Accuracy of the Bible

Currently I’m reading ‘The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor‘ by Joel Hoffman and he does a pretty thorough examination of the current Greek texts used to create Christian scriptures (also reviews Hebrew ones as well).

Christian scriptures
Septuagint – codex Sinai, Vatican, and Alexandria

Jewish Scriptures
Masoretic text

Apparently the Septuagint translators got pieces of the OT translated wrong. From passages in Isaiah and Proverbs to the whole book of Esther (which has a different storyline then the Masoretic text).

It calls into question: do we have the 100% accurate word of God? The answer is obviously ‘no’ – we’re close but scribes edited and made translation errors from Hebrew to Greek.

However the Masoretic text is very close to error free but even it contains an error concerning Moses in Deuteronomy. The text was created in the 11th century – errors could have slipped in over a period of a 1000 years from Hebrew bible used to create the Septuagint until the Masoretes created their text.

The more reliable of the texts is the Hebrew because it seems to follow context much closer in its translation. So if you are using a bible that relied on the Septuagint only, you could have passages in books that contain errors in translation since the Septuagint has been proven in this wise.

The most obvious example is ‘virgin’ from Isaiah 7:14 use in the Matthew story about Mary. The author of Matthew took a word which translated incorrectly into the Septuagint and created a whole story around it (Virgin Birth). One would ask why but it’s obvious the author was about fulfilling prophecy, even if it’s invented fiction, and not fixing translation errors.

So is the bible accurate? Yes and No. Yes in that we use the best options available for our English translations. No in that a whole story can be created from an error.


Trinitarian Faux Pas

Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God‘ offers great insight into church history, history being his academic background, on the development of the trinity. I really enjoyed that refresher on church history of the early church structure.

As usual, it raised an obvious issue about Jesus becoming God and his place in the trinity…why develop something out of nothing?

Jesus never once says he’s God in the Synoptics and even within John he may not be making the case for godhood. Paul, alludes to the idea, but even Ehrman has Paul stating Jesus is ‘the angel of the Lord’ – still subjected to the Father.

It’s after 100+ CE that we see a long line of church officials making a mountain (ie: Jesus is God) out of a mole hill (ie: Jesus is messiah). They decide in about 325 CE to determine the trinity and Jesus as God – although the beliefs took 200 years or so to develop. Most of it is philosophical mumbo-jumbo about how Jesus existed with God, was God, and was not God the Father. In essence, a development in futility.

But what were they developing?

It’s abundantly clear ‘God is One’ to Israel…There were no 2 or 3 gods about that. This is the pivotal statement in Judaism, the one you cannot alter or break. Would Jesus claim to break it as a Jewish person? No.

Not once is Jesus claiming to be God’s equal, heck he’s barely even claiming to be the messiah in the texts. If he had made such claims, of godhood or trinity, he surely would have been the talk of Josephus’ writings (or Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius) – as it stands – but one paragraph on Jesus. He doesn’t even register a blip on the historical radar of the times. (John the Baptist gets way more attention)

That historical record alone means Jesus had to be similar to the Jewish sentiments of his time, so similar that writing about it seemed unnecessary. The only records we have of Jesus are second hand letters and gospel narratives that pretend to be biography when they are clearly theologically ridden (agenda based).

The trinity develops out of that history. Or maybe it develops out of the hijacking of that history? Either way, it’s a philosophical idea with zero merit.

When Did Jesus Become the Son of God?

Bart Ehrman in his book ‘How Jesus Became God: chapter 4 – The Beginning of Christology’ lays out 3 different times, in Christian tradition, Jesus morphed into the ‘son of God’.

1. At his resurrection
2. At his baptism
3. At his birth/conception

There are 2 more alternatives as well:

4. From pre-existence on earth – John chapter 1 (word was with God) (this actually can be understood a few different ways but Christians use it as justification for being God)
5. He always was – because being an Israelite is being a ‘son of God’

The truth is all of these are presented in the gospels (or at least interpreted that way) but they cannot all be true.

This means likely the term ‘son of God’ was used by Jesus during his teachings or was later attributed to him. I’m not sure this is an and/or proposition – both are true.

Jesus was Jewish and by virtue of that covenant relationship be entered into being a ‘son of God’. This is the easiest explanation to describe where the term originated since it was in common use in Judaism theology.

He was also later accredited by Gentile converts with being the ‘son of God’ in the more Roman sense (ie: like a Caesar but better). This was how they would have understood him not having the same covenant connection Judaism claimed of God (or even knowing about that idea in the first place).

So when did Jesus become the son of God? Right when he was circumcised and brought into the covenant with God. Anything after that, the other 4 examples above, are Greco-Roman ideas fused to Jesus to make him one of their own. Thus why we have 4 different time periods he becomes the ‘son of God’ – each in contention with another and morphing as time moves forward.

Paul’s Gospels?

Daniel Unterbrink proposes a lot of unique ideas in “Judas of Nazareth” but the most compelling is that Paul inspired the Synoptics – the writing, the editing, and the whole narrative.

It is Unterbrink’s assertion that Paul lived past the persecution of Israel from 68-72 and helped to compose Mark’s gospel. His reasoning is simple: the gospel displays Pauline themes interwoven throughout the book. The same is also said of Matthew and Luke, who borrow 50%+ from Mark.

It’s a reasonable assertion since Paul’s key writings (Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthians) all pre-date the Synoptics by several years.

Unterbrink see’s Paul as introducing a Jesus messiah (Christ) that does not resemble the actual historical Jesus of Peter and James. So Paul’s ‘revealed gospel’, which differs from that of Jesus’ brother and disciples, takes on gentile qualities for the sake of a wider audience.

I agree with much of that assertion after studying the Jewishness of Jesus myself.

There is no way Jesus taught the things Paul teaches since Paul is in conflict with the early community in Acts 15 and in Galatians 2. Paul plays that original community down, even declares they are wrong, within his version of the ‘revealed gospel’ he’s received (via visions).

Much of the gentile flavour we find in the Synoptics (and John) can be clearly attributed to Paul’s message and writings – from the Lords Supper to the resurrection to inclusion of the Gentiles.

If the writing of the letters of Paul are accurately aged (60’s) then they easily pre-date the gospels (70-100+) and could have inspired their creation, thoughts, and formation of Jesus’ life and wording.

That’s not absurd thinking, that’s normal rationale of following the influence of who wrote first.

Ethicizing the Law – Summation of the Commandments

Geza Vermes in ‘The Religion of Jesus the Jew: Chapter 2 – Jesus and the Law: The Judaism of Jesus‘ gives a great insight from R. Simlai as he breaks down the ethics of the law into one line. Here is his quote:

“613 commandments were given to Moses…David came and reduced them to 11. For it is written: A Psalm of David, O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? (1) He who walks blamelessly, (2) and does what is right, (3) and speaks truth from his heart; (4) who does not slander with his tongue, (5) and does no evil to his friend, (6) nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; (7) in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, (8) but who honors those who fear the Lord; (9) who swears to his own hurt and does not change; (10) who does not lend his money at interest, (11) and does not take bribe against the innocent. How who does these things shall never be moved (Ps. 15:1-5)

Isaiah came and reduced them to 6, for it is written: (1) He who walks righteously (2) and speaks uprightly; (3) he who despises the gain of oppressions, (4) who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, (5) who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, (6) and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil (Isa. 33:15)

Micah came and reduced them to 3, for it is written: He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but (1) to do justice, (2) and to love kindness, (3) and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Isaiah came again and reduced them to 2, for it is written: Thus says the Lord: (1) Keep justice (2) and do righteousness (Isa. 56:1).

Amos came and reduced them to 1, for it is written: For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: (1) Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)”

For starters this shows a Jewish history of summarizing the law like Jesus did when he presents the Decalogue to the rich young ruler or gives his 2 great commandments. Jesus was right in line with such a tradition that is much deeper than just Rabbi Simlai (goes back to the scriptures, then to Hillel, Philo, Josephus, etc).

What this also shows is that much of what Jesus is seen teaching in the gospels, and what the epistles also allude to, can be found in a summation like this. In fact, if you compare this list with much of what Jesus taught they are very similar in content regarding a close relationship with God. One could filter through each list and find places where Jesus taught such things.

So what does it mean?

It means when we read Jesus, we are reading someone clearly in the Judaic tradition based solely on the content of his ethics. That’s a good thing. It establishes that (a) Jesus likely was a real person and (b) that he found his integrity in the scriptures of his God (his religion). He isn’t something from nowhere, he’s part of an established line of thinking that creates words we find him teaching his students.

On a personal level, I really dig those lists.

Qumran Community and Early Christian Community

Geza Vermes does Yeoman’s work in comparing the early Christian community with that of the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls) – in ‘Jesus and the World of Judaism: Chapter 9 – The Impact of the Scrolls on NT Study‘.

He makes 5 comparison between communities that will enlighten us to the time of the gospels/epistles:

1. Eschatological Expectation: Believed they were witnessing the final acts of the last age. One case has a teacher of righteousness and the other has the same thing by a different name – Jesus (also a teacher of righteousness).

2. Claims to be ‘true Israel’: They believed in their ‘election’ as the community of God’s chosen. Both used a system of appointing 12 leaders of the movement.

3. Attitude to the Bible: Both professed to using prophetic understanding to understand the bible more completely.

4. Significance of Jerusalem Temple: Quman saw the temple as ‘wicked’ and needed to be substituted; Christianity has prophecies of it’s destruction. The eery part is this – the Qumran community saw atonement through spiritual sacrifice, following Torah, and suffering. The same themes can be found in Christianity.

5. Organization and Customs: Both used a ‘common purse’ idea (shared funds for the community), money was seen as an evil, both had initiates en masse on Pentecost, and both had celibacy stances for leaders.

So why care about any of these similarities?

They were ‘outsider’ movements that railed against the establishment and by railing decided to form their own core group that would replace much of the established religious system. Both could not find their foothold in Israel so Qumran faded out by 70 CE and Christianity left Judaism behind (same time), likely because of the war, and became Gentile focused/centered.

It shows us that Jesus and his community (Paul and forward) did not function in a vacuum and there was a lot of precedence as to ideas being used in both movements (3 if you count the Essenes as a separate movement). This means Jesus’ message was not something new or strange, it wasn’t foreign or abstract, it was at home within Judaism of the times.

*Note: Many scholars believe the Qumran community was Essenes – however this is not fully provable. It also is theorized that people fleeing the war hid the scrolls there for ‘safe keeping’ (so maybe there was no community at all?)

Shema, Kaddish, Jesus, and a New Religion?

Jacob Neusner in ‘Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah’ in the chapter titled ‘a Judaic response to a Christians Community With God‘ mentions how Judaism follows some very central themes in it’s devotion to God.

1. Shema (Creed)

2. Scriptural Passages to Shema (texts/teaching)

2. Kaddish (Liturgical Prayer)

What’s amazing is that Jesus followed this same template in the gospels – he is found either saying exactly these things, doing these things, or has a version close to it.

1. Shema: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4) – also found in Mark 12:29; Neusner says the creed covers 3 things: (a) creation – of all (b) revelation – Torah to Israel (c) redemption – Redeemer of Israel

2. Shema Scriptural Texts: Deut 6: 5-9, Deut 11:13-21, and Num 15:37-41 – these outline:

  • Blessed be God’s Kingdom forever, Love God with all your heart/soul/might, teach your children, bind to your hands, frontlets to your eyes, and put them on your house gates
  • Follow the commandments, love God with your heart and soul, this will cause rain and abundance, do not follow other gods, this will lead to loss of the land, bind to your hands, frontlets to your eyes, and put them on your house gates
  • Fringes as reminders to keep God’s commandment

3. Kaddish: Liturgical prayer that resembles the Lord’s Prayer

These teachings are the key aspects of the liturgical portion of Torah.

Did Jesus follow these ideas? Did he teach them?

The Shema was clearly something he recited. When we get to those scriptural texts Jesus summarizes the greatest 2 commandments from those passages and even throws in Matt 5:17-18 for good measure. In fact, much of the sermon on the mount relates directly to those passages. Jesus wore fringes – Mark 6:56. Jesus taught a prayer to his disciples that took ideas from the Kaddish.

Now Neusner only relates the Jewish aspects of these liturgical ideas, Amy Jill-Levine in ‘The Misunderstood Jew‘ drives these points home (as does Geza Vermes in ‘Jesus the Jew‘).

It is clear that Jesus is Jewish and follows Judaic concepts. He follows the core components of the Jewish liturgy – can’t really be more a follower of Judaism than that.

None of this is a new religion. This can all be found in the most basic study of Judaism.

I do not believe Jesus was making a new faith system, he was different than his contemporaries the Pharisee’s, Sadducee’s, and Essenes but not so different it constituted a new faith lineage. Yet, this is what happened.