I recently had a discussion with someone very close to me. This person has been reading books and taking philosophy courses and seems to be questioning the following (and perhaps more, our conversation was not long).
- Were the books of the New Testament properly chosen?
- How much of what is credited as being said by Jesus was really said by Jesus?
- Did Jesus believe in an after-life or was his only mission here on Earth?
I hope I have accurately paraphrased his questions. I wish I could speak to each of them in one post, but that would be far too long, so we will have to just see what happens.
Were the books of the New Testament properly chosen?
In the conversation my friend correctly asserted that the Council of Nicea in 323 A.D. was gathered by Constipation to form a unified church from all the sects so he could make it the official church of Rome. Bringing this up in a conversation about the formation of the Bible is a clue to the source of my dear friends error. The First Council of Nicea, as best I can discover, did not address the formation of the New Testament at all. There does not appear to be one document from the council on the subject.
There is one sentence in a writing of St. Jerome that is interesting: In Jerome‘s Prologue to Judith he claims that the Book of Judith was “found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures”. That is the only ancient reference I can find anywhere that in any way even implies that the Council of Nicea even discussed the formation of a cannon and it is really only referring to one book: Judith.
The myth about the First Council of Nicea is used often by people who want to detract from the Bible and Christianity because so few people will actually check the data. As a matter of fact, I often wonder if the authors who use this myth even believe it themselves because they too simply have accepted it from other’s of like beliefs and goals. I hope that is the case because I prefer to believe such authors are ignorant of history, rather liars.
So how was the New Testament formed? Similar to the Old Testament, over a long time and by starting with a large number of documents and excluding most of them. This should give us confidence in the New Testament, not concern.
There were many “sects” of Christianity with sometimes a very wide variety of beliefs. Different groups had different gospels and epistles they preferred or accepted. Over time the large number of manuscripts was sifted through until there was a much smaller set that was used by nearly all (some say all) the different sects. This should give us great comfort. Think of it as inter-locking circles.
Let’s say these three circles represent the documents read and quoted by 3 different sects of early Christians. They all overlapped in some areas but the red section is the only section that they all overlap in. This, is a representation of the Bible we now have. It isn’t a perfect representation, but pretty darn good. Over time, what finally made it into the Bible, were the Gospels and letters that the different sects could agree on. A careful reading of the writings of church leaders from the first 400 years reveals that they were extremely exclusive, or slow to agree, that something was definitely the inspired word of God.
Now I admit that one can argue that the Bible was too exclusive, but not too inclusive. There are literally thousands of writings from the time that are NOT included in the Bible. The red section above is probably much too large if we tried to make the diagram proportionally accurate. However, think about that for a second: If you want to rely on something as truth, do you want it to be inclusive, or exclusive in nature? I believe exclusive is the only logical choice.
I have grossly over simplified the selection and criteria process, but to go into great detail would require a book, not a blog post.
How much of what is credited as being said by Jesus was really said by Jesus?
“Jesus history” has become extremely popular lately. That is good, but I find so much about modern historians to be amazing practices of arrogance and what they have done to the gospels is a great example of that.
A group of modern “historians” gathered together and “highlighted” text in the Gospels marking them as probably or probably not actually said by Jesus. When the gospels were accepted by the church they too reviewed them for reliability to history. Now lets compare the two sets of “reviewers”.
- Early: The gospels were accepted within 400 years of Jesus death. Times changed slowly then and the life, customs, language etc. of the early church fathers were very similar to those of the authors and of Christ.
- Current: We live 2000 years after Christ in a time that is completely different than the time of Christ and no one still readily uses Greek or has even close to the same traditions, dialects, etc. etc.
- Early: Some of the letters of Paul were written close enough to the time of actual occurrence that they would have had literally thousands of eye-witnesses to their accuracy. All of the writings in the Bible are within 2 generations of the occurrence. Because, as noted above, things changed slowly and verbal tradition was strong, serious eye-witness testimony to the inaccuracy of Paul writings would have been very influential even 400 years after the crucifixion.
- Current: No one alive today can claim to seriously know or understand “both sides of the story” better than the people living 2,000 years closer to the actual events. When someone does they are obviously arrogant beyond reason.
- Early: For most of the first 400 years of the church, to believe, or even read, the Gospels and Epistles was to subject yourself and your family to discrimination and possibly much worse. The evidence for accuracy in the scriptures would have to be strong, or only illogical, foolish, and ignorant people would accept them. Even a casual reading of the early church writers proves them to be thoughtful, intelligent people. They are unlikely to have chosen such a difficult life lightly.
- Current: For a modern historian to decide the scriptures are accurate would likely cause him to lose his job, status, and most importantly, force him to become a Christian. Of course the majority are going to search desperately for “holes” in the New Testament. Proving Jesus wasn’t who Jesus said he was (and he clearly claimed his divinity) is the desperate passion of anyone who wants to thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of the Roman…European…..American empires.
In summary on this subject, modern historians who think they know better what Jesus said and didn’t say than people who lived 1,700 before them remind me of 16 year old boys who think they are so smart and their parents are so ignorant. Our worship of education has led most academics to such heights of arrogance that their common sense and reasonableness have died from oxygen deprivation.
Did Jesus really believe in an after-life, or was his mission only here on Earth?
Obviously you can only make the assertion that Jesus didn’t proclaim an after-life to exist if you are comfortable deciding for yourself what parts of the Bible you want to believe or not believe. If you choose to believe the Bible is truth, and you need to conform your life to it, then there must be an afterlife because it is prolific throughout both the old and New Testament. Only if you are willing to say “I know better what Jesus said…” can you doubt the existence of an afterlife.
So my argument at this point is that it is extremely illogical to pick and choose from within the Bible what is the Word of God and what is not. Either it all is the Word of God, or it is a horrible and entirely false lie. Again, entire books have been written on this subject, so this is going to woefully short and inept, but here goes.
- All of the Old and New Testaments make it very clear that Judaism and Christianity are built upon the principle that we as individuals can never be “good” enough and our salvation will be at the hands of God, not our own works. There is no other religion anywhere in the world that is not directly opposed to this principle, not one. Every other religion is built upon the principle of a person be good, not being given goodness. The consistency of this message, and its extreme polarity from all the other religions of the world would suggest that it is either radically correct or completely false.
- If A is the opposite of B
- A and B can both be wrong
- A can be wrong and B be correct
- B can be wrong and A be correct
- But A and B cannot both be correct
- If A is the opposite of B
- The New Testament is either a complete lie created by a conspiracy of its writers, or it truly represents what they believed to be accurate. The writers simply being inaccurate isn’t possible because you simply can’t put together a series of events that would lead a group people to believe that someone they knew well died on a cross and then rose from the dead. Try it in the company of a logical and open minded person and you will fail every time. If the writers are liars, dismiss all of Christianity in its entirety. If they are honestly writing what they believed the story is too outrageous to be “partially believed”. You are left with either rejection, or swallowing the elephant.
- The historical accuracy of Jesus’ death on a Roman cross is finally universally accepted. Unless the New Testament writers are lying, he manufactured his own horrible death to fulfill a mission given to him by God. Either Jesus was the Son of God, or he was a complete mad-man, insane beyond comparison among men with even a small group of followers. Again, there is no middle ground. Either you believe or completely reject Jesus. He is either capable of claiming he is God and there is an after life or everything he uttered (or utters) should be regarded and the babble of madman.
- If the outrageous story of the Bible is true, entirely true, a just God loved us so much he killed his own son as a sacrifice for our sins so we could spend eternity in union with him. If there is no eternity and the story of the Bible is not entirely true, then we are left with a God who killed his own son to fulfill a false premise that he allowed billions of people to base their lives upon for no long term purpose or gain. If that accurately describes God, I would recommend you hate him, not love him. Who kills his own son for no reason?
- God repeatedly claims in the Bible to be “just”. If there is no afterlife, Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler come to the same end, and God is not just, so the Bible is a lie from one end to the other, and belief in any part of it is madness. If God is not just, why would he ask his son to die, and why would Jesus willing die if not to justify is believers and so on and so on and so on. Without an afterlife, Christianity unravels like pearls falling off a broken sting.
Christianity in the end is a completely outrageous proposition that must either be embraced or rejected in its entirety. To try to live in some Christian middle ground is like wondering around in a heavily mined demilitarized zone: pointless, empty, and bound to end badly.
Other Posts In This Series
- If I Were God: I would have made it impossible to think the New Testament was a lie.
- God Made It Clear That The New Testament Is Not A Lie
- The New Testament Is A Lie Because…# 2
- The New Testament is a lie because…# 1
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 1 – You Can’t Prove Anything
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 2 – Whether It Is A Lie Or Not Is Irrelevent.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 3 – Just because it isn’t a lie, doesn’t make it true
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 4 – The conspiracy would have been immense and incredibly difficult to concoct and maintain.
- Are The New Testament Writers Lying? : A Point By Point Discussion
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 5 – No liar would have had Jesus appear to women first.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 6 – The writers would not have any discrepancies in their stories.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 7 – The writers would not have made themselves look so bad.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 8 – The writers would use "Jesus said…" to solve their problems.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 9 – Liars would never have created a religion that was so difficult to believe or follow.
- Is The New Testament A Lie: Point 10 – Liars would never imagine such a twist of belief.