Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 54 seconds.
Especially in light of the events today in Jerusalem when many human beings are dying and are being murdered because of American and Christian Biblical beliefs, and after a search for meaning and truth, this sixty-year-old has been researching, reading widely, and asking probing questions about my religious upbringing, faith, and life. As many of my readers know, I served as an ordained Southern Baptist minister for 39 years and thirteen of those years as Minister of the Arts at two of America’s largest mega-churches.
For four years I also studied Koine Greek (the common language of the people at the time of the writing of the New Testament) and hermeneutics (critical explanation and interpretation of the New Testament) using the most accurate Greek and Latin manuscripts we currently have available.
Utilizing the context of my years in the ministry and theological studies and after reading several recent books on textual criticism (the process of attempting to ascertain the original wording of a text) regarding the New Testament, I have come to believe that most of what I was taught by well-meaning ministers and teachers is false.
It has been a shocking and earthshaking revelation. Here are only ten of many lies that I came to believe during my almost forty years in the evangelical ministry.
Lie #1—The King James Version of the Bible is the Truest Translation of Scripture.
TRUTH: After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other recent archeological finds—Biblical scholars and experts have found that of all the current translations of the Bible, the King James Version has the most errors and mistakes and human alterations of any currently known translation. The King James Version is filled with places in which the translators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from an edition by Erasmus, which was based on a single twelfth-century manuscript that is one of the worst of the scripts that we now have available to us! The King James was not given by God but was a translation by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who based their rendition on a faulty Greek text.
Lie # 2—There Are No Errors in the Bible.
TRUTH: Most Biblical scholars and experts that have access to the oldest and most accurate texts have found there are more errors than there are words in the New Testament.
Lie #3—The Bible was Inspired by God.
TRUTH: The Bible is in fact, a very human book. Even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration is in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired have been changed and, in some cases, lost.
Lie #4—The Bible is Infallible.
TRUTH: The original texts of the Bible in numerous cases were changed by translators that did not agree with the theology it contained, and they horrendously maligned the equal and valid role of women, homosexuals, and Jews. The Bible as we know it fails in its treatment of women, anyone with a sexual persuasion other than heterosexual, and the Jewish people. In fact, the theological diversity when the Bible was said to be written was so extensive that groups calling themselves Christian adhered to beliefs and practices that most Christians today would insist were not Christian at all.
Lie #5—We Can Know with Certainty the Bible is True.
TRUTH: How do millions of people throughout history think they know what is in the New Testament? They “know” because scholars with unknown names, identities, backgrounds, qualifications, preferences, theologies, and personal opinions have told them what is in the New Testament. But unfortunately, many of the translators translated the wrong text and randomly changed it.
Most scholars believe that the translations available to most English readers are based on the wrong text, and having the wrong version makes a real difference for the interpretation of these books.
Lie #6—The Bible was Written During the Life of Jesus and His Disciples.
TRUTH: The first written texts were written hundreds of years after the deaths of Jesus and his disciples. Can you imagine someone writing two hundred years from now in the year 2218 about the events of today without literacy and technology? With only an oral story-telling tradition passed down through generations by people who could not read or write.
Lie #7—The Texts Speak for Themselves.
TRUTH: Reading a text involves interpreting a text. I suppose when I started my ministry I had a rather unsophisticated view of reading: that the point of reading a text is to let the text “speak for itself,” to uncover the meaning inherent in its words. The reality, I came to see, is that meaning is not inherent and texts do not speak for themselves. If texts could speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a text would agree on what the text says.
But interpretations of texts abound, and people, in fact, do not agree on what the texts mean. This is true of the texts of scripture: merely look at the hundreds, or even thousands, of ways people interpret the book of Revelation. Consider all the different Christian denominations, filled with intelligent and well-meaning people who base their views of how the church should be organized and function on the Bible, yet all of them coming to radically different conclusions (Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Appalachian snake-handlers, Greek Orthodox, and on and on).
Think back on the last time you were involved in a heated debate in which the Bible was invoked, and someone volunteered an interpretation of a scripture verse that left you wondering, How did he (or she) come up with that? We hear this all around us in discussions of homosexuality, women in the church, abortion, divorce, and even American foreign policy, with both sides quoting the same Bible—and sometimes even the same verses—to make their case.
Lie #8—The Bible is A Divine Book.
TRUTH: The Bible is a human book that was written by human authors who had their own opinions and beliefs that often differed. All one needs do is read the four gospels and compare them to see this truth.
Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their unique perspectives, their own beliefs, their views, their individual needs, their desires, their understandings, their theologies; and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they said. In all these ways they differed from one another.
The only way to make sense of a text is to read it, and the only way to read it is by putting it in other words. And the only way to put it, in other words, is by having other words to put it into, and the only way you have other words to put it into is that you have a life, and the only way to have a life is by being filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes. And all the other things that make human beings human.
Each author is a human author and needs to be read for what he (assuming they were all men) has to say, not assuming that what he says is the same, or conformable to, or consistent with what every other author has to say. The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book.
Lie #9—The Bible is Literal.
TRUTH: The fact is that we don’t have the literal words that God supposedly inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes— sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly. What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were literal? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.
Lie #10—The Bible Contains All That is Necessary to Salvation Both for Belief and Conduct.
TRUTH: The Bible is, by all counts, the most significant book in the history of Western civilization. And how do you think we have access to the Bible? Hardly any of us read it at all, much less in the original language, and even those of us who do, there are very few who ever look at an early manuscript—let alone a group of manuscripts.
How then do we know what was initially in the Bible and that it applies to our belief and our conduct in the year 2018?
The scribes who wrote the first texts changed scripture in ways that we can not. In a more fundamental sense, though, they revised scripture the way we all change scripture, every time we read it. For they, like we, were trying to understand what the authors wrote while also trying to see how the words of the authors’ texts might have significance for them, and how they might help them make sense of their situations and their own lives.
The only reason for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he wanted people to have his exact words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t protect the words, the conclusion seems inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.
Note: Many of the conclusions and quotes written here have been masterfully summed up by the words and research of Moody Bible and Wheaton graduate and textual critic Dr. Bart Ehrman in his thought-provoking book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible and Why.