, and James are equally silent on the life and adventures of their friend. We know that Paul had a favorite belt and a favorite coat. Why don’t we know this about Jesus. Did Paul really think the world would care more about his personal life than that of Jesus?
James, the brother of Jesus, fills all of zero pages with his fond remembrances of the time he spent with his big brother. It seems natural that James would have at least recounted the time when he came to believe in his brother as Lord and Christ. Perhaps they had one conversation that would prove inspirational. The book of James is not written like it came from someone who grew up in the same house as Jesus. At the least, this represents a few missing chapters.
The chapter that explains what happens next
In a rare fit of straightforwardness, Jesus explains to his disciples what to expect from the end times. The explanation leave no doubt that he was talking about events that would happen in their lifetimes. The only problem is that their lifetimes came and went without the return of the Son of Man. There are apostolic writings that hint at their belief that the end would come in their lifetimes. Some of Paul’s followers were taken by this question, and were led to believe that the end would be soon, perhaps in their lifetimes. Amazingly, we’re still here, and they’re not.
There was no Christian bible at the time. It was decades after the death of Jesus before anyone started writing about the events of his life. No one was left with any clear instruction, or provided any useful expectations. The bible closes without addressing the end of miracles or apostolic succession. Did James and Peter have apprentices? What would be the criteria for replacing them? Were they supposed to be replaced? When he original church planters died out, were there to be more churches planted? By whom? How? Knowing that the religion would be around for at least another two-thousand years, why is there no addendum for the people at various future times? Some instructions on not going through with the Inquisition would have been nice.
We are left with a closed canon, and nowhere to go from there. With only the bible to follow, we are bound by the temporal nature of its instructions. We are left with instructions on what they were supposed to do in particular situations relevant only to them. We have no guidance on how to do church in the 21st century. There is no chapter on smooth transitions from one generation of leadership to another. It would have been nice to believe that the bible was timeless and forward-thinking.
The Bible: The Forever Missing Manual
In the information technology arena, there is a popular series with the subtitle “The Missing Manual”. These books provide insight into products whose manuals are either missing or incomplete. While it is not at all politic to ask what is missing from the bible, it is instructive to consider elements that are not found. The following list contains elements that I believe should be included to make the story compelling to individuals.
What Did James Know?
As the brother of Jesus, James had a unique perspective on the figure of the King of the Jews. What do we not find? James does not record any event leading up to the ministry of Jesus. There is no discussion of leaving home, how Jesus’ parents would be impacted, no talk of coping with potential hardship, nor of the desire to recruit and dangers of recruiting others to the divine plan. After the resurrection, James does not record a tender moment between brothers stolen during the doubtless tumultuous period of days before the ascension. It might be argued that these moments were not critical or would not have contained material essential to salvation. However, treatment of family, coping with hardship, and the meaning of the resurrection and its importance cannot be overlooked. Without these topics, what would be left in the bible. Well, the remainder would be a list of vast atrocities that defy explanation.
What Was Missing at the Cross?
John 21:25 leaves us with the knowledge that much more about the life of Jesus is not know than that which is known. That is, the world could not contain the books needed to describe all his life and works. Surely however, Christianity would benefit from the Psalms of Jesus or the Proverbs of Christ. Without these, generations of Christians identify more with Paul, Peter, and James than Jesus. Surely the Teachers words are more to be valued than the student.
We Have Teaching Without Structure.
The area of Biblical hermeneutics is mirky and vague, particularly as it pertains to the New Testament though the Old Testament cannot be said to be clear. We have in Romans 1 a list of sins, We have in Revelation a list of churches. We have in Timothy a list of qualifications for elders. Where is our list of principles for interpretation? Give us a discrete list for systematic theology. We want but cannot “rightly divide” the holy word.
The Words of the Father Are Missing.
As the earthly father of Jesus, we know nothing of Joseph. While he is not the biological father, according to tradition, of Jesus, he was found adequate to the earthly task and apparently proved himself so when Mary was found pregnant. Today, we have an entire generation of young people in this circumstance. The challenges here are unique and the words of Joseph would benefit the world. God must have known this “in the beginning”.