The Bible as the Word of God
There are many books in the Bible. Many view the Bible as representing the religious history of the Jews. Many others view the Bible as the Word of God - the rules for proper human behavior as described by a Supreme Being that watches over us. Some of those believing it is the Word of God also assume that it contains God’s plan for mankind and it might even describe the final days of mankind.
The first book in the Bible is the book of Genesis. It contains the Jewish myth of creation, a myth that has similar stories in other ancient cultures of the world. Along the way in the course of the other Old Testament books, a number of catastrophes were survived by the Jewish people. In each story, there is a leader of the people that guides them. (Many of these stories are familiar to those that do not study the Bible since Western culture is derived from the Holy Roman Empire - the merging of the Catholic Church with the Roman Empire.)
After Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, they had to survive in less comfortable surroundings. Noah built an ark and survived a flood that kept him, a number of people and animals safe for quite a long time. When Moses lead the Israelites from Egypt, a number of Jews survived a parting of the waters in front of them, that returned to flood their Egyptian pursuers. Lot witnesses the destruction of two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. When the Jews were about to do battle, they witnessed the destruction of the city of Jericho.
The Bible reports that God talked to the various leaders. There is never a visual description of God, such as during a face-to-face meeting. There is never a public appearance. Moses supposedly talked with God who appeared in a burning bush (rather than a human form). God spoke to one person but was never seen. The conversation must have been a 'voice in the head' of the listener. God spoke (in the head) of only the particular leader of the Jewish people; most of the people were probably illiterate. The rest of the world, beyond the Jewish people, did not get honored by these 'words' of God.
These records of Jewish history were probably written after the events (and catastrophes) rather than during them. It is unlikely that a scribe was present to record a person's thoughts during a significant event, such as during the flight of Egypt or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is much more likely that the scribe would describe the past event to include the guidance provided by God to the leader, enabling the Jews to survive the ordeal.
So Noah built an arc to weather the flood; Moses was told on a mountaintop how to lead his people to their 'promised land'; Lot was warned about the coming destruction of two cities (including all the innocents that were no doubt living there with the 'sinners').
With this history of leadership benefitting from guidance from God, the Jews were always hopeful of the next leader that would help them through their time of need. At the time of the New Testament, the Jews were waiting for their Messiah, the Christ (the Anointed One) that would lead them out of their Roman rule. The New Testament records that the Romans crucified Jesus as the 'King of the Jews' in recognition of his position as the political and religious leader of the Jews.
Most of the New Testament books describe events involving Jesus. There are certainly questions as to whether the various events described in the Bible were actual or mythical. For example, there is the frequently told story of the 'loaves and fishes' where the party of Jesus offered a small amount of food to a large crowd and after the meal they found a large quantity of leftovers. One interpretation of the story is that Jesus magically multiplied the quantity of food. Another possible interpretation is that Jesus affected the values of the crowd - that many the crowd had actually brought their own food (knowing in advance that they would be walking with Jesus for a long time) and upon seeing that Jesus would try to share his food prompted them to share their food also. It is odd that the physical interpretation is the most commonly accepted version rather than the version that is oriented more toward the religion that Jesus was (supposedly) teaching. One possible reason for this tendency is that the mythical Jesus is still portrayed as a god (with magical powers) rather than as person teaching a religion.
The New Testament concludes his historical record of the Jewish people with the travails of Paul in Rome, just before his death. Paul was a Roman Jew who attempted to resolve his problem in Rome. The Acts of the Apostles and the Dead Sea Scrolls both record how he did not get along with the followers of James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus (according to the Bible).
The last book of the Bible is the book of Revelation, consisting of letters from someone named John to a number of cities in what is now Turkey. The letters describe a second coming of Jesus who will bring destruction to the world. Even an impartial source like the History Channel, that typically relies on Biblical scholars for its Biblical presentations, describes how these writings reflect the events of the 1st century and that the number 666, that is an indication of the Antichrist, probably relates to Nero Caesar who brought terror to the early Christians.
With the assassination of James, the Jews revolted against their Roman rulers. This revolt resulted in the campaign of several Roman Legions that put down the rebellion and destroyed Jerusalem. With these events, the Jews were dispersed out of Palestine. Some of these Jews tried again in the first century but this rebellion was also suppressed.
The Jews became fragmented into different segments in the Middle East, part became the modern Jewish religion, part became the basis for the subsequent religion of Islam, and part became small sects in Egypt and other areas. With these events, the religious hierarchy that previously maintained the sequence of the books of the either the Old or New Testament was disbanded.
The Bible is not all of the books written over the course of ancient Jewish history. In the year 367, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria compiled a list of works to be included in the New Testament. This list was ratified by the Church Council of Hippo in 393 and again by the Council of Carthage four years later. In addition to certain books being excluded from the collection, others were edited to remove sections that could be 'misinterpreted.' For example, in 1958 a letter was found from Bishop Clement of Alexandria to Theodore (from that time). With the letter was a missing fragment of the Gospel of Mark. The missing fragment is a variation on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, as told in the Gospel of John. Since the story does not appear in the current Gospel of Mark, Clement was successful in having it removed from Mark's.
There are many inconsistencies among the Gospels. The most blatant example is that the four Gospels do not agree on the final words of Jesus on the cross. This critical event in the life of Jesus could not be recorded accurately. The most readily available explanation is that the four authors began with a similar story of the life of Jesus and embellished it as they saw fit. It is possible that none of the Gospel authors actually met Jesus.
The New Testament consists of the books regarding Jesus, who was the pivotal person in this religious transition from Jewish to Christian, and Paul, who architected the new non-Jewish religion based on the historical writings of the Jews. Paul's primary message, that a person only has to believe in God to be saved, had no reliance on particular religious practices so it found many followers among the Gentiles (non-Jews). At this conference, a number of books were dropped and in other books, certain stories were edited or deleted.
The outcome of this conference was the Bible as it is known today, an edited collection of writings that was put together several hundred years after Jesus had died. The Christians of today, living in a world of high literacy, with advanced science and technology, were left with the edited writings of ancient Jewish history as the 'word of God'.
The Catholic Church, and the rest of the Christian religions, had no need to add more books to this Bible. The driving message of the religion has been: just believe and you will be saved. The books of the Bible were secondary to the message.
The Old Testament included books that described the Jewish survival of various ordeals. The Christians survived the Dark Ages, the Black Death and many wars. No leader with guidance from God was preserved in a continuing historical record.
In our present time, many Western religions are becoming confused. If the focus for the masses has been 'just believe to be saved' there is little need for religious guidance. The masses just have to blindly believe what is taught. Now that most Westerners are literate and there have been questionable political decisions in the past 100 years (the carnage of World War I, the abominations of World War II, and the stress of the political Cold War), many question the other significant aspects of their lives - including their religion.
There are Christian leaders that claim that a return to the Biblical world view will restore moral values. This requires the reader of 2000+ year old books to search for the guidance for contemporary problems. Does the lack of mention of 20th century drugs and problems (like bioterrorism) mean that the Word of God does not consider such issues important enough to mention?
The God that guided the leaders of ancient Israel using a 'voice in the head' offers no guidance to contemporary Christians. Now is the time for 'man' to break from the Christian bonds that do not provide guidance in this modern age. We have to come together as a community, to realize our nature as a social creature, capable of higher achievements together rather than alone. Together we can improve the human condition, much more efficiently than the fragmental organizations in place today. Mankind must do this by relying on human ambition and human compassion, not by interpretation of ancient writings.
The God of the Old Testament and the God of the Western religions both rely on the 'voice' in the minds of the ancient illiterate peoples. Man has a much clearer understanding of nature now, more than ever before. A humanistic philosophy will better suit the present and future of man than a passive submission to a 'voice in the mind' of a single person in the role of 'leader'.
Alan Watts in 1973 published an interesting perspective on the role of the Bible in human affairs. This site has a copy of that article.
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.
- Thomas Paine
Most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.
- Mark Twain
The Koran as the Word of Allah
From an Islamic center in Washington, DC, my teenage son received a book highlighting the teachings of Islam. The book also pointed out the scientific validity of the Koran (or Quran - the spelling varies). Among these items, the interaction of salty sea water with fresh water was described. Apparently the Koran revealed a scientific principle in this interaction that has been discovered only in the 20th century. Other scientific facts, including meteorology, were also pointed out in various excerpts.
I believe there are no arguments that the prophet Mohammed, that received the revelations recorded in the Koran, was illiterate. He was certainly not a scholar. These supposed scientific revelations in the Koran were recorded many hundreds of years before their actual discovery. This situation begs several obvious questions:
1) Did the almighty Allah really reveal these truths to an illiterate man (and his culture) so many years before they could be understood?
2) Why did Allah make these revelations when they would not be understood for so many years (so they had no practical application to the Koran readers over many generations)?
3) Is the Koran describing something altogether different, something that involved Mohammed and/or his culture and this is just the wrong interpretation of those passages in the Koran?
The third alternative is the obvious choice.
The interpretation of the Koran is somewhat controversial in the 21st century. Did the almighty Allah really want Mohammed's followers to destroy historical artifacts, murder all nonbelievers and mistreat all women? The Taleban of Afghanistan (and other Islamic groups) have made these interpretations. Mohammed lived in a very different cultural environment than that of the 21st century. His very important achievement during his lifetime was the unification of many tribes in the area under a common leadership. The different branches of Islam now quarrel among themselves as well as persecute followers of other religions.
As is apparent with the Koran, just as with the Bible, interpreting ancient writings in the context of contemporary cultures can lead to barbaric behavior guidelines. The original writings were composed within a different context than now.
The English Bible
The USA Today in an issue of late March 2002 described the ongoing controversy involved in changing the English translation of the Bible. Some versions are being prepared to be gender neutral (so 'he' is replaced by 'they' and so on). Some religious groups, leaders and believers are upset with these revisions to the generally accepted translations.
Most of the oldest existing Bible manuscripts were written in Greek or Hebrew; the Bible was not originally written in English or Latin. Not all of these ancient manuscripts have the same content. Though Greek is often the language used for some of these, it is not the original language. Greek was the common written language used in the Mediterranean area at the time of Jesus, due to the influence of Alexander the Great's conquest of the area in the 4th century BC.
The problem with this translation controversy is the Bible is being consulted as the source for the definitive rules for proper behavior (as prescribed by God). These rules are dependent upon the skill of the person(s) doing the translation so the rules being produced are based upon that person's perspective. The language translation from an obsolete language to a contemporary language is not simple. (For some languages this must be even worse. A Far Eastern language like Chinese that does not use an alphabet must present additional challenges but no doubt a Chinese Bible exists.)
These believers in the Bible as the literal Word of God are confronted with the major problem that God did not reveal his Word in an immediately understandable language. The believers are forced to rely on translators providing the correct English, often from Greek which also was not the language of the original revelations. The current Bible was not received straight from God Himself.
It seems unfortunate that God could not be more helpful by providing a version of his written Word in the same language as the reader, perhaps one version for every language in the world. God apparently stopped providing his believers with new or updated revelations 2000 years ago, and those were in a language not applicable to the major cultures in the world today.
Of course, such new or updated revelations from God will not happen since neither the history of the Bible nor the concept of the Almighty God (or Allah) are understood by the believers in the Bible when it is considered to be the literal Word of God.
Riddles of the Bible
First, Genesis and The Light
The Biblical story of the creation in Genesis chapter 1 has an odd sequence of lights. On the first day, from Genesis 1:3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
On the fourth day, God does more; from Genesis 1:16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
From these two passages, it would seem that a light other than the Sun was created on the first day because it seems the Sun was created on day 4. From a number of other mythologies, a great light is part of a creation story. This great light typically involves the mythical god related to the planet Saturn. The day 4 actions seem to involve the Sun and Moon, as those are the two great lights we see in our sky of today. However, other mythologies mention the Sun of Day and the Sun of Night, and the Sun of Night is not the Moon but, again, is the mythical god related to the planet Saturn. The story of Genesis chapter 1 is the recollection of the major upheavals in the ancient times, and other mythologies have attempted to record those events in similar stories.
Second, Genesis and The Flood
The Biblical story of the flood states that nearly all life on earth was wiped out with one global flood.
From Genesis 7:23-24: And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.
It is clearly incredible to believe that Noah (with some help from his extended family?) was able to obtain two (of not clean beasts) or seven (of clean beasts or fowls of the air) of every living substance on the world, including the polar bears of the Arctic, the myriad of insects and plants in the Amazon, the exotic species of the Galapogos, and the penguins of the Antarctic, and then to keep them alive within a single boat for 150 days. After the waters receded, all this plant and animal life were just as incredibly restored to their respective habitats.
Other ancient peoples around the world also have mythical stories of a major flood.
Therefore, it is readily apparent that the Biblical story is one of the perspective of the ancient Jews who saw their 'world' being flooded but obviously they could not know of anything beyond their territory. The mythical story of Noah is similar to other stories far from the Middle East, so God's flood (Genesis 8:21, God clearly says the flood was his action, to 'smite every thing living as I have done') did not wipe out all life on earth, but Noah and his family probably saw it that way. The literal reading of the story cannot match historical and mythical stories around the world at that time.
Third, the last words of Jesus on the cross.
The four gospels report different versions for the last words said by Jesus on the cross (as taken from the King James Version).
Matthew 27:46 has: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? or My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Mark 15:33 has: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? or My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Luke 23:46 has: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
John 19:30 has: It is finished.
Matthew and Mark record nearly the same words whereas Luke and John are totally different from any of the others. How can the Bible be infallible when its four gospels do not agree on the critical words of Jesus? A likely explanation is that none of the gospel authors were with Jesus at the time so they were reporting those words that had been told to them. Matthew and Mark might have used the same source for this quote. This revelation means if the last story was not an eyewitness account then all of the other stories involving Jesus are also likely thirdhand versions that have been embellished as deemed fit by the respective authors.
Fourth, interactions with God
From Genesis 6:2-4: That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
The above passage makes a distinction between daughters of men and sons of God. Also, the mention of 'giants in the earth in those days' can have different interpretations.
From Genesis 8:20-21: Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour.
The above passage implies that the Lord could smell the sacrifice, requiring a physical presence, which is unexpected for a supernatural God.
From Exodus, 19:16-19: And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
From Ezekiel, 1:4-7: And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
The above passage in Exodus implies that God moved within a physical form - a cloud with thunder, lightning and the sound of a trumpet. In the earlier passage he has a voice. The above passage in Ezekiel sounds like four men in astronaut suits stepping out of a spaceship. I am familiar with several writers that suggest the Bible describes interactions with alien beings. I am certainly not convinced of such theories but the literal reading of the Bible certainly implies such events. I will question the literal reading of any Biblical passage.
The Bible is a compilation of ancient writings, whose collection was decided by a committee. These writings record historical events in mythical (and probably embellished) stories. No new works have been added to this collection in 2000 years. These mythical stories, focused on one cultural group whose role model of God can be seen in the ancient kings of Persia, portray events as being driven by a God that personally and physically interacted with the people. Using stories with this mythical theme as a guide for moral behavior results in a similar 'driven' slant in the suggested morals. Other pages in this web site take issue with this mythical theme as well as the resulting moral guidelines.
Here is an interesting site that reveals that there are at least 3 interpretations of: which are the ‘10’ commandments?
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last change - 11/16/2003
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