Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Should we be Bible believing Christians?

The truth often hides in plain sight. There is a fascinating example in a piece by Bernard Starr now up at The Huffington Post. Starr is an earnest amateur scholar and he has that knack that earnest amateur scholars seem to have of beginning his piece by confidently asserting the very thing he has to prove.
The Council of Nicaea called by the Emperor Constantine met in 325 C.E. to establish a unified Catholic Church. At that point no universally sanctioned Scriptures or Christian Bible existed. Various churches and officials adopted different texts and gospels. That's why the Council of Hippo sanctioned 27 books for the New Testament in 393 C.E. Four years later the Council of Cartage confirmed the same 27 books as the authoritative Scriptures of the Church. 

Wouldn't you assume that the newly established Church would want its devotees to immerse themselves in the sanctioned New Testament, especially since the Church went to great lengths to eliminate competing Gospels? And wouldn't the best way of spreading the "good news" be to ensure that every Christian had direct access to the Bible?
Do you see what Starr is managing to miss? The really staggering revelation in this excerpt is not, as Starr seems to think it is, that Christians were denied their Bible. No the really staggering thing is that for roughly 300 years, its three hundred formative years, the church got along with no Bible at all!

None. When it came time to pass on the faith, early Christians did so without reference to any book. Something called "scripture" had always existed but scripture just means writings and not some officially sanctioned set of authoritative writings. (One of the ironies of reading the Bible is that some of its writers authoritatively quote scripture that doesn't appear in the Bible, sacred writings that are now lost.)

Again, the truth is in plain sight and Starr states it without appreciating it when he says that the early church went to "great lengths to eliminate competing Gospels." The church's first reaction to writings about Jesus and the apostles was not to find the one true Bible. It could not have been because no such thing existed. The church was moved by a concern that all sorts of people were collecting writings about Jesus and that some of these writings were misleading. The point of the exercise was not to find the authentic document but to eliminate the inauthentic ones.

And how did the church know they were misleading? Not by comparing the false scripture with the true scripture but by comparing it with the oral tradition had been passed on in the church. When early church leaders wanted to establish the truth of some writing, they went to people they knew who'd known people, who'd known people who had sat at the very foot of Peter, Paul, John and, ultimately, Jesus.

Far from a survey meant to find the one true version of the Bible, the work of the council was to determine which writings were not so tainted with error that they might be deemed acceptable.

When you can see this truth, then a whole lot of nonsense falls to the ground (including Protestantism!). The Church didn't deny the Bible but, rather, didn't spend a lot of time promoting it for  there was no reason to make sure that Christians had access to "their" Bible because the Bible wasn't a bible in that sense of the word. Today you can buy The Bible of Knitting, The Bible of Lacrosse, The Bible of Flyfishing and many other such titles and expect to find the basic knowledge for doing these practices in them. A lot of people, including Bernard Starr, incorrectly assume that was what the original Bible was meant to be. It wasn't.

Any authority the Bible has, it has because it was created by the church. There is no other grounds whatsoever to give it authority. It didn't drop down from heaven and it wasn't recited into the ears of scribes by angels. It has authority because the church determined that it has authority. You cannot recognize the authority of the Bible without recognizing the authority of the church as being greater than that of the Bible. You can't even acknowledge it's importance as a simple historic artefact worthy of study by atheist university professors without recognizing the authority of the church to create its Bible.

And once you acknowledge that authority, you have to recognize the lack of emphasis the church put on the Bible as proof that it simply wasn't that important to read the whole thing. It was not the foundation of faith. It was not the foundation of any faith until the time of Luther.

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