Where I Am on my Spiritual Journey – Gospels (Part 4)

I remember in 2015 there was a post by Erica Campbell that went viral on social media. In it, Mrs Campbell criticised the NIV for removing 45 verses from the Bible.

Verses are missing but there’s a reason for that, and it’s not just the NIV, many newer translations take out the verses. Those translating such versions came to the conclusion that those verses shouldn’t be in scripture due to the fact that certain manuscripts don’t include such verses. Older translations of scripture like the Authorized King James include such scriptures because they were written before such manuscripts were discovered.

The fact that a leading gospel singer would post something and then would be shared and retweeted by so many Christians, shows that many don’t understand how the gospels – let alone the Bible – was written. When it comes to the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John probably weren’t following Jesus around taking notes like news reporters. Most historians believe that the gospels were written 20 – 70 years after the crucifixion of Jesus and also some think the disciples who are credited with writing the accounts of those gospels may not have written anything after all. While the literacy rate improved in Israel under Roman rule research suggests that it was still under 3%, so could it be that all the disciples were illiterate? Before and after Jesus life on earth there was the tradition of passing information by the word of mouth (rather than the written word). So at first the stories of Jesus told and retold audible for about 40 years until someone decided to actually write them down.

But who actually wrote down the accounts? I think anyone has the image of all four disciples sitting down at a desk and writing accounts of Jesus life may be mistaken. Due to the fact that Matthew was a tax collector and Luke a doctor, I think it’s likely they both had a good enough education that enabled them to read and write, but I’m not so sure about the other disciples. Maybe the gospels of Mark and John weren’t written by the actual disciples? Even some conservative scholars think of the gospel of Mark being the memoirs of Peter. I don’t know who wrote it but possibly it could be the life of Jesus according to Peter. But whoever wrote the actual accounts of Jesus in the Bible they never identified themselves by name. So I think we can’t truly know who actually wrote them.

When reading scripture I think we need to bear in mind the historical evidence (that denies or confirms what we’re reading), as well as using logic and reason in our interpretation of what is said. That’s what I do when looking at something like the Sermon on the Mount. As I mentioned in a previous blog I love this particular sermon but when I look at how it’s arranged I can’t accept that this is the actual full record of what Jesus preached. If you look at the way the gospel of Matthew records what was said you’ll see how scattered and disjointed it is. It goes from one theme to another without anything connecting the themes. It’s my opinion that what we’re reading in Matthew 5-7 is highlights of a sermon or a series of sermons preached by Jesus. It’s likely the writer of Matthew compiled the teachings of Jesus about 60 years after the actual sermon, so it’s possible those recalling the teaching could only remember certain parts.

Sometimes I think Christians have such an emotional attachment to the gospels and the Bible that they refuse to consider that there are mistakes in the writing of it. Then there seems to be a lack of thinking about how the actual scriptures were written down. Yet I think if one studies the scripture and consider what historians have discovered, with an open mind, one can’t help but notice certain aspects aren’t in line with scripture inerrancy. Just because there are errors in it doesn’t mean we abandon our faith (I certainly don’t) but it should make us rethink our faith.

I know sometimes historians can come to wrong conclusions but if there’s no reason to doubt their claims I won’t. I accept that I could be wrong and am open to changing my mind. But for me, the bottom line is if there’s nothing causing me to doubt the text I will consider it to be true. But if reason, logic and/or historical evidence that gives me a reason to doubt certain claims in the gospel, I will.

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