A.L. De Silva
A CRITIQUE OF THE BIBLE
Christianity is a book-based religion. There is no evidence for the claims and dogmas of Christianity other than what is said in the Bible and this fact alone makes this book the bedrock of Christianity. In the past as today Christians have picked through the Bible arguing with each other over the meaning of its phrases and words and tried to convince non-Christians of the truth of a book that they cannot even agree about themselves. But one thing which all Christians agree about is that the Bible is God's word - not that it contains God's word, but that it is God's word, an infallible and complete revelation given to man by God. We will examine this claim and show that like most of the claims made by Christians it has very little substance to it at all.
Is it God's Word?
If the Bible really is God's word it indicates that he is a very strange being indeed. One would expect that the creator of the universe would only speak to man when he had something of great importance to say and that what he said would be of universal significance. Not so. The book of Chronicles for example consists of little more than lists of names of people we know little or nothing about and who died thousands of years ago. No commandments, no ethical principles, no hints on how to live properly or to worship God - just page after page of useless names. Why would God waste his and our time revealing such things? And what about the Songs of Solomon? This book consists of a collection of erotic love poetry. Once again, with the world in such a mess one would have supposed that God could have thought of something more important to say to man than this.
Then we come to the Gospels which recount the life of Jesus. Why has God decided to reveal the whole of Jesus' biography, not once, but four times? And why has he revealed what are, quite clearly, four different and contradictory versions of the same story? Unlike Christians, historians have given perfectly plausible answers to these questions. The Bible is not a revelation from God, rather it is a compilation, a fairly untidy compilation, written by many different people, over many centuries, changed and edited from time to time, and containing legends, stories, genealogies, fables, sacred and secular writings. It is no more a revelation from God than are the Iliad or the Odyssey, the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, books which the Bible resembles quite closely.
Is the Bible Inspired?
Christians claim that although the books of the Bible were actually written by different people, these people were inspired and guided by God as they wrote. While contemporary Christians make this claim, the ancient authors of the Bible never did. For example Luke says at the beginning of his Gospel:
Insomuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us.....it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you..... (Lk 1:1-3).
Nothing about being filled with the spirit of God either before or while he wrote, he simply says that others had written accounts of the life of Jesus so he thought it might be a good idea if he wrote something also. If he really was inspired by God to write the Gospel why didn't he say so? But the claim of inspiration is not just unsubstantiated, it also raises a very serious problem. Christians are always claiming that in prayer God speaks to them, gives them advice and tells them what to do. They claim that his voice is very direct, very clear and very real. But if they really have no doubt that God is communicating with them surely his words should be recorded and included in the Bible. The Bible contains words God spoke to Moses, Joshua, Matthew, Mark Peter and Paul so why shouldn't the words he speaks to modern day Christians be included also? Christians will balk at such a suggestion which indicates that they are not so convinced that the words they hear in their hearts really do come from God after all.
One Bible or Several?
In ancient times there was no standardized version of the Old Testament. Different Jewish groups and different regions had their own versions. There were the Septuagint, the Aquila, Theodotion's version and Symmachu's version, all containing different text and different numbers of books. The Old Testament used by modern Christians is based on the Massonetic version which only appeared after the Jamnia Synod at the end of the 1st century AD. The New Testament did not appear in its present form until the year 404 AD, nearly four hundred years after the death of Jesus. Before that time, the Gospels of Thomas, the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Paul and a dozen other books were included in the Bible. In 404 AD these books were simply cut out of the Bible because they contained teachings that were contrary to Christian theology of that time. One of the oldest existing Bibles, The Codex Sinaiticus, includes the Epistle of Barnabas, a book that is not included in the modern Bible. If these books were considered to be revelation by early Christians why don't modern Christians consider them to be revelation?
When we look at the Bibles used by modern Christians we find that there are several different versions. The Bible used by the Ethiopian Church, one of the most ancient of all churches, contains the Books of Enoch and the Shepherd of Hermas which are not found in the versions used by Catholics and Protestants. The Bible used in the Catholic Church contains the books of Judith, Tobias, Banuch, etc which have been cut out of the Bible used in Protestant churches. Prof. H.L. Drummingwright of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in his introduction to the Bible explains how these books came to be cut out of the Bible used by the Protestants. These books were, he says, "in most Protestant Bibles until the 19th century, when publishers, led by the British and Foreign Bible Society voluntarily began to omit them". Once again, these books contained ideas which the churches did not like so they just cut them out. How can a book like Judith be the infallible word of God one moment and not the next? Why are there so many different versions of the Bible? And which version is the infallible word of God?
Are There Mistakes in the Bible?
We have seen previously that there are many mistakes in the Bible but we will have a look at three more examples of its inaccuracies. Today, even schoolchildren know that the earth moves; it moves on its axis and at the same time it moves around the sun. We also know that the tectonic plates on the earth's surface move also. The Bible however, clearly states that the earth does not move. In 1 Chronicles 16:30 the Bible says, "The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved." (See also Ps 93:1, 96:10 and 104:5).
Here, and in many places, the Bible contradicts scientific fact. Moreover the Bible does not just contradict scientific fact it also contradicts itself. Let us have a look at the creation story. In the first book of the Bible it says that God created all the plants and trees on the third day (Gen 1:11-13), all birds, animals and fish on the fifth day (Gen 1:20-23) and finally, man and woman on the sixth day (Gen 1:26-27). Yet a little further on the Bible gives a different version of the creation story saying that God created man first (Gen 2:7), then all plants and trees (Gen 2:9), after that all birds and animals (Gen 2:19) and only then did God create woman (Gen 2:21-22). These two versions of the creation story clearly contradict each other.
Now let us have a look at the story of Noah's Ark. In one place in the Bible we are told that Noah took two of every animal and put them in the ark (Gen 6;19). Later the Bible says Noah took seven pairs of all clean animals and birds and two of all other creatures and put them in the ark (Gen 7:2). Again the Bible is contradicting itself Christians will object to this saying that these and the numerous other mistakes in the Bible are only small and of no significance. However, only one mistake is required to show that the Bible is not infallible. Also, if mistakes can be made in small matters they can be made in important matters. And, finally, one mistake is proof either that the Bible is not the word of God or that God is capable of mistakes.
Is the Bible Reliable Testimony?
We have seen that the Bible is not infallible and therefore cannot be revelation. So if it is not God's word whose word is it? Many of the books in the Bible are named after different people who are supposed to have written them. So the Gospel of Matthew is supposed to have been written by Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is supposed to have been written by Mark, another of Jesus' disciples, and so on.
The Christian could claim that even if the Bible is not necessarily infallible revelation it is the testimony of reliable people, They could claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John knew Jesus well, they lived with him for several years, they heard his teachings and they wrote down what they saw and heard and that there is no reason for them to lie or exaggerate. Therefore, Christians could claim that the Bible is reliable testimony. Except that for testimony to be reliable it must come from reliable people, people we could trust, people from good backgrounds. Were the disciples of Jesus such people? Let us look.
Some of Jesus' disciples were tax collectors (Matt 9:9), a dishonest and despised class of men (Matt 18;17); others were mere illiterate fishermen (Mk 1:16-17). Simon was a Zealot (Lk 6:15), a group of men known for their fanatical and often violent opposition to Roman rule, and like many people involved in illegal politics he used an alias and was also known as Peter (Matt 10:2). Peter and James were given the nicknames 'Boanerges' meaning 'sons of thunder' (Mk 3:17) once again suggesting their involvement in violent politics. When Jesus was arrested his disciples were carrying swords and were willing to use them (Matt 26:51). Hardly the sort of people with whom we would feel comfortable.
Another thing that should make us wary of trusting the testimony of Jesus' disciples is that they seemed to be constantly misunderstanding what Jesus was saying (Mk 4:13, 6:52, 8:15-17, 9:32; Lk 8:9, 9:45). They are supposed to have seen Jesus perform the most amazing miracles and yet despite this they still doubted. Jesus scolded them and called them "men of little faith" (Matt 8:26, 17:20). Should we trust the writings of men who constantly failed to understand what was being said to them and whom even Jesus called men of little faith? If even the people who knew and saw Jesus had '"little faith" how could we, who have never seen him, be expected to have faith in him?
How unreliable and faithless the people who wrote the Bible were is best illustrated by what they did just prior to and during Jesus' arrest. He asked them to keep watch but they fell asleep (Matt 26:36-43). After Jesus was arrested they lied and denied that they even knew him (Mk 14:66-72), and after his execution they simply went back to their fishing (Jn 21:2-3). And who betrayed Jesus in the first place? His disciple Judas (Matt 26:14-16). Association with sinners, liars and fools in order to help them, as Jesus did, is a good thing. But should we believe everything such people say?
An even more disturbing thing about the disciples of Jesus is just how many of them were possessed by demons or devils from time to time. Mary Magdalene who later claimed to have seen Jesus rise from the dead, had been possessed by seven devils (Mk 16:9). Satan entered into Judas (Lk 22:3), tried to get into Simon (Lk 22:31) and Jesus once actually called Peter, his chief disciple, "Satan" (Matt 16:23) indicating that he too was possessed by a devil at that time. Whether possession by devils actually happens or whether it indicates serious psychological disorders as modern psychiatrists believe, either way it indicates that we should treat the words of Jesus' disciples with great caution.
Who Did Write the Bible?
We have seen that the Bible is not infallible, is not revelation and is not the testimony of reliable, trustworthy people. We will now show that the Bible was not even written by the people who are claimed to have been its writers. Let us have a look at the first five books in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books describe the creation of the world, God's first revelation to man, and the early history of the tribe of Israel and are supposed to have been written by Moses. They are, in fact, often called 'The Books of Moses'. However, his authorship is clearly impossible, because in these books we have an account of Moses' death.
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab according to the word of the Lord, and they buried him in the valley in the land Moab opposite Beth Peor, but no man knows the place of his burial to this day (Deut 34:5-6).
How could a man write an account of his own death and burial? The book of Deuteronomy, at least, must have been written by someone other than Moses.
Now let us have a look at the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew is supposed to have been written by Matthew (tax collector, doubter, man of little faith), one of the disciples of Jesus. Yet we can easily demonstrate that Matthew could not have possibly have written the Gospel of Matthew. We read:
As Jesus passed on from there he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office and he said to him, "Follow me". And he rose and followed him (Matt 9:9).
Neither now nor in the past do people write in the third person. If Matthew had really written this we would expect it to read:
As Jesus passed on from there he saw me sitting at the tax office and he said to me, "Follow me". And I rose and followed him.
Obviously this was not written by Matthew but by some third person. Who this third person is we do not know but Bible scholars have made a guess. In the preface to his translation of the Gospel of Matthew the distinguished Bible scholar J.B. Phillips says:
Early tradition ascribes this Gospel to the apostle Matthew but scholars nowadays almost all reject this view. The author, who we still can conveniently call Matthew has plainly drawn on a collection of oral traditions. He has used Mark's Gospel freely, though he has rearranged the order of events, and has in several instances used different words for what is plainly the same story.
This is a deeply disturbing admission, especially coming from an eminent Christian Bible scholar. We are told that "almost all" modern Bible scholars reject the idea that the Gospel of Matthew was actually written by Matthew. We are told that although the real author is unknown it is "convenient" to keep calling him Matthew. Next we are told that whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew has "freely" copied much of his material from the Gospel of Mark. In other words, the Gospel of Matthew is just a plagiarism where material has been "rearranged" and restated in "different words". So apparently in the Gospel of Matthew not only do we not have the words of God, we don't even have the words of Matthew.
To the credit of Bible scholars like Prof. J.B. Phillips, they freely admit these and other major doubts about authorship of the Bible, but such admissions make the claim that the Gospels were written by the disciples of Jesus clearly untrue.
Mistakes and Variations in the Bible
If we look at the bottom of the pages in most Bibles we will find many notes. These notes indicate mistakes, variations or doubtful readings in the text of the Bible. And there are literally hundreds of them. Some of the mistakes or variations consist of only a few words but some of them are long passages (see for example the notes to Luke 9:55-56; John 5:3; Acts 24:6; 1 Corinthians 8:36-38; 11:4-7; 2 Corinthians 10:13-15). Also notice that the notes to Mark 16:9-20 mention that this long passage is not found in the ancient Bible. In other words, this long passage in the Bible was added at a later time. How can Christians honestly claim that the Bible is infallible and without mistakes when all the mistakes are pointed out at the bottom of each page?
In the New Testament Jesus and his disciples often quote the Old Testament in order to make a point or, more usually, to attempt to prove that the Old Testament prophesizes events in the life of Jesus. But when we compare these quotes with the original text of the Old Testament we find that they are almost always different. We will use here the New International Version of the Bible.
But you, Bethlehem Ephasthah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old (Mic 5:2).
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel (Matt 2:6).
The quote in the New Testament contains not just different words, it also changes the meaning of the original. Has Matthew misquoted the Old Testament because he was not familiar with it and made a mistake? Has he deliberately misquoted in order to alter the meaning? Or is the Old Testament Matthew used different from the one we have today? The New Testament quotes the Old Testament dozens of times and hardly a single quote is accurate. Christians will protest and say that these changes are only minor and of no importance. Perhaps so, but these are proofs that the Bible does contain mistakes, contrary to what Christians say. Also, it is strange that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul, who according to Christians were inspired by God to write the New Testament, could not even quote the Old Testament correctly.
Changing the Lord's Prayer
Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer before he died and since that time generations of Christians have learned the prayer by heart. But anyone who learnt it by heart 20 years ago will have to learn it again because the Lord's Prayer has been changed. We will compare the original Lord's Prayer found in all Bibles until 20 years ago with the Lord's Prayer now in the New International Version of the Bible, and we will see that Christians have even tampered with this most important teaching of Jesus.
King James Version
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The New International Version
Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation (Lk 11:2-5).
Notice that these phrases - "who art in heaven", "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", "but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen" - have been cut out of the Lord's Prayer. We should ask our Christian friends why these verses have been cut out of the most famous and important of all Jesus' teachings. Ask them which of these two different versions of the Lord's Prayer is the infallible, unchanging word of God. Ask them who had knowledge and wisdom enough to tamper with the Bible. You will find that they have great difficulties answering your questions. Here as elsewhere, the reader is encouraged to go to the library and the bookshop, find different versions of the Bible and carefully compare them. We will see with our own eyes how much the Bibles differ as the result of tampering.
Cutting Verses Out of the Bible
Proof that the Bible has been tampered with is found on every page if one looks carefully. The text of the Bible is arranged into chapters which in turn are arranged into verses. As we read we will sometimes notice that one or two verses are missing. On page are reproduced some pages from The New International Version of Bible printed by the New York International Bible Society. Notice that verses 44 and 46 have been deleted from chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark. Verse 37 has been cut out of chapter 8 of Acts and verse 28 has been removed from chapter 15 of Mark. How can Christians possibly claim that the Bible is the infallible and unchanging word of God when they cut out inconvenient verses and words? And why have these verses been removed?
Whenever Christians want to convince us of the truth of their religion they will quote from the Bible, believing as they do, that every word in the Bible is literally true. But when we quote from the Bible to prove that their religion is primitive, silly or illogical (e.g. that smoke comes out God's nose and fire comes out of his mouth, Ps 18:7-8; or that donkeys can talk, Num 22:28) the Christian will say: "That's symbolic, it is not meant to be taken literally." Christians are very selective in how they interpret the Bible. Some passages are 'God's word' and literally true and other parts, usually the embarrassing parts, are not meant to be taken literally. Either the Bible is God's infallible word or it is not, one cannot pick and choose. And if indeed some passages are meant to be taken literally and others are not, how do Christians decide? If the stories about Balaam's donkey talking, Adam and Eve eating the apple, or Moses turning his stick into a snake are not meant to be taken literally, perhaps too, the stories about Jesus' resurrection are only symbolic and not meant to be taken literally.
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