Category Archives: Bad interpretations of the Bible

Can We Trust Those Who Interpret The Bible?

Disclaimer.

The following post consists of my personal reflections and understandings.  It is not meant to be disrespectful of anyone else’s beliefs or convictions. I am not a Biblical scholar, I’m just a curious guy who questions.

But first, a quiz!

Please answer “True” or “False” to the following questions:

  1. Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on earth.
  2. There is credible evidence that immunizations/vaccines contribute to autism.
  3. The North Star is the brightest star in the sky.
  4. Sugar makes kids hyper.
  5. The Great Wall of China is so long that it is the only manmade structure visible from space.
  6. Sharks are unable to get cancer.
  7. Drinking coffee dehydrates you.
  8. A goldfish can only remember something for three seconds.

Answers to the quiz will follow.

A story.

There once was a boy born into this world who was very different than the rest.  Early on, he was able to perform miraculous acts.  As he grew older he became friends with others who followed him.  At times they doubted him, but they remained close to him.  The world that he was born into had an evil presence, and he realized that he was the only one who could redeem the good and banish the evil.  At times the evil one tempted him to join him, but he refused.  Those in power were afraid that he was getting too much notoriety, and they felt threatened.  They tried to tarnish his name and his works, but he persevered.  Tragically, based on prophecy, he knew that he would have to die to save others.  He accepted this, but he was also afraid.  In the end, his actions freed the world and the people in it.  In the end love conquered evil. 

Why I’m writing this post.

In my last post, I wrote about my deep concern that the church that I had been attending for decades had taken a stance against LGBTQ individuals.  There are six passages in the Bible (three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament) that some have interpreted to say that God specifically said that homosexuality was wrong.  Bible passages can be interpreted in many ways, and others have said that these passages actually refer to specific acts, such as pederasty.  The concept of homosexuality wasn’t even coined until 1868, almost two millennia after the death of Christ.

The Bible has been used to marginalize groups of people, rationalize slavery, launch wars, minimize the roles of women in society, and justify other behaviors that many would consider both wrong and immoral in today’s society.  How is it possible that a book that proclaims God’s will can be used to rationalize these things?

I was raised Roman Catholic, and contrary to some Protestant’s understandings, I was not only encouraged to read the Bible, but I had regular assignments about the New Testament when I attended Catholic school.  However, my in-depth exposure to Scripture pales to that of my wife who was raised in a Protestant religion.  In both cases, we were taught a set of beliefs and interpretations based on those of our particular religions.  

Most Christian religions say that it is OK to doubt faith, but there is an implicit understanding that if this doubt extends too far it is because the person was really never a true Christian.  In addition, most Christian religions impose strict penalties on those who are or become unbelievers.  Those penalties can range, and include being ostracized from their community and eternal damnation. If you were raised in a Christian tradition you were taught a set of beliefs. However, you were not taught to critically challenge those beliefs.

My former Church’s anti-LGBTQ stance seemed contrary to my understanding of Christianity, which emphasizes concepts such as love, acceptance, and inclusion.  This position was based on their interpretation of the Bible. But, what is the truth?  To find out I did a deep dive in order to gain a better understanding of not only the Bible but of Christianity in general.

What is the Bible?

The Bible is a bible or a complication of books.  The Protestant Bible consists of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament), and New Testament.  The Catholic Bible contains some additional books added to the Old Testament.  The Old Testament contains the same books as what current Jews use in worship.  However, ordering and other small differences do occur between the two documents.  

The Bible was written by 40 (or more) authors, in three different languages, over 1500 years.  The Old Testament was completed before the time of Jesus, and its teachings and rules were followed by Jesus.  It is noted that Jesus lived “a perfect life,” which is a reference to the fact that he followed Jewish Scripture and law absolutely.  

The New Testament consists of 27 books, none of which were written when Christ was alive. They were likely written during the first century after his death, although some may have been revised during the second century AD.  The original New Testament books were written in Greek, a language used by the educated of the time.  In ancient times less than 10% of the population could read, and a lower percentage could write.  In more rural areas only 2-3% could read.  We can assume that the writers of the New Testament belonged to the educated elite.  There is no valid evidence that during ancient times uneducated people used scribes to dictate their thoughts.

A New Testament consisting of 27 books was likely established during the first few centuries after Christ’s death.  However, various books were added and removed during that time. By the 4th century, the New Testament books were well established and translated into Latin as one volume. The last book of the NT to be added was Revelation, an apocalyptic book that was originally thought to be authored by John the Apostle.  However, Biblical scholars have long known that this is not the case.  John was a common name during those times, and it is most likely that Revelation was written by another “John,” John of Patmos, who was believed to be an exiled Christian.  It was written around 95AD in a style that was used during that time.  Many of the book’s cryptic references refer to the Roman Empire, which was at odds with Christianity.  It was officially added to the New Testament around 400 years after the death of Christ.

According to Biblical historians, there were hundreds of early Christian writings, many of which were destroyed when Emperor Constantine decreed that they were heretical.  Some of those texts have resurfaced thousands of years later.  Notable are the Gnostic books, which were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. These books present a different Christianity, including very different accounts of Jesus.  They are historically useful as they show how divergent Christian teachings were in the early Church. 

The early Church.

After the death of Jesus, his disciples scattered.  There were no clear rules for what the Christian Church was supposed to be, and different groups developed their own belief structures.  Some emphasized the mystical messages of Jesus (Gnostics), others focused on His death and Resurrection (Orthodox Christians). Some leaders, like Peter, thought that only Jews should be allowed to become Christians. Others, like Paul, felt that gentiles needed to be included.  Some early sects believed that Jesus was born human and became God by adoption.  Other groups felt that Jesus was not divine.  Still, others felt that Jesus was sent as a God and that this physical presence was an illusion (sort of a hologram).  The early Church was extremely diverse in its teachings and beliefs.

Emperor Constantine had a religious vision and converted to Christianity.  He then legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.  As stated above, there were many different sects of Christianity and initially, they were all allowed to worship in their own way.  Eventually, Constantine ordered the Council of Nicaea in 325AD to resolved conflicting beliefs in the Church, especially Arianism which held that Jesus was not divine. That council established that Jesus was equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Other accomplishments included mandating a specific date for the observance of Easter, and the profession of faith (Nicene Creed).  

Eventually, Constantine reversed his opinion of religious tolerance and allowed only Orthodox Christianity, which emphasized the importance of the Resurrection.  Other forms of Christianity became heretical; their followers were persecuted and their Scriptures were destroyed.  Orthodox Christianity is the basis of our current Christian beliefs. 

More on the New Testament

As stated above, The Books of the New Testament were written between 50 and 100 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion.  Scholarly Biblical historians do not think that any part of the New Testament was written by an apostle or someone who had a close relationship with Jesus.  

The earliest writings that are part of the New Testament were done by Paul, an educated Jew who initially persecuted Christians.  Paul had a religious vision several years after Jesus died, and converted.  Scholars agree that Paul wrote 5 of the epistles, but First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus were written by someone else.  Five other epistles are of questionable authorship.  

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus.  However, the apostles did not write these Gospels.  In fact, they were anonymously written.  St. Irenaeus gave them their titles around 150AD, and they stuck.  The Gospels were written well after the death of Jesus. 

If you read the Gospels horizontally and compare them you will discover that they are different in significant ways.  For instance, in Mark’s account of the Crucifixion Jesus is silent and the thieves who are also being crucified mock him.  Before he dies he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  However, in Luke’s version, Jesus is calm and has a conversation with one of the thieves. Right before He dies he says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  These are two drastically different stories.  The same can be said of the Resurrection stories given by various authors.  In fact, Mark 16:9-20 wasn’t written by the person who authored that Gospel.  It was added hundreds of years later by an unknown scribe.  Mark 16:9-20 chronicles Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalen after his Crucifixion and gives specific instructions to the apostles.

The first Gospel to be written was Mark around 66-70AD, Matthew and Luke were written around 85-90AD, and John was written somewhere between 90-110AD.  It is thought that the Matthew and Luke Gospel writers relied heavily on the Mark Gospel for their own Gospels, so why are their stories different? In ancient times information was passed by storytelling, and stories could change depending on the storyteller’s situation or their intent.  It was common for stories to be modified over time because the teller was trying to make a particular point or teach a particular lesson.  Absolute historical accuracy was not the goal, and differences were not thought to detract from the overall message.

Obviously, those who decided what books should be in the New Testament were aware of the significant inconsistencies of the Gospels, so why did they include the four books?  No one knows for sure, but they were likely included because they each provided information that was different but deemed important. 

The Letters of Peter were written about two centuries after the Crucifixion, and despite what some may say, were not written by the Apostle Peter. 

Beyond the addition of verses, at least one entire story was added to the New Testament by a scribe. John 7:53—8:11 tells the story of the woman who commits adultery and who is about to be stoned.  Jesus famously says “For he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  The crowd walks away and Jesus tells the women, “Go, and sin no more.”  This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible as it shows not only how clever Jesus was, but it also shows his compassion and forgiveness. It was added by an unknown person during the 4th century and became accepted as part of scripture in the 5th century.  

Another significant addition to the New Testament was the Comma Johanneum (John 5:7-8) which reads: “For there are three that bare record in heaven, the Father, the Word (ed. note: Jesus), and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” These verses were added to the New Testament around 400AD.  The original manuscripts of the New Testament don’t say anything about a Holy Trinity.  However, there is a reference for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This presented a significant problem for early Christianity which was preached as a monotheistic religion.  A reader could easily interpret “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as polytheistic.  It was thought that the Comma Johanneum was added to fix this issue.

There are no original Biblical manuscripts currently in existence.  The oldest Greek copies of the New Testament are copies made over a century from the original works.  Copies of various Gospels, epistles, Acts, and prophetic books were transcribed by hand.  Some scribes did a better job than others, but all made copies with errors. In the early 1700s, John Mill of Oxford studied 100 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament looking for significant differences between them.  It took him 30 years, but he found over 30,000 differences.  We currently have 5,700 early Greek manuscripts of partial and complete New Testaments.  It is estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 differences between them. No two are alike.  In other words, there are more differences than there are words in the New Testament.  

It should be noted that these differences are significant, but most don’t change the overall meaning of a verse.  However, some do.  Most differences are due to errors, but others are likely intentional.  Our current New Testament was created from copies made from copies made from other copies (etc.). The copies were then translated into English.  Translations can significantly alter the meaning of a verse.  If you don’t believe me take a passage from the Bible and see how different English translations use very different words for the same verse. If you say that the original Bible is inerrant, you have to reconcile that belief from current translations which seem to have many differences.

The New Testament contradictions.  

One example concerns the death of Judas.  

In Matthew 27:5 Judas hangs himself.

In Acts 1:18 he bursts open and his insides spill out.

I could give other examples of other contradictions, but it wouldn’t further my point.  Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament is full of contradictions.  So how do you resolve them?

Resolving the contradiction in the Bible.

One way to defend the inconsistencies in the Bible is by the discipline of Apologetics.  These are answers that are formally authorized by denominations or informally offered by pastors and other religious.  I reviewed some on the Internet and watched a number of defenses of the Bible on YouTube.  Sadly, many are no better than what you would expect from someone who was on a high school debate team.  Others are more polished and logical.  However, it is clear that you can make anything true if you take enough twists and turns in your argument. Apologetics may give comfort for believers but offers little for skeptics.

Another way to resolve conflicts is by combining stories, which in essence, creates a hybrid Bible.  This option makes no sense as it changes the context of the original work.  The Holy Bible now becomes Bob’s or Susan’s bible.

The final way to deal with conflicts in the Bible is to accept that there are conflicts and to not try to wish them away.

The art of cherry-picking.

It is easy to cherry-pick verses to make a point. It is also easy to ignore verses if that point does not suit an individual’s desires.  

Do you want women to be subservient?  Go with Ephesians 5:22-24.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”  

Would you like to enslave people? Use Ephesians 6:5-8.  , “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” 

How about getting rid of programs that help the impoverished?  Just quote Matthew 26:11: “The poor you will always have with you.”

You can also do the opposite by ignoring verses.  Do you preach the prosperity Gospel?  If that is the case ignore Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Cherry-picking is (in my opinion) one of the most destructive uses of the Bible.  It has been used to justify the most discriminatory and horrific actions imposed on other humans.

Heaven and Hell

Some preachers love to talk about Heaven and Hell.  However, those concepts are very poorly defined in the Bible.  Many Jews don’t focus on the afterlife as significant religious teaching.  Around the time of Jesus, there was an apocalyptic movement among Jews that existed for about 200 years before Jesus and about 100 years after his death.  This movement emphasized catastrophic events that would eventually defeat Jewish oppressors and included a messiah (or king) who would come and rule the Jews during a time of peace and plenty in paradise.  Jesus makes reference to this noting in Mark 13:30 “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” Implying that apocalyptic events would happen during the Apostles’ lives. Scholars feel that Jesus was apocalyptic in his teachings based on this and other passages in the New Testament. The paradise that is referred to is not thought to be Heaven, rather it is an earthy paradise.

As far as the concept of Hell is concerned, it is confusing.  Biblical scholars note that the concept of Hell is very poorly defined in the Bible.  However, when I did a verse search I found a number of references to Hell.  In the New Testament, they are mostly attributed to Matthew and Revelation.  However, on deeper discovery, it is likely that these direct references could be translation errors.  

The Bible uses several words that have been translated to mean Hell.  Sheol is used in the Old Testament and Hades is used in the New Testament.  However, a more accurate translation for both of these words would be a grave or resting place.  Translators in the past selectively defined Sheol depending on the passage.  Sometimes translating it as Hell, but if that didn’t seem to fit (or if it was contrary to the intent of the verse) it was translated as a resting place or grave.  

Gehenna is also translated in the New Testament as Hell.  Gehenna was an actual dump site outside of the city where garbage was burnt and where leapers and outcasts were sent. Biblical scholars and historians believe that Jesus was saying that those who believe will have everlasting life (most likely on perfect earth, which is why your body would be reunited with your soul) and that sinners would be destroyed by fire (at the dump).  There is no discussion of everlasting torture.  Sinners would just cease to exist, and that would be their punishment.  

The concepts of Heaven and Hell have been used by preachers extensively and for obvious reasons.  I found dozens of videos on YouTube with titles like, “Hell is real!”  Entire wars have been launched based on Heaven and Hell beliefs.  The initial Crusaders were granted plenary indulgences by Pope Urban II if they agreed to fight.  What were plenary indulgences?  Basically, a get out of Hell card.  Did Pope Urban II have that power?  I’ll leave that to you. 

Types of Christianity

There are about 200 different Christian denominations in the United States and 45,000 denominations globally according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.  Beliefs between denominations can be similar in some areas and very different in others.  For instance, most Protestants believe that salvation is by faith alone, while Roman Catholics believe that salvation is through works and baptism. Both views are supported by the Bible.  Luther wanted to remove the books in the New Testament, such as James, that emphasized the importance of works as it was contrary to his belief in salvation by faith alone. However, he realized that he did not have the authority to make changes in the New Testament. 

Contrasting beliefs abound not only at the organizational level, but also among subgroups and influential individuals.  Mother Theresa did not use painkillers in her hospitals because she felt that suffering would bring her charges closer to Christ.

There are similarities in mainstream Christian religions, but differences become very apparent the further you go afield.  Denominations are created on differences, not similarities.  Which one is the right one?  Does only one group have the key to salvation? It all gets confusing.

In the US believers are roughly categorized into groups.  Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe that the Bible is inerrant (without errors).  Fundamentalists tend to read the Bible literally.  Evangelicals have a more nuanced interpretation of the Bible, realizing that much of it is written as poetry, metaphors, and parable.  

Many mainstream denominations say that the Bible is inerrant, but they tend to interpret passages more liberally.  

Liberal Christians view the Bible as the cornerstone document of Christianity, and they may believe that the writings are inspired, but they don’t necessarily believe that the Bible is the direct word of God. 

A 2017 Gallup poll noted that 24% of those polled felt that the Bible was the literal word of God.  This is the lowest number in the poll’s 40-year history, down from 40% in the early 1980s.  Roughly 47% of those polled feel that the Bible was inspired by God. About 70% of polled felt that the Bible is a holy document.

Each of these different groups will interpret the Bible’s meaning based on very different criteria,  The more liberal a group’s view is the more likely that they are going to view a passage’s meaning taking into account the writing styles, the knowledge, and the history of the time.  Literal readers of the Bible tend to interpret verses and stories at face value.  For instance, they would believe that God created the universe in 6 earth days. A liberal view would be that God’s days are not the same as human days.  A more liberal view would say that scientific understandings are correct, but that science was directly controlled by God’s actions.

Fundamentalist vs. liberal teaching.

As a Christian and scientist, I never had problems reconciling science and belief.  I never believed that God used a magic wand to create the universe.  Rather, the universe is ordered and logical.  Science is the revelation of that order and logic and does not negate God’s influence.  

Fundamentalists and very conservative Christians have had problems with science as it conflicts with the literal interpretation of the Bible.  There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the universe is around 14 billion years old, and our earth is about 4.5 billion years old.  There is overwhelming evidence that there has been 5 mass extinction on earth, and that homo sapiens (modern humans) emerged around 300,000 years ago.  It becomes difficult to reconcile the creation story with these facts, so it has become necessary for literal interpreters to denigrate science and to come up with pseudo-science to prove their viewpoint. 

However, individuals who ignore and denigrate science also acknowledge and accept it every time they turn on a light, make a call with their smartphone, or heat up a burrito in the microwave.  

Humans don’t like to hold conflicting ideas, this creates stress which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Confirmation bias is a characteristic where an individual gives more weight and credibility to things that support their beliefs and less weight and credibility to things that negate their belief.  By selectively embracing some information while ignoring other information cognitive dissonance is reduced.  However, this distorts reality. The stress from this distortion can be reduced by associating with like-minded individuals.  If everyone you know thinks that the earth is flat it becomes easy to accept that idea as truth.  

Additional problems occur when the interpretation of the Bible is further generalized and science somehow gets associated with being anti-God.  It now becomes easy to say that global warming doesn’t exist, or that  COVID vaccinations are somehow being used as the mark of the Beast.  

Conflicting views that become ever more radicalized can cause irreversible splits. Compromise becomes impossible between literal and liberal individuals, and these differences fractionate populations instead of uniting them.  This seems contrary to Christ’s message.

The inerrant Bible.

It is clear that early Christians did not consider the Books compiled in the New Testament inerrant.  In fact, there were many writings that were used by early Christians that presented vastly different interpretations of who Jesus was, as well as the meaning of his mission.

I initially thought that inerrancy was determined a few centuries after Jesus’ Crucifixion, perhaps by some council.  However, that is not the case.  The doctrine of inerrancy developed during the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. A statement was crafted in 1978 by hundreds of evangelical leaders and was known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.  This statement was in response to liberal Christian movements that were growing in popularity. 

The Bible was determined to be inerrant by a group of conservative Christians 25 years after I was born, and almost two millennia after the Books of the New Testament were written.  The group also supported the King James Version of the Bible as the true Bible. The King James Bible was created in 1611.  Newer versions of the Bible have used older original sources and are considered more accurate.  Can we be assured that the people who determined that the Bible was inerrant were also inerrant?

The quiz.

At the start of this post, I gave you a true/false quiz. The answers to all of the questions are False. Did you think that some of the answers were true?  That is due to a psychological phenomenon called the Illusory Truth Effect.  When we hear something enough times we believe it is true.  This technique is used by historians who present one side (usually the winner’s) of a story, politicians who try to convince you that their opponent is evil by repeatedly using lies, and by religious leaders when they are promoting their particular dogma.  We are all subject to the Illusory Truth Effect

Who determines what is correct?

The Bible that we have today is the result of human opinion.  The selection of the Books of the Bible was ordered by humans.  Copies were made by humans.  Additions and modifications were added by humans.  Translations were done by humans. When I say humans, in reality, I am mostly talking about white males sometimes acting as part of a group or committee.  

I have no ability to know if any of these meetings were directed by God, but I’m fairly certain that many of them were not. Powerful individuals’ opinions are given greater voice than those less powerful.  Powerful groups persuade less powerful ones.  This was no different in the past than it is now.

Were these individuals guided by faith, personal gain, power, or bias?  I’m sure that there were individuals who were influenced by all of these categories.  However, this does not diminish the importance of the Bible.  Despite all of the Bible’s changes its basic message and content remain.

Individuals and organizations all tell us that they have the way.  I watch Televangelists who scream into the camera saying that they need a bigger jet, or that we need to buy dehydrated food from them using God as the reason. I watched TV prophets who theatrically altered their voice to the voice of God and told their audience that Trump will win in 2020 because this was in His plan. When Trump lost they quickly deleted their videos on YouTube and moved on to their next prophecy.  I see ministers and priests spewing a Gospel of hate to justify the inhumane treatment of others, driving their points home with curated Bible verses and polished rhetoric.  Such blasphemy disgusts me.

Denomination leaders determine what is important and what is not.  They determine what is sin and what is not. They determine what gets you into Heaven and what condemns you to Hell. Some tell you what clothes you can wear.  Some tell you who you can marry.  Some tell women that it is a sin to use birth control.  Some tell you if you can divorce or not…and so it goes.  Those rules change from religion to religion.  Each group says that they have the answer, each awarding punishment for those who don’t adhere.  Should we assume that only our group is anointed by the Holy Spirit while all others are not?  

Early on in my psychiatric practice, I treated a women in her mid-twenties.  She was wearing clothes similar to those that you would see on the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show.  Her husband had a very long beard before they were fashionable.  They belonged to a religious group that I had never heard of.  She was seeing me because she was profoundly depressed, bordering on psychotic.  She was non-functional and having suicidal thoughts.  She came in because she couldn’t do her household and wifely duties.

She had married young and already had a bunch of kids and felt that she couldn’t handle more.  She had to do an endless number of tasks and had zero voice in the raising of her kids, or any family decision.  She was not allowed to have personal goals or wants.  She was basically a slave to her husband and a servant to her children.  The husband wanted more children, and she was expected to comply despite the fact that her mind was disintegrating with her current burden.  

Her husband wanted to sit in on every session but reluctantly agreed not to.  As a psychiatrist, it was clear that her severe depression required more than a prescription of Prozac.  Her problems were social in nature.  After about six sessions I gently told her that God loved her and that it was OK for her to have her own feelings.  She told her husband this and I never saw her again. Do you think that is what God wanted for her?

Where do I stand with the Bible?

God gave us our minds and the ability to reason and problem solve. Why would he give us those abilities if he didn’t want us to use them?  Blind obedience leads to a path of disaster.  When an individual or group gives away all of its power bad things can happen. Lord John Dalberg-Acton said,  “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see the reality of this quote time and time again in both religious and secular life.

Did God directly write the Bible through its writers?  It would not seem so.  If God wanted a cohesive message we would have gotten one.  I believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by their faith and their strong commitment to God. 

The New Testament explores the life of Jesus through the eyes of different individuals.  His message was so powerful and radical that his teachings reached distant parts of the known world. His life inspired individuals to write his history and stories down so that a permanent record of Jesus and his teachings would never be lost.

The early fathers of the church never said that the New Testament was inerrant.  They didn’t feel that contradictions in the Bible made it any less meaningful.  They didn’t feel that they needed a Johnnie Cochran defense where dissimilar viewpoints had to be craftily twisted like a Rubik Cube until their contradictions melded into submission.  

The New Testaments books were written during an ancient time when all sorts of things were accepted that are not accepted today.  It was OK to enslave people, women were little more than possessions, soldiers traveled with young boys who they used for their sexual pleasure, various common foods were unsanitary or unsafe to eat, murdering someone by stoning was considered acceptable. Rome was an oppressive regime that was hated by the Jews, but direct criticism could result in crucifixion. Beyond teaching Jesus’ message the NT had to address the fulfillment of prophecy, Jewish religious law, and a host of other constraints that need to be considered when interpreting passages. If you cherry-pick verses or read Scripture without a historical understanding of these things you will not understand the meaning of what is being said.  

So what is the real significance of Jesus?  The Resurrection physically demonstrated that Jesus was a spiritual being, a God.  Of course, that is important, but what if the Resurrection never happened? The message of Jesus is still revolutionary, amazing, and life-changing.  This message is why I’m a Christian, and it is why I try to lead a Christian life.

Earlier in this post, I told a story of a child who was destined to save the world.  It was an exciting story full of good and evil characters.  A story of innocence, of powerful friendships, of faith and prophecy.  These plot points keep the reader interested, but none were the true meaning of the tale.  In the story, Harry Potter defeats the all-powerful Voldemort with one simple tool, love.  Love was so powerful that evil could not conquer him.  J.K.Rowling’s story is based on the life of Jesus.  I find it amusing that some rigid Christians condemned the books crying that they glorified witchcraft.  Clearly, they either never read them, and if they did they couldn’t see between the lines because they read the story literally. 

In the New Testament Jesus clearly states what the two most important commandments are.  Mark 12:28-31 tells us: 

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Interpret something from the New Testament.  Is your interpretation consistent with Jesus’ most important commandments?  If it isn’t, then your interpretation is not correct.  If all you know are these two commandments, then you can lead a Christian life.  Anytime that your actions are contrary to these two commandments, then you have gone astray.

For instance:

An NT verse may suggest that slavery is OK, but this interpretation is not consistent with the most important commandments.

People interpret passages in the OT and NT as condemning LGBTQ individuals, but treating others with discrimination is not consistent with the most important commandments.

The NT suggests that women are second-class citizens so it is OK to treat them as such, but this is not consistent with the most important commandments.

…and so it goes.

From love comes compassion, forgiveness, connection, acceptance, inclusion, charity, and a host of other wonderful characteristics.  From hate comes discrimination, bigotry, wars, and many other terrible things. 

The message of Christianity has nothing to do with not eating meat on Friday, or discriminating against people who are different than you. God created all of us, he didn’t make some of us better than others. We are all in God’s plan. We all benefit from His love and we are told to love others as Jesus loved us.

There will always be haters who hate, they are not important.

Peace

Mike