Why Christians Were Denied Access to their Bible?

12 August, 2016
Q I recently read an article about this subject and the answer given was "to conceal the Jewish foundation of Christianity and Jesus' lifelong dedication to Judaism and Jewish practices". May be it is one of the reasons, but I suspect not the only one; so may you please elaborate further on this subject?

Answer

Salam Brother Tarek,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

To give you, the audience, a background about this subject, please read: Why Christians Were Denied Access to Their Bible for 1,000 Years.

The book, “Jesus Uncensored – Restoring the Authentic Jew” by Dr Bernard Starr (OmniHouse Publishing; 1 edition – February 12, 2013) has sparked once again the controversy over the real religion of Jesus: whether he was a Jew or a Christian.

Dr Starr writes:

“The fact is, Jesus was born into a family of practicing Jews dedicated to Judaism. As prescribed in the Torah, he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. Throughout his life he was thoroughly committed to Judaism, the Torah and Jewish practices. He prayed in synagogues and taught Torah to “multitudes” of fellow Jews. And John the Baptist only baptized Jews to purify them for the expected arrival of the Jewish Messiah. All this is stated clearly in the Gospels.”

Dr Starr continues:

“Christians are astonished when I inform them that the word “Jew” appears 202 times in the New Testament and 82 times in the Gospels, while “Christian” does not show up at all in the Gospels and is mentioned only three times in later parts of the New Testament — the first mention is when Paul is preaching in Antioch years after the crucifixion (Acts 11:26). Why is “Christian” absent from the Gospels, which span Jesus’ life and ministry? Because there was no Christianity during Jesus’ life.” (Jesus ‘Used to be Jewish’? That’s Not What the Gospels Say)

The author underscores the following points (among others) from the Bible about Jesus’ religion:

1. All the figures in the Jesus circle were Jewish. Jesus loved to read the Torah and even preached in the Temple of Jerusalem regularly, which would have been impossible, if he had not been a Jew. They called him Rabbi Yeshua.

2. Neither Jesus, nor Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist nor the disciples did ever start a new religion called Christianity nor did they at any time express any wish to depart from their original religion of Judaism and start a new one.

The author speaks of his initiation into the reading of the Gospels: He says that he was surprised to find the four canonical gospels a Jewish document about Jews: They give a thoroughly Jewish story narrated in the Jewish context of history and prophecy, particularly in the Messianic tradition of a Jewish Messiah, who would appear “at the end of days”. They center on a rabbi and his followers dedicated to Jewish practices and rituals – performing Jewish prayers and observing Jewish holidays: Nowhere was any hint of Christianity.

The foregoing means according to Dr Starr, that the real reason for the Church to keep the Bible from the people was to hide the true religion of Jesus, namely Judaism. It was only by covering up this truth, could they establish Christianity, with which neither Jesus nor his chosen disciples had anything to do.

In his book, Dr Starr urges the Jews to respect Jesus as a veritable Jewish rabbi, though it would be difficult for them to accept him as the expected Messiah. And the Christians should respect Jesus as an authentic Jew too. By this means, Dr Starr believes, there could come about greater understanding and reconciliation between the Jews and the Christians.

Indeed it was St Paul who actually broke from the Semitic monotheistic tradition to devise a Trinitarian theology consonant with Gentile cults prevalent in ancient Rome and Greece. Naturally Jesus’ brother James, Peter and his other disciples mistrusted Paul’s move and adamantly clung to the Semitic tradition of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

This caused a division among Jesus’ followers: The group of the close disciples of Jesus was known as Jewish Christians and the other group under Paul came to be called Pauline Christians or Trinitarians.

In the fourth century after Christ, with the support of Emperor Constantine, the Trinitarians gained the upper hand in Christendom. From then on, the Trinitarians through several church councils led the show to the extent of picturing Jesus as one person in a trinity of persons in God. And thus Jesus’ original religion of Judaism was superseded by Paul’s “Christianity”.

Indeed it was inconceivable for the Christians now to accept Judaism as the religion of Jesus; and so they wished to black out any narrative where Jesus’ true religion was highlighted. They wished to reinforce the creeds of their new religion in the minds of the people.

The Church leaders thought that if the Bible was in the hands of the people, they could find out how the new church, with its appurtenances and embellishments borrowed from Mithraism, deviated from the true religion of Jesus.

It is a well-known fact that the Church continuously for several centuries forbade its followers reading the Bible. See two examples from several edicts prohibiting the laity from reading the Bible:

1. The Church Council of Toulouse 1229 AD:

“Canon 14: We prohibit also that the laity should not be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.” (Source: Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, Scolar Press, London, England)

2. The Church Council of Tarragona of 1234 AD:

“Canon 2: No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days, so that they may be burned…” (Source: D. Lortsch, Historie de la Bible en France (1910) p.14.)

The official reason for banning the Bible – which is believed to be the Word of God revealed for the edification of mankind – was that the laymen who read it would be misled by it.

The Church in those days wielded immense ecclesiastical and temporal powers, and consequently was corrupted to the core. The persons at the helm naturally did not want the people to point out the faults of the Church by comparing their doings to the Bible’s teachings.

These faults included their hankering after the pleasures of this world, as well as their greed for making money even by the sale of indulgences (=written absolutions of sins). Obviously, the church officials did not want the people to question them in the name of God or Bible. So, using their authority they simply forbade the people reading the Bible.

From the point of view of Islam, the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah could be called the first major departure from the Way of God in the history of Revealed Religion.

The second major departure was the Christian rejection of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) as the expected Paraclete or the Spirit of Truth foretold by Jesus to his disciples.

I hope this helps address your concern.

Salam and please keep in touch.

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.