A Vital Question.
Before we look at this carefully, let me ask you a question. It is a very honest question and should be quite simple to answer. Your failure to answer it honestly, pretty much voids any purpose in reading on.
The question is this; can you name me one Bible translation either modern or ancient, that was not translated through the filters of someone else’s pre-existing theology? I am going to make an assumption here, that every honest person’s answer to that question must intelligently be, “no”. No, we cannot nominate a single Bible translation that was not interpreted, and subsequently translated via somebody’s pre-existing theology. We must necessarily conclude that outside of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, all we are left with are possibilities, founded on theology arrived at by persons long since dead and whose biases are unknown. Accurate ancient texts, however, are not the only tool at our disposal, in discovering what is probably true and probably not.
Firstly, we look at the whole, for a consistent theme for one thing. That is to say, we use a Superset to parse a Subset, not the reverse. For example, almost all religions using the Bible as their source will agree that at its core, it teaches us that there is a God. Now past that, is not a whole lot of agreement on His intentions, His methods, His end game, and so forth. We arrive at this conclusion by both observing the overall theme of the Bible and observing how others view that overall theme.
Secondly, we look at internal contextual consistencies and inconsistencies. For example, there is a common tool used by dogmatists, commonly referred to as text proofing. We’ve all seen it in use. Text proofing describes the habit of taking a point from this book, a verse from that chapter and a conclusion from this or that apostle, and weaving a patchwork of doctrine/s, based on loosely collected, convenient sources. When we look at any end times doctrines, that is to say, eschatology in general, we are instantly struck by the wide usage of text proofing. Millenialists, Amillennialists, Pre-millennialists, Post-tribulationists, Mid-tribulationists, Pre-tribulationists, Rapturists, all believe different things. A verse from Daniel, a passage from Thessalonians and a few choice Offerings from Revelations, and voila! Hey, presto! Now we’ve got a doctrine! Rarely if ever do any of these dogma dictocrats ever read a whole chapter or offer a whole book or constructively teach large passages in context. Recently in the Gospel Revolution, we observed ourselves evolving an understanding of predestination, based entirely on reading in context whole chapters and passages of every instance of both the original Greek word and the English word. We arrived at a very different conclusion than classical Christianity does, either in Calvinism or in Arminianism, which are the major two options that modern Christianity are left with. The conclusion to which we came, was that while Calvinism says that God could save all of humanity, but He just doesn’t want to, and Arminianism says that God wanted to save all of humanity, but just can’t quite pull it off (always fighting a rearguard action against the devil, don’t you know), the Bible teaches that God could save the whole world, and did. And yet in the name of Jesus, countless millions have lived in despairing doubt, or been murdered because they believed one or the other of these only two prevalent Christian doctrines of predestination. So much for text proofing!
Thirdly we look for consistency of translation. For example, when we find several different words in Greek all having been translated into the same English word, we know we have a problem. But yet, the words for grave, hell, and eternal are just the tip of the iceberg, in uncovering willful, deceitful translation. This didn’t just start with modern translations, it started in the late 300s when the original Greek texts were translated into Latin by Jerome, a Hebrew and Greek scholar, St Augustine who boasted in his lifetime that he would never learn Greek, and Pope Damasius, who held the highest position in Christianity at the time. This Gang Of Three were determined to follow the intentions of the pagan Roman emperor Constantine, in translating into the Roman tongue (Latin), a uniform book to build a uniform religion and thence a unified Roman Empire. They were successful, but in doing so they had to ensure that the new Bible, the Vulgate, came into line with the preapproved doctrine of orthodoxy. We must never forget, that history is always written by the winners, and the embryonic Roman Catholic Church, through much blood, death, and disagreement, emerged the eventual winners. This was the greatest turning point in the history of Christianity, and its effects are with us to this day. There are countless words in any modern translation you care to nominate, which when compared with the original Greek text use multiple various English words to translate one Greek word, and translate multiple various Greek words as one English word. This makes reading the Bible a huge trap for the unwary. We know that some religions have produced their very own translation, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses “New World Translation”. In it, they are just as guilty of convenient self-serving interpretation as any other religious sect. Then we have those who are King James only-ists. Suffice it to say, that King James only-ists, can only maintain their position of invincible ignorance, by voicing single sided arguments.
Repetition of Errors.
Have you ever heard that old song, “I have a mansion just over the hilltop”? That song, and all of the funeral sermons you heard that included this concept, derived it from John chapter 14. In the first few verses Jesus is speaking, and talks about mansions he is going to prepare for us. Up around verse 23 Jesus says that if we obey him and do everything he tells is to do, he and his father will enter us and make their abode in us. The only problem is that in both instances this is the same Greek word. Somehow magically, we get a mansion, and God gets just an abode. This was first translated in the first Bible produced by the Catholic Church in over 1000 years named the Douay Rhiems Bible. Then it was copied and pasted into the King James. If you look at modern Chinese and Vietnamese and other versions you will find that this error has been replicated, meaning that all of these Bibles were never translated from the Greek original text, but from the King James.
Fourthly, we have an interesting situation, in trying to discern between Scripture and non-Scripture. By this, I mean that Jesus described what he considered to be Scripture, as the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. With this, all his disciples appeared to agree. Certainly, when Paul writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13, asked Timothy to bring with him when he came visiting Paul later, a coat and a few books Paul had left behind, it is safe to presume that Paul did not consider himself to be writing Scripture. In fact more often than not, all the writers in the New Testament identified that they were quoting from the Old Testament, when they did so, that is to say, their scriptures at that time, the Hebrew Law, Psalms and Prophets. So the question naturally follows, is the New Testament Scripture?
We must lean hard on evidence from the early centuries after Christ in order to resolve this question. Centuries, no, millennia of embedded church teachings have resulted in modern Christianity accepting absolutely the history they have inherited from the Roman Catholic Church, or, in other words, when Protestantism branched out from Catholicism, it chose to reject that which it deemed inappropriate, and retain that which it preferred to, or was too ignorant to refute at that time. One of the things it preferred to retain was the alleged canonicity of the Bible as we have today. It must be noted here, that the Bible was never canonised anywhere, any time, except in the late 1500s as a Catholic knee-jerk reaction to Protestantism at the Council of Trent. (And yes! That would be the same Church Council that advocated worship of Mary.) All that ever happened in the late 300s was that the Bible was hammered, and I MEAN hammered, into its present shape, over the objections of any opposition. Protestantism, nowhere cares to be honest about how the books of the New Testament were agreed upon, but to say murder and politics were much involved, would be an understatement. It cannot be overemphasized, that Protestantism is indeed the bastard child of Roman Catholicism, and in most things can only lean on that church for its history. It has been said that in the Vatican Library is over 1,500 miles of preserved books never seen by anyone outside the Vatican. So when Protestant apologists claim that they are in full receipt of all relevant information regarding anything to do with their history, it should be clear that they are somewhere between ignorant of the facts and outright liars.
One of the lies of traditional Christianity is that there was a very honest approach to deciding what books were to be in the Bible. Well don’t be asking the father of church history, Eusebius, that, and while you’re at it, best not ask the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, that either.
To defend their position of pick and choose, cut-and-paste, hit-and-run religion inherited from the Catholic Church, Protestants, in a never ending effort to justify calling the New Testament, Scripture, have resorted to regurgitating the same arguments to support their position as do their historical predecessors, the Roman Catholics. The principles commonly quoted by Christianity as the criteria for what was included in the New Testament “Canon” are these.
The principles commonly quoted by Christianity as the criteria for what was included in the New Testament “Canon” are these.
- Apostolic Authority. The book had to have been written by either an apostle or the intimate friend of an apostle, as in Peter and Mark, Paul and Luke etc
- Rule of Faith; this was whatever orthodoxy deemed at the time, to be correct theology.
- Continuous usage and acceptance by the church at large. But these only raise more questions than they answer.
Apostolic Authority; Who wrote Hebrews? Does anybody know, anyone? No! Nobody has a clue who wrote Hebrews. So how did Hebrews make it into the New Testament? So much for apostolic authority. Remember, asking anybody in leadership, questions of this nature will only ever get you in trouble. Or as someone once quipped, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.
As for the Rule of Faith, again remember, history is always written by the winners. And in religion you only win, by destroying the opposition by whatever means possible up to and including murder.
Then we come to continuous usage and acceptance by the church at large. Eusebius the father of church history writing around 250AD said that James was a forgery, and he was a lot closer to Jesus and the apostles than we are. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, said that James should never have been in the Bible; that it was a right straw-ey little epistle and contained nothing whatsoever of the Gospel. So why was James included in the Bible? The answer is simple. This book was unknown in the African churches, where Christianity produced its greatest earliest church fathers. 300 years after the birth of Jesus, these African churches had never even heard of the book of James. But when it came to providing a foil to Paul’s writings, the book of James was the perfect antidote. Then we have other books like the Shepherd of Hermes, which are well-known to have been in continuous usage and acceptance by the church at large, but lost out in the lottery for inclusion In the New Testament. So much for continuous usage and acceptance by the church at large. It can only be concluded from this, that modern Christianity is fond of using whatever arguments they can to support a book i.e. the New Testament, the authenticity of which, they have no evidence.
Writings, fair and forged
Then we must also wade into the controversy regarding what is authentic and what is not In the New Testament. Most highly regarded Bible scholars, be they theists, atheists or agnostics, are in agreement that several books in the New Testament are forgeries. If that is true then why would God Have Wanted Them in the New Testament, especially a New Testament that he knew that Christians would call God breathed Scripture? The inerrant Word of God? Then as if that were not enough, we have an added problem.
The Great Conundrum
If we accept what Jesus said as being definitive regarding the Scriptures, and we look at the New Testament as being only a commentary on the Scriptures, then we find ourselves in a circular logic problem. For example, if the New Testament is not Scripture, and there are forgeries and later additions in play, then how do we even know that what Jesus is reported to have said, He actually said? You see the problem?!
The only answer to this, then becomes, we can accept from the commentary of the New Testament, that which agrees with what Jesus and the apostles called the Scriptures, namely the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. In doing so we must be very careful to also remember that Koine Greek, that is to say that the style of Greek in which the New Testament was written, was all capitalised with no spaces in between words and no punctuation and with no verses or chapters. Punctuation can utterly change the meaning of a verse. For example, Paul wrote, “Let him who stole, steal no more. Let him work with his own two hands.” But if we punctuate that differently we end up with, “Let him that stole, steal! No more let work with his own two hands. Another good example is to be found in Romans 3:23-24 This is one sentence. There is a comma between 23 and 24 – not even a period. It’s literally one thought…one sentence. And 23 is quoted by itself, and therefore out of context 50,000 times annually in Protestant churches across the world. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Who is justified by his grace as a gift in this sentence? All who have sinned.
But how do we translate that when we are going back to the Greek text which was written as one long continuous string of letters without punctuation? We translate the only way we can; we translate via our pre-existing theology.
The bottom line here is, shall we continue to believe as we have been taught to believe all look for the consistencies running right through the grand theme of the scriptures? That is for you to answer. Thank you for reading; Don (Beres) Bartlett