OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

The Not Enough Information Rule – Sticking to What is Revealed

Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 ESV)

This verse is fairly plain but let’s just look at some of the words to clarify. The word “secret” in the verse is the Hebrew word sathar which means secret, hidden, concealed, or absent. The word “revealed” in the verse is the Hebrew word galah, which means revealed, denuded, disclosed, or uncovered.

The things that God told us through his prophets are what he has revealed. According to the word of God, those are things that we can know about God. That is what revelation is about. God has revealed to us certain things that we can know, But there are many things that we cannot know about God. There is no amount of philosophizing, speculating, hypothesizing, or inductive reasoning that will allow us to break the revelation barrier.

God’s mind is literally on a plane so above ours that there is no comparison. Unless God tells us things about how he and heaven and eternity work we simply can’t know them. We can’t figure them out. Look at these verses that say just that. First, we can’t even understand how great God is:

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psa 145:3 ESV)

We can’t think like God. Unsearchable means that there is no place that we can look to find out what we want to know. God says we can’t figure him out:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9 ESV)

What does that even mean? Here’s an example. The vast majority of us humans think of everything, even eternal things in human terms. For example, time is a human reality with beginnings, middles, and ends. Everything is linear; one thing happens, then another. You wake up, you eat breakfast, you get dressed, and then you go to work or school.

A common timeline belief is that you live, and then you die and go to heaven. N. T. Wright, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, says that belief actually comes from a philosophy called middle Platonism that was common around the time of original Christianity. But, according to Wright, original Christians didn’t actually believe that; rather they held a belief that heaven and earth were twin halves of the Christian life at the same time. According to this belief, heaven and earth exist at the same time!i

Sound too strange? Look at these verses:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [emphasis added], so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7 ESV)

Look at the tenses involved here. The people reading this are alive in this world. But they are being told that that they are seated in heavenly places, i.e. they are in heaven like they have died or been caught in the rapture! This already happened the way this verse reads! But the people reading this are alive in this world! Yet the verse is talking like we have passed on and are no longer alive and are residing in heaven? Or rather, that we are alive now, but also seated in heavenly places at the same time! There is the earth plane and the spiritual plane, and they co-exist! We are alive now and seated in heavenly places at what we perceive as the same time. Wright says this is more like how original Christians thought.

Now, a common explanation for these verses is that God foreknew that we would believe so he has a place reserved for us, which makes sense for people like us with our analytically based educational system that has foundations back to Greek philosophy.  It certainly sounds like a good explanation to me.  It makes sense.

But, as God’s word says, God’s ways are not our ways! His thinking is so advanced it looks like gibberish to us. We have to stop thinking like we can figure everything out! It doesn’t matter if its the first century, the twenty-first century or the forty-first century if the Lord tarries that long, God’s ways are beyond our reach to understand. So, maybe on God’s plane we are here and seated with him at the same time! How can that be, since we can’t be in two places here in our universe? I don’t know that it is, but, well, God’s ways are unsearchable and it may be just that in God’s reality. Again, he says that in Ephesians 2 above and in Romans 11:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom 11:33-34 ESV)

Deuteronomy states that some things are hidden with God and the above verses say that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are his either. Again, we don’t think like God.

A little more on God’s view of time can be seen from verses like:

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  (Psa 90:4 ESV)

I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days; Your years are through the generation of generations. Of old You have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yea, all of them shall become old like a garment; like a robe You shall change them, and they shall be changed; but You are He, and Your years shall have no end.  (Psa 102:24-27 MKJV)

These verses above are comparing God’s time to our time in terms we can understand.  But make no mistake, they are also saying that God doesn’t have the constraints of time that we have.  So we don’t really know what time is like for him.

Look at this. I can take a picture of a beautiful vase of flowers. That picture is an image of those flowers, they can reflect the beauty and intricacy of design the colors and outside structures of the flowers, but they are in no way the equal to the flowers. Likewise, we are made in the image of God but are in no way the equal of him who created us. We have an image of God’s thinking, but we in no way have God’s thinking on a lot of areas. We’re not even in the same ballpark!

Look at ants. They are impressive creatures really; they live in highly structured social colonies. They all know their jobs and they work as a team, building incredible colonies. They communicate with each other. ii They can carry 20 times their body weight.iii  Did you know that ants farm other animals? Yes, some ants farm aphids, maintaining herds of them and milking them for food.iv  And just because you haven’t figured out how to talk to an ant doesn’t mean that it doesn’t think in at least some rudimentary form. There are scientists who say that many animals have a wide range of thoughts and feelings.v Ants are pretty sophisticated creatures. vi

But we are so far advanced over ants, or so we think. that there is no comparison. And I don’t think that we are even like ants compared to God, he is that incredible! Yet so many of us think we can figure so much out about God and heaven and eternity! Science has its big bang theories and Christians since the apostles have been taking fragments of writings and extrapolating wide-ranging theologies. They do this utilizing Greek analytical methods of deduction and especially inductive reasoning, an epistemological tool from philosophy.

Wisdom and knowledge in the world come under the heading of philosophy. Philosophy is broken down into branches. There’s ontology or metaphysics which is the study of being. There’s epistemology which is the study of knowledge. There’s ethics which is the study of morals.vii Another division is called aesthetics which in its simplest definition means beauty.

This website has a small section on philosophy because it is referred to in the bible. Whether we realize it or not philosophy has been incorporated into the education of most people in civilized society and recognizing our philosophical indoctrination is crucial to our understanding of the topic of differentiating revelation from world influences.  Our educational systems engrain philosophically based analytical thinking into our brains starting in kindergarten.  While our educational systems have yielded great benefits in worldly pursuits in areas like medicine, transportation, communication, industry, and science, they can hinder us greatly when we think we can use them to understand God beyond what God has revealed in his word,

Especially, to those who say that you believe the Bible, I am going to ask, what does the Bible say about how the world teaches us to think? Look at this:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:17-25 ESV)

Do you think because you live thousands of years after the apostles that things are different now? Do you think because we invented computers and sent people into space that we smart enough now to figure out God?  The bible says we are not.

Paul asks rhetorically whether God has made foolish the wisdom of the world! He declares that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. God says he is going to destroy the wisdom of the wise. So where does that put the wisdom of God? The answer is way, way, way up there, beyond our comprehension.

Remember that theologians include philosophical arguments in their reasoning about theology when they use things like deductive, and especially, inductive reasoning. What are deductive and inductive reasoning you say? Deductive reasoning is “the process of figuring out things that are necessarily true, provided that the assumptions that we start with, are true.”viii If A = B and B = C then we deduct that A = C.

On the other hand, inductive reasoning is “drawing conclusions from particular evidence: if certain things are true, we can induce that other things of the same kind will probably be true.”ix A keyword there is probably. Inductive reasoning comes without absolute certainty.  It’s taking a bunch of facts and drawing conclusions about them.  We can do this with some success in the natural world but the spiritual world is different.  There aren’t any verses that say that men of our time are different and will be able to figure out things that were previously secret.

So what are we to do? Study the scriptures as the prophets searched the scripture: carefully:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, (1Pe 1:10 ESV)

The prophets looked to see what was revealed. Yes, they look for small details that might help them understand better. But they stuck to what was written. And they didn’t take a group of details and induce a new theory, then teach it as truth.

Now, being like the prophets and sticking to what has been revealed can give us great understanding:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (Col 1:9 ESV)

All doesn’t mean absolutely all. You have to derive the meaning of words in the bible in the context of all of God’s word.  If all in the above verse meant that we could have absolutely all spiritual wisdom and understanding that would contradict the previous verses we looked above that declare that God has secret things that belong just to him and his mind is unsearchable to us.  No, in this case, all means all that is available to us.  But still, to be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding is an awesome thing!  And next, we will read about being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance and knowledge of God’s mystery, in Christ.

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (Col 2:2-4 ESV)

That sounds awesome because it is; being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance!

Now, I want to talk about the plausible arguments mentioned in the verse.  Remember when we defined inductive reasoning, drawing conclusions from pieces of particular evidence. In our universe scientists do this all the time, looking at what is known about something and then drawing conclusions.  So many scientific theories are formed this way, That the theory of evolution is an exercise in inductive reason is something that is well taught.x There are a lot of things about the theory that are plausible, believable. In many scientific minds, it is so plausible that it is accepted as true, but it is not a proven theory. Much of science is like that. And so is a lot of theology!

People have been constructing plausible arguments on everything from soup to nuts including theology, the study of God, using a lot of inductive reasoning since Adam. Sometimes the argument does prove to be true. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the flaw in the argument. Other times the flaw in the inductive reasoning becomes obvious rather quickly. So much scientific investigation is based on inductive reasoning, looking at collections of facts, drawing conclusions, hypotheses, that are further tested to see whether they bear out as true in the long haul.  It’s right at the fabric of how we think in the world these days.

But, when it comes to God and eternity, and the universe, we can’t know everything we need to be able to induce reliable conclusions about eternal realities because the secret things belong to God. So a lot of theologies are based on the faulty premise that we can know things that we cannot know because God has hidden them!

Again, the knowledge of God that we can know can bring a peace that passes understanding which is so awesome.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Php 4:7 MKJV)

I have tasted that peace and it is so soothing, so comforting. On the other hand, philosophy and its methods can drive you nuts! If philosophy has such perfect and true reasoning then all the philosophers would agree, but they don’t! Frederick Schuller wrote:

We are all aware that philosophers are even more prone to disagree than doctors, and probably all of us are ready upon occasion to contribute our quota to the disagreements that mark, and scar, the face of philosophy. xi

The wisdom of the world is a fickle master. And God is going to destroy it in the end.

On the other hand, Jesus didn’t quote any philosophers, he quoted the word of God, and referred to what prophets said, people charged with delivering revelation, messages from God.

Col 1:9 and 2:2-4 are so very interesting because they acknowledge the reality that we can have great spiritual wisdom and understanding but also that we can be deluded with “plausible arguments”, also translated “enticing words”. The trick is to stick to the text of the word of God, as original as can be found, not adding or subtracting from it. And sticking to what is revealed. Especially remember the downfall of inductive reasoning, that we will never in our current form have enough information to inductively conclude things on God’s plane.

So don’t be afraid to say that there isn’t enough information to know something.  It’s a basic rule in understanding the word of God.

iThe New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven, N.T. Wright, https://time.com/5743505/new-testament-heaven/

vii The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy, Jay Stevenson P.h.D, Alpha Books, (Penguin Books), 2005, p.6-7

viiiIbid, p. 21

ixIbid, p. 22

x The Origin of Species, article, Spark Series teaching notes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/origin/themes/

xi Disagreement in Philosophy An Optimistic Perspective, HERMAN CAPPELEN, http://hermancappelen.net/docs/DisagreementinPhilosophyCambridge.pdf

May 17th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

T 1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 1, Rightly Dividing the Word of God

In T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, we discussed that a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another. We also looked at the verses that charged believers to follow the tradition that was handed down by the Apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
(2Th 3:6 ESV)

From the above verses we know:

  1. There is a tradition, a set of belief(s) and practice(s), that was set up in original Christianity.
  2. Believers were expected to follow these traditions.
  3. Believers were charged to avoid brothers who walked in idleness or didn’t do the things talked about in this letter, including following the tradition handed down by the Apostles.

To see the tradition talked about in the above verses in more detail we really need to look at the beliefs and practices that the Apostles held forth. We don’t have any recordings of their words spoken, but we do have what was in their letters and the book of Acts:

That set of beliefs and practices is what this website is all about. There is no way to cover the entire tradition in a single post so I will give a sketch of some key points along with references to original Christian beliefs and practices in other posts.

There are already some points about the tradition that started in Original Christianity in the introduction, Welcome to Original Christianity.Net,  to this website.  Here are some of those points about original Christianity with links to posts on the subject.

Also in T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, I discuss that Jesus taught against the practice of establishing any tradition that negated the word of God. In fact, Original Christianity was devoted to rightly dividing scripture to keep the Word of God to full effect.

Listen to this story about something I experienced at a church not too long ago. At a service that I was attending the pastor geared the service around an exercise. Instead of chairs lined up in rows or circles even, he had the auditorium set up with tables and chairs like for dining. People gathered together in groups, and they were assigned a passage of Scripture, to be used as a starting point for discussion as to what that Scripture meant to them.
The exercise certainly had a good motive for it. The point was to set up a meal like setting and show how easy it was to talk about things around the table. The pastor was encouraging the congregation to evangelize; no problem with the motive.
There were about half a dozen people around the table where I was sitting, and I waited to hear what each would say. Now, to be sure, people took the exercise seriously and endeavored to communicate the impact of the Scripture to them. They each interpreted the verse as best they could,
However, when it came to my turn, I decided to talk about what the words meant in the context and where it had been used before. Immediately, some of the people’s heads picked up, and said, “that’s right I’m going to change what the verse means to me to that.” But not all. One person especially kept promoting a viewpoint that was full of Christianese but was not what was being taught in the verse, and maybe not true at all.  Evidently, in that church, it was perfectly acceptable for people to get different meanings and people were allowed to let loose with their ideas in what scriptures meant.

There are verses in the bible that speak directly to how scriptures are to be handled, Here’s one:

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)

Rightly dividing in the verse above is the Greek word orthotomeo, literally “straight cutting”.  Second Timothy 2:15 sets up a pair of opposites. On one side is the unashamed workmen of God’s word who “cuts the words” straight. That means he derives the correct meaning. On the other hand, then, is the workmen of the word who should be ashamed because he derives meanings that aren’t there.

Another verse that talks about how Scripture is to be handled is in second Peter:

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 ESV)

The words that I want to focus on here are “someone’s own interpretation”. The Greek here is very interesting.  Idios epilusis are the words here and they are very interesting.  Idios, meaning “one’s own”. is used elsewhere in the Bible.  But epilusis is the single occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament.  “Interpretation” is an okay translation, but my interlinear translates it as “explanation”.  I’ve seen it also translated as “letting loose”, as in letting loose with one’s own thoughts.

Now, to be sure, those words relate directly to how the prophet  gives the words as he gives them. When a prophet is giving a message from God. He gives the message that God says to give. He doesn’t let loose on his own with his own thoughts, meanings, or anything else other than the message that God directed him or her to give.  The prophet is charged not to explain the message with his own understanding.  (If you look at some prophecies like Jonah’s, you will see that he didn’t really agree with the message and want to give it.)

Let me ask you a question. If God is saying that the prophet is not allowed to put his own meaning on the message, what makes you think that you can?
The point of this verse is that it is the utmost importance that the message contains God’s meaning, not the prophet’s, and certainly not yours or mine.

Jesus and the religious leaders of his time conflicted over tradition. Jewish tradition contains the idea that every word that the Lord God revealed has 70 possible meanings. And the end result of that huge realm of possibility of what all the Scriptures mean with all the various meanings of words that are available is that it is impossible just to read something and know what it says. So there must be more than Scripture to help understand Scripture. Thus is the Jewish justification for the Talmud or oral law.
As we will see, the (Roman) Catholic tradition includes the same concept. Scripture by itself, according to Catholic tradition is insufficient. And thus there is the requirement of the church to go beyond Scripture and define what needs to be defined for people to live righteously.

There are not 70 meanings for every word in every verse in the Bible.  To be a true workman of the word we need to find the true meaning of the words we are given.

Again, remember what Jesus said what he thought about the Jew’s need for tradition. He said it made the Word of God of no effect. Yet that is what happened to the Jews and in the Catholic tradition which started right after the gospel of John as we shall see.
Original Christianity was concerned about stopping the use of tradition to interpret scripture and make the word of God of no effect.

This is a huge part of the Apostolic tradition that was handed down by the Apostles.

We will handle more of what was handed down in future articles.

 

February 15th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Tradition | no comments

The Marvelous Story of Esther, Absent From Early Canons of Scripture

The teaching in church this week centered on the inspiring story of Esther. In a nutshell when Xerxes was king of Persia the Queen was named Vashti. And in a moment of defiance Vashti refused the command of the King. After consulting with his advisers the king decided on a process to find a new Queen, and the beautiful Queen he chose was Esther. Esther had been warned of by her kinsmen Mordecai to not advise the King that she was a Jew because of animosity towards the Jews. As it turned out an Agagite named Haman conspired to get rid of all the Jews and in a thrilling story of bravery and courage Esther is instrumental in ridding the Jews of this direct attack, in elevating her kinsmen Mordecai and in providing for the welfare of all the Jews under Xerxes.  It is an amazing story of bravery, and deliverance.

As much as I love the story of Esther however I must report that there is considerable evidence that Esther, whether true or not, was not a book of the Old Testament according to at least some writings of the day.

Look at this quotation from you Eusebius’ church history:

Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting! Since you have often, in your zeal for the Word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our entire Faith, and have also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient books, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing your zeal for the faith, and your desire to gain information in regard to the Word, and knowing that you, in your yearning after God, esteem these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation. Accordingly when I went to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and I send them to you as written below. These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of Kingdoms, 1 two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs or Wisdom, 2 Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, 3 the Twelve [minor prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. 4 From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.[i]

Notice in the above listing that the book of Esther is missing.

With that  again I have to say that it pains me to have to present this because to me the story of Esther has always been a thrilling and inspiring story. But, besides being our Savior, the Lord Jesus was also the greatest prophet ever and he said this about reading the Scriptures:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (Joh 5:39 ESV)

While the story of Esther is certainly one of the Jewish people being saved at the time it holds the distinction of being one of two books (the other being Song of Solomon) that do not mention God.  It does not include any of the genealogy of the bloodline of our Savior. While Esther is a story of deliverance it doesn’t testify of jesus.   And as noted above it was left out of at least some of the early Christian centuries’ canons of Scripture.  Also throughout the centuries it has not been accepted universally.  Look at this quote from a website called patheos.com:

John Calvin did not include the book in his biblical commentaries and only referenced it once in the Institutes(see 4.12.17). Though he included it in his Bible, Martin Luther was highly ambivalent about it. “I am so great an enemy to . . . Esther, that I wish [it] had not come to us at all, for [it has] too many heathen unnaturalities,” he said in Table Talk 24. And in one exchange with Erasmus he said it “deserves. . . to be regarded as noncanonical.”[ii]

What this suggests is significant in a number of ways:

  1. the Canon of Scripture might not be as divinely inspired as some would have us believe.
  2. The statements of belief of many Christian churches today includes the statement that the 66 books included in the modern Christian Bible are divinely inspired, and the word of God. This is a relatively recent doctrine and not something that has consistently been believed throughout the ages.

I have said elsewhere in places on this website that many churches teach that they are the first century church living in the 21st century. But this is clearly not the case. There were at least some of the earliest church fathers who did not hold that Esther and some of the other books in the Bible were divinely inspired by God. And hundreds of years ago in the forming of the Reformation the founding reformers also challenged some of the books that current statements of belief propound to be true. In other words, churches in Melito’s time, in Luther’s time, in Calvin’s time would not have made the statement that the 66 books of the Bible are all divinely inspired pieces of the word of God.

It is vitally important to me to remember that the true word of God is not a book as much as it is the person of Jesus Christ. And it is helpful in recognizing that much of the disagreement among churches centers around a dogma that God authored the 66 books and the arguments that promote divisions weaken when we acknowledge that that statement of belief is a modern invention and not one held by the reformers nor the early Christians.

The faith of the early Christians as well as the reformers like Luther and Calvin was not based on the doctrine that the 66 books of the modern Christian bible are the word of God, and neither should ours be.

[i] The Face of the Early Fathers, William a Jurgens, volume 1, p.81. This is a quote by St. Melito of Sardes which is a fragment in Eusebius, history of the church, book 4, chapter 26. The estimated date of this citation is 170 AD.

[ii] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/06/youre-reading-the-wrong-book-of-esther/

August 20th, 2018 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

Oral Transmissions of Religious Accounts Have Safeguards to Ensure Accuracy

I have heard people say they are suspicious about the accuracy of traditions that are passed down by word-of-mouth. Anyone familiar with the “telephone” game knows that in any given crowd if one person passes a sentence to another person and so forth, that the resulting sentence by the 10th or 20th person sometimes bears no resemblance to the original.  By this reasoning, a lot of people have discounted ancient oral traditions as being unreliable.

The passing of oral tradition, in reality, however, usually came with stringent safeguards. Nicholas Wade, in his book, The Faith Instinct, says,

“there are two reasons why some hunter gatherer religions may still reflect the ancient forms.

One is that many preliterate or primitive peoples place great importance on carrying out rites exactly as their forebears did. The justification of their rituals is that this is how they have always been performed. So religious practice is handed on with as much fidelity as possible. Among the Klamath and Modoc Indians of the northwest coast of America, certain myths may be recited only in the presence of three people who know the story, and can check the rendition for accuracy, and the myths may not be told by children less they garble them. These rules are reported to keep the myths intact over many generations.”[i]

(It is important to note the word myth as used here means “a traditional story, account, or history” as opposed to the other meaning of myth which is “a false belief”.)

This is very insightful.  Kids aren’t even allowed to recite the traditional accounts.  When the accounts are recited by adults a number of others have to be present to ensure the accuracy of the recital.  This looks like pretty good security.  This practice is not new; it is ages old.

I find this very reassuring.  Sure, unchecked retelling of events is going to get garbled as it passes from person to person, but I always thought it was foolish to think that people didn’t realize this and put safeguards in place to ensure accuracy.

Wade’s insights about how modern tribes ensure accuracy shows that oral traditions can be reliably transmitted.

[i] The Faith Instinct, Nicholas Wade, The Penguin Press, London, p. 99

October 2nd, 2014 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

Codex Sinaiticus, World’s Oldest Bible, Available Online

Would it surprise you to know that the bible read in the fourth century was not the same as the modern bible?  Most of it is the same, but there are some surprising differences. Codex Sinaiticus is called the world’s oldest bible (earlier manuscripts were probably burned by persecuting Romans, or simply didn’t survive the ages.)   As such it gives us an amazing insight into what the bible was and how it has changed since then.  And it is available online at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx.

But first a definition is in order. What is a codex?  A codex is a stack of pages bound together in a manner similar to the modern book form.  This is, of course, different from the roll form of document used in Hebrew worship.  Christians were among the first to use this style of document making.[i]

Codex Sinaiticus dates back to the 4th century. It is thought to be one of the 50 copies of the Bible commissioned to Eusebius by Constantine about 332 A.D.[ii] (Similarly, codex Vaticanus is thought to be another of the copies although it is not as complete.)[iii]

One of the first things you notice about this “bible” is that books are not exactly the same as modern versions, and the order is not the same.  The Pauline Epistles with Hebrews are between the Gospels and Acts.[iv] The Shepard of Hermas and The Gospel of Barnabas are listed after Revelation.[v] Glancing through the whole book you will find that the order of the books differs dramatically from the current order standard throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

The Shepard of Hermas was used as scripture by Iranaeus, Tertullain, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  The Gospel of Barnabas was called “catholic” by Origen, and Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on it.[vi]

The differences between Codex Sinaiticus and modern Greek texts are not just in the New Testament.  Sinaiticus includes 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach, which now are part of what is now called the Apochrypha, but that distinction did not exist then.  In Old Testament times there is no evidence that there was any concept of a bible as a complete set of collection of authorized books, rather there were individual “books”, which in the Greek is “biblion”.  These were individually recognized as part of the Law and the prophets.  In ancient times this collection of books was called “ta biblia” (“the books”) which Latin speaking Christians shortened to the singular, the book or Bible.[vii]

Codex Sinaiticus is recognized as part of the Alexandrian family of texts.  It does not have some of the errors of the Received Text.  For example, compare these readings from Codex Sinaiticus with the forgeries talked about in Examples of Scribal Forgeries in the Bible:

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)[viii]

And he said to them: This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer. (Mark 9:29)

[no verse] (Matthew 17:21)

[no verse] (Mark 16:9-20)

In these lay a multitude of sick persons, blind, lame, withered. (John 5:3, verse 4 is missing)

John 7:53 to 8:11 is missing

It is amazing to me that it took centuries for scholars to get the accepted text back to a form closer to Codex Sinaiticus.  In fairness, it wasn’t available to Erasmus and his successors when they first tried reconstructing a reliable Greek New Testament.  It was found in the late 18th century at the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, hence the name “Sinaiticus”.

As far as Matthew 28:19, the reading is the full Trinitarian formula:

Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Codex Sinaiticus is a fascinating bible.  I believe the above examples show that it is a better text than those used for the Received Text.  The order that the books are presented suggests loudly, to me at least, that the order of the books has been an arbitrary decision all along.  And likewise the additional books in both the Old and New Testaments, I think,  are a protest to the divine status given to the creation of the canon, as opposed to the divine “thus spake the Lord” terminology much more easily seen in and/or concerning the individual books of the Law and the Prophets.

[i] THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, Arthur G. Patzia, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1995, p. 118-119
[ii] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 207
[iii] ibid.
[iv] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 295
[v] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 65
[vi] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 188
[vii] THE BOOKS AND THE PARCHMENTS, F F Bruce, Fleming H Revell Company, 1962, p. 11
[viii] This and all the readings are found on the website at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

April 17th, 2011 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments