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#106 - Biblical literalism and infallibility
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Thank you for your internet site. I am on a journey of learning about Jesus' teachings and what the original bible says.
My first question is, is the new testament Jesus' teachings? or is even the true original bible, which no one seems to have, a biased version of what people at the time wanted Jesus to say? Jesus is being spoken for in the bible, right? Why doesn't Jesus have a section?
My background is not religious so please excuse my ignorance. That's why I'm writing you.
On one hand you're interpreting that the bible literally says homosexuality is wrong (as is adultery and many other things). On the other, people should not judge and therefore not treat homosexuals wrongfully. Is that accurate?
Please clarify, is Jesus saying that to believe he is our Savior is the only way to be accepted in the Kingdom of God? What does being our Savior mean exactly?
I am concerned about learning the truth and filtering man's biased influence on bible interpretation and versions.
And how can the old testament not be considered as part of spiritual growth when it represents "the beginning" of what God was saying....?
You can see my confusion LOL
I appreciate your help!
You are asking good, thoughtful questions. I will share with you some of my current conclusions and some resources for your continuing exploration.
Writer, question #1 - Is the new testament Jesus' teachings?
Unfortunately this cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
Each of the New Testament (NT) writers presents their own editorial position on early Christianity. They are not in complete agreement on the history of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the history of the early church, or the teachings of the early Church. The gospels themselves have a variety of sources.
Mark itself was a source for both Matthew and Luke, but Matthew and Luke had written source in common. (Scholars now refer to that source as the Gospel of Q -- Quelle, the German word for source.) In addition Matthew and Luke both had their own individual sources. John also had another source, which reflects some similarities -- but also many differences -- with Luke's special source.
It is highly unlikely that any of those who authored or penned the 4 gospels were themselves first-hand witnesses to or hearers of what they described in their canonical gospels. Having said all of this, however, the NT is an important source document for exploring actual teachings and history of Jesus, but it needs to be read with careful scrutiny. Some of the teachings of the NT seem to be in sync with Jesus' teachings and some do not.
There were other gospels that recorded some of the original teachings of Jesus. One of the most important is a sayings gospel known as the Gospel of Thomas, which is believed by some to have been first written around 50 or 60 A.D. -- before the Gospel of Mark, which was the first canonical gospel written, around 75 or 80 A.D.
The canonical NT is divided up into the following sections:
- The 4 gospels
- The acts of the apostles (which is actually part 2 of Luke's gospel
- The 8 authentic letters of Paul (Romans 1-15, Romans 16 - which actually is a separate letter to the church in Ephesus, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon)
- Tthe other letters attributed to Paul (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)
- The letter ot the Hebrews
- The letters attributed to Jesus' close associates (James; 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude), often referenced as "the catholic epistles"
- The Apocalypse (Revelation).
A good introductory book for further exploring your subject is Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. I don't agree with all of his conclusions, but he is an excellent Bible scholar and represents up-to-date, cutting edge findings and conclusions. Unlike many of his colleagues, his scholarship has not interfered with his reverence and his discipleship. (His mentor, G.B. Caird, wrote a very insightful and wonderfully inspiring commentary on Luke.)
Writer, question #2: Is even the true original bible, which no one seems to have, a biased version of what people at the time wanted Jesus to say?
This is somewhat answered above.
Writer, question #3: Jesus is being spoken for in the bible, right? Why doesn't Jesus have a section?
Jesus' section is represented by the four gospels. Each gospel has major part parts that include the author's representation of Jesus teachings. For instance Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5, 6, 7). Luke has the Sermon on the Plain (Luk 6:20-49). The Synoptic Gospels (Mat, Mar, and Luk) have many of Jesus' authentic parables, to which each author seems to have appended some commentary. John has some large parts where Jesus uses speech (e.g., Joh 10:1-18, Joh 16:25-33). As mentioned above, the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas is comprised almost entirely of sayings of Jesus. With all of the above, there is not complete agreement between any of the sayings, so further exploration is needed to try to definitively identify what Jesus actually said.
It also should be noted that the earliest writings in the New Testament that quote Jesus are in Paul's authentic letters (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:10,11), which pre-dated the first canonical gospel (Mark) by about 20 years.
To explore Jesus' very characteristic parables, which for the most part are preserved in the canonical gospels, browse:
Writer, question #4: On one hand you're interpreting that the bible literally says homosexuality is wrong (as is adultery and many other things). On the other, people should not judge and therefore not treat homosexuals wrongfully. Is that accurate?
On the issue of homosexuality, see my two responses to questions on that subject at:
Writer , question #5: is Jesus saying that to believe he is our Savior is the only way to be accepted in the Kingdom of God? What does being our Savior mean exactly?
To truly believe a teacher is to put into practice what that teacher teaches. You are not asked to believe in the personality of the teacher but in the truth that teacher teaches. So it is with Jesus, who taught:
Luke 17:20,21 - "The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!'; because the Kingdom of God is within you."
Thomas 3 - Jesus said: If those who lead you say unto you: Behold, the Kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will be before you. If they say unto you: It is in the sea, then the fish will be before you. But the Kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then shall you be known, and you shall know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if ye do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.
When we get to know what Jesus actually taught, we should prepare to be surprised, challenged, be made to think, made to care, be made to love unconditionally, be made to be a healing influence wherever we are.
I hope this sheds some light on your questions.
Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer