September 9, 2010

I Believe in the Bible (Mostly)

In previous posts, my beliefs are fairly consistent with traditional Christian beliefs. At a minimum, a Christian must believe in God and in Jesus.  Belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus are essential parts of the Christian belief for without these beliefs, neither God nor Jesus make any sense and we are practicing a false religion.  These are my basic beliefs from which I will not vary, can not deny. 

You will notice in prior posts, I reframe from quoting scriptures as “proof” of either God or Jesus.  It would be relatively easy for someone to advocate a belief in a certain religion if they only used a book they had written to prove the religion. The Christian New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament were written by humans with common religious beliefs. This does not negate the validity of their writings, but it would not be good scholarship to use what they have written to prove what they have written. Using a scripture that says, “God exists” can not be used to prove that God exists.

I believe in a creator God and a savior Jesus because of the non scriptural evidence that convinces me.  But
to move toward becoming a mature Christian, one must begin to examine more than the mere existence of God and Jesus.  Most of these additional aspects are matters of faith not provable with historical evidence.  Since most of our understanding of these matters of faith is found in the Old and New Testaments, the next step is to explore what I believe about the Bible.

On this point, I diverge from my more conservative Christian brothers and sisters.  They can quote scripture
such as the passage in Paul’s letter to Timothy, “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God...” (2 Timothy 3:16) They would say that God inspired every word in both the Old and New Testaments much the same way a manager dictates a letter to the secretary.  The secretary’s only job in this example is to record what the manager says, neither taking away any of the words and certainly not adding any words of their own.

In this belief, the Bible is seen as both an accurate, but not detail specific, historic record of the development of mankind and specifically the Hebrews in the Old Testament and as a personal account of the birth, ministry and death of Jesus and an accurate account of the spread of Christianity, focusing primarily on the life of the Apostle Paul in the New Testaments. Both the Old and the New Testaments also contain instructions on being a faithful Jew and being a faithful Christian.

While I believe the scriptures were inspired by God, I have a hard time believing they were dictated from God’s mouth to the writer’s hands.  You deserve some specifics of why I came to this conclusion.

            1. In Genesis, there are two creation stories.  The first is in Chapter 1. The second is in Chapter 2.               The sequence of creation is different in each. In Genesis 1:27 God creates both male and female. In Chapter 2:7, God creates man first and after a period of time creates the female, Genesis 2:22.
            2. The story of Cain and Abel has elements which suggest a good number of other people exist on the earth at the same time as Cain. In Chapter 4:14, Cain tells God, “...and whoever finds me will kill me.”  Chapter 4:16-17” So Cain went out from the presence of God and lived in the land of Nod, East of Eden.    Then Cain lay with his wife... Cain was then building a city...”  Where did these people come from? Where did Cain find a wife? Where did the workmen come from to help Cain build a city?
            3. In Exodus 12:37-38, the Israelites are said to number “about six hundred thousand men on foot, in addition to women and children.”  Most experts estimate the number of people to be close to two million.  The   population of Egypt at that time is estimated to have only been three million.  Such a lost of two-thirds of the population would have caused  devastation in Egypt.  There is no evidence of such a massive disruption          of the Egyptian culture.  There is no evidence in the Sinai peninsular of the movement of such a mass of people. Reliable estimates indicate a march of such a number of people if arranged ten abreast would have      stretched 150 miles. This number of people is equivalent to a city with a  population twice the size of the Nashville metro area. Communications   and control of this many people would be practically impossible.  Nor does the archeological evidence indicate the mass migration of two million people into the land of Canaan. I believe the event occurred in some fashion but nor in the scope reported in the Exodus.

            4. On a more human level, it is unlikely that translations and copies of translations could have been made with no mistakes or attempts to “clean   up” the text.  The texts used by the early translators were Greek texts translations from Hebrew and/or Arabic and subject to mistakes and misunderstanding of the meaning of words.. Since the official King James Version translation where the language was translated with a decidedly English bias, there have been hundreds of translations. We have seen the American Standard Version, the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Living Translation, the New King James Version and on and on.  All these “versions” attempt to provide a new and unique translation of the ancient texts.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the translations; except that each new version brings an increased risk that the original meanings will be distorted or that the new translators will feel the need to add to or subtract something from the text.

            5. In my New International Version NIV there is an entry before Mark 16:8. “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.”  This passage includes a slightly different version of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20.

            My NIV also has this comment in the gospel of John. “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53- 8:11.”  This is the famous story of the woman caught in adultery where Jesus tells the accusers, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

          The question remains unanswered, “Who added these passages to these Gospels?” An equally important question is, “Why?’ Perhaps there are other additions and deletions to the scriptures.

For these and other reasons, I do not believe in an error free Bible.  And the question now is, “Does this change how I read scripture and how I apply scripture? Can I still use the scriptures as a valuable resource in my attempt to develop a closer relationship to God and Jesus?”  Next posts, I will address these questions.

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