The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

How We Got the Bible: A Reality Check for Christians

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God hates idolatry and the common Christian attitude towards the Bible is quite idolatrous.  Today we are taught to think of the Bible as a replacement for God in our lives.  Don’t believe it?  Well, consider how we refer to it as the Living Word.  What kind of foolishness is this?  A book is not alive, yet we talk as if the Bible is, because to us, the Bible is not just a book, it is a deity.  Then we go on to say that the Bible speaks to us.  No, it really doesn’t.  God speaks to us, but God is not a book.  God will certainly use material in the Bible to communicate some point to us at times, but so will demons, and so will other humans.  The Bible is hardly some magical talisman which we can use to force God Almighty to speak at our command.  And yet this is how we’re taught to use it by the Church.  Need a word from God?  Need guidance?  Need comfort?  Don’t talk to God, crack open the book.  Here’s a popular Christian ditty: “God can’t speak until you part His lips for Him,” and when we say this, we’re referring to the covers of our Bible as His lips.  This is quite an irreverent and derogatory way to talk about God, and yet we do this all the time because the Bible is not only our replacement for God, it is also a means by which we try to control God.

Christians are taught that they can make God speak to them simply by reading the Word.  They’re further taught that God can’t speak unless they read the Word.  “You must memorize Scriptures so that God can bring them to your mind in times of need.  If you don’t memorize, He can’t help you.”  This is the kind of idiotic advice we’re given in church, but it doesn’t stop there.  We’re also told that God can’t go against the written Word and that He must uphold any promise we find in those sacred pages.  When we talk like this, we’re not just deifying the Bible, we’re actually turning it into a god that is superior to the real God.

In church, Christians are taught it is a fabulous and powerful thing to pray the Word.  What this means is that we’re supposed to sit around throwing verses in God’s face—verses that our egos like the sound of.  Another Christian favorite is to claim those Bible promises. What we do here is yank nice sounding phrases entirely out of context and then try to tell God that He is somehow obligated to fulfill these promises in our lives.  This was the mentality behind that disgusting flesh fest known as The Prayer of Jabez.  It began with a book published by that title—a book which instructed Christians to recite a particular passage from Genesis over and over and over again as a means of coercing God into giving them certain earthly perks.  And why exactly is God obligated to make our greediest dreams come true just because we’re reciting the prayer of some dead guy at Him?  Because the words we’re reciting are written in the Bible, and the Bible is a higher authority than God Himself.  You see, God is not really the all-powerful, autonomous Being that He claims to be.  Even though God Himself says right inside the Word that He will break His promises and cancel His prophecies anytime He wants to, we ignore those pesky passages and instead promote the Bible as some kind of magical contract which God is forever bound by.  Oh look: Jesus told His disciples that they could have anything they want if they pray without doubting.  Great.  Let’s claim that one and start bombarding God with our carnal requests.  And look: Jesus said that His followers would be able to drink deadly poison without being hurt (Mk. 16:14-20). Go ahead, try it.  After all, God can’t go against His Word.

For all of their big talk about how iron clad biblical promises are, you don’t see many Christians swilling poisons today.  But you do see many of them running from danger like scared rabbits, even though they love to declare that no weapon formed against us will stand.  What’s with this obvious hypocrisy?  And if the prayer of a righteous man is really so powerful and effective, why are so many Christians having problems in life?  Jesus said that true believers would be able to heal anyone they laid hands on, so why do we ever see Christians coming down with colds or dying of cancer?  Is this book of ours really a higher authority than God or not?  Of course it isn’t, but rather than stop with the idolatrous games, Christians come up with a bunch of lame excuses for why individual promises failed in specific circumstances.  Insufficient faith is a favorite here—if your life isn’t as perfect as you’re praying for it to be, it must because you are lacking in faith.  Or perhaps you’re doubting when you pray.  Or perhaps you’re not praying long enough.  Maybe the real problem is your friends—you don’t know any mega prayer warriors who can intercede with God on your behalf.  The good news here is that there are plenty of Christians on the internet these days who will be happy to pray on your behalf, provided that you fork over enough cash.  Ah, the joys of making a buck off of God.

So what is God doing while we’re wallowing in such shameful behavior?  He’s retaliating of course.  God is big on revenge, and He has all sorts of ways of punishing those who insist on so grossly disrespecting Him.  As a Christian who actually cares about pleasing God, how can you do better than your rebellious comrades?  How can you benefit from the Bible without ending up on the wrong side of God’s wrath?  A good place to start is to get a more balanced view of the book, so let’s now delve into a quick history lesson and learn how our modern day Bibles came to be.

HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE

The Bible you know didn’t just fall down from Heaven one day and bonk someone on the head.  All of the Bibles we’re cranking out in Christendom today are modern translations of very old historical documents.  But here’s where we want to clarify a very common misconception that Christians have.  When you read the book of Exodus, which was written by Moses, you are not reading a translation of the document that Moses physically penned.  You see, Moses lived thousands of years ago, and everything he originally touched is long gone.  The same is true for all of the original documents which the Bible is based on.  There are no originals in existence today, because too much time has passed, and the originals are simply gone.

Think about it: how many original documents do you have in your possession that were written by your great-great-great-great grandfather?  If you’re like most people, you have none.  If you’re quite the careful saver who comes from a family that’s obsessed with its past, you might have one or two things from that long ago.  But meanwhile, you’ve thrown away much of the material that you’ve written, and you’ve only been alive for a matter of decades.  If you’re such a poor saver of documents that are only a few decades or a few hundred years old, imagine how unrealistic it is to expect people to hang on to originals for thousands of years.  It just doesn’t happen.  For starters, the original materials just can’t withstand the natural process of decay for that long.

Okay, so if all of the original documents of the Bible were destroyed long ago, what are we seeing when we open the book?  Well, when you start reading through Psalms, you are reading a translation of a really old document that is supposedly a copy of the original Psalms.  Well, to be more accurate, what you’re actually reading is a translation of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy…you get the idea. The original documents of the Bible were copied thousands and thousands of times over the ages.  To give you an idea of how much copying was going on, we have 5,900 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament preserved today.  The youngest of these documents dates back to somewhere around AD 1500.  And if we still have 5,900 survivors, imagine how many more there must have been that were lost.  So you see, when you hear some scholar refer to the original manuscript, he’s really only referring to a copy.  Not just a copy, but a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy…you get the idea.

The oldest copy of Moses’ writings that we have today is probably hundreds of thousands of copies away from the true original.  And by the time you have that many copies done by humans without the aid of computers or copying machines, do you know what an enormous margin for error there is?  How accurate are the copies that we have today compared to the true originals that have all been lost?  There’s no way to know. What scholars will tell you is that there is remarkable similarity among many of the copies that they have in their possession.  Well, so what?  By the time we’re thousands of copies away from the original—by the time we’re copying copies so many times over—it’s impossible not to make mistakes.  Ink smudges.  Holes.  Tears.  Fading.  Splitting.  Rotting.  Chipping.  There are so many ways that old documents fall apart, no matter what kind of material they are written on.  And if you sit down to copy a copy that is damaged and difficult to read, what happens?  You run into spots where you have to just take an educated guess at what was originally written there by the author who made the copy you’re working off of.  And you can only hope that the fellow you’re copying did a decent job of copying the fellow before him.  You can only hope that the thousands of folks who did the tedious work of copying copies were all sharp, alert, and refusing to let natural fatigue get the better of them.  Because, you see, it only takes one fellow who is feeling lazy, tired or stressed to decide to leave out a section here or there for permanent errors to get passed down to the future generations.  As time marches on, copies get lost and destroyed, and only certain copies survive to be recopied.  If some of those copies have errors that go undetected, then we just copy the errors and pass them on as correct.  Do you think this has happened with the biblical documents?  Of course it has.

Today we only have a teensy sampling of all of the copies that have been made of the biblical documents over time.  Today when we sit down and compare the copies we have, we notice some obvious differences.  This is why you will find certain English translations of the Bible putting in whole verses that others leave out.  This is why you’ll find some verses enclosed in brackets and linked to a footnote that says something like, “Not all manuscripts contain this text.”  Because you see, our copies aren’t perfect.  We can see some major and minor differences peppering the texts, but we have no way of knowing where all of the errors are because the originals have all been lost.  Are you starting to get a feel for how ridiculous Christians are being to obsess over every word of the Bible as if those words all fell directly from the lips of God?  For starters, you’re reading a translation, and every time we change languages, some meaning is lost.  In the second place, there is no perfect translation of the Bible because we’re all being forced to work off of imperfect copies of original manuscripts.  Sure, we feel pretty good when we can point to a passage that all of our ancient copies have preserved the same way.  But then again, what if they’re all just preserving a doctored version of that passage?

As time marches on and cultures evolve, humans often find themselves highly motivated to intentionally alter historical documents.  Just look at what we’re doing to our history books in America: we keep making drastic changes to the way we recount history to the current generations in order to encourage those generations to think in a way that fits our country’s current agendas.  Look up historical accounts of America’s founding fathers and you’ll find remarkable differences in how they are described.  One minute we’re told that this nation was founded by Christians.  The next minute we’re told it was founded by agnostics or atheists.  One book praises an American president as a hero, another describes him as a zero.  Do you think we’re the only ones who play these games?  Of course we’re not.  All human cultures get tempted to doctor the history books, because such games can greatly alter the way your society thinks.  It is human nature to be deceptive, and when we try to pretend that no such shenanigans went on with the biblical records, we’re being ridiculous.

What if there was some law that Yahweh gave to Moses which the ancient Jews grew to find particularly annoying?  Why not just cut it out of the Torah, discard the old copies, and from then on make new copies of the Torah from the edited version?  Can we really say with any degree of certainty that this never happened?  Of course we can’t.  We’re talking about thousands of years of a culture going through political upheaval, social changes, and theological shifts.

When a society wants to change directions, it is very productive to change the history books to support the new direction.  Today America hates God, so she is trying to scrub God out of her history books.  Once we change the records enough and keep recopying those changes, soon everyone forgets what the originals ever said.  To pretend that the biblical records were exempt from any of this kind of tinkering is utterly ridiculous.  Because of their importance to ancient Jewish society and later on to the Christian community, it’s reasonable to assume that they were probably better preserved than most, just as American’s Constitution is being far better preserved than many of her other historical documents.  But the Constitution only dates back to 1789, and since then it’s been amended 27 times.  People don’t leave their historical documents alone—especially documents which are as foundational to their society as the Constitution is to America and the Torah was for ancient Israel.  Change is inevitable, so the best we can say we have today are copies of a particular version of the biblical documents.  But how does the version we read today compare to the originals?  No one can say.  The originals are gone.  Meanwhile, in the copies we are working off of today, we find this statement in Jeremiah which proves that the intentional altering of Scriptures was a problem in Jewish society:

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of Yahweh,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jer. 8:8)

According to Jewish tradition, Ezra (the guy who wrote the book of Ezra) started assembling the books of the Old Testament into one handy collection way back around 450 BC.  Well, Moses lived around 1500 BC, so that leaves a whole lot of time for things to be altered before Ezra got his hands on the copies that he decided to include in his collection.  And by the way, Ezra lived after Jeremiah, who mentions the problem of Jewish scribes intentionally altering the Torah.  That doesn’t exactly boost our confidence in the quality of the documents Ezra collected, does it?

Jumping ahead to 250-100 BC, we find some Jewish scholars taking the Hebrew Bible (which is the same as our Old Testament, just arranged differently) and translating it from ancient Hebrew into Greek.  The resulting Greek work is called the Septuagint, which means seventy, since there were about 70 guys who worked on the project.  So now what we have is a massive change in language, which means some original meaning will be lost.  Plus those seventy translators were all working off of copies of copies of copies…you know.  And it is that Greek version of the Old Testament which many of the New Testament epistle writers are quoting—especially the apostle Paul.  What’s interesting about this is that if you try to look up the passages Paul quotes in their original Old Testament contexts, you’ll find some striking differences.  What’s going on here?  Well, while some Jews thought it would be handy to have a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, other Jews kept copying the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew.  Those other Jews were called the Masoretes, and when you hear about the Masoretic text being used as a translation reference, it’s their work that’s being referred to.

So now we have two versions of the Old Testament.  The Masoretic text is in Hebrew.  The Septuagint is in Greek.  The apostle Paul is quoting from the Septuagint in his epistles, but many Bibles today use the Masoretic text as a basis for their Old Testament translations.  As a result, we find discrepancies between what Paul quotes and what our Old Testaments say.  Throw in some common human factors, such as Paul remembering a passage incorrectly, and we’ve got discrepancies all over the place.  Oh, and let’s not forget that neither the Septuagint or the Masoretic texts are originals of anything.  No, they’re just copies of copies of copies of copies…you know.

Are you getting a feel for how silly we’re being when we call the Bible infallible and inerrant?  Once it’s no longer possible to compare a copy to an original, there is no basis on which you can claim inerrancy.  Your copy could be loaded with errors, and you’ll never realize it because the original is gone.  See how it works?  And it is this compromised mess that Christians are trying to exalt as a higher authority than God Himself.  Nice.

WHY THE BIBLE KEEPS CHANGING

Pick any translation of the Bible, and over time, you’ll see the publishers of that translation keep revising the text.  Often the changes are small and easy to miss unless you’re really paying attention.  Other times the changes are so significant that they greatly alter the meaning of a passage.  So what’s going on here?  Well, for starters, new archeological discoveries of old historical documents can shed light on errors we’re making in the translation of ancient languages.  So sometimes we change things to correct mistakes we’ve accidentally made because we’ve unearthed material that helps us better understand the meaning of ancient words.  But other times our reasons for revising the text are a lot more shady.

Remember how we talked about people intentionally doctoring ancient documents in order to promote their current agendas?  The Church plays a lot of these games with the Bible today.  The Church wants Christians to take certain theological views which the Bible does not support.  To help create support for her preferences, and to steer Christians away from truth, our Bible translators get pressured to start making subtle yet powerful changes to the way they are translating certain passages.  Take God’s sovereignty, for example.  We Christians really don’t like this business of God being totally in control, because that means He’s doing bad stuff as well as nice stuff.  So in order to downplay His sovereignty, we fiddle with the text.  Maybe there’s a verse in which Yahweh says “I caused such-and-such nasty thing to happen.”  We don’t like that, so we change the language in that verse to make Yahweh say, “I allowed such-and such.”  Allow is far more passive than cause.  If we say allow, then we can promote the idea that Yahweh never wants us to suffer, but at the same time, He just can’t keep those demons in check, so He passively allowed devils to make trouble.

Or let’s take the idea of God being the Creator of all things.  We really don’t like that, because if God is really the Creator of all things, then that means all evil originates from Him.  But then we come to Isaiah 45:7—a most troublesome verse in which Yahweh is quoted as saying that He creates evil.  Yikes, we certainly don’t want that sitting right out in the open for any Christian to find, especially when we’re trying to brainwash them into believing that God has nothing to do with evil.  So out comes the clever revisions.  Let’s do some comparing.

First, we have the KJV21, boldly owning up to what the text says:

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things. (KJV21)

Happily, the KJV21 doesn’t get out much.  The NIV is far more popular, and it softens the language:

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (NIV)

This is much more comfortable because we have no problems with God inflicting disaster on our enemies.  Disaster is a much nicer word than evil.  Then there’s the NLV, which tones it down even more:

I make light and I make darkness. I bring good and I make trouble. I am the Lord Who does all these things. (NLV)

Trouble is a far more milder term than disaster, and it’s far removed from evil.  See how it works?  All Bible translations play these kinds of games with the text, and the more comparing you do, the more differences you’ll find.

Let’s do one more.  Now and then we find references to vomit in the Bible, which makes for a disgusting mental image, especially when Yahweh talks about people staggering around in their own vomit, which He does in the Old Testament.  He also talks about land and idols vomiting, but we’re okay with it because in all of these contexts, Yahweh is talking about unbelievers.  It’s when we get to Revelation 3:16 that we suddenly hit refusal, because there we read Jesus saying that He’s going to vomit Christians out of His mouth.  Well, that’s disturbing.  We don’t mind our enemies getting vomited, but we certainly don’t want God describing us as being so repulsive to Him. God is supposed to be a doormat who we can disrespect all day long without Him ever getting mad.  God is supposed to be all love, and never wrath towards His own people.  It is due to the Church’s current theological agenda that we are now trying to get Jesus to stop vomiting in Revelation 3:16.  Recent revisions of popular translations have replaced the word vomit with the far milder term spit, thus we now read:

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of My mouth. (NIV)

Even the NASB, which has always prided itself as being a more literal and accurate translation has recently caved on this vomit issue.  The NASB now replaces vomit with spit, then it puts a footnote on the word spit.  Look up the teensy little footnote and you’ll find the translators telling you that the term there literally translates as vomit.  Well, if the NASB is priding itself on being literal, why is it stuffing literal translations into the footnotes?  The NASB used to put vomit where vomit belongs.  Now they just admit that that’s what they should be doing while they refuse to do it.  See how it works?  Christians prefer spit because it tones Jesus down and helps us all keep pretending that our willful defiance of God isn’t riling up His wrath against us.

What we want you to learn from this little exercise is that you can’t trust your Bible translators to be giving you accurate translations of those ancient texts.  It’s bad enough that the best we have are just copies of copies of copies, and it’s even worse that we’re often making multiple language jumps to get to English.  But by the time you throw in translators intentionally messing with the text in order to make you more receptive to believing certain lies about how God operates, how far do you think you’re going to get in life trying to rely on the Bible as your litmus test for truth?  Not very far.  This is why we tell you over and over again that you have to talk to God directly if you want to know the truth.

BENEFITING FROM THE BIBLE

Once you understand some basic facts about history and human nature, you should realize what an untrustworthy thing the Bible really is.  When you go around calling that pile of documents “God breathed,” you’re just quoting other humans.  You haven’t really asked God for yourself, and this is a major problem.  Did Yahweh ever really speak through Moses and Isaiah?  You won’t know until you ask Him.  Are the Gospel writers quoting Jesus correctly?  Don’t ask humans, ask Jesus.  Stop calling the Bible “God breathed” when you haven’t even bothered to ask God.  Stop saying, “Jesus says” when you haven’t even asked Jesus if He was being quoted correctly.  This kind of behavior is disrespectful.  God knows what He did and didn’t say.  But why should He tell you anything when you’re too busy poring over human commentaries to bother listening to Him?  And by the way, much of what is said in those famous commentaries is a pile of baloney.  The men and women who get so revered as brilliant theologians by the Church are cranking out all kinds of idiotic teaching.  But you’ll never know truth from lies until you stop elevating humans as wiser than God.

The Bible can be a fabulous teaching tool in your life, but only when God is in the mood to use it that way.  When you try to study the Bible without talking to Him, and when you just rely on other humans to tell you how to apply various passages, you are guaranteed to go astray.  You see, there’s one final factor in all of this that you need to appreciate, and that is the jealousy of God.  God detests being thrown over for some stupid pile of paper, and He resents you acting like some book is more reliable than He is.  So even if some miracle happened and all of those ancient originals were somehow made available to us, and even if they were perfectly translated into our native tongues, guess what?  If we were to put more trust in those documents than we do in God Himself, then He would most certainly use them to lead us astray.

God is our only Source of truth.  Does He speak through the Bible?  Absolutely.  Does He teach us fabulous things using those less than perfect pages?  Yes.  But we must be looking to Him for wisdom, not some pile of paper.  We must be revering Him and not an inanimate thing.  The Bible is not living.  God is living, and God is jealous.  If you can’t imagine life without your Bible, then you’ve got a problem.  You have become far too dependent on a book and your trust is totally misplaced.  Of course the good news with God is that every problem has a solution.  Ask Him to show you if the Bible has become too important to you, and if He says that it has, then ask Him to help you change so that you are using the book in a way that honors Him.  We Christians are supposed to be worshiping, trusting in, and depending on Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We are supposed to be revering the Uncreated, not the created.  The Church works hard to shove you into an idolatrous view of the Bible, and she’ll give you no end of grief if you try to break out of it.  So who are you going to live to please: God or the Church?  If you are wise, you will choose God.

FURTHER READING:
Creating a Different God: How the Bible is Being Changed to Lead You Astray
Practicing Discernment: Bible Promises
Understanding Idolatry: The Problem & the Cure
God Told Me: The Only Valid Basis for Faith
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?
Spiritual Maturity in the Bible: Where is it?
Four Ways to Identify False Teaching in the Church

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