7 Important Questions for Bible Believing Christians [Part 2]

Written at Starbucks in Los Gatos with Katy Perry on Pandora (“Teenage Dream” playing when I typed last sentence] with a double espresso and two pumps white mocha.

Do the Gospels Contain Eye Witness Tradition? dwdwdwdwd

First point: The Gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses. They are all anonymous and the titles in your Gospels were added by later editors.

Second point: None of the Gospels claim to written by the name it bears. Again, these are later traditions.

These traditions do not begin appearing for about 100 years. Some people think that there is an early church father named Papias who attests to the eyewitness of Mark and Matthew, but in fact there are very solid reasons to think that Papias, who lived around the year 120-140 is not referring to our Mark or Matthew. The first time anyone mentions the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was Irenaeus in the year 180. One hundred years after these book were written. Let me reiterate that the Gospels were written anonymously and were not written by eyewitnesses.

But let me also make another point. Even if the Gospels were written by eyewitness, this would not guarantee that the Gospels are indeed accurate. Think about our legal system today. Are eyewitnesses always accurate in what they report? If so then why do we have trials that call into testimony more than one eyewitness? If eyewitnesses were always 100% accurate in what they report we wouldn’t need law courts, if we wanted to know what happen, we would just simply ask somebody. Eyewitnesses do not always get the information correct, but even if they did it wouldn’t matter because the gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses. The Gospel writers were living 40 to 50 to 60 years after Jesus died. They wrote the gospels in Greek, Jesus’ language was Aramaic. These Gospel writers were living in a different country, decades later. Where did they get their information from? They were not the followers of Jesus and they don’t claim to be the followers of Jesus. So, again, where did they get their information from? They heard stories about Jesus that had been in circulation year after year, decade after decade. Now, what happens to oral stories that are transmitted orally? They change. The Gospel writers have discrepancies among them because the stories that were told to them and then retold, and then again retold decade after decade. And in the continual retelling of these stories, we know that the Gospel writers themselves sometime change the stories. This is why scholars might be able to tell you generally what the stories of Jesus were about, and they can list eight things that Jesus did, but they can’t tell you the details and agree. Why can’t they agree? Because there are so many discrepancies.

Do archeologists and historians use the Gospels as sources? wdwdwd

Archeologists do not use the gospels as a guide for their digs. Historians, however, do use the Gospels when trying to understand the Historical Jesus. But the Gospels are that we have. One thing that most Christians fail to understand is that we have much scanty documentation about the life of Jesus. Most people don’t realize this, but Jesus is never mentioned in any Greek or Roman non-Christian source until 80 years after his death. There is no record in these sources that Jesus even lived. In the entire 1st century of Christianity, Jesus is not even mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs. The first time Jesus is mentioned in a Roman or Greek source is by the Roman governor of a province in Asia Minor, named Pliny in 112. And even then Pliny doesn’t name him “Jesus,” he simply refers to his name as “Christ” in passing. That is the only reference within 80 years of Jesus death. Jesus is mentioned very briefly by the Jewish historian Josephus in the year 93, which is 60 years after his death; but he is mentioned in no other Jewish texts in the 1st century at all. If you want to know about Jesus, you have to turn to Christian sources. The earliest Christian source is the apostle Paul, but to the surprise of many Bible readers Paul scarcely mentions anything about the words and deeds of Jesus. Paul says a lot about Jesus death and resurrection but almost nothing about his words and deeds while alive. Which means we are left with the Gospels if we want the earliest writings concerning Jesus, which are written anonymously, not by eyewitness, and full of discrepancies.

Apologists usually retort, “but eyewitnesses were around and could have provided verification as to the validity of these texts.” This is one of hundreds of fabrications by Christian apologists. Christianity started out as a small group of Jesus followers in Jerusalem right after his death. Within 30 years there were Christian communities that were establish in and around the urban areas of the Roman Empire. There were Christian churches in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor (Turkey), in Greece, in Rome, possibly in Northern Africa, and almost certainly in Alexandria Egypt. Hundreds of people were converting, thousands of people were converting – how did they convert? By people telling them stories about Jesus. Who was telling the stories? If I convert you, and you convert your wife, and she converts her next door neighbor, and her next door neighbor converts her husband, and her husband converts a business associate, who goes to another city and converts his business associate … who’s telling the stories? Is it eyewitnesses? Are the 12 disciples talking to everyone and telling them the stories and telling them, “make sure you get this right.” The eyewitnesses are probably in Jerusalem. But where are the eyewitnesses in Ephesus? Where are the eyewitnesses in Tarsus? Where are the eyewitnesses in Alexandria? They are not there. The stories are changes and retold many times.

wdwdHave the Gospel’s been accurately preserved throughout the centuries?

It’s important to know here that we do not have any originals of the New Testament. What we have are thousands of copies of the New Testament that were made, in most cases, centuries later. These copies that were made centuries later contain tens of thousands of mistakes.

This is the pivotal question: If God had inspired the Bible without error, why hadn’t he preserved the Bible without error?

Take the Gospel of Mark; whoever wrote Mark wrote it and then put it in circulation and then somebody copied the Gospel of Mark, then somebody copied that copy, then somebody copied the copy of the copy – so on and so forth – oh and by the way, we don’t have any of those copies. Everyone who copied the texts made mistakes. Our first surviving copy of Mark dates to around the year 220. Our first complete copy of Mark comes from around the year 350 (280 years after Mark!). We have thousands of copies of Mark. Now when you compare these copies of Mark they all differ from one another. What is striking is that the earlier you go to look at the manuscripts the more differences you find. The earliest copies have the most mistakes. What would happen if we found copies that were still earlier? The only evidence we have is the evidence that survived which suggests that the earliest period of copying contained the most mistakes. We have no way of knowing what the author was really trying to communicate.

Often you will hear apologists say that the New Testament is the best attested book from antiquity and therefore you can trust it. I agree. It is indeed the best attested book from antiquity, but the attestation is all from a 1000 years later. It doesn’t make sense to say you can trust it because it’s well attested, if the New Testament was well attested then you could say what the New Testament originally said. Whether you can trust it or not is another question. But the reality is that we have many late manuscripts of Mark and of every other book of the New Testament.

Do any scribal errors impact any important teaching of Jesus?

Did Jesus say, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”? Nope. This was not in the original NT Gospel and was inserted later by a scribe.

Did Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you go and sin no more”? Nope. Does it matter whether Jesus said it or not – turns out it was in a textual variant and it was not in the original New Testament.

Did Jesus say “go out into the world and preach the gospel to all of creation, he who believes in me will be saved but he who does not believe will be condemned?” – Nope, it’s only found in a later textual variant.

Did Jesus say, “These are the signs that will accompany those who believe, in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them, they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover.” Nope. Does it matter if Jesus really said it?

Did Jesus give the entire Lord’s Prayer, or just half of it – as in Luke? Does it matter? It depends on which manuscript you read.

Does it matter whether or not the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the New Testament? The only verse that comes remotely to teaching it is found in I John 5:7-8, yet, it’s a later addition.

Does it matter if the Gospel of John never calls Jesus the unique God or not. It’s based a textual variant.

Does it matter whether or not the Gospel of Luke teaches an atonement or not? The view that Jesus dies for the sake of others; well it depends on a textual variant.

Does it matter that Jesus was in such agony before his death that he began to sweat blood? It’s found only a textual variant found in the Gospel of Luke.

Does it matter that entire words, lines, paragraphs, and pages were left out by some scribes? Does it matter that there are numerous places in the New Testament where scholars cannot decide what the original text says.

Does it matter that we will never know what the original author said?

Many evangelicals claim that it does not matter. But I don’t believe them because many of these scholars devote many years to studying the manuscripts. Why would they do that if it doesn’t matter? Major evangelical seminaries raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for manuscript projects to study these manuscripts; why would they do that if it doesn’t matter? It does matter.

How can the Gospels be a trustworthy and reliable guide if we have no idea what the original author even said? While the Gospels shed light on the Historical Jesus, they do not provide information that can be trusted.

~Wes Fornes

7 Important Questions for Bible Believing Christians [Part 1]

skWritten from Starbucks in San Jose by my office with Milky Chance on Pandora. Drink of choice is a blonde roast coffee.

Are the Gospels reliable?

I believe that there is historically reliable information in the Gospels, but there are also pieces of historically unreliable information. This can be seen by the fact that sometimes there are flat out discrepancies between the gospels; as you will see yourself if you just read them carefully side-by-side. Let me give you a taste out of thousands of examples.

The Gospel of Matthew says that the father of Joseph, Jesus’ father, was Jacob; his grandfather was Matthan, his great grandfather was Eleazar. The Gospel of Luke says Joseph’s father was Heli. His grandfather Matthat; and his great grandfather was Levi. Well, which was it? The genealogies differ.

One of the key motives of the Gospel of Mark is that the disciples don’t recognize him as the Messiah until chapter 8. But in John the call him Messiah right away; the first time they meet him chapter 1. Which is it?

Was Jairus’ daughter sick but still alive when Jairus father came to Jesus and ask to heal her as he does in Mark 5:35-43; or did she die before Jairus came, so that he could ask Jesus to raise her from the dead as he does in Matthew 9? Hard to see how it could be both ways.

The Gospel of John says explicitly that Jesus died on the day of preparation for Passover, the afternoon before the Passover meal was eaten. The Gospel of Mark says explicitly that Jesus dies the morning after the morning the Passover meal was eaten. Don’t take my word for it, read it in John 19 and Mark 15 for yourself.

Or look at the resurrection accounts sometime in the four Gospels and ask yourself how many went to the empty tomb? What were their names? Was the stone rolled away before they arrived or after? What did they see there? One man? Two men? Or two angels? What were they told to do? To tell the disciples to go to Galilee or not? Did they tell the disciples or not? Did the disciples go to Galilee or not? Well it depends what Gospel you read. You get a different story every time.

We should not say that these are a bunch of details that don’t affect the larger picture. The larger picture is made up of nothing but details. And the big picture differs greatly between the gospels.

nhDo the Gospels accurately preserve the teaching of Jesus Christ?

In the New Testament, there are things that Jesus did actually say. But there are other things in the Gospels that he did not say. The leading Christian apologists today will retort that there are methods that are employed to decipher between early and later traditions and evangelists. What this means is that some of the New Testament sayings for Jesus go back to Jesus himself, and some were made up by those who told stories about Jesus, and some were made up by the Gospel writers themselves. This is actually something that Christian apologists and scholarly skeptics agree on. My question is then: Is the Bible inaccurate in some of the things it says that Jesus said? Because if it is inaccurate in some things, how do we know it’s not inaccurate in lots of things? And if it’s inaccurate in lots of things, what makes us think that we can trust it? One way to prove that gospels don’t portray what this accurate is to point to the things that Jesus said from one Gospel to the next.

There is no doubt that in the gospel of John, Jesus understands himself to be God and explicitly calls himself divine. Jesus says (John 14:6) “I am the way the truth and the life, no one come to the father except by me.” And he also says, “I and the father are one” and “Before Abraham was, I am.” These are sayings found only in the gospel of John. Jesus calls himself God in the Gospel of John, the latest of our gospels, but what is striking is that he never calls himself God in Mathew, Mark and Luke, are earliest gospels. I don’t think Jesus really said these things, and any critical biblical scholar will agree. The burden of proof is on the Fundamentalist to prove on historical – not theological grounds – how Jesus manages to escape getting stoned to death for blasphemy. And more important, how Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t record him calling himself God.

And why is it whenever you read the gospel of John, it doesn’t matter what part of John you read, whether you read the words of John the Baptist, the words of Jesus, or the words of the narrator – all three sound exactly alike and speak the same theology. Why? Because in the Gospel of John we’re not hearing three voices, we’re hearing one – the narrator. The narrator has modified the voices of Jesus and John the Baptist to make them say what he wants them to say. This is not Jesus’ voice we’re hearing, it’s the voice of the author of John. Why does this matter? Because people in this world keep asking, “Is Jesus who he says he was?” and if you read the Gospel of John, you don’t learn who Jesus said he was, you learn who the anonymous author said Jesus was.

bbDo the Gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ?

What Christian apologists say is that the Gospel writers adapted the words of Jesus. Well, that means they changed the words of Jesus. If they changed the words of Jesus then how do we know we’re actually reading the words of Jesus? The same apply to Jesus’ deeds. Can we trust what the Gospels say about what Jesus did? If the stories of Jesus were sometimes changed, as Christians told and retold the stories, as they adapted them, then how do we know they weren’t changed a lot?

I am absolutely certain that the Gospels do not give an accurate historical account of what Jesus actually did. Simply compare the Gospel stories and you will see the blatant discrepancies.

During Jesus’ temptations, what was the second temptation? To jump off the temple? Or to bow down and worship Satan? Matthew says the first and Luke says the second. If one of the authors felt necessary to change the details of the story, how do you know he didn’t feel free to change the substance of the story?

Did Jesus have extensive conversation with Pilate as he does in John or was he silent except for uttering two words as he does in Mark? How could it be both?

Here is a major discrepancy that we should consider. Jesus on his way to his death in the Gospel of Mark is completely silent. Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross, and he doesn’t say a word; they nail him to the cross and he’s silent. Now he’s hanging on the cross, both robbers mocking him, the passerby’s mock him, and he doesn’t say anything until the very end and he cries out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” And he dies. That’s the end of the story in Mark. But not quite.

Because then he is raised from the dead. But how did he feel in the end? Compare that with the Gospel of Luke. In Luke, Jesus is not silent on his way to being crucified. On his way, he sees some women weeping for him, and he turns to them and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep for yourselves and for your children and for the fate that is to befall you.” Jesus in Luke’s gospels is more concerned about these women than he is about his own fate. When being nailed to the cross, in Luke’s gospel, he’s not silent, he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” In Luke’s gospel he’s hanging on the cross and he has an intelligent conversation with one of the robbers, where only one of the robbers mocks him in Luke, the other tells the first robber to be quiet because Jesus has done nothing to deserve this, he then turns his head to Jesus and says, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and then Jesus says, “Truly I tell you that today you will be with me in paradise.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus does not feel forsaken like he does in Mark. In Luke’s gospel he knows he’s on God’s side, God’s behind the proceedings, he knows why this is happening, and at the end rather than crying out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”… He doesn’t say that in Luke, In Luke’s gospel he says, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” And he dies. This is a very different portrayal.

But what people do instead is that they take the words of Luke’s gospel and then take the words in Mark’s gospel and smash them together into one big account. So Jesus says everything in Mark, he says everything in Luke, then you throw in what he says in Matthew and John, and then you end up with the “7 Last Words of the Dying Jesus,” which you find in none of the gospels. You are free to do this and smash them all together, but realize what you’ve done is you’ve written your own gospel.

Part 2 coming tomorrow …

Part 2- New Testament: Literal or Metaphorical

The “Biblical literalist” or “believer in the God inspired” text needs to answer several questions. First, what is the literal meaning of a parable? What is the literal meaning of a symbolic narrative?

When I stand in line at the grocery store, I cannot help but notice the sensationalized magazines on the stands. For instance, the National Enquirer and Star Magazine which uses heavy doses of hyperbole to stir the gossip pot. There are good reasons as to why reasonable people do not take the headlines of the National Enquirer as dogma. As children of the Enlightenment, we have cultivated modes of testing and questioning in order to meticulously scrutinize with the goal of determining what conclusion(s) are most probable. So when the headline reads, “Doctors Say Bruce Jenner Has Baboon Genitalia,” we are in a better epistemic position to reason our way through the possibilities of fact/fiction compared to our bronze aged ancestors. In contrast, when a doctor suggests chemotherapy to treat an ailing cancer patient we expect that her suggestion has gone through the rigorous matrix of scientific investigation employed by methods verified by testable data. In modernity, we are in a better position to utilize methods and ask the right [or better] questions in order to employ proper skepticism while glancing through preposterous headlines from articles.

When it comes to the Bible we should proceed with the same calibrated caution as we would while standing in line at the grocery store. There are 3 major reasons:

1. The New Testament was not written by eyewitnesses.

2. We have no authentic original manuscripts from the New Testament.

3. New Testament scholars agree that, we have over 200,000 variations (at minimum) of New Testament writings.

The “authors” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John never identified themselves as the actual authors. The followers of Jesus, as we learn from the New Testament itself, were uneducated lower-class Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine. The gospels, however, were not written by people like that. The actual authors of the gospels were highly educated, Greek-speaking Christians of a later generation. Just to make sure we are on the same page: Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Gospels are written in Greek.

But wait, don’t we have original manuscripts of the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus? Actually, we have no original manuscripts. Also, the very first surviving account of Jesus’ life was written around 35-40 years after his death. Our latest canonical gospel (John) was written 60-65 years after his death. That’s a lot of time for stories to develop and morph. To bring this issue to modernity, John F. Kennedy died 51 years ago and we still have numerous conflicting stories, such that, any written biography of his life would definitely stir conflicting narratives.

As of today, 94% of our surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament date from after the ninth Christian century. That is 800 years (years!) after the so-called originals. What good do these late manuscripts do us? They do us a lot of good if we want to know what text of Mark, Paul, or 1 Peter was being read 800 years after the originals were produced. But they are of much less value for knowing what the authors themselves wrote, eight centuries earlier.

One more reason to raise our suspicion is that even though we have over 5,000 manuscripts from the Bible, scholars since the 16th century have found over 200,000 variations. It might be helpful for us to know the famous passage in John 8 that provides us the catch phrase, “He who is without sin cast the first stone,” is nowhere to be found in the earliest manuscripts. Pentecostals and snake-handlers in rural Kentucky should know that the last 12 verses in the book of Mark is gone as well. Much doctrine has been built off of those 12 verses that were later inserted hundreds of years later. Then there is the infamous I John 5:7-8 where we find the complete trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trouble is that later scribes inserted this in the text to justify their own views- hundreds of years later.

I want to provide a caveat here to address a very common remark that apologist make when confronted with mistakes in Scripture. Their claim goes like this: “Well, there may be small mistakes in the Bible, but the core principles are all there.” First, we don’t know what was really there because we have no original manuscripts. Second, we have enough information in our manuscripts today to show that Jesus did not consider himself to be God (see Bart D. Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”). Third, as I already mentioned: we have over 200,000 variations!

One core doctrine that is in conflict is that of salvation by faith or works. Paul – who never met Jesus – spent his time propagating a high Christology of that salvation coming through faith, not works. Romans is filled with this doctrine. Yet, my favorite passage in all of Scriptures turns Paul’s theology upside down. In Matthew 25:31-46, the author is describing the Son of Man separating his sheep (“Christians”) on his right with the goats (non-Christians) on his left. Take a look.

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

As you can see, Jesus excludes faith and shows that the fruits you bear through good works is what makes you a sheep rather than a goat. Contra to Paul, salvation is through good works. This comes as no surprise to me. I spent 3 years in seminary with one of the best Koine Greek scholars, and the amount of linguistic gymnastics used to harmonize the New Testament is simply unbelievable. But when belief-driven indoctrination has metastasized to the heart, it easily distorts judgment. This is why it should not surprise us that millions of Christians, Mormons, and Muslims believe extraordinary things with little evidence. The most prevalent spiritual gift of religion is intellectual gymnastics.

All this to say we should be careful to assert that the Bible is “God-breathed” or “God inspired.” Rather, the Bible is inspired by humans communicating meaningful stories within their own historical matrix. I am not saying that the Bible is irrelevant or should be discarded. To the contrary, the Bible should be affirmed and held in high esteem in a metaphorical way.

The woman caught in adultery (John 8) who is unfairly judged can teach a moral lesson about the dangers of judging other people. And Matthew 7:5 can challenge us to remove the telephone post in our own eye before we try and remove the splinter in someone’s eye. And how does the Bible – and Jesus – empathize with our struggles? Well, just as Jesus had to go through the dangerous and forbidden Samaria, so we too go through our own “Samaria” with the hope of a future peace. Samaria can represent loss, grief and the pain we go through in life. Did Jesus speak of a literal splinter in someone’s eye? Did Jesus ever go through Samaria? I don’t care. I don’t even care if we find proof that Jesus never existed.

The point is the meaning we get from the passage. When we can get to the point of seeing meaningful metaphors, we can stop using Scripture to indoctrinate and use it, rather, for personal flourishing.

Part I- New Testament: Literal or Metaphorical ?

Flourishing Without Indoctrination

Words like “God-breathed” and “God inspired” are inventions of the Enlightenment that were constructed from a defensive posture in order to protect “the faith” from the bourgeoning skepticism of the Renaissance. Despite the growth of humanism in the 16th century, New Testament is nevertheless a precious work of literature that ought to be treasured for two reasons. First, it gives us insight into the quest for meaning, understanding and purpose within a first century Palestinian context. Second, it can help us today, especially if we read it from a metaphorical perspective. Metaphorical meaning can often give us more meaning and insight into our world.

Once upon a time there was a guy on his horse darting through the forest uncontrollably, when he spotted his brother up ahead whom he was quickly approaching. As he got closer, his brother yelled out, “Where are you going!” To which the man on the horse replied, “I don’t know, ask the horse!” So you see, the man lost control of the horse and was dashing through the woods erratically.

This Buddhist tale has a deeper ethical point. Often we become overcome with our emotions [i.e. anger, jealousy, bliss] that we lose our focus on the where we’re going in life. Thus, we must pull the reins on our emotions and gain control of ourselves. This Buddhist parable is always tucked in the back of my mind when I contemplate life balance in this hectic life.

Life lessons can help us understand life more clearly. But what if I became overly inquisitive with other aspects of this parable. Such as, did this literally happen? Was there a literal horse? The answer: who cares! With life lessons, it shouldn’t matter if it was a literal horse or if the serpent in the garden in the Bible was a literal talking snake. Rather, it’s about what the lesson means to the hearer. It’s about finding meaning.

When we look back at the history of religious persecution, it is hard not to see how the idea of literal interpretation of ancient texts has justified brutality, oppression and the marginalization of mass groups of people. Even today, for instance, Christian churches who are considered more “liberal” continue to have multitudes of ardent anti-homosexual protestors based solely on ancient writ from their scriptures. The ridged method of interpreting holy writings spills over to a literal Hell for unbelievers and a literal end times where Jesus comes back on a horse to save his followers. According to a 2013 OmniPoll study, 41% of all people in the United States believe we are living in the end times. Furthermore, 42% continue to believe in the creationist view of human origins according to a Gallup poll. This is fascinating given how far science has brought us as children of the Enlightenment era.

But were these texts meant to be understood literally? Moreover, should be approach the Quran, the Bible and Mormon writ the same way we would as if we were reading todays New York Times? My concern is primarily with one the most read documents known as the New Testament within the bible.    

This begs several questions:

Were ancient texts meant to be taken literally?

Would a metaphorical approach lead to the same brutal results?

Christianity is a development. The key word is “development”; and cultures develop within a historical context. The gospels, for instance, are products of early Christian communities in the last third of the first century. Rather than being divinely inspired, the gospels are written from a thoroughly Jewish apocalyptic perspective while embedded in Roman imperial hegemony that focused on military, economic, political and ideological power – all through conquest. To ignore this historical matrix is to completely miss what was going on. Ignoring the context leaves us with the Cliff Notes version of only a few biased Jewish perspectives.

Part of the 1st century historical matrix is that concepts such as “Son of God,” “Savior” and “Christ” were already woven into the fabric of Roman culture prior to Jesus. Furthermore, miraculous births and resurrections were already in progress, and more importantly, with many eyewitnesses. I want to stress, again, that these titles and wonders all pre-date Jesus. Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, carried the title “Son of God” (40 BCE). After the death of Octavian, the historian Suetonius writes that a high ranking official “saw Augustus’s image ascending to the sky.”

During the same time as Jesus roamed ancient Palestine, another miracle working itinerant preacher had already beat him to the scene. Apollonius of Tyana was his name. Allow me to quickly bullet point his divine similarities to Jesus:

  • His mother received a vision from heaven that informed her that her son would be divine.
  • His birth was accompanied by unusual divine signs in the heavens.
  • As an adult, he went from town to town teaching that the spiritual and material should be what humanity lives for.
  • He had a number of followers that were convinced that he was the Son of God.
  • He did miracles: healed the sick, casted demons out, and raised the dead.
  • His followers witnessed his ascension to heaven.
  • Recordings of his life was written down by Philostratus in which he did considerable research for the book using accounts recorded by eyewitnesses and companions of Apollonius.

Divinity was embedded into the culture at that time. And storytellers within this non-literary culture were more concerned about what the stories meant to their subjective life rather than fact checking for objective truth. Whether it involved Zeus, Apollonius or Jesus, it was a meaningful reflection of that particular ancient cultural milieu – not something that was meant to transcend all cultures all the way to the 21st century. After all, Jesus thought that the world was going to end within his generation. Mark 13:30 states, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” While this blunder is quite embarrassing for Jesus, his apocalyptic prophecy never had the 21st century reader in mind.

I don’t write this to discount Christianity. I only wish to call a spade a spade. I wish to affirm that even though Christianity developed through human manufacturing, we can still treasure the Bible and glean moral lessons that help us flourish. This is my contention: indoctrination using God inspired texts fosters an “us/them” mentality with non-negotiable bronzed age ethics. In the end, I think this world would be better off if we trade the “absolute truth” of holy writ for absolute compassion for all people.

It is usually at this point when the Christian apologist will unleash his arsenal defending the authors and scribes of the Bible and the validity of the ancient manuscripts. Thus, Part II will address these anticipated questions.