I have no intention of discrediting the “Bible” as we know it today. I’m merely reintroducing both Christian and Mormon alike to the concept of what’s in it and what it is. It never was intended to be nor ever was even billed as infallible, or complete, or perfect in all the centuries and millennia that led to hacking it into modern form. All that posturing only began a few hundred years ago.
Inerrancy is a very recent notion in the Christian world. The “Holy Bible,” or “Holy Book,” is a collection of ancient writings the Church clergy has decided to use as a “canon” or “measuring stick” to judge other, less certain ancient writings and traditions against. It was determined by committee after committee very consciously and very brutally at times by sheer human deliberation, to be a standard with which two-thousand-and-still-waiting-for-Jesus years of professional Christian administrators could unite, divide, save or condemn their captive flocks at will. In many cases it was an honest attempt to narrow down from fragmented notes and memories, what the “Gospel” or “Good News” was supposed to be. And then kill anyone who didn’t see it your way. At least that’s how it always seemed to work out in the end.
For hundreds of years there was no Christian “Holy Scripture” at all, and for a millennium and a half even after most Christian clergies had decided that this or that scroll was important there was still no standard Christian “Bible” in any language, race, creed or color.
Back some five or six hundred years ago only the clergy had a “Bible” and could read it because common folk didn’t speak Greek or Latin. And they couldn’t afford a book. And it was illegal to own a Bible anyway. The “Holy Bible” was and remains a collection of claims or “proofs” of claims made by a professional clergy to enforce their personal views upon their congregations, up to and including ruling all of civil law with them. Every “official” edition of every “authorized” Bible until the last few decades has served a particular clergy and a particular civil authority.
The Bible in the American Evangelical sense of a Divinely preserved Work of God meant for all mankind is really only as old as the United States. Up until then, even if you had a Bible and confessed Jesus as Lord, it meant absolutely nothing to almost all of the Body of Christ. Your Bible only meant as much as your clergy said it meant and your faith in Christ meant nothing until they logged it officially into their books through whatever requirements they demanded of you to authorize your salvation.
And the Bible has always been rated for value of content book-by-book, particularly by Christians. For generations Christians preserved the “Apocrypha” but unfortunately, on the very first go at it, the Church clergy went through and harmonized all of those books with “Catholic” beliefs so what we now call the “Apocrypha” is a complete re-write of every alleged author in it, and no trace of the originals exists.
And as solid as you’d think the Old Testament ought to be, Christians and their clergies still just pick and choose what lessons they want to learn from it. That the Jews were God’s Chosen usually hasn’t been one of these lessons. Even the Great Father of Leftist denominations like the ELCA, Martin Luther, referred to the Jews as “that accursed race” on many many occasions and in great detail.
And while for the last five or six hundred years, Protestants like Martin Luther have been printing the “Bible” in common tongues, and while obviously this was a good move overall, it also led to yet another flurry of “versionizing.” Now it was the Protestants’ turn to make sure their versions of the Bible backed up their claims of autonomy and gave no support to the notion of a central orthodox and perfect Church, or Papal authority. This in turn gave the Papists a new reason to kill off another string of Bible-printing martyrs all across Europe.
Versionizing didn’t limit itself even at this late date to just splitting hairs over translations or editorializing and inserting local sectarian views into a verse here and there. Luther for instance, freed to act upon his own conscience (according to his own personal revelation or inspiration in Mormon terms) decided he didn’t like a big chunk of the New Testament and his newly translated German Bible put his disputed books in the back of the collection. He actually put the Apocrypha ahead of them between the Old and New Testaments.
Initially Luther had a low view of the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He called the Epistle of James “an epistle of straw,” finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work. He also had harsh words for the book of Revelation, saying that he could “in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.” He had reason to question the apostolicity of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation because the early church categorized these books as antilegomena, meaning that they were not accepted without reservation as canonical. Luther did not, however, remove them from his editions of the Scriptures, but he placed them last in order. His views on some of these books changed in later years.
Luther chose to place the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. These books and addenda to canonical books are found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Masoretic text. Luther left the translating of them largely to Philipp Melanchthon and Justus Jonas. They were not listed in the table of contents of his 1523 Old Testament, and they were given the well-known title: “Apocrypha: These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read” in the 1534 Bible. See also Biblical canon, Development of the Christian Biblical canon, and Biblical Apocrypha.
I put the Bible in quotes a few times here, because all it really means is “book.” We say “scripture” and all that means is “writing.” It’s not even a “Book” in any conventional sense. it’s a collection of almost entirely unrelated writings by authors that survive not because of their clarity and brilliance but because they just happen to have gotten scribbled down and almost randomly survived. In truth, they didn’t survive. Manuscripts that claim to be copies of them survived.
When these “scriptures” were written, the New Testament books in particular weren’t necessarily considered holy and sacred at all except perhaps for one little circle surrounding the alleged author’s local following. Even after 1500 years of gathering and sorting and categorizing, and closing the canon formally and universally throughout all of Christendom, along come the Protestants. Most of them still felt this so-called “Holy Book” after 1500 years of evolution and development hadn’t been crafted down to an object so universally and unquestionably Holy that you couldn’t still openly poo-poo the thing book-by-book as Luther did in 1542. Or just finally dump the Apocrypha entirely, as the Authorized King James Bible publishers started doing in 1640.
You see, Mormons and Christians alike, have reverse-engineered the Bible into its holiness. Right up until the day Christianity and its battling clergies declared it holy and perfect it was just a loose collection of stuff to argue about. The Bible is not a work carefully crafted by God and handed down from the clouds to priests of the Almighty and theocratic prophet-kings. (With due credit to some of the Old Testament books of course.) But because every new generation of fanatics moves the claim of God-written inerrancy up to their favorite current translation it makes it just that much harder to get to the truth about both the Bible itself and what it really says to us.
For one thing we have many new discoveries and better translations from older manuscripts today, but for religious and sociological reasons it is not permitted sometimes even in concept to entertain the idea that we can learn anything new about a perfect document if it might suggest that it wasn’t so perfect. Or God forbid, that you’ve been reading it upside down and backwards for two thousand years or more. That’s not preserving the Word of God, that’s preserving the reputation of a bunch of scribblers and typesetters, and the clergies and civil forces that sponsored them.
This criticism can be hurled straight at Mormonism as well as Christianity. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and company went around telling the world how perfect the Book of Mormon was only have to apologize for generations of typos and misspellings from then to this very day. That’s no different a boast than any of the dozens of Bible translators and publishers have made over the centuries. And eventually, the mistakes become evident and another translation and publication is mounted amid great uproar. Luckily for the Mormons, most of these new Bible translations actually support Mormon doctrinal claims in many critical passages far better than the King James Version.
Mormons, having ironically built their church on the prospect that the Bible was subject to flaws, can’t seem to put their money where their mouths are and move with the times to better translations—even if only as supplemental study in its LDS Institute and other religion classes.
Obviously Mormons can’t externally use the Joseph Smith “Inspired” Version because technically it is just a paraphrase with editorial commentaries and ad-lib filler material way outside any existing text. You can claim Joseph had the Holy Ghost whispering in his ear all you want but that will never be embraced by the Christian world. You’d have to already be a Mormon for that argument to have any strength. But you’d think the next best thing would be to get behind a better conventional translation and stop having to bash past the same idiotic catch-verses out of the King James Bible over and over when a proper translation would say it for you.
All the Christian world has to cling to in the way of original apostolic “authority” are the Four Gospels and a few letters mostly from Paul, AKA, Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the Saints. Now, some would contend that Paul’s background could have nothing to do with his understanding of Christian faith. To believe that would be foolish.
“Paul” was an alias Saul used to conceal the fact that he was a former Christ-killer and Jew. Judas betrayed Christ, Peter denied Christ, but Saul, he actually killed Christ, or at least voted “yea” when the vote came to exterminate Him. And Saul did literally hunt down and helped kill Christ’s apostles and followers. That’s got to mean you’re coming at the religion from a rather different perspective than most of the other apostles.
Each one of the Gospel writers had a different take on Christian concepts and themes. At no point did they ever seem to get together and try to harmonize their ministries either. And none them even just on their own wrote any sort of Church foundational handbook complete or clear enough to really flesh out their whole personal Christian program. There were many contentions amongst them. Paul for one didn’t think you had to get circumcised to join the Church, just baptized. And you could drop the whole Mosaic Law thing on top of it. Even Passover.
(That circumcision issue made one helluva difference to Paul’s converts but did not make the Hebrew Christians happy at all.)
Did Paul win this doctrinal argument through the ages simply because he wrote the most and converted the most? Was he just in the end the most Greco-Roman friendly apostle and so his personal Christian flavor took hold in the Western World, where the more Hebrew-flavored versions didn’t?
(Imagine a circle of excited monks ringed around a scrap of ancient papyrus in the hand of Peter, slapping each other on their backs after months of patient restoration and translation: “Oh yes, yes brothers—our blessed Saint Peter says Paul is a Roman buffoon and of course circumcision is required! Jesus was circumcised!” And they all run off to get their private parts trimmed properly and spread the news to the nearest pope to make it compulsory for everyone… Not likely.)
There are no “original autographs” as they are called in the religion business, of any of these records—no scribbled or chiseled or etched-in-brass plates-like ancient documents even alleged to be the direct writings of any of the Bible’s purportedly sainted authors.
The Bible epistles, which pretend to be apostolic documents, could have been very helpful in “proving” correct Christian tenets and organization, had they been original manuscripts, deliberately written to be included in a “Bible.” If these letters in question had been hand-penned instructions from say, Peter, on how to set up a local branch of the Church, we could not only rely upon their authority, but they would have been comprehensive and plain. However, these letters are little more than an anonymously authored collection of quips. They are mainly inspirational, cheerleading little reminders to the Church in regions only just set up to stick to the program as outlined. Just what that program was is not even clearly restated, it is assumed the reader already knows what the writer is talking about.
So, short of being a prophet, seer, and revelator, you have to have a pretty good background of contemporary ancient historical writers and early Church commentators to have any real idea what the Bible writers mean about anything most of the time.
And if we finally concede after surmounting the above decoding problems that what we are reading really is directly from the hand of some original apostle, and it has been translated and preserved correctly, even this much faith is rewarded by a host of gaps, glaring, internal discrepancies, and inconsistencies. A case in point would be the writer or author or editor of the Gospel of Mathew, who seems to embellish or grossly misquote Hebrew scripture. Matthew 1:22-23 proclaims “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…” The actual Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 he is quoting only reads, “Behold a young woman shall conceive…” There are in fact no Hebrew versions in which any virgin birth is prophesied in regard to the birth of Meshia. Rather than call Matthew a liar (or whoever wrote under his name) it is agreed fairly universally that Matthew never actually used the words “virgin birth.” Most Biblical scholars chalk the error up to embellishment by translators of the Greek “Septuagint,” which to date is the oldest version we have of any of the New Testament writers–upon which all other language versions and translations are based. But not all agree it was an innocent error:
“The Prophecy of the Virgin Birth appears in Matthew 1:22-23. Matthew wrote this seventy years after Jesus Christ was born (35-40 years after he died). Up until that point no other text mentions Jesus’ virgin birth. He quotes Isaiah 7:14 which was written 700 years before Jesus was born – thus claiming it was a sign, a prediction of the Messiah’s virgin birth.
But there is a serious problem. Matthew states that, due to prophecy, it is true that Jesus was a male line descendant of King David, and presents a genealogy at the beginning of his gospel tracing Jesus’ lineage through Joseph. Matthew, apparently, like Luke and Paul and the rest of the early Christians, did not believe in a virgin birth. There are two theories that explain how this contradiction occurred. (1) A Septuagint mistranslation of the word “virgin” instead of “young woman” caused the discrepancy. The original prophecy is not that someone called Immanuel will be born of a virgin, but merely that someone called Immanuel will be born. In the original context of the story, this makes a lot of sense. (2) Matthew, writing for a Roman gentile audience in Greek, included popular myths surrounding sons of gods, who in Roman mythology were frequently said to be born of virgins. In either case, it is clear that Matthew’s prophecy of a virgin birth was a mistake, and modern Bible’s actually include a footnote in Matthew pointing out that the virgin birth is a Septuagint mistranslation.”
There is nothing self-evident or self-explanatory about the Bible. A hundred people can read the same passage and come up with a hundred different meanings depending upon their geo-political and sociological perspectives–even with the best translation from the oldest manuscripts. And the truth is, the more passages you read the more questions you have, the more convoluted the storyline gets, and the less certain you are about the basic tenets and principles of “Christianity.” That’s where the clergy comes in of course.
Joseph Smith is ridiculed for saying in effect, well, I can sidestep these sorts of Bible study problems because I’m a prophet, I talk to God and angels and stuff, and I reveal what the Bible really has to say about it via my magic stones and personal conversations with Deity. Fair enough. I does sound crazy though. Even so, all of “orthodox” Christianity’s authorities are just saying, well, I’m not a prophet, and I don’t talk to angels or anything like that, and it’s not like I have a crystal ball, and I certainly don’t get any lengthy tutorials about the Bible and what it means directly from Deity, but I’m still quite qualified to know the will of God concerning just about anything I set my mind to because I’m really smart and I read a lot of stuff other guys like me have thought about stuff over the centuries–and basically you’re all just idiots so I’m you best hope.
Now, in Christ’s time there was a very rough Hebrew canon of scripture. It wasn’t what we call the Old Testament now. It was a big tent or room or caravan full of scrolls by an independent group of writers of widely varying authority. This ranged from the five books assumed to be the work of Moses, to various Psalms, or song/poetry works of dubious authorship but mostly attributed to King David. Hebrew canon also included some historical stories like that of Ruth or Job.
Ruth on the one hand is probably a mostly secular, historical account of an actual event. On the other hand, Job for example is argued to be more of a parable than an actual character even if based on an original character at one point. But this so-called “Jewish” canon has been fixed since around 1000BC and very reliable copies keep turning up to illustrate that it has remained very fixed in its tellings since that time and almost unchanged in it’s meaning or translations. Part of this may be due to Isaiah’s writings for one, being so incomprehensible that scribes, translators and clerical authorities just gave up trying to understand what he was driving at most of the time and made a literal, word-for-word translation or copy without guessing meanings or editorializing or embellishments.
The oldest stories in the Old Testament or in these ancient Hebrew scrolls are allegedly to have taken place thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago. We look back now three millennia to 1000BC, and think, well, they’ve been locked in time almost word-for-word for three thousand years. That just proves how reliable the whole Bible is and proof of God’s Divine Providence in preserving it.
Well, no, that’s just the Old Testament. The New Testament is an entirely different story as already noted. Even then, these three-thousand-year-old stories in the Old Testament are actually thousands of years older than that. This means they still floated around for millennia after millennia till finally written down in hard form three thousand years back. From a scholarly standpoint they’re even less reliable than the New Testament. The four thousand years before somebody gathered them all together and put them on paper they just passed around the globe or at least the region as folk tales. To help sort them out for future generations, the rabbis, the scribes and Hebrew scholars who locked them down on scrolls, preserved also the thousands of years of clerical commentaries connected to each verse, parsing out what many generations of scriptorians have thought about what each and every verse means.
The Talmud, the main “Jewish” reference work, is a book or scroll with a large, wide page area. In the center of each page is one passage of scripture. Written all around this small spot of scripture, is paragraph after paragraph of rabbinical debate and illumination about its meaning. So you see, even with the “Ten Commandments” approach–the literal Word of God going directly to a page by the Finger of the Almighty—you still don’t find Holy Writ to be self-explanatory enough to base a Church on without institutional clerical mediates between it and the congregation.
The rabbis, like early Christian canonical contestants, fell into two main camps—those who thought these sacred writings should always be considered literal and inerrant, and those who thought that at least a good portion of them were figurative, symbolic, they were parables and metaphors and had layers of meaning both obvious and more subtle and deep.
Now, all of these Hebrew scriptures and attendant debates have carried over into the Christian tradition. And most of them are quite contradictory to most of the lessons Jesus taught. Under the modern umbrella of “Christianity” and “orthodoxy” you can have some hellfire-and-damnation “Angry Jehovah” style fundamentalist preach at you with venom spitting out of his mouth and sending you to hell for reading the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, and at the same time you can find some New-Testament style “Jesus Freak” giving you a big hug and loving you to heaven and forgiving all your dope-smoking, girlie magazine-reading, liquor-store-robbing, murdering-rapist ways, because all he cares to read and believe out of the Bible is that happy collection of wisdom we call the “Beatitudes,” the Sermon on the Mount.
We do of course have some allegedly direct teachings of Christ from this famous Sermon on the Mount and other reminisces found in the Four Gospels. Jesus did not however, write these down, nor did he stop and have them dictated. This was a long lecture shouted from the side of a hill in open air before a large crowd. If we have preserved a part of it, it can only be a tiny part of it from memories or hasty notes that were many many years later collected into narratives. It is sheer speculation that anyone ever wrote down in real-time any of Jesus’ sermons or any other events in His life.
The four Gospels, again, while the most “reliable” of the accounts of Jesus’ teachings, unfortunately do not agree on a number of fairly major facts. One of these would be Christ’s last words as he died on the cross, something you’d think was pretty important. Four apostles or God Almighty, depending upon who you listen to, recorded the the Greatest Story Ever Told and one or all of them missed the tag line.
If the most reliable of all the canonical books can’t agree on what Jesus’ last words are, it suggests that the Bible is as subject to human retelling and retelling much the same as any other presumably historical account of anyone or anything from anywhere. In this respect there is nothing uniquely “holy” of “Divine” about the way the Bible was recorded or preserved. The Bible in any of its forms is a tradition that defends the mortal institution of organized Christianity. the Bible did not define Christianity, Christianity defined the Bible. The Bible is not a personal, comprehensive Divinely authoritative guidebook containing all the answers. The Bible is a tool for finding the inspiration to produce personal answers that are not contained in it.
For the Mormon, arguing Mormonism from an American perspective largely based upon what little the Mormon understands about even American-style Christianity, we must first understand that modern, evangelical Christians have whittled the whole issue of Christian authority down to the Bible. Usually one particular translation of the Bible. Particularly the King James Version.
The mythology surrounding the King James Bible is thick as a simmered-out pot of Quaker Oats. If the Mormon wants to try to move a Christian beyond their biblical programming, which is a filtration and interpretation system ingrained from infancy, Mormonism must first bring itself to an understanding that the Bible is not synonymous with Christianity. Christianity was not crafted from the Bible. The Bible was crafted by Christianity. It’s been thoroughly cheated, and loaded in favor of the two-thousand-year-old Christian status quo.
Furthermore, Mormons have also crafted their own Bible. They just haven’t mustered the balls to publish it straight out. Instead, they put their corrections into footnotes and supplements, and pretended to still use the King James Version as a “Standard Work.” The real Mormon edition of the Bible is encoded throughout the voluminous manuals and lesson series used by the church to teach and explain the King James Version to its own. This externally crafted Mormon deciphering matrix has also been correlated and hammered home repeatedly from childhood till it is invisibly internalized inside every Mormon Bible reader.
Just like the Christian, the Mormon understands his Bible exactly as his clergy has trained him to understand it. And Mormons are not Christians. So they have “learned” the Bible in an entirely different structure and context than the Christian. To presume that the “Bible” is a necessarily any sort of common bridge between Mormonism and Christianity is silly. Sometimes it is fatally silly. Eternally silly.