I started out actually in high school I was a born again Christian. I accepted Christ as my Lord and savior as we used to say and I became very committed as an evangelical Christian and I went off to moody Bible institute for college because a fundamentalist Bible college.
After that I went to Wheaton college, which is a liberate arts college, I had very solid Evan Jellicle Christian commitments. Eventually, I got a seminary degree and I was a pastor of a Baptist church for a year.
But gradually, for a large number of reasons, I started to question some of the assumptions that I had about the faith.
For a long time, I thought that the Bible was inspired and inerrant i.e. that there were no mistakes in the Bible but as I engaged in historical research on the Bible as I was getting my PhD in New Testaments studies at Princeton Theological seminary.
I started finding mistakes in the Bible and this cut away at my assumptions that the Bible was an errand. And then I started questioning other parts of my faith: Is Jesus really divine? Is there really a trinity?…
It was difficult, I mean if you’re raised in the Christian tradition, this forms very heart and soul of who you are and leaving it, means leaving friends, it means alienating family, it means loosing out on all sorts of social networks that you have and all sorts of beliefs that you’ve held dear.
So, it’s very difficult and traumatic emotionally. But my view at the time was that I was in a search for what is true and I came to believe it simply isn’t true that the bible is without error. And the idea that Jesus is God is an idea that was developed historically over time among Christians, it wasn’t something that was original to Christianity; it’s a later historical development so to the doctrine of trinity.
These various ideas that I had held on to, I started to realize that were historical formulations. And just the existence of God Himself, I finally came to realize that, for me, it didn’t make sense anymore.
Well, this is an interesting thing that we think when we read the Bible that we’re obviously reading the words that Matthew or Paul wrote, but the reality is we don’t have the originals of Matthew or Paul’s letters or of any other book of the New Testament or of the Old Testament.
What we have are copies of these books that were made later in most cases many centuries later. So the New Testament was originally written in Greek and at present, we have something like 5500 manuscripts in Greek of the New Testament which is a lot for an ancient book. It’s far more than any other ancient book.
The problem is most of these copies are hundreds of years after the originals and all of them have differences in them. So that the scribes who were copying these manuscripts changed the texts they were copying… sometimes by accident they made mistakes, they were sleepy or incompetent or whatever but sometimes it looks like the scribes actually thought the text should say something other than it did and then they would change the text.
Some places, it looks like a manipulation of the text, where the scribe wants to change what the author said. In many cases, it may be that the scribe thought this is what the author really meant, and so he changed it.
But sometimes, the text gets changed to say just the opposite of what it originally said. So that can be a little bit troubling.
The last 12 verses of Mark are very interesting. Jesus has been dead and been crucified, and been buried and the third day the women went to the tomb to anointing his body for burial but they found the tomb is empty. Jesus is not there, there is a young in the tomb.
They’re supposed to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will go before them and meet them in Galilee. The disciples were supposed to go to Galilee and the women were supposed to tell them to go.
And then it says the women fled from the tomb and didn’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid. That’s the end of Mark’s Gospel. It ends with the women not saying anything.
Well, some scribes read this ending and thought “well, that’s odd! I mean the women didn’t tell anybody? I’m sure the disciples knew.” So some scribes added a longer ending. So the last 12 verses are these longer ending, where the women do go and tell the disciples, they do go to Galilee, Jesus does meet them there.
And this is the passage where Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone believes in his name, they will be able to speak in foreign tongues, they’ll be able to handle deadly snakes, and they’ll be able to drink poison and it won’t harm them. Theses are the verses that the Appalachian snake handlers use to justify their ritual practice.
Matthew and Luke have of the stories in Mark and sometimes they have the stories actually in the same words as Mark and for hundreds and hundreds of years since fourth century at least.
Biblical scholars have recognized that the reason they have so many of the stories in the same words is that somebody is copying somebody else. And so the idea is usually thought that Matthew and Luke actually copied some of their stories from Mark. That’s why they’re verbatim the same in so many places.
One of the things that I’ve studied in a number of my books, including my book “Lost Christianity” and somewhat in my book “Misquoting Jesus” is this phenomenon that I call proto orthodox Christianity.
In early Christianity, there were a variety of Christian groups that believed a variety of things.
Some of them that would seem wild and crazy to most Christians today, but there were battles for who would be right and who would be wrong and who would get the most converts and who would establish what the standard view would be.
The standard view is called orthodoxy. The word orthodoxy means the correct belief. So the people who ended up wining these battles over what to believe called themselves orthodox, meaning they had the correct beliefs and everyone else, they called heretics.
A heresy is a choke means choice, it’s a choice not to believe the right things. And so proto orthodoxy is what people were saying that led to orthodoxy before it was orthodoxy.
So you have a lot of different Christian groups saying a lot of different things. One of these groups wins out and calls itself orthodox. But what do you call this group before they went out? I call them proto orthodox because they’re representing the views that eventually are going to triumph in Christianity.
The proto orthodox scribes are the ones who gave us these 5500 manuscripts we have. If heretics copied the text and changed the text in a heretical way, those manuscripts apparently got destroyed. So we have manuscripts from the proto orthodox and sometimes they changed the text in significant ways.
I mean as one example, there were debates in early Christianity about who Jesus was. Was he a human being who was chosen by God? Was he God who only seemed to be a human being? Was he both God and human?
The scribes who knew about these debates would sometimes change the Gospels in order to make the Gospels reflect their own points of view. One of the arguments was: is Jesus really a human or not?
There is this famous passage in the gospel of Luke, where Jesus before being arrested sweat great drops as if blood, so this bloody sweat and this is where people say “he’s sweating blood” referring to this passage.
It turns out this passage was not originally in the Gospel of Luke, it’s not in our oldest and best manuscripts of Luke. And it looks like the reason it’s there now is because there were Christians who wanted to argue that Jesus is fully human. This is the orthodox view.