Category Archives: Bible

Variants in the New Testament

     Let’s face it–textual criticism is a boring topic.  Who wants to read a list of textual variants in the New Testament, especially since they number in the thousands?  The lay person, then, or the non-expert must rely on what he or she reads–usually in the popular media.  Unfortunately the popular media are not always good at reporting on complex subjects involving scholastic work.

For anyone interested, here are a few examples of actual textual variants in the New Testament.  You can judge for yourself what their significance is.

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In Revelation 1:5, some manuscripts read:

“. . .To him who loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood, . . .”

While others read:

“. . .To him who loved us and washed us from our sins by his blood, . . .”

The Greek words for freed and washed are similar, which might mean that a scribe could have misread the word or could have “corrected” it according to what he presumed the author meant or could have written it incorrectly from memory.

Does it matter?  The two versions mean roughly the same thing.  And in other passages of the Bible we find both the idea that Jesus freed us from our sins and the idea that he washed or cleansed us from our sins.  Therefore, neither reading contradicts other Bible passages.  Nor does either reading contradict any doctrine of the Christian faith. 

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In Philippians 2:30 some manuscripts read:

“. . .because he almost died for the work of Christ. . . .”

While others read:

“. . .because he almost died for the work of the Lord. . . .”

And others read:

“. . .because he almost died for the work of God. . . .”

And still others read:

“. . .because he almost died for the work. . . .”

Does it matter?  “The work” is obviously the work of God, and according to Christian doctrine, that would be the same as the work of Christ, since God and Christ are united.  Both Christ and God are called “Lord” in the New Testament, so that reading fits as well.

I’m no expert, but it seems possible that it originally had no divine name at the end but later scribes inserted one or another divine name to be more specific.  There are many variants of the New Testament in which a name has apparently been inserted where there was a pronoun or nothing before.  Far from “corrupting” the text, the scribes were trying to make it clearer, and they did so. 

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In Matthew 3:5, some manuscripts read:

“. . .People from Jerusalem went out to him. . .”

While others read:

“. . .The children of Jerusalem went out to him. . .”

And others read:

“. . .The Jerusalemites went out to him. . .”

And still others read:

“. . .All Jersualem went out to him. . .”

While the last one is a bit different in meaning from the others, all the versions are essentially the same.  The last one implies that every single Jerusalemite went out, which is probably an exaggeration.  The point is that none of the versions says the opposite–that nobody in Jerusalem went out to him.  None of the versions contradicts any Christian doctrine or any other passage in the Bible.

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The few examples above are how almost all of the textual variants of the New Testament are.  In many cases the correct reading (the one most likely to be original) can be determined, and textual critics have established criteria for determining it.  Sometimes it is a matter of how many manuscripts attest to a particular variant, how old the particular manuscripts are, or how reliable the particular manuscripts are.  It is even more complicated than that, however.  Only an expert can hope to make the determination.

Many of our modern English Bibles do the reader the service of indicating in footnotes or brackets when a variant reading exists.  It is not some secret that fndamentalist Christians know but don’t want anyone else to know.  Neither is it something that only liberal Bible scholars know and that fundamentalists are ignorant of.  It just doesn’t faze the fundamentalists or shake their faith in God or their faith in the Bible as God’s word.

Misleading the Public

If somebody wants to talk about the text of the Bible, then he or she should realize up front that it is a complex and complicated topic and full of nuance.  It is not just as simple as waving one’s hand and saying, “Well, after all, the text of the Bible was tampered with and the books of the Bible were selected by those in power.”  There is much more to it than that, and even the experts are not in agreement on many of the particulars.

Think of textual criticism in the same way that you think of economics or psychology.  Two “experts” can reach contradictory conclusions even though they are both well-trained and highly knowledgeable of the subject.  They bring to their studies a set of biases and presuppositions that color their findings.

I have this subject on my mind because a friend of mind mentioned that he is reading Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and that he finds it a “wonderful book.”  I disagree with him completely.  I think it is a terrible book–one that has the power to do much harm by misleading people. 

Ehrman is a former born-again, evangelical Christian who is now an agnostic.  He is a professor of religion who knows as much as, if not more than, anybody else about the subject of the text of the New Testament.  He has come to believe and to propagate the following ideas:

  1. Scribal errors have corrupted the text of the New Testament so much that it is impossible to treat it as authentic or reliable.
  2. Those Christians who held what was to become the orthodox version of Christianity inserted things in the New Testament to bolster their views.
  3. Other versions of Christianity were purposely stamped out, and their books were kept out of the Bible by those in power.
  4. Variants in the text make it impossible to discover anything close to the original text, which makes it impossible to discover anything close to the original intent of the authors.
  5. Without being able to determine what the original New Testament authors intended, it is impossible to claim that the Bible is God’s word and impossible to know if orthodox Christian doctrine matches it.

Other people, with more knowledge than I, have written reviews and critiques of Ehrman’s works that refute most of those points.  One good one is the book Misquoting Truth by Timothy Paul Jones.  Here is a quick run-down of some of the critiques of Ehrman’s works:

1.  Most, as in almost all, of the scribal errors are obvious and easy to correct.  They involve spelling errors, misuse of similar words (think of the difference between affective and effective), transposition of words, omission of words, and insertion of extra words.  The fact that these errors can be spotted also allows them to be corrected.  In fact, textual critics understand how and why such errors are made and have developed excellent techniques and methods for finding them and correcting them.  The discovery of more and more early manuscripts has helped a lot. 

2.  Most, as in almost all, of the variants are of little consequence to the reliability of the Bible or of the Christian faith.  For example, where some manuscripts have a pronoun he, others have the personal name Jesus.  In such a case, a later scribe decided to make the passage clearer by specifying the person speaking or acting.  Another example is the substitution of God for Lord or vice versa.  Obviously, these variants are not significant enough to debunk the Christian faith or to undercut the authenticity of the Bible.

3.  Even when there is a significant variation, such as in the last few verses of the Gospel of Mark, which might not have been in the original version, there is no destruction of the Christian faith.  Every Christian doctrine can still be supported by other passages in the New Testament.  The same holds true for the story of the woman caught in adultery, which might not have been a part of the original Gospel of John.  Its exclusion from the Bible would not eliminate a crucial passage for Christian orthodoxy.  In other words, if the disputed passages are removed, the orthodox Christian faith is still supported by what is left.

4.  There is no variant of any Bible passage that categorically contradicts a Christian tenet.  For example, there is no manuscript of the New Testament that contains a statement to the effect that there is no such thing as God or that Jesus did not really rise from the dead or that human beings do not really have a soul.

5.   The books of the Bible were not selected in the way that some people imagine.  It was not as if a king or a pope issued a decree and decided that among many rival books only 27 that he liked would be a part of the New Testament.  Rather certain books were highly respected and widely accepted by the majority of Christian leaders throughout the world for many years, and these books were eventually put together into the New Testament.  The books that were rejected were used by fringe groups and were not respected or accepted by most Christian leaders.

Probably the best way that I can rebut Ehrman’s arguments is to point out that lots of conservative scholars know all about the variants in the text of the New Testament.  They know all about the problems inherent in scribal transmission.  Yet, they retain their trust in the Bible and their faith in Jesus.  If Ehrman’s arguments were ironclad, lots of evangelical Bible scholars would renounce their faith and announce to the rest of the world that Christians have been wrong all along.  I’m not trying to prove that Ehrman is wrong, but only that he is not absolutely, unquestionably right.

Women in the Book of Exodus

During my recent retreat, we participants studied the book of Exodus–well, part of it.  What I noticed, perhaps for the first time is how prominently women figure in the story.  It sometimes seems as thought the Bible focuses primarily on men, but the men are often the weak or evil figures in the Bible in stories in which the women shine.

The first important mention of women invovles the midwives of the Hebrews who spare the boy babies, even though the Pharaoh has ordered that they be killed at birth.  They show bravery in defying the evil order.  They are even given names in the Bible text, Shiphrah and Puah, names which mean brightness and brilliance.  The Pharaohs in the story are never named, but the seemingly insignificant midwives are, apparently because God wanted to honor them for doing what was right at very great risk to themselves.

The second important mention of women is regarding Moses’ mother.  Her name is given, too.  It’s Jochebed.  She hides her baby boy, Moses, for three months and then hatches a plan to save him thereafter.  She put him in a tar-lined basket and floated him in the river where the Pharaoh’s daughter would see him.

The next mention of a woman is Moses’ sister, Miriam.  She is the one who watches over baby Moses while he floats in the basket in the river.  She is the one who suggests to the Pharaoh’s daugther that she can find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby–who just happens to be the baby’s real mother.  Later Miriam figures greatly in the story of Exodus.  She is one of the three leaders, along with Moses and Aaron, when the Israelites leave Egypt.  She leads the women in a song of praise after they cross the Red Sea.  At one point she and Aaron challenge the God-ordained leadership of Moses and God chastises her.

Then comes the Pharaoh’s daughter.  She unwittingly rescues the future deliverer of Israel and enemy of Egypt, Moses.  God uses her to save the one who will save his people from the next Pharaoh, presumably her brother.

Then there is Moses’s wife, Zipporah.  She rescues Moses from the anger of God by circumcising their son and putting the foreskin on Moses’s feet.  She was more willing to obey the command that God had given to Abraham and his descendants than Moses was himself.

Ayn Rand and the Good Samaritan

Yesterday I wrote an analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Among other things it prompted a lengthy discussion of politics and economics, which was not my intention.  In fact, one of my intentions was to show that in that parable Jesus was not teaching about government welfare programs but about individual, voluntary charity–based on compassion for a person that one encounters who has a need.  Jesus was all about people.  He was about people as individuals.  The parable of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question of an individual and was addresed to that individual.  The characters in the story were all individual people, not groups, although they represented groups or types.

The punch line of the entire thing was Jesus’ statement to the scribe–one man–to “go and do likewise.”  To be a good person you should help those people whom you encounter face to face in your daily life.  That’s not the same as sending your money to some group to distribute as they please.

What would Ayn Rand have said about the parable of the Good Samaritan?  It is possible that she commented on it, but I cannot think of anywhere that she did.  Several objectivists have commented on it in various ways, mostly in the negative when it comes to the general conception of “good samaritans” but mostly in the positive when it comes to some of the details of the story.  You see, neither Ayn Rand nor objectivists nor libertarians are opposed to private, voluntary charity.

What the Story Does Not Say

In order for me to reconcile objectivism with the Good Samaritan, I think it is necessary to show what the story does not say:

  • It does not say that the Samaritan took money from the priest or the Levite to pay for the injured man’s expenses.  He would not be good, in that case.
  • It does not say that he took the injured man to the inn and demanded that the innkeeper care for him without pay.  Again, he would not be good, if he did.
  • It does not say that the injured man demanded or expected the Samaritan to help him.

In other words, there is not a hint of collectivism or authoritariansim in the story.  The Samaritan is “good” precisely because he willingly and cheerfully helps the man in need without anyone compelling him to do so.  If the Samaritan made somebody else pay for the man’s needs, then how would he be good?  He would, in fact, be very bad.  If he did it because it was required, then you could never say that he himself was good, and whoever forced him to do it would certainly not be good, for the same reason that it would be wrong for the Samaritan to force somebody else to do it.

What Rand Would Have Said

Rand would only have considered the Samaritan a good example if two conditions were met:  the robber deserved to be helped and the Samaritan got something out of it.  She would not have liked the idea that the Samaritan fulfilled a religious duty or that his willingness to help is portrayed as categorically or necessarily better than the unwillingness of the other men in the story.

Rand was clear that it is evil to help people who do not deserve it–that it is wrong to sacrifice some greater value for a lesser value.  In any exchange, it is only fair and right if the trade is equal or nearly so.  I love my wife because she loves me, and she loves me because I love her.  We love each other for the virtue that we see in each other and because our relationship is mutually satisfying.

I would like to think that Rand would count the victim of the story as worthy of help because he had been treated unjustly by someone else.  She was a human being with natural human feelings, after all.  In such a real-life scenario, I believe that she would have felt outrage to see a person treated the way the victim of the story was treated (she was against all oppression and violation of rights, after all) and would have felt a desire to help.

(By the way, in such a real-life scenario, it would be right for the victim to offer to pay back his rescuer.  Then it would be up to the rescuer to accept or to refuse the reimbursement.)

By helping him, the Samaritan satisfied his own sense of justice and fulfilled his natural human feelings of empathy.  That’s the main thing that he got out of it, if you exclude the spiritual reward promised by Jesus.  The Samaritan also put himself in a position to receive help from other people if he were ever in such a situation, since people are always more willing to help those in need.  As I mentioned before, she would have been outraged at the crime that took place.  (She once said that her favorite show at one time was Charlie’s Angels because it was purely romantic entertainment.  It was a show about women tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice.)

What I Wish Rand Had Understood

First and foremost, I wish that Rand had understood that there really is a God, and that pleasing Him is our highest objective in life.  I wish that she would have understood the context surrounding the context of the story, which is that nobody is actually good enough to please God on their own.  The scribe who talked to Jesus wasn’t, which is what Jesus wanted him to see.  We are all at times like the priest and the Levite who refuse to be kind to others, and we can only really become like the Samaritan with God’s help, because He promises to change us–to make us better than we could ever be on our own.

Since Rand was all about rational self-interest, I wish that she could have seen that it would be the most self-interested thing that she could do to accept the Gospel, because the payoff is enormous.

The Good Samaritan

I have been studying the parables of Jesus and I got to the parable that is usually called The Good Samaritan and found in Luke 10:25-37.  I would prefer to call it The Compassionate Samaritan, because the Bible indicates that nobody is “good.”  We are all tainted by sin and prone to sin.  What made the Samaritan a good guy in the story was that he treated another person, a stranger in need, with kindness and helpfulness.

The setting of the parable is that an expert in the Law of Moses, a scribe, asks Jesus a question.  Many of Jesus’ parables are prompted by a question, and so the question becomes a key to unlocking the truth taught by the parable.  Initially the scribe asks him “What do I need to do in order to have eternal life?”  The question, according to the text, is posed in order to test Jesus–probably, as in other cases, to trap him.  Jesus, as usual, does not answer the question directly but responds with another question that says essentially you are an expert.  What does the law say on the subject?  The scribe quotes two passages.  The first is the command to love God with all your being, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus tells him that he is right and that if he does those two things, he will have the eternal life that he seeks.

At this point the scribe apparently feels convicted.  Maybe the way Jesus says “if you do this” indicates that Jesus does not believe that the man really is in the habit of obeying those commands.  The text says that the scribe is seeking to justify himself when he asks the next question:  Who is my neighbor?  It is easy to claim that you love your neighbor if you narrowly define the term neighbor to include only those people whom you love.

Jesus does not answer the question but instead, as he often does, tells a story, a parable.  Here it is. . .

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side. A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.”

(Luk 10:30-35 CEV)

In a sequel to the parable, Jesus asks the scribe who was a neighbor to the beaten man.  Thus, Jesus turns the scribe’s question on its head.  The scribe had asked, in essence, who is the neighbor that I am supposed to love.  Jesus says, in essence, instead of asking who is your neighbor, you should be willing to be a neighbor yourself–to extend yourself, to go the extra mile, to help anyone in need.  The scribe recognizes and answers correctly that the man who showed compassion was the true neighbor.

The surprise in the parable is that the Samaritan, a man from Samaria, is the good guy.  The people of Samaria were ethnically related to the Jewish people, but they practiced a rival religion that stuck to the Hebrew Bible but not to Jewish tradition.  They worshiped at their own Temple rather than in Jerusalem.  Jesus is saying that even a person that the scribe considers spiritually and ethnically inferior knows how to help a person in need.  The Samaritan is contrasted with the priest and Levite, highly respected religious people, who refuse to help.

Jesus ends by telling the scribe to “go and do likewise.”  Nothing more need be said.  The statement calls for action, not more words.  Let’s hope that the scribe took it to heart and acted on it.

Some of my readers will say that I should take the message to heart.  They have characterized me as greedy and stingy, both of which I categorically deny.  Like everyone, I have a natural tendency to do what is best for myself without regard for others, but I do take Jesus’ message to heart and endeavor to practice it.  I have written stories on here about my various acts of generosity.  I always hestitate to do so, because it is awkward and inappropriate for me to toot my own horn.  However, I sometimes feel compelled to “prove” to my readers, who know nothing about my real actions off this blog, that their assumptions about me are wrong.

What some of my readers fail to understand, although I do not know how to make it any clearer, is that I believe that individuals should help other people and should do so voluntarily and cheerfully.  That is not the same as saying that the state should force people to do so.

Jesus addressed one individual in the parable, although obviously it is God’s intention that all individuals read it and follow it.  He did not address the Roman government or the Judean government, and he definitely did not talk about the government of the United States.  He did not talk about taxes, corporate greed, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Soical Security, or anything else in the political realm (in this parable).  He told one man, and by extension any other person willing to listen, that to live a godly life is to be a good neighbor to anyone in need.

I want to point out one more thing.  In the parable, the Samaritan is obviously a person of means.  When he leaves the robbery victim at the inn, he promises to return and square away the bill.  He could not have paid for the man’s needs if he had been poor, and Jesus does not scold him for having money or insist that his money be taken from him by somebody else.  In the story money is simply a useful tool for helping the man in need.  I sometimes wish that I had more so that I could do more good.  I see needs all around me, and I wish that I could meet more of them.  But God does not authorize me to make anyone else do so; he demands only that I do what I can to be a good neighbor.

Approaching the Bible

     I have been writing a lot about religion lately.  I’m not sure why; I’m just in that mood.  Pardon me if it bores you.  I’m sure that I will move on to other subjects soon.

     Throughout my life I have encountered two main approaches to the Bible, one that I will call traditional and one that I will call modern.  The traditional approach is to regard the Bible as inspired, in some way or other, by God, and to take it pretty much at face value.  The modern approach is to regard the Bible as the product of various human minds, and to interpret it in a way that is palatable to the modernist (and often materialist) worldview.  Traditionalists tend to regard the Bible as reliable and authoritative, but modernists tend to take it with some level of skepticism, and they regard it as helpful but not at all authoritative.

     I have described the situation in very broad terms.  In reality there are many degrees within these two groups, and there are many variations, as well.  I’ve done it for convenience, so please do not scold me for it.

     People sometimes call the traditionalists literalists.  That is a good enough term, but it can be misleading.  It does not mean that they take everything in the Bible literally.  They do not, for instance, believe that Jesus, because he called himself the Door, is literally made of wood and has a knob and hinges.  No, so-called literalists realize that there are figures of speech in the Bible, and they know that those figures must be interpreted figuratively.

     What a traditionalist believes is that the parts that are clearly figurative, such as when Isaiah says that “the trees of the field will clap their hands,” should be taken figuratively.  (Traditionalists, despite how stupid they are often depicted in the popular media, know that trees do not really have hands.)  The parts of the Bible that are written as reports of actual events, such as the building of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, should be taken literally.  Yes, it is sometimes hard to tell when a particular passage is literal or figurative, but a traditionalist will presume that a passage is meant literally unless it is clear that it is figurative.

     A modernist, on the other hand, believes that much, most, or even all of the Bible is meant to be taken figuratively.  For example, some modernists say that the story of the Resurrection of Jesus really means that the disciples believed that Jesus had come back to live in their hearts. 

     The problem with that view is that they said that many eyewitnesses saw Jesus in the flesh after he was resurrected.  Paul in particular went to great lengths to emphasize that Jesus came back to life in a real, physical body, because he was arguing against the Gnostic teaching that Jesus had come back as a spirit.  The apostles also taught that there will be a future resurrection of everybody, which makes no sense if they did not believe that Jesus was literally resurrected from the dead.  I am not trying here to prove that Jesus did rise from the dead, but only that other interpretations just don’t fit the text very well.

     Sometimes the skeptics are proven wrong.  Some scholars doubted the existence of Jericho, but the foundation of its walls was discovered in 1930.  Some thought that Pontius Pilate was not a real person, because he was mentioned only in the Gospels, but then a tablet was discovered in 1961 that had his name inscribed on it.  (I saw that tablet in a museum.)  In 1993 a tablet was discovered that mentions the name of the biblical King David.  An earlier discovery, the Moabite Stone, has the name of the biblical king Omri and possibly also of David (it is broken, so it is not certain).  The ossuary of the High Priest Caiaphas was found in 1990, though modernist scholars had concluded that he did not exist.  Tablets found in Ebla in 1970 show that the name Canaan really was a place-name used in the ancient world, although modernist scholars said that it was made up by the Bible writers.     The Hittites were thought to be an invention of the Bible writers, but their capital city was discovered in Turkey, and a cache of their documents was found in Iraq.  Also in Iraq is the palace of Sargon, another person that scholars assured the world was imaginary.  His palace walls tell the same story found in Isaiah 20.

     I won’t go on, although I could.  If a person wants to discount some of the supernatural elements of the Bible, that’s one thing.  But doubting the overall historicity of it is something else.  You have to be completely ignorant of the latest archaeological and historical discoveries to claim that the Bible is generally inaccurate in regard to history.  In fact, compared to other ancient books it is more accurate and has more outside source material to back it up.

     I can allow for the fact that Bible might not be extremely precise when it comes to history.  The names, dates, order of events, places, and other details might be a bit imprecise in places.  Perhaps even some of the facts are outright wrong.  (I don’t believe so, but I can temporarily assume that it’s possible for argument’s sake.)  It is still, I believe, reasonable to say that they Bible has the general flow of the historical facts correct.

     It seems to me that the modernists take a very unscholarly approach to the Bible.  They decide ahead of time what they will and will not accept, and then they go to work.  When they encounter something in the Bible that they cannot accept, they strike it out or they devise a new “interpretation” that makes it fit their assumptions better. 

     I put interpretation in quotation marks in that last sentence, because a good interpretation tells people what the text actually means.  It does not come up with a clever way to say that it means something different, much less contrary, to what it actually says.

     The Jesus Seminar is the worst example of this unscholarly approach.  They decide by vote what Jesus really said or did, based on what they want him to have really said or done.  That’s not scholarship, as I understand it.  If they had some historical data to back up their claims, then it would be scholarship, but there is hardly any data on Jesus outside the Gospels.  They are claiming, therefore, to know better than the people who originally saw and heard Jesus.

     Real scholarship looks at a text, studies it in the light of historical context, analyzes the syntax and style of it, looks for corroborating sources outside the text, and then provides an interpretation of what it actually says.  The pseudo-scholarship of many modernists looks at the Bible text and says, “It can’t really mean what it says, so let’s make up something better.”

     I once heard that a young Jewish man was studying with a modernist Rabbi.  (This is a joke.)  The Rabbi said, “We know that God did not really part the Red Sea.  What really happened is that it was only a shallow marsh, and the Israelites waded across it.”

     “Rabbi, Rabbi,” called the excited student.  “That makes it an even greater miracle.  God drowned the Egyptian army in a shallow marsh!”

     My advice to people who do not accept vast portions of the Bible is this:  simply reject it.  It’s your prerogative.  I think it is more honest to do that than to either (1) make up new “interpretations” that fit your preconceived ideas better or (2) select the parts that you like and reject the parts that you don’t. 

     I will write a final word to a t00-long post.  I never buy arguments that go like this: my pastor says. . .or my professor says. . . .  I can assure you that for every pastor or professor you can name who takes a particular view, such as that the Virgin Birth was a myth or a metaphor, I can name two who say that it was a literal fact.  It does not really matter that a certain pastor said this or a certain professor said that.  What matters is which one is right.  It is not neccesarily the one who says what you would rather believe or the one who says what I would rather believe.  It is the one with the most reliable evidence on his or her side.

Which Came First?

     Were the New Testament books accepted by the Church as inspired because a council declared them canonical, or did church councils declare them canonical because they were already accepted by the Church as inspired?

     Leon Morris wrote, “The Church did not originate the Bible. Its inspiration is divine, not ecclesiastical. It stands or falls because of its relationship to God, not to the Church. Moreover, any official action of the Church is late. We do not find it before the last part of the fourth century. But by then the canon had to all its intents and purposes been decided.”

     –”Canon of the New Testament,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity

     Herman Ridderbos wrote, “It must be emphasized that the Church does not control the Canon, but the Canon controls the Church. For the same reason the Canon cannot be the product of the decision of the Church. The Church cannot ‘make’ or ‘lay down’ its own standard. All that the Church can lay down is this, that it has received the Canon as a standard and rule for faith and life, handed down to it with absolute authority.”

     –”The Canon of the New Textament,” Revelation and the Bible: Contemporary Evangelical Thought

          F. F. Bruce wrote:  “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and general apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”

     –From the book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

 

The Judges Versus the Little Boy

     In Philadelphia a court decided to tell a little boy that he cannot regard the Bible as his favorite book.  Well, not really.  They apparently ruled that the boy could not bring it to class as part of a show-and-tell activity where the students were to bring their favorite book. 

     I cannot imagine any adults doing that to a boy in kindergarten.  I really cannot imagine a group of judges thinking that it is crucial to our American civilization to ban a Bible from a classroom. 

     Perhaps they should read the Constitution.  It’s apparently not their favorite document.

UPDATE:  The students were given an open invitation to have their parents come to class and read from their favorite book.  I still am appalled that two of the three justices of the 3rd Circuit believe it is their job to tell a little boy what his favorite book should or should not be.  The third justice wrote that the school engaged in viewpoint discrimination.  In the words of Scott Erb (see comments), “D’oh.” 

By the way, I do not take this position because it was a Bible.  If little Karim had brought a Koran for his mom or dad to read, I would also support his freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  That’s what freedom means–being free.  It doesn’t mean doing only what is politically correct.  Only if a person’s behavior harms somebody should it be legally curtailed.

Desiderius Erasmus: Christian Humanist

  Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger  

     Erasmus was born in the 1460′s in Rotterdam.  He is famous for his beautiful style in writing Latin, his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, and his promotion of humanism within a Christian context. 

     Among his many accomplishments was editing a version of the Bible with the Greek text and Latin text in parallel columns.  This Bible was a magnificent attempt to present the best possible Greek text from the manuscripts available and to update and correct the Latin text.  Martin Luther used it when he translated the Bible into German.

     Unlike Martin Luther, Erasmus remained firmly committed to the Catholic Church, although he opposed some of its practices at the time of the Reformation. 

     In one of his books, Handbook of the Christian Soldier, Erasmus attacks mere formalism in the practice of Christianity–that is the performing of outward rituals while ignoring the actual teachings of Christ.  In Education of a Christian Prince, he suggests that to rule wisely a monarch should get a well-rounded education and should strive to be loved by his people as a benevolent leader.

     Among his more pithy sayings is “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

FOR FURTHER READING:

Erasmus Center for Early Modern Studies

Wikipedia article on Erasmus

Catholic Encyclopedia article on Erasmus

Jesus and the Adulterous Woman

     I just heard an excellent sermon on the story of the adulterous woman who was brought to Jesus by his opponents.  It really made me think.

     It made me think about how much I appreciate Jesus’s mercy and grace.  I have committed sins as serious as, and perhaps more serious than, the one the woman committed, yet I believe that Jesus has forgiven me just as he forgave that woman.  For that, I am grateful.

     It made me think about my feeble attempts to clean up my life in order to avoid God’s condemnation.  It should be the other way around.  God doesn’t say, “Leave your life of sin, and then I will no longer condemn you.”  He says, “I do not condemn you; now leave behind your life of sin.”  Forgiveness first, reformation second.

     It made me think of my tendency to condemn others, as the religious leaders condemned this woman.  Who am I to consider anyone inferior or morally worse than myself?  I am a sinner, too.  Yet I fall to the temptation way too often.  I am sorry, and I pray for the grace and the strength not to do so in the future.  As I said, I have been forgiven much; therefore, I want to embrace my obligation to forgive others.

     On the other hand, it made me think about God’s holiness and how He does not simply ignore sin or overlook it.  Jesus chose not to condemn the woman, but He did not tell her that her sin was unimportant or not actually a sin.  The act of forgiving includes an acknowledgement that the act was indeed sinful, and he expects her to stop committing that sin.  One implication is that I cannot simply brush aside my sin and treat it as inconsequetial or make up excuses for it.  God doesn’t pretend that we didn’t sin or tell us that it is okay, He forgives it and tells us to stop it.  Another implication is that I do not have to ignore the sins that other people commit against me.  I am commanded to forgive them, but in doing so I actually acknowledge that what the person did was wrong.  If no wrong is committed, no forgiveness is needed.  The choice to forgive is the choice to release the person from your anger and hatred and from your wish to see them punished and condemned by God.  It isn’t a glossing over of their sin, but a recognition of one’s one status as a sinner and an act of reciprocity for God’s willingness to forgive your sins.

     The sermon made me think of how one can be very right and at the same time be very wrong.  According to the story the woman had indeed committed adultery, and adultery is indeed a sin according to God’s law.  The law prescribed stoning as a punishment for it, just as the religious leaders indicated.  But why hadn’t they brought her male partner?  And how did they catch her in the act of adultery?  And why did they use her only as a means to trap Jesus?  And why did they seem to take delight in their threat to stone her?  And why were they so willing to overlook their own sins?  We must be very careful to do what is right, and only what is right, and only for the right reasons.

     I am the one caught in adultery, and I have been forgiven.

     I am also the one who would stone other people, and I have dropped my stone and walked away ashamed.

     May I continue to live in the recognition of my own sinfulness and in the freedom and light of God’s forgiveness.