The Bible As A History Book..

I think I have let it be known that I view the Bible as a history book of the early period of Christianity. As such maybe it needs to be updated from time to time? New chapters need to be written and old ones modified to more accurately reflect information found.

The Bible was put together about 400 years after the death of Jesus. It was primarily assembled under the oversight of a Roman Emperor who intended to use it as a guide for his kingdom. It contained several of the ancient documents found at the time but by no means all of them. Some of the ancient documents just didn’t seem to align with what the emperor wanted. There was and continues to be today questions about the authorship of many of the established documents. It is now generally accepted that many of the people given credit for the authorship of the various documents didn’t really write them but instead they were written by the people who were inspired by those early Christians. Anyone who cares to look at the bible with critical analysis techniques sees these inconsistencies.  There is nothing wrong with that as they, as with any human endeavour, are not perfect.

There are some who seem to believe that after the Bible was assembled God no longer had anything to say to us.  My Quaker friends totally reject this idea and so do I. God teaches me new things on a daily basis it seems. The Bible was only the beginning of that wisdom transfer.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting if every four hundred year a biblical council such as the one in fifth century were to have been convened to add additional documents and maybe correct some things in previous versions? I guess in a way that is what Roman Catholics say is the Pope’s job.  He keeps God’s word relevant for the times. I personally doubt that this can be accomplished via a single human being. even with a massive hierarchy.

The biggest change to the church came from the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago.  Since that time we have gone from a handful of Christian organizations to literally tens of thousands.  Every time a church body has any serious conflict their answer it is to split into another version of Christianity and then claim they are the only ones who have it right. Another major problem I perceive with the  Protestant variety is that they tend to fixate on rules set down by Paul instead of the stories and lessons of Jesus.  Let’s just face it head on, the church Jesus founded morphed into something that even he would not recognize. But that is another post…

 

My View Of The Bible – Part 6 Closing Thoughts…

This six part Sunday series was about looking at the Bible as a human document. That is, it was written and assembled by humans with different life experiences, viewpoints, and passions.  Much of their thoughts and words were believed to come from divine inspiration. Many believed they were writing what God wanted them to write. When I study the Bible I try to understand the reasons why some of the writers might have penned what they did.  Of course, I am also a human who has my own life experiences and passions, part of which surely shaped by what I have previously studied. What I have said in this series is of my own understanding. But, what I have studied also very likely comes through in some cases so if I failed to give some credit during these and other posts I apologize. It is not intentional.

When we view the Bible as a document written by humans who were to one degree or another inspired by God it takes on a unique shape and understanding.  Those who insist that the Bible was, more or less, dropped down from heaven by God himself deprive themselves of this valuable insight.  Understanding the background and circumstances of the writers helps us to gain a better feel for the meanings behind their words. Every word in the Bible was not intended to be taken literally for all the ages. Much of what was written must be looked at with first century eyes and then sometimes applied to twenty-first century circumstances.

I will finish this series how I began it by saying again that I am not a trained theologian; I am just a simple guy who has studied the Bible and other related documents and come to some personal understanding about them. One thing I avoid in my posts, and I think I did a pretty good job here, is “theologian speak”. There seems to be a complex multisyllabic word to tag almost all studies of the bible. Although I am familiar with some of them I try to avoid them whenever possible.

I hope this round of posts had at least a small amount of value for some of you. I want you to come away from this series with the understanding that not all Christians see the Bible the same way…

My View Of The Bible — Part 5 Summing It Up..

This is the fifth post on this series about the Bible. If it is not obvious by now I want you to understand that I put my Christianity on Jesus Christ not on a book about him. I will try to keep this brief as it is really a wrap-up of the past posts.

About the Literalists:

  • Panic – In some cases I see almost total panic in people when I say not all the words in the bible are literally true. This belief is so ingrained in the foundations of their faith they cannot imagine it could not be true.
  • Irrational – Some say if you doubt any words in the Bible are not literally true than you must doubt all of them and therefore the Bible would be worthless! Nonsense..Living with that sort of belief makes life itself totally unlivable. There is nothing in this life that man has touched that is 100% accurate. This is like saying that I must throw out everything I know about George Washington, and I have read a lot about him, because someone wrongly wrote that he chopped down a cherry tree.
  • Acceptance? – Eventually the literal and absolutely true belief will be totally disproved even to the current day doubters. What will happen to those who tied their Christianity on that belief? Will they lose their faith? I just pray that when that day comes they will realize that Jesus should have been their total focus all along not a book about him.  What would happen to me if the Bible proved to be totally inerrant as they claim? I would be very surprised but it would not cause me to take my eyes off Jesus as the absolute center of my faith.
About the Bible:
  • At Jesus’ Feet – To be able to read stories from those who actually sat at Jesus’ feet is just so valuable in our walk with Christ. It helps us to understand why he came  to earth and became one of us! He did that to teach us how to live and how to love the God of the New Testament.
  • A Brother’s Narrative – There is one person who wrote part of the biblical text that most likely spent almost his entire life with Jesus and that was his brother (or maybe cousin depending on which theologian you might follow). It saddens me that James did not provide us more info about Jesus’ earlier years. But, then again maybe he did and it was not uncovered during the search or canonic documents. If not,  I guess he chose to concentrate on just what he thought was the most important of his brother’s messages. To hear James say that faith and works are one and the same and that faith without works is a dead faith is good enough for me.
  • About the Founders – To be able to read all the stories in the book of Acts about the first few years of Christianity is very enlightening. It certainly helps us to understand how Christianity got started and how some of its beliefs were formed primarily by the Apostle Pau. But, all of those things that occurred during these early years were not necessarily meant to apply to future Christians. Some are just for lessons learned and taught at the time of the writing and should be understood as such.
  • Early Conflicts – To see how Paul dealt with some many of the problems in the early church is interesting.  But again we cannot assume that all the solutions he proposed apply to all circumstances today. One size does not fit all.
Just give them Jesus:
  • Keep your eyes totally focused on the lessons of Jesus. Everything else is simply a distraction.
  • To tell others about Jesus and how he lived his life.  That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Tell other about Jesus and how he taught us to live.   That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Tell others about Jesus and what he commanded us to do.   That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Use the Bible stories as lessons in these matters and don’t become fixated on the words themselves.  When you do that you may end up treating words as idols and that is definitely not what Jesus intended.

Never take your eyes off Jesus.

My View Of The Bible –Part 3.. Other Views

Now that I have told you what I believe about the Bible I will go over a short list of things that are somewhat widely accepted by some twenty-first century Christian denominations but of which I basically disagree. Most of these topic titles are  from texts of discussions I have had with Christians. I put them in a special category here because they were so deeply felt by others.

All the words in the Bible are the words of Jesus (ie.  every word and punctuation mark comes from God). This title came from a person fairly high in the LCMS Lutheran organization. He used this statement to refute my belief that some of the Bible writing were not meant to be taken literally. To me instead of enhancing the rest of the Bible I think he was really degrading the actual words of Jesus.

Nothing is required of Man to be called a disciple of Jesus– Those who oppose this concept call this statement “Cheap Grace”. Anyone who has read even a few of my postings here know that this is one of the very sore points for me. To the ones who believe this I often come back with the statement that if that is true then we should eliminate the New Testament entirely and simple jump from Jesus’ birth directly to his death and resurrection. If Jesus did not expect anything from us “poor miserable sinners” then why did he continue to teach his apostles and us through them lessons about living on this earth? To take any responsibility of our existing on the earth away from us is almost to say that God creating the universe was unnecessary. At the very least it is to say that Jesus wasted his breath during his three year ministry as nothing he said makes any difference.  Those are fighting words to me 🙂

One verse negates other verses.. For people who say they are literalist when it comes to the Bible to then latch onto one verse and seemingly forget others is a mystery to me? Most of the logic for “nothing is required” comes from one sentence in the letter of Paul to the congregation of Ephesus.  That verse Ephesians 2:8 is as follows: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”.  These words from Paul, who never sat at Jesus’ feet nor seemed to understand much of his teachings, when taken alone seem to be a powerful  reinforcement of the belief that nothing is required of us. But if they are put in the context of many many of Jesus’ messages they take on a different meaning. And then there is James, the brother of Jesus, who makes it very clear that, from his brother he was taught that faith without works is a dead faith. When I look at all the words of Jesus I cannot negate them simply because of this uttered sentence in one of Paul’s many letters to a troubled congregation.

My interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one…. In my opinion this is one of the most damaging aspects of biblical beliefs.  Some are absolutely convinced that they alone know the true heart of God and anyone who disagrees with them is simply wrong!! An example of this are those who believe in the 24 hour version of Genesis go on to disrespect those who believe in the day age version. To some extent I am personally a victim of this practice but that is another story. When we continuously divide ourselves over personal interpretations we do a great disservice to God!

My View Of The Bible— Part 2 .. What I believe (con’t)

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This post continues with my fundamental beliefs about the Bible. I have not come to these beliefs on a whim. They are the result of many years of thoughtful prayer and study. I am also not trying to prove anyone wrong. Everyone should come to God in their own way. So let’s get on with the final four areas of my view on the Bible.

Some words of the Bible have infinitely more significance to our lives than others— The words  through Jesus’ lips are the most important. Every other word is secondary at best. This is a major sticking point for some. It has to do with a concept that I have coined “the slippery slope”. I will get more into that on the next post. To say that there are no words in the Bible that are any more important than others seem nonsense to me.

The Bible might contain words inspired by God —  But is not THE Word of God… Many call the Bible the word of God but I personally along with other Christians agree with John’s opening in his gospel.  Jesus is the word of God, not a book assembled by man even if much of its writings might have been inspired by God.  To give a book that status is making an idol of it.  To put every word and circumstance mentioned in the biblical text in the literal grouping just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.  When Paul insisted that women were not to be over men in any circumstance he was speaking first century words. When he told people to be happy as slaves owned by others he was speaking first century words. These words were not intended for eternity. Yes, much of the Bible was written under the inspiration of God but it is at the same time a very human document.

The Bible contains stories passed down from one generation to another, allegories, parables and myths. To insist that all the words in the Bible are absolutely without error and are absolutely literally true as so many evangelicals do is beyond my understanding. I am convinced that even many of the writers of the books were not willing to put that status on all their own words. The Apostle Paul made it a point in one of his letters collected in the Bible that he was speaking of his own accord. I wish he had done that more frequently. Since I don’t put much study on the Old Testament I will not be discussing those books here. But even the New Testament of which much was written up to forty years after the fact certainly contained things that were remembered but not necessarily factual. In many places Jesus himself identified his stories as parables. I believe that the use a parables and allegories was a very common occurrence in many of the biblical writings whether the authors said they were or not.

Not all the inspired words from God are included in the Bible. I have done some studies of some of the text that was considered but finally excluded from the official bible when it was formulated by King Constantine’s council. The books of Thomas and Barnabas in particular I am convinced were also written a degree of inspiration from God. There are probably several others in that category. We Christians should consider all the writings of the time to see where we can deepen our understanding of God. I also believe that God continues to give inspired words through some of us Christians even today. All of us must constantly be listening for those inspirations in our daily lives. But it seems that “listening” is a difficult thing for many of us to do today. Moses in the Old Testament did not believe he was worthy to relay words from God but God used him as a mouthpiece all the same. So I believe that God’s continues to give simple men personal revelations from time to time.

 

My View Of The Bible ..

For the next three Sundays I want to bring over some slightly edited posts of things I discovered about the Bible while blogging at RedLetterLiving.net. These posts were from early 2014 but my feelings about the topic really haven’t changed all that much.

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about the Bible and my experiences with it over the last decade or so. Around 2003 I decided to take up a serious study of theology and in particularly those around the words of Jesus. I naively thought I could get some clear directions for my spiritual life if I just understood why the Bible seems to mean so many different things to so many people. What I have discovered over this period of time awakened me. I did not get the concrete answers I was looking for but I did glean some surprising discoveries.

It seems that as I have gotten older I am losing my sense of embarrassment about saying what I believe. I have grown to the point, and  I do mean grown, where I feel I can now openly discuss the personal insight I have come to understand. I simply no longer really care if it upsets some.  Maybe in the long run I am hoping that it does just that and as a result a few will see that truly following Jesus has nothing to do with their self-proclaimed “faith” in the Bible but instead it is about faith in him and doing what he told us to do.

Let’s face it the Bible is not a book that you can causally, or even seriously, pick up and glean some ready-made answers to life’s problems.  Especially in times of personal conflicts. In fact much of it (meaning the Old Testament) is quite boring and not understandable in today’s context. Yes, if I search hard enough I can find a verse, usually taken out of context, that might console me a particular situation but for every one of those found there is another which disturbs me. Psalms is a ready example of that. There are places where God’s love clearly shows through and then there are other places where is he supposedly commands genocide such as the 137th Psalm.

All of these conflicting stories and thoughts make some degree of sense when I see the Bible as more of a history book written by man rather than words dropped from heaven. Christianity like much of the world’s history is messy and the Bible if you  look at its contents objectively reflects that fact. That understanding is critical to finding its proper place in Christ’s church.

In a nutshell, following Jesus has nothing to do with idolizing the Bible itself. The purpose of the Bible it to point us to Jesus. It is to tell his story, nothing else.  When that task is done it becomes very secondary to our walk with Christ. Next time I will talk a little more about reading the Bible and what should be gleaned from that process.

Epilog September 2017:  I have discovered since this post that Biblical Inerrancy is pretty much a Protestant/Evangelical thing.  Catholics have been moving away from the concept for much of the last century.

An Eye For An Eye Makes the Bible Blind

2016-05-15_11-08-13.pngHaving dipped into theology for a ten year period I learned that some have been studying the Bible for centuries and have a name for almost every concept that it might contain. The ‘flat Bible’ is a new one for me but the concept is one I most adamantly disagree with.  Putting every word in the Bible as being of equal importance make absolutely no sense to me. Here is a little about that from my friend at Red Letter Christians.

Only a ‘flat Bible’ perspective can justify living in such a blind way. Instead we must recognize that the ‘red letters’ of Jesus—especially in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’—call us to another path. A path our fear-mongering politicians hope we’ll ignore. A path that calls us to embrace radical grace and love and forgiveness. A path that remains much harder to follow than merely swinging for someone’s eye.

SOURCE:  An Eye For An Eye Makes the Bible Blind – Red Letter Christians

I know my Baptist friends for the most part view their Bibles as flat. I’m sure there are many others.  To me the Bible refutes itself in so many instances to make the idea of all the words have equal important simply ridiculous.

It is easy to realize that the  “an eye for an eye” concept on the Old Testament bible is responsible for much, if not almost all, violence in the world today.  The Israelis and the Palestinians are killing each other everyday based on that belief. Religious extremism, at least the ISIS version follows the same logic.

I have studied enough theology to understand that the Bible is a very difficult document to get a high level view of.  Too many latch on to one or two sentences in it and then ignorantly go on to treat the rest of it as if it totally condoned their tunnel vision.

In The Beginning…. And Then…

2016-03-20_11-22-18.pngIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the beasts of the land.  And then he created man,  and it was down hill from there on out….

Forgive me that this is not an exact quote from any bible but for the purpose of this post you get the idea where I am going.

The very first family that God made ended up with a murderer. One brother killing another. That wasn’t a very good start to humanity. It seems that the seven deadly sins were created at the very beginning.

A few generations down the line God threw up his hands and decided to start over again. Not with everything, just with people. He was determined to get it right this time but it is obvious he didn’t make much of an improvement the second time around either. I know all the theologians can give thousands of reasons for it that don’t challenge the idea of God’s perfection. They have honed that skill through a couple of millennia. If you work on something long enough you will eventually cam come up with enough excuses to rationalize almost anything you want.  I’m talking about the theologians here not God.

It kind of make me wander, if things were so perfect  before man came along and he is made in the image of God just what kind of shape is God himself in? Now before any of you start flaming me I am saying this in 90% jest. And then there is the other 10%..  😉

To keep things in perspective I take the bible as a collection of stories about man’s relationship with God. The absolute truth thing came much later by human theologians. That keeps me from having to make up excuses for God and how his creation turned out.  I kind of think that God did get all this started in some fashion but then he left it up to us to carry on from there.

Another aspect of the bible being stories is that it is kind of like “Downton Abbey” which was such a hit on  PBS recently.  It was about British Aristocracy and the distinct divide between the ruling class and everyone else.  The story line was fascinating but anyone who know much about it realizes that it showed almost exclusively the fairy tale side of British life in those years.   The bible is kind of like that, it tells the good side for the most part but eventually some of the bad stuff shows up to confuse things.

The Bible is certainly an interesting book to try to read…

 

Evolving Faith…

I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? …  We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet….

Rather, I was more telling stories of the places where I have evolved and changed because I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to do that. I do have areas where I can’t imagine changing but I hold even those loosely now. My catalogue of Right Answers has grown smaller over the years, for sure, and I see God as much more wild and wonderful and generous than I could have ever imagined years ago.

Source:  Evolving Faith: An Interview with Sarah Bessey – Red Letter Christians.

I very much mirror almost everything mentioned in the above quote from my friends over at Red Letter Christians.  For me it is all about Jesus and his words. Everything else in the Christian Bible is very secondary if even that important. I evolved into this attitude over time to where it has become the cornerstone of my spiritual life.

I don’t particularly like the phrase “What would Jesus do?” Instead I live by the idea of what would Jesus have ME do? I can’t possibly imitate Jesus in most matters in life but I can take what he teaches me in both my heart and my actions.

I remember in 2008 when I started my now archive blog at RedLetterLiving I got a comment from a fairly high authority in the Lutheran church organization I belonged to at the time that totally confused me.  I admit that I didn’t really read much of my church’s writing so I didn’t realize the extent of my differences with them.

Getting back to the 2008 comment, the person asked me why I was concentrating on the words of Jesus!  He said all the words of the Bible are equally important! So, to him the words about not eating meat from animals with cloven hooves was just as important as Jesus’ messages of loving each other!  I was shocked by his comments but eventually discovered  that is pretty much the attitude of the clergy in the Lutheran church I belonged. To me they just seem to be  more of a “club” type association (they call it fellowship)  who focus on adoration of their Bible rather than focusing like a laser beam on the person of Jesus.

Needless to say these revelations started me down the road asking too many questions and  correspondingly being expelled from my congregation; in the end that was probably a good thing…. it allowed my faith to evolve to the next level.

2015-12-30_10-09-20.pngIf anyone is interesting in going deeper with this topic of evolving faith I would highly recommend the book shown here by Philip Gulley. Despite what some say, it is a normal process for our beliefs in God evolve as we mature. If they don’t then we are not growing in Christ as we should. Don’t get stuck in one static place just because someone tells you they have all the answers.  Question everything even your spirituality. I think God expects us to do just that…. and He is certainly up to the questions.

 

 

How Well Do You Know Religion?

2016-01-01_10-21-27.pngIn fact, religion is invariably a tangle of contradictory teachings — in the Bible, the difference between the harshness of Deuteronomy and the warmth of Isaiah or Luke is striking — and it’s always easy to perceive something threatening in another tradition. Yet analysts who have tallied the number of violent or cruel passages in the Quran and the Bible count more than twice as many in the Bible.

There’s a profound human tendency, rooted in evolutionary biology, to “otherize” people who don’t belong to our race, our ethnic group, our religion. That’s particularly true when we’re scared. It’s difficult to conceive now that a 1944 poll found that 13 percent of Americans favored “killing all Japanese,” and that the head of a United States government commission in 1945 urged “the extermination of the Japanese in toto.”

It’s true that terrorism in the 21st century is disproportionately rooted in the Islamic world. And it’s legitimate to criticize the violence, mistreatment of women or oppression of religious minorities that some Muslims justify by citing passages in the Quran. But let’s not stereotype 1.6 billion Muslims because of their faith. What counts most is not the content of holy books, but the content of our hearts.

Source:   How Well Do You Know Religion? – The New York Times.

The main reason I am posting about this article is the quiz that you can take to see just how much you know about religious documents. It was personally very enlightening to see the answers. Click on the source above to take the quiz.

I got 11 of the 14 questions correct because I have spent quite a bit of time studying this topic. Some of the ones I got wrong were mainly because I didn’t know the particular chapter or verse relating to the question. I admittedly am not a “bible thumper”.

The point of all of this is to say that most of our holy documents are strewn with violence no matter your religion. Taking these writings literally is where the major fault lies. If we view them for the history lessons they contain they are very informative. If we treat them as literal truth they can be very damaging…

The History Of Christianity???

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the last of a six-part series from about a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 6)

This is the final post on my series about the Bible. It has been an enlightening time for me. This final post is about the history of Christianity and how it seems to stop with the establishment of the biblical text. But before I get into that I must mention that I have found that to really understand the Gospel text you must also understand the basic history of that region of the world during that period of time. To do that means seeking out historical records  of the Roman Empire particularly in the Middle East.

There is virtually nothing about the person of Jesus found outside the gospel accounts. He just didn’t show up on the Roman radar screen.  Historical text shows that there were many different people who took on the mantel of “son of God” during those years. Several names were found in Roman text with that claim but Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them.

To understand the part the Roman authorities played in the Crucifixion  you must realize that Pontius Pilate routinely condemned Jews to death for a myriad of reasons.  He had little regard for that population. You must also understand that the religious leaders of the times were very much in bed with Roman authorities. These sort of historical accounts help us to understand the gospel stories.

The Bible contains almost all of the accounted history of the early Christian church. As such it is a very powerful document.  Shamefully any counter views of being a Christian  were systematically destroyed when the Biblical version was adopted. As a result we don’t have the pieces necessary to see any different views or to maybe fill in some of the holes in the gospel accounts.

One of my biggest disappointments is that we haven’t put as much enthusiasm in to documenting Christian history since 300AD. Why haven’t we documented how well we are doing in living the messages of Jesus? Progress means monitoring where we are and focusing on where we are going. If as much enthusiasm were put into this task as is it in our reverence to the Bible  think how much better the world would be today.

To know where the church stands today is to know how we got here. I think part of the problem with this is that Christianity has a very messy history since the Bible’s invention.  We started out as a small group of followers of Jesus’ words and commands to being a State mandated religion that gain immense power in the world.  We regularly killed those who might disagree with the established dogma of the times. The Inquisition was a sorry time in church history but it was not the only time.

In order to know where we are we must know where we came from. If the theologians of the church had spent as much energy helping us know how we are doing as they did trying to parse out a  particular text in the Gospel to show us their version of God we would be a stronger and more diligent followers of Jesus. Sadly that has simply not been the case.

Most versions of the church today have a very pre-defined dogma and particularly beliefs that they demand  compliance if you want to be part of their group. The trouble is much of that dogma simply has never been justified by the words of Jesus.

How Did The Bible Get So Filled….

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the third of a six-part series from about a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

How Did The Bible Get So Filled…

How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade.  I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye.2014-02-13_11-37-06 Here is the crux of what I know now.

Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?

2014-02-13_11-39-37I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian.  After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages.  In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.

We know that the documents, particularly the gospel accounts, that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place.  Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition.  We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet,  most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate.  This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form.  For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text.  Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature.  George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated  and recorded about him. The most familiar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.

In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church.  The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions,  are what is paramount to our following Jesus.  The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.

I Read The Bible And Everything Became….

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the second of a six-part series from a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s all about Jesus, not the Bible…

Red Letter Living

FuzzyWhat About The Bible… ? (Chapter 2)

I know that from all the rhetoric about this topic you are expecting the next word in the title to be “Clear” but actually for me it is “Fuzzy”. I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the phrase “just study the bible for the answer to your problems. When a child dies from a fall in the bathtub the Christian answer to our total devastation is to “read the Bible”. It is as if we can just randomly open a page and then the tragedy in our life becomes clear.

Lets face it the Bible is simply not the homogeneous document that many want you to believe. When we realize that it is a collection of documents by for the most part unknown authors, who were recording events as they saw them or a story told to them. …

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The Thing Is…..

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This six-part series from about a year ago was what I discovered about the Bible after ten strenuous years of study. I want to say up front so there is no misunderstanding that no, I did not get any personal revelations from God on this topic other than his possible guidance through my study. After ten years I finally understand what millions of other have realized before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

Red Letter Living

CB064037What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 1)

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about the Bible and my experiences with it over the last decade or so. Around 2003 I decided to take up a serious study of theology and in particularly those around the words of Jesus. I naively thought I could get some clear directions for my spiritual life if I just understood why the Bible seems to mean so many different things to so many people. What I have discovered over this period of time awakened me. I did not get the concrete answers I was looking for but I did glean some surprising discoveries.

So, for the next several  weeks I will be spending Mondays {Sundays on the re-blog} on posts about that journey into the Bible. I have always been a little hesitant to voice my discoveries because if they…

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The Decrees of Constantine…

I am pulling up another past post form Red Letter Living that I wrote almost three years ago. At that time in my spiritual journey I was trying to decide where church doctrine and its creeds belonged in my faith. Needless to say this book by Harvey Cox did a lot to show me a different path on this topic and many others. When I came to realize just how much man had a hand in formalizing current Christian doctrine it convinced me that Christianity is an ever evolving process and is not to be paralyzed by some of the now outdated fourth and fifth century man-made worldviews.

I am going to start this post with an alarming story of Constantine’s involvement in the Council of Nicaea. It is from a book by Harvey Cox entitle The Future of Faith.   If this doesn’t cast out any doubt of man’s involvement in the change from faith to rigid belief nothing will:

2015-02-22_10-55-08Constantine, not Jesus, was the dominant figure at Nicaea, and it is hardly surprising that almost all the bishops, to the emperor’s satisfaction, arrived at a nearly unanimous decision in his favor. Only Arius himself and three other stubbornly independent bishops withheld their approval. Constantine promptly exiled Arius to the remote province of Illyricum. Then, in a statement that suggests he had forgotten his previous view both that this was all a matter of small significance and that all the parties should show forbearance to one another, he decreed: If any treatise composed by Arius be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames…and if anyone shall be caught concealing a book by Arius, and does not instantly bring it out and burn it, the penalty shall be death; the criminal shall suffer punishment immediately after conviction.

But the emperor’s draconian measures did not succeed. The historic Council of Nicaea, as an effort to unify the church and the empire by imposing a creed, proved a dismal failure. Within months arguments flared up again. One of the bishops who had attended the Nicaea council and had not supported the final decision, Hilary of Poitiers (d. ca. 367), found himself banished to Asia. No doubt his experience tinctured his opinion of councils and creeds, but a letter he wrote from his place of exile at the time pinpoints how little the Council of Nicaea had accomplished and what a debacle it had been. Hilary says: It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines because we make creeds arbitrarily and explain their inclinations…arbitrarily…every year, nay every moon we make a new creed and describe invisible mysteries. We repent what we have done. We defend those who repent. We anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other’s ruin.

Arius definitely caught the ire of Constantine and his brutality. Not only did he banish this noble bishop who dared to disagree with him on church matters he made even having anything written by Arius a penalty of death!! Sadly these types of stories are somewhat frequent in the years following Constantine’s mandating Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

We will be studying some more about this period in future posts but for now it is important that you realize that Christianity’s history is messy indeed. I am not saying that there are no good parts to what became the Church of Jesus Christ but only that we must be aware that much of the simple teachings of Jesus were later polluted by men seeking to consolidate personal power in earthly focused empires. Power corrupts, even inside the Christian church!