Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Bible That Doesn't Exist Part 2


In part one I used Exodus 32:25-29 to highlight the possibility that cruelty & genocide in the Old Testament may denote interpolations (later additions) to the Bible text. In this article I will cover the New Testament, Apocrypha (books of questionable authorship or authenticity) & the writings of the Church fathers. My desire to know the truth is what motivates me to question the religious tradition that God inspired every Biblical book, protecting them from any corruption.

The conclusion will try to address the new Bible that emerges from the ashes of the official canon.

The definition of which books should constitute the New Testament developed gradually during the 2nd - 4th centuries, a fact borne out by lists of New Testament works that omit certain books that today are considered canonical, such as The Muratorian Fragment (c 170 - 180 C.E). It does not mention the books: Hebrews, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, & a letter of John. The Muratorian Fragment represents one of the earliest lists of New Testament writings yet found. Eusebius of Caesarea (c 263 - 339 C.E) wrote a history of the early church entitled Ecclesiastical History (c 303 - 325 C.E) in which he categorizes; James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John & 3rd John, amongst disputed works. It isn't until 367 C.E that Athanasius bishop of Alexandria in his 39th Festal Letter listed the same 27 book canon we today would call the New Testament, this list was "officially" confirmed by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546.

The Comma Johannem is the name given to Bible verses found at 1 John 5:7 in some translations. This is how the verse appears in the text of the KJV:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

1 John 6:7 (KJV)

These words first appear in variant form in the Latin Liber Apologeticus by Priscillian towards the end of the 4th century, the first extant Biblical manuscript to include the Comma is the Greek Codex Bodleianus from the 9th century. It is clear that 1 John 5:7 was added to 1 John to combat the "heresy" of Arius (256 - 336 C.E). Here we have evidence of a New Testament interpolation & an obvious motive for its addition. While 1 John 5:7 is well known as an interpolation & is subsequently left out of many modern Bible translations, it is clear proof that the contents of the Bible were not untouchable, & that the New Testament has been subject to tampering from early times.

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Luke 22:43-44 (NIV)

These two verses are absent from: Papyrus 69 (c 300 C.E), Codex Sinaiticus (c 350 C.E), Codex Vaticanus (c 350 C.E), Codex Washingtoniaus (c 400 C.E) & Codex Alexandrinus (c 440 C.E). So why were these words added to Luke's Gospel? Once again the record of the early church seems to show their purpose was to counter particular opponents of the Church, in this case Docetic Gnostics.

While some are ready to concede that 1 John 6:7 & Luke 22:43-44 are interpolations few will consider the possibility that a scripture is an interpolation without evidence of its absence from early manuscripts. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an example of a possible addition that appears in all extant manuscripts. So what evidence is there for interpolation? Let us start by looking at the verses in question:

women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NIV)

These verses are conspicuously transferred to the end of the chapter in some manuscripts including Codex Claromontanus (c 550 C.E) & Codex Boernerianus (c 850 C.E). When verses appear in different places of a text it is usually evidence of a gloss, a gloss being a short note written in the margin of a book by a scribe or translator that somehow finds its way into the main body of the text. On its own the fact these verses appear in various locations in different manuscripts does not constitute evidence for interpolation, however these verses flatly contradict statements in other works attributed to Paul, such as:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)

Another peculiar feature of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is the expression "as the Law says", here the author claims the Mosaic Law sets the president for women's submission yet seems unable to quote any such instance in the Law of Moses, or elsewhere.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is remarkably similar to other verses that claim Pauline authorship:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

1 Timothy 1:11-12 (NIV)

Again, the idea that a woman must not exercise authority over a man & must be silent seems to contradict Paul's sentiment in Galatians that "There is neither male nor female...in Christ". The fact that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 share an affinity with verses in 1 Timothy is interesting as amongst scholars, the books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, & Titus (commonly grouped together as The Pastoral letters) are considered pseudo-Pauline, that is to say not considered written by the apostle Paul. The Linguistic evidence against Paul's authorship of the Pastoral letters is overwhelming, all together 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus consist of 902 words, fifty-four words are proper names. Of the 848 words that remain from the original total, 306 words do not occur in Paul's ten letters. These totals exceed comparable statistics from the ten Pauline letters when compared to one another. Of the 306 words that do not occur in the ten Pauline letters, 175 are hapaxlegomena (words that don't occur elsewhere in the New Testament), in fact, there are almost two & a half times as many hapaxlegomena in the pastoral letters than in any of Paul's other letters. Obviously linguistic peculiarities alone do not discredit Paul as the author of the Pastorial letters, however there is other evidence that weighs against Paul's authorship:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

1 Timothy 4:1-3 (NIV)

The Encratites were a 2nd century Christian sect, who according to the likes of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, & Hippolytus, abstained from meat, wine, & marriage. During the third century, Hippolytus (c 170 - 236 C.E) gives a description of the Encratites that is remarkably similar to the "hypocritical liars" described in 1 Timothy:

"Encratites are very prideful and violent, abstaining from animal food, being water-drinkers, and forbidding to marry, and devoting themselves to asceticism."

Refutation of All Heresies, Book 8

The pastoral Letters are absent from manuscript Papyrus 46 (c 175-225 C.E).

Like the Pastoral letters; Jude is preoccupied with combating heresy, the book contains some of the strongest diatribes in the New Testament. The heretics Jude condemns are accused of turning the grace of God into a license for immorality, & denying that Christ is Lord, the writer compares his opponents to fallen angels, unreasoning animals, the inhabitants of Sodom & Gomorrah, & Old Testament cads; Cain, Balaam, & Korah. The book appears to contradict the words of Jesus by stating:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude 1:7 (NIV)

Yet Jesus implies that Sodom is yet to be judged:

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:14-15 (NIV)

Was the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah "sexual immorality & perversion" as the writer of Jude claims? Not according to the book of Ezekiel:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 (NIV)

In my opinion the fact that Jude quotes from two apocryphal works counts as evidence against the book's authenticity, Jude 1:9 quotes from an apocryphal work that Origen (c 185 - 254 C.E) & Gelasius of Cyzicus (c 400 C.E) call The Ascension of Moses, the other is a direct quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9 found at Jude 1:14-15. Furthermore Jude 1:17-18 seems to imply that the apostolic age (first century era of the apostles) has passed. The letter of Jude also shares a number of passages with 2 Peter, these shared passages do not represent one book quoting the other, rather they denote one book reworking the text of the other, compare: 2 Peter 2:10 with Jude 1:8, 2 Peter 2:12 with Jude 1:10, 2 Peter 2:17 with Jude 1:12-13, & 2 Peter 3:2-3 with Jude 1:17-18.

Of all disputed New Testament books (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, 2 Peter), 2 Peter, is regarded with the most suspicion by scholars:

"most modern scholars do not think that the apostle Peter wrote this letter. Indeed, for no other letter in the New Testament is there a greater consensus that the person who is named as the author could not, in fact, be the author."

An Introduction to the New Testament

The reasons for this consensus are manifold, aside from its dependency on Jude (or visa-versa) 2 Peter has the highest percentage of hapaxlegomena in any book of the New Testament; of the 399 words in 2 Peter, 57 (14%) are not found in 1 Peter or any other New Testament book. Throughout the New Testament the Greek word abyssos (abyss) is used to describe a place or condition reserved for the demons, such as Luke 8:31, Revelation 9:1-2, & Revelation 20:1-3, yet 2 Peter 2:4 uses the Greek word tartarus (translated as hell in most Bibles) in place of abyssos:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment;

2 Peter 2:4 (NIV)

In Greek mythology tartarus was a place where gods & monsters were imprisoned later in Roman mythology, people were sent there too. Virgil gives a description of tartarus:

"Suddenly Aeneas looks back, and under a cliff on the left sees a broad castle, girt with triple wall and encircled with a rushing flood of torrent flames – Tartarean Phlegethon, that rolls along thundering rocks."

The Aeneid, Book 6

Its clear that 2 Peter is trying to superimpose the pagan Greek & Roman concept of tartarus (a hellish place of torment for gods & humans) onto the Christian concept of the abyss (a place of imprisonment for demons only). This is also the case with another book that claims the apostle Peter as author, the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter an early 2nd century work that describes the punishments awaiting murderers, blasphemers, homosexuals & others in gory detail:

"And beside that rock was a place full of much fire, and there stood men which with their own hands had made images for themselves instead of God, [And beside them other men and women] having rods of fire and smiting one another and never resting from this manner of torment.... And yet others near unto them, men and women, burning and turning themselves about and roasted as in a pan. And these were they that forsook the way of God."

The Apocalypse of Peter, Fragment 2

The descriptions given in The Aeneid, & Apocalypse of Peter are remarkably similar to the religious concept of hell as articulated by Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, & Islam. Both 1 & 2 Peter are absent from the the 2nd century Muratorian fragment, in his Ecclesiastical History Eusebius says:

"One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures."

Ecclesiastical History, Book 3

Quoting Origen Eusebius also writes:

"And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, left one acknowledged epistle; possibly also a second, but this is disputed."

Ecclesiastical History, Book 6

2 Peter is absent from the 4th century Syriac Peshitta Bible.

Marcion of Sinope (c 110-160 C.E) was expelled from the Roman Church for heresy in 144 C.E. The only books Marcion considered scripture were: Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, & Philemon. Unfortunately everything we know about Marcion comes from the references of the early Church fathers who label him an Encratite & Gnostic, yet descriptions of his teaching seem to only share aspects of those belief systems. Marcion is also charged by the Church of excising verses & whole chapters of the books which he reckoned scripture, including parts of the ten Pauline letters & most of the first four chapters of Luke, omitting the nativity & boyhood of Jesus. Did Marcion as the Church fathers claim, really delete materiel because it conflicted with his own theology? Or did he restore Luke's Gospel & the letters of Paul to their original state? Unfortunately, the oldest extant manuscript of Luke is dated to the early 3rd century & the earliest Pauline manuscripts to the late 2nd, so regarding the alleged tampering we only have a "his word against theirs" situation. It should be noted that the Church Fathers hated Marcion, they clearly saw him as fair game having no qualms calling him "the first-born of Satan" & describing him as Antichrist:

"And, as we said before, the devils put forward Marcion of Pontus, who is even now teaching men to deny that God is the maker of all things in heaven and on earth, and that the Christ predicted by the prophets is His Son, and preaches another god besides the Creator of all, and likewise another son. And this man many have believed, as if he alone knew the truth, and laugh at us, though they have no proof of what they say, but are carried away irrationally as lambs by a wolf, and become the prey of atheistical doctrines, and of devils."

Justin. First Apology, Chapter 58

"And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.”

Against Heresies, Book 3

Remarkably, Marcion's claim that the Gospels had been corrupted are not completely unqualified. Mark 16:9-20 from the last chapter of Mark's Gospel is absent from the manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus (c 350 C.E), & Codex Vaticanus (c 350 C.E), also the reference to drinking poison at Mark 16:18 is echoed by the Apostolic Father Papias of Hierapolis:

"Another wonderful event happened respecting Justus, surnamed Barsabas, who, though he drank a deadly poison, experienced nothing injurious through the grace of the Lord."

Ecclesiastical History, Book 3

The last chapter of John, John 21, is included in all extant manuscripts, the last verse of the preceding chapter says:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

John 20:30 (NIV)

However the first verse of John 21 begins with the Greek: meta tauta ("after these things") which seems conspicuous considering the content of the previous verse. John 21 even concludes in a way that seems to hint to its own apocryphal identity:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 21:25 (NIV)

No manuscripts of an individual letter of Paul survives & no manuscripts of early collections of Paul's letters survive either. Why don't we have any manuscripts of Paul's letters before the middle 2nd century? Was the disappearance of these manuscripts related to the 2nd century publication of the final compiled & interpolated New Testament? We know that the Church Fathers actively suppressed & destroyed books they considered heretical or even superfluous, such as The Gospel of Peter (c 70–160 C.E) & The Diatessaron (c 150 - 160 C.E), we also know that The Martyrdom of Ignatius & at least seven of the Letters of Ignatius were forged by elements within the early Church. When considering the vitriolic & unchristian way the Church Fathers condemned their opponents isn't it reasonable to conclude the likes of Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, & Tertullian were in fact the apostates? Most of the interpolations in the New Testament are distinguishable by the following characteristics: the demonization of opponents (2 Peter 2:1-22), marginalization of women (1 Timothy 1:11-12), & carnality being depicted as instinctually sinful (Jude 1:23). Tellingly these characteristics are strongly evident in New Testament apocrypha such as The Acts of Paul & Thecla (c 200 C.E), a book which depicts the apostle Paul extolling the virtues of virginity & celibacy:

Blessed are the bodies and souls of virgins, for they are acceptable to God and shall not lose the reward of their virginity, for the word of their Father shall prove effectual to their salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall enjoy rest forevermore.

Acts of Paul & Thecla Chapter 1

I don't mean to imply that the genuinely inspired scriptures do not contain any sexual morals, because I don't believe that to be the case, I do however feel it's important to make a distinction between sexual morality & the sexual morbidity that is commonly associated with religion.

While working on this essay I wondered how Christians would respond to it, the idea that parts of the Bible were forged is a hard one for Christians to confront, Why so? I feel that many Christians are dubious about what motivates scholars to criticize the Bible. I agree that the motive behind a lot of Bible textual-criticism seems to be an anti-theistic one, I also feel that the majority of alleged Biblical inaccuracies & contradictions, are simply unfounded usually due to a lack of context or the result of sloppy translation yet the attitude of many truth seekers out there seems to be one of looking for errors in the Bible then loudly proclaiming the supposed error without making any efforts to double check, understand the books or their history. So it seems we have Christians who believe that the Bible was divinely protected & therefore we must believe every sacred word, & on the other side you have many non-Christians who say that the Bible wasn't protected & any spiritual truths it may contain are little more then myth. It's hardly surprising then that many Christians opt for the former over the latter discourse, in my opinion both extremes are wrong, irresponsible even.

"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)