How We Got The New Testament

Recycled pictures, new post.

Once upon a time, there was, possibly, a bloke called Yeshua Bar Yosef. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t, but either way, a couple of other blokes, one called Simon (or maybe Cephas or maybe Peter), came to believe that Yeshua had returned from the dead and had appeared to them, alive. This was probably all in their heads and what they saw was at most a blinding light, if they saw anything at all. This was certainly the case for a different bloke, Saul (or maybe Paul) who came along later. He wrote about his experiences and admitted they were all in his mind.

This Simon-Peter-Cephas and maybe one or two others convinced themselves that Yeshua was God’s special emissary and would save them from something, somehow or other. They told other people this and, being gullible, some of these other people believed that Simon-Peter-Cephas and his mates really had seen Yeshua alive again. They started to believe Yeshua would save them too. Saul-Paul, meanwhile, wrote letters to the people he’d persuaded to believe in his version of events – it was a bit different from what Simon-Peter-Cephas and co believed – and, writing in Greek, rendered Yeshua as Iesous (‘Jesus’ came much later when the ‘J’ was invented in the 16th century.) Paul thought Iesous was a celestial being he called ‘the Christ’. He taught that this Christ would soon be coming down to the Earth to set up God’s Kingdom here. Even though they were obviously a bit rubbish, Saul-Paul’s letters were copied multiple times by hand, which is when errors began to creep in. In some places, the letters were deliberately altered.

Other people wanted to get in on the act, so they wrote letters too, pretending they were Saul-Paul. Sometimes these letters said the exact opposite of what the real Saul-Paul wrote. His weren’t the only letters to be forged either. Fifty or more years after the entire scam had got underway, someone pretending to be Simon-Peter-Cephas sent letters as if they were from the man himself. Needless to say there were cultists daft enough to believe it. There were others who wrote letters too, people like James and John. James didn’t see eye-to-eye with Saul-Paul and contradicted many of the things he said.

About 40 years after Simon-Peter-Cephas thought he’d seen the dead-but-alive Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, somebody in a different country decided to write a back story for the character. He didn’t know much about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, what he’d said and done and whatnot, but that didn’t deter him. He borrowed bits from Saul-Paul’s letters and Greek myths and set about it. He scoured the Jewish scriptures for anything that sounded like it might be a prediction of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus and his supposed escape from death. He made up episodes for him based on these completely unrelated scraps of scripture. He forgot to sign his work, however, and it wasn’t until years later that someone else decided this author’s name should be ‘Mark’.

A couple of other anonymous dudes liked what ‘Mark’ had done when inventing his Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus story but thought they could make a better job of it themselves. The first of these, who would later be called Matthew, lifted most of Mark’s effort (which is how we know ‘Matthew’ wasn’t an eye-witness; an eye-witness wouldn’t plagiarise most of the story from someone who wasn’t) and then went overboard with the prediction/prophecy thing that Mark had started. He found even more spurious bits of scripture and made up a whole lot of new stories about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus from them. Later still, ‘Luke’ wrote his version of the story, using Mark and Matthew’s accounts and inventing a few new episodes himself. This same person went on to write a fabricated history of the Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus cult, making up stories and speeches for caricatures of Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul.

The fourth person to try his hands at writing a script for Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus decided to completely reimagine the character. Strictly speaking, this ‘gospel’ was produced not by a single person but by a collective of cult members. Their Jesus was nothing like the one in the other three gospels. He was more a super-hero, whose special power was boasting about himself. This is the Jesus that, 70 years on, the cult wanted to believe in. Eventually, the name John would be attached to this fantasy, though this isn’t the same John who wrote letters nor the one who created the hallucinatory nightmare that would become the final book of the Bible.

These various letters and stories circulated round the Roman Empire wherever members of the new cult met. Eventually, someone hit upon the idea of collecting them together as one volume. The first we hear of this is when a guy called  Marcion produced his own collection, round about AD140. Stupidly, he didn’t include the right ‘books’ and it wasn’t until AD367 that the collection we now know as the New Testament was first mentioned. This was ratified later that century by a group of men who had elevated themselves to positions of authority in the Church, as the cult was now calling itself. Despite claiming they had been guided by the Holy Spirit, these learned men endorsed the inclusion of several forgeries. Neither did they see fit to arrange the books in the order they’d been written, giving the impression that the accounts of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus’ life existed before Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul’s innervisions that had sparked the whole thing in the first place.

Jump forward a few hundred years and the New Testament, as it was now known, had come to be regarded, by some, as the infallible, inerrant and authoritative Word of God, which clearly it is not. These epithets stuck, however, and are still held to be accurate descriptors of the New Testament by people who have stopped thinking for themselves.

So there we have it: how we got the New Testament –

  • It wasn’t written by eye-witnesses.
  • Its accounts of Jesus’ life are largely fictional.
  • It owes much to fanatics who were prone to visions.
  • It is given to wild speculation, offered without a scrap of evidence.
  • It contradicts itself.
  • It includes many fakes and forgeries.
  • It was banged together by men who didn’t really know what they were doing.

And after that, everyone lived delusionally ever after. The End.

How much of the Bible was written backwards?

We know for a fact the book of Daniel was. The term for creating a prophecy after the event it purportedly predicts is Vaticinium ex eventu (Latin for ‘devious sleight of hand’). The creators of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament were rather fond of Vaticinium ex eventu. Daniel’s prophecies, supposedly written in the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile about events that would occur later – much later – were actually created during the second century BCE. This was, of course, after most of them had occurred, which is how Daniel manages to predict most of them with reasonable accuracy. The remaining prophecy, however, written before the events it purportedly predicts is hopeless, completely way off; it foresees the resurrection of God’s people and the establishment of his Kingdom on Earth in the early part of the first century. As we know, this didn’t happen, though Daniel’s madcap ideas influenced the creators of the Jesus cult who all thought they were living in the end times. Jesus’ term for himself, ‘Son of Man’, is lifted straight from Daniel.

This is how most prophecy in the Bible works; it’s either written after the event, Vaticinium ex eventu style, or, when it’s genuinely written beforehand, doesn’t – surprise, surprise – ever come to pass.

Which bring us to Jesus own predictions of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He explains to his disciples in some detail in Mark 13 what to expect. He suggests too that soon after the destruction, the Son of Man will arrive through the clouds to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, once and for all (well, maybe not all – just for ‘righteous’ Jews). It is no coincidence that Mark’s gospel was written about 70CE, just after the temple was destroyed, which makes it easy for Jesus to outline in some detail what the event would like, describing, as he is, what it was like.

Did I say Jesus? No, not Jesus, but the anonymous author of ‘Mark’s’ gospel who implants his knowledge from 70CE back to 30CE and on to Jesus. He – the gospel writer – also has Jesus refer to the opposition some believers were experiencing in the 70s and to the ‘reader’ of his warning. As David Madison notes in Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief , ‘reader’ is an anachronism too; Jesus had no ‘readers’ when he was alive. The whole prophecy is later fabrication. Its author is typically less successful – completely unsuccessful in fact – in his prediction that soon after the events he describes, the Son of Man would return to put everything right (Mark 13.26-27). So, as we might expect, there is a reasonable degree of accuracy from the bit of the ‘prophecy’ written after the event, but none at all when it genuinely looks to the future.

But it’s not just prophecy this affects. It looks very much that key episodes in the Jesus story were invented (long) after his death, assuming he existed in the first place, and were added into the gospel stories many more years later. John’s gospel is almost entirely like this. The Jesus of the fourth gospel bears no relation to that in the synoptic gospels; in John he has morphed into the Christ of late first-century Christian belief, spouting fantastical gibberish about himself, like ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and ‘I and the Father are One’. The Christ of faith is superimposed on the itinerant Jewish peasant executed for sedition.

It happens in the synoptic gospels too. In Matthew 28.19, the post-mortem Jesus commands his followers to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ undoubtedly quoting a later liturgical formula; the notion of the Trinity explicitly referenced here was unknown in Jesus’ own time and indeed in Paul’s. Similarly, the disputes with the scribes and Pharisees represent the writing back into the gospels of later Christians’ difficulties with the religious hierarchy.1 Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meanwhile is demonstrably a later creation, not translated from Aramaic but written in Greek.2 Other absolutely crucial aspects of the Jesus story – it is easy to see how a case can be made for his not having existed at all – are also retrospective additions. We will come to them next time.

__________________________________________________________________

1 ‘Perhaps the best way to explain Matthew’s extensive criticism of the Jewish authorities is to say that his own community continued to experience opposition from non-Christian Jews, especially influential scribes and rabbis of the local synagogue(s), who accused them of abandoning Moses and the Law, of becoming apostate from the Jewish religion through their ill-advised faith in Jesus.’ Bart D. Ehrman, chapter 6, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.
2 Richard Carrier, On the Historicity Of Jesus, pp 465-466, cited in Madison, p300

 

 

 

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

franklinA guest post by Andrew Calibre.

So there’s this smart-arse who thinks he’ll catch Jesus out by asking him a tricky question like, is it true microbes cause illnesses? Or, is Ken Ham right that the universe is only six thousand year old? But he bottles it, maybe ’cause he knows JC won’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and asks him an easy one instead – simple stuff about Jewish rules or something. “What is the greatest commandment?” is the best he can come up with (Matthew 26.32-40).

Jesus takes his chance and says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Predictable or what, even if he does make a big mistake: whoever heard of ‘the mind’ having anything to do with religion! Still, JC can’t resist elaborating on it. “This is the first and greatest commandment,” he says, as if everybody round him doesn’t know that already when it’s in their old magic book (Deuteronomy 6.5). He’s on a roll now and on he goes: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Clearly a cock-up, but there’s no stopping him: “The whole bloody religion” – he’s talking about the Jewish stuff, not the Christian fantasy that he knows nothing about on account of it not being invented yet – “is about these two things, nothing more,” he says.

Christ! How could he have got it so wrong? Love your neighbour as yourself! Whoever heard such crap? I know, a nice idea, but I ask you. Everybody knows that being religious, being a Christian, is about believing the right stuff (having the right doctrine, I think it’s called), trashing other Christians who believe the wrong stuff, and dumping on everybody else, specially if they’re sinners (and they’re all sinners), foreigners, LGBTI or transgender. Now that’s real Christianity. I know it is, because that’s how Christians do it, and they’re the ones who should know.

Apart from Jesus, nobody thinks loving others like you love yourself is a good idea. Even he wasn’t very good at it (Matthew 15.22-28 etc). What ‘your neighbour’ is for, is pointing out how sinful/lost/degenerate they are, how they’ve f**ked up their lives, how God’s going to punish them for all eternity for not being the same as you and how they’re just about single-handedly bringing about the end of the world on account of being so perverted/evil/foreign.

That’s how you love your neighbour! You can’t even claim to be loving them properly unless you’re telling them about Jesus, over and over again, and, in the process, denigrating, dismissing and damning them to hell over and over again. This is what truly loving your neighbour is about! I know because Christians say so endlessly: ‘you’re only really loving others if you’re telling them what shite they are and how they need Jeeesus to wipe it all away.’ So, okay, this isn’t exactly how you love yourself, but what’s that got to do with it?

If only Jesus had listened to his mouthpieces today. They know far more than he did about what’s important.

And love it isn’t.

 

 

 

 

God’s Chosen Ones

chosen The God of the Bible is not the God of Reason that Answers in Genesis, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, Silence of Mind and others tell us he is. None of the evidence, some of which we’ve reviewed, supports the supposition. That’s because the God of Reason, like all gods, is a construct of the human mind. In much the same way as Yahweh was a reflection of irrationality, this God is a reflection of our rationality. He could not – and did not – exist before the Enlightenment, before Rationalism itself and the new understanding of mathematics, science and philosophy.

As appealing as his apologists try to make him, the God of Reason is demonstrably not the God of the Bible, who is defined by impulsive, destructive passions. No, he’s not the tempestuous Yahweh, nor is he the daddy-god Jesus imagined (who is just Yahweh with a few rough edges knocked off), nor the God of blood-sacrifice and atonement beloved of Paul. He is, like all those inventions, a fabrication of our own making. For Christians who are drawn to him, he is a false god. But then, aren’t they all?

Whichever version of the Christian God Christians choose to worship, however, they’ve got it wrong. They don’t choose to believe in him or to follow Jesus or whatever. Not at all; he chooses them (or not as the case may be.) Now known as Calvinism, the idea that God earmarked a select few to be his best mates right back at the dawn of time – while disregarding others who might want to be but aren’t on the guest list – is right there in the Bible. Paul first:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:29-30; see also 1 Thessalonians 1.4)

The idea is picked up by one of Paul’s imitators in the forged letter to the Ephesians:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1.4-6)

The same sort of time-loop paradox also finds its way into the gospels. In Matthew 22.1-14, Jesus tells a parable involving a man who has been asked to a Royal Banquet (i.e. the Kingdom of God) only for the King (Jesus) to take offence at the way he’s dressed. For this heinous crime he is bound hand and foot and unceremoniously thrown out. Jesus concludes his cheery tale with the aphorism, ‘Many are called but few are chosen.’

So much for ‘free will’, a notion that’s alien to the Bible in any case. If I were a Christian, which thank God I’m not, I’d really want some answers to the questions this bizarre idea throws up. We’ll take a look at what these are next time.

Picture shows Tim Keller, John Sentamu (Archbishop of York), ‘Pastor’ Rick Warren and ‘Pastor’ Steve Furtick. Chosen by God, every one. And some kids he couldn’t care less about.

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said

JC&ManJust what did Jesus say? The Jesus Seminar and other scholars* conclude that only about 18% of the words attributed to him in the gospels are authentically his. They reach this conclusion because so much of what Jesus ‘said’ – 82% of his utterances – is demonstrably derived from elsewhere.

There were four major sources for his words, which I’ll discuss briefly here, providing an example of each. Bear in mind also that whatever the derivation of Jesus’ words, those we have today have been subject to, in their earliest days, an unreliable oral tradition, repeated copying and deliberate and accidental alteration. The earliest surviving ‘words of Jesus’ (a few fragments of the fourth gospel) date to a century after he lived.

1. The early church created a good deal of the Jesus narrative, making him say what was important to them. For example, ‘take, eat, this is my body,’ and ‘take, drink, this is my blood that is shed for you,’ is clearly a post-crucifixion perspective. While it appears in arguably the most Jewish of the gospels (Matthew’s) the idea of drinking blood, even symbolically, would have been, and remains, anathema to Jews, whose scriptures forbid it (Leviticus 17.10 -16). Jesus was an orthodox Jew; it was the Hellenised Paul who transplanted the pagan ritual into nascent Christianity. He relates in 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, written about 15 years before the first gospel, how his wholly imaginary ‘Christ’ told him of this bizarre activity. Once established in the early church, Jesus then had to be made to endorse it and it was written back into the gospels.

2. The gospel writers (or others) invented dialogue for him. His entire conversation with Pilate, for example, is invented not once but four times, the encounter being rendered differently in all four gospels. It is probable that the entire scenario is fiction, given the likelihood the excessively cruel Roman governor would even entertain the idea of questioning a seditious nobody himself. And then there’s the ‘I am’ statements of John’s Jesus that I considered here.

3. The gospel writers altered difficult sayings into something more palatable. For example, in Matthew 15.24 Jesus says he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (my italics). By the end of the same gospel, as well as in Luke and John, this has become a commandment to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28.19). So which was it? Was the message exclusively for Jews or was it for all? It suited early churches, filled with non-Jews, that the gospel was for everyone, just as Paul had argued. Jesus’ words to the contrary – even if they were sufficiently widely known to have had to be included in Matthew’s original account – needed to be amended. Who amended them and when we shall never know, but it was certainly after the idea of the Trinity had taken hold.

4. Statements Jesus actually made. The Jesus Seminar regards as authentic sayings such as:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matthew 5.39)

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well (Matthew 5.40)

Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God (Luke 6.20) [changed in Matthew’s gospel to the less radical ‘poor in spirit’!]

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matthew 5.41)

As inspiring as these might initially appear, they actually mean very little; they’re either prophecies that didn’t come to pass, impractical moral expectations or pseudo-spiritual homilies. And how much of this advice, these admonitions, do today’s Christians follow? You’d be hard pushed to find many that do. After all, following Jesus doesn’t entail doing what he says.

* I have used Robert W. Funk et al‘s The Five Gospels (HarperOne, 1997), Simon Loveday’s The Bible For Grown-Ups (Iconbooks, 2016) and Mark Allan Powell’s rather less impartial The Jesus Debate (Lion, 1998) for this post

Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

2. Maria and the Evil One

devil

Maria comes to the door again. She’s very personable but wasting away her life as a Jehovah’s Witness. She wonders if I’ve read the leaflet she left last time. I have, and have filled in the answers to its questions, including, ‘does the Bible have the answers to life’s big questions?’ Maria doesn’t seem very happy about my answer.

She insists on showing me a video on her iPad. It is slick and includes some clever CGI. She tells me afterwards that the ‘Evil One’ is in control of this world which is why it is in such a mess. I tell her that any mess is our own doing, we humans. She asks if I know the Bible; I say I do. She tells me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who interpret it correctly. It doesn’t, she says, tell us that believers will go to heaven when they die (she’s right about this; it doesn’t). It promises rather that Jesus will be coming back to set up God’s Kingdom on Earth (right again). Except, I remind her, it has him promise that he will return within the lifetime of those listening to him, the Kingdom scheduled to appear within his own generation (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34). Maria concedes the point and then tries to say a generation is longer than we think. Maybe so, I say, but not 2,000 years.

Maria says she learnt something about this problem in a class recently. She appeals to her confederate for help, but he can’t remember what the elders said either. She decides now retreat is the better part of proselytising but promises to return once she has the answer.

But there is no answer; at least not one that sees Jesus’ megalomanic fantasies realised two millennia in his future.

I feel certain that, unlike Jesus, Maria will be back soon.

 

 

 

Who wrote the Bible?

According to Christians, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible; Genesis to Deuteronomy are widely known as ‘the books of Moses’. There is little evidence Moses had anything to do with them and plenty that he didn’t. The narrative, for example, is never once in the first person; it’s all ‘Moses ordered this slaughter, Moses ordered that slaughter’, never ‘I was the bastard who ordered all the genocide.’ Maybe he was embarrassed about it or – much more likely – it was written by someone else..

In fact, the books were compiled from a range of sources, including stories from other cultures. They reached the form in which we know them around 600-400BC, a mere eight hundred to a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived. The events and folk-heroes they describe are demonstrably mythical.

Moses2

Christians like to say that King David wrote many of the Psalms. While David’s name is attached to 73 of the 150, there is no reason to conclude he wrote them. It is more likely ‘of David’ serves as a dedication to a revered (and long dead) figure and may, indeed, have been added much later. The Psalms were actually created over an extended period of time – as much as five hundred years – by a wide range of unknown composers.DavidBelievers attribute much of the book of Proverbs to King Solomon, the fruit of David’s loins. Again, this is highly unlikely. The sayings are largely traditional and the attribution ‘is likely more concerned with labeling the material than ascribing authorship.’

Palin

Christians believe four blokes called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the New Testament’s gospels. They didn’t. The gospels were written anonymously and did not have the traditional names attached until a century or so after their composition. None is by an eye-witness. There is no evidence that the writer of Mark was a disciple of Peter’s, nor that ‘Luke’ was a companion of Paul’s (and even if he was, this wouldn’t make him an expert on the historical Jesus), nor that ‘John’ was a bona fide disciple. The fourth gospel was written between 90 and 110CE when the disciple would have had to be between 80 and 100 years old, or, much more likely given life-expectancy in the first century, dead. There are several hands at work in ‘John’, as the gospel itself concedes (John 21.24).

 Beatles

Christians insist that all of the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written by him. However, despite the fact they say they’re by Paul, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are not; they are forgeries. They were composed long after Paul’s death, which occurred some time around 64CE. The earliest of the forgeries, Colossians, is thought to be circa 75CE, while the ‘pastoral’ letters to Timothy and Titus may be as late as 150CE. All of the forgeries contradict the ideas expressed in Paul’s genuine letters.

PaulPeter wrote the letters that carry his name, or so god-botherers claim, but according to the Bible itself, Peter was an illiterate Galilean fisherman (Acts 4.13). The Greek of the letters supposedly by him is accomplished and the theology well developed. Did Peter have time to learn Greek and polish its written form to perfection while busy preaching the gospel to all nations? Even if he did, how did he manage to write a letter (2 Peter) concerned with conditions in the church more than a century after his time with Jesus?

Anderson3

Jesus’ brothers James and Jude, we’re told, wrote the letters carrying their names. Again, they didn’t. The letter of James may have originated in the early Jerusalem church presided over by James the Just, but there’s no evidence this was Jesus’ brother. Jude is plagiarised from 2 Peter – word-for-word in places – which is itself a forgery. Would someone who knew Jesus as intimately as a brother need to steal what he had to say from an illegitimate source? Jude would have had to be well over a hundred years old to pull this one off.

Robertson2When all else fails – and it does – Christians fall back on that most implausible of last resorts, ‘the Holy Spirit’. The very breath of God, they insist, presided over the creation of the Bible from start to finish. If it did, it made a staggeringly bad job of it; misattribution, mistakes and forgeries are the hallmarks of ‘God’s precious Word’.doveAnd on this unstable foundation, this tissue of lies, rests the entire edifice that is Christianity.

(It is difficult to find online sources on the authorship of the Bible. Christians have taken over the Internet with innumerable sites insisting the Bible was written by whoever they say it was. I’ve had to fall back on Wikipedia here (the articles are pretty comprehensive) but if you don’t think it reliable enough, I recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.)

 

Faith: An Exercise In Futility

MountainsWhat is faith?

The anonymous author of the book of Hebrews says it’s ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (11.1)

Hoping for ‘things’ like perfection, resurrection, eternal life, heaven (not to mention the ability to move mountains), the likes of which no-one has ever achieved, is nothing but wishful thinking. Despite what the Hebrews author says, wishful thinking isn’t evidence of anything – except a capacity for wishful thinking.

By it’s very nature, then, faith is not evidence, but the very opposite. It is the effort to believe in things for which there is no evidence and the delusional insistence that the imagined is more real than that which is.

My preciousss is mine (and mine alone)

bible3Christians have a monopoly on the Bible. No-one else should comment on it, criticise it or even quote from it. Or so Christians tell me. The reason for this, apparently, is that ‘it is absurd to contest the Bible when (you’re) missing the one main ingredient: Jesus’. Not so, of course; the Bible is there for anyone who wants to consider and ‘contest’ it. Granted one’s perspective will be coloured by how one regards it to begin with –

whether you approach it with a reasonable degree of objectivity or look at it through the myopia of faith;

whether you take what it says at face value or apply shifty exegesis to smooth out its many inconsistencies;

whether you acknowledge it was created over time by a succession of fallible men or assume it represents the accurately recorded words of God;

whether you regard it as beliefs of ancient tribesmen and religious fanatics or see it as the means of salvation and the ultimate guide to life.

It is only reasonable that those who take the first of each of these alternatives look to those who take the latter to see how closely they adhere to the demands the Bible makes of them. It’s reasonable because those who believe in its magical properties use it to tell the rest of us how wicked and/or lost we are and how much we need Jesus. If the Bible is the Word of God (as I’ve noted before, it doesn’t claim to be; it’s Christians who say it is), instructing believers on how to live their lives while spreading the gospel, it is not unreasonable for those of us on the receiving end of their ‘witness’ to take a look at how that works out. Not so well as it happens.

Now either this is the fault of the book – heaven forfend that it isn’t clear about what’s expected of God’s Chosen – or Christians themselves are to blame for failing to live as it expects. Unsurprisingly, it’s a combination of the two; a book of mixed messages in the hands of flawed human beings. When Christians refuse to acknowledge that the Bible is far from perfect they are faced with the challenge of making its impossible demands compatible with their own imperfections. They have a number of cop-out excuses that enable them to do this, several of which appear in the comments on this blog. I’ve discussed a number of them before, but here’s a quick summary:

Christians are not perfect and the Bible doesn’t say we should be (actually it does, in Matthew 5.48);

Others have no right to be critical of Christians when we’re doing our best;

You can’t use our own book against us when you don’t know Jesus (see above);

You’re a sinner so what do you know?;

You’re quoting out of context (and only Christians can do that);

You’re not applying the correct exegesis and/or hermeneutics (i.e. mine);

The Christians you’re criticising aren’t real Christians;

It is unfair to lump all Christians together.

Is it? Is it really unfair to lump all Christians together? Aren’t you all meant to be one body, the Body of Christ – you, the Pope, Westboro Baptists, the mega-churches and their celebrity pastors, Joyce Meyer, those who would stone gays, those who affirm gays, Franklin Graham, Alpha converts, abortion-clinic bombers, African witch-finders, Archbishop Sentamu, ‘Emergents’, those who belong to one of the thousands of other denominations and all your friends in your own little church? Who are you to say who’s saved and who isn’t? All Christians represent all other Christians, who represent Christ himself. The Bible says so in 1 Corinthians 12.12-26, Ephesians 4.14 -16 and elsewhere. Or did it get it wrong again?

Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.