Canonicity of the Bible: From God or Constantine?

Canonicity of the Bible: From God or Constantine?

Someone shared this video with me and I think it sums up the subject on the canonicity of the bible perfectly. Though Dr. Wysong does seem to suggest that the bible calls itself the “Word of God, ” I have an article, “The Bible Claims to NOT be the ‘Word of God’” that refutes that belief. I’ll leave the video and transcript of the video below for those who prefer to read rather than listen, or vice versa. This is from Dr. Wysong’s book “Solving the Big Questions As If Thinking Matters: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition” available from Amazon.

Dr. Wysong Chapter 25 Transcript

[Music]

Hi, this is Dr. Wysong. This series of videos on the big questions of life will show where each one of us is led if we dare to leave behind preconceived ideas and see where reason and evidence lead.

(Chapter 25) Gods Writing Books

The whole idea of the creator of the universe writing a book plagued me after I discovered the man-made pagan roots of modern religions, including mine. So I explored the origin of holy books, particularly the Bible.

No Early Consensus

Jesus, God’s chosen Hebrews before him, Muhammad, and most other founders of religions did not write holy books during their lives. They weren’t originally written in middle-age English or other modern languages, leather bound with gold embossed page edges thumb notched, and then carefully guarded and passed down to this day. There wasn’t a consensus among the Jews, even into the Christian era, as to which books were to be included in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Some of the present-day Judaism’s most sacred books didn’t even exist at the time Columbus visited America. Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox religions are in a lot of disagreement about the Hebrew Bible as well. The Christian Bible, the New Testament, was also not set in stone. So there is no uninterrupted Bible tradition beginning with a first printing for Adam and Eve and then extending to Jesus and from Jesus down to this day. Astonishingly, there are absolutely no original texts. I kept this in the forefront of my mind when considering any argument about what the Bible does or does not say.

The earliest writings used in the New Testament are generally thought to be letters by Paul, who never actually met Jesus. These letters by Paul were believed to have been written about 50 to 60 ad, that’s 20 to 30 years after the death of Jesus. The earliest gospel is believed to have been written in a range of 70 to 200 AD. The earliest actual document found is the p52 papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy dated between 125 to 300 CE. There are thousands of other fragments of copies of copies of copies, most dating to the ninth century.

Early Copy Differences

There are hundreds of thousands of differences between the various copies of copies of copies of mistakes of mistakes– more differences than words in the New Testament. There are spelling errors, words, lines, and pages omitted, and the insertion of the personal views of the scribes. Most are inconsequential to the meaning, but some alter the meaning entirely. The greatest differences are among the earliest copies. The true degree of variance from the originals was not known since, remember, there are no originals by which comparisons can be made.

Some of the known more serious examples of omissions and contradictions include the famous story of Jesus telling those without sin to cast the first stones at an adulteress. This is not found in the earliest manuscripts. Now, throughout this section I have many references to the actual Bible, to the chapters and verses. You’ll have to refer to the written text to see those. The last twelve verses in mark regarding speaking in tongues and snake handling are also not found in oldest manuscripts. How many people through the millennia have been injured and killed believing these were words of the Creator? That can only be guessed.

Jesus’ statement in Luke 23:34 asking the father to forgive his executioners for not knowing what they were doing is missing in the oldest texts. Jesus is said to be angry with a leper for wanting to be healed in one verse but is said to love him in another. Whether Jesus is God or not, or a part of a Trinity, depends on which part of the Bible is being read. Scholars around the world spend entire lives debating the comparisons between the copies of copies of copies of mistakes of mistakes. At stake is the very inerrancy of the Bible but there is no original by which any copied document can be compared to determine accuracy.

For an interesting discussion on this search on YouTube Dr. Bart Ehrman, E-H-R-M-A-N. Now there were many stories about Jesus other than the few that were finally included in today’s New Testament. For example, the apocryphal writings, not included in the modern Bible, were accepted by many Christians in the first four centuries. Books referred to in the Old Testament, such as Nathan (1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29), Jasher (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18), Ahijah (2 Chronicles 9:29), Iddo (2 Chronicles 13:22), Jehu (2 Chronicles 20:34), and the sayings of the seers are not included.

Catholics include numerous apocryphal, deuterocanonical books, while other religions exclude them. Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, created by putting a hat containing a seer stone over his face, is not included. The Song of Solomon and Esther are included, but never mentioned a divinity or any religious diety.

Many different Christianitys from the beginning

It was most certainly a surprise to learn that Christianity in its beginnings was heterogeneous, as it is now. Although today it is commonly argued by Bible-believing sects, including the one I followed for a time, that they have gotten back to the “original true Christianity” but there is no evidence that there was ever one original true Jesus religion. All versions were vying Jewish reformist movements, not something separate from Judaism. Christianity did not become unified until the pagan government stepped in hundreds of years AD When examining holy books, the human element can be found everywhere. Over many hundreds of years Christianity was codified, based upon which group could gain the favor of worldly powers and suppress their opponents.

Decisions about what to believe were made through special interest debate and battle. The history of Christianity comes to us through the eyes of the victors. The losers were called heretics, the winners were called Orthodox. It became clear that the Christianity of today is a collection of human choices made by those in positions of power wanting to keep their power. The New Testament came to be a selection of writings from among many, such as the heretical Gnostic and Essene Gospels. Only four Gospels were chosen and some scholars say it was for mythical reasons, such as comporting with the so-called “four zones of the world”. There’s never been a consensus of what should or should not be in the Bible. People such as Origen and Eusebius in earliest Christian times, later Martin Luther, and modern-day scholars debated and debate about what is or is not authentic, in terms of the “Word of God” Bible. Such debate remains alive and well because, again, there are no original texts by which to judge the thousands of copies of copies of copies.

The Bible has been repeatedly edited then re-written again and again, translated and retranslated, then given to Kings for them to purge and compose to their liking. Then edited, rewritten, and translated over and over, then modified by popes, then rewritten and re-edited to remove the parts they didn’t like, and keep their favorite parts. Any consistency found today is not because the eclectic original writings (which, again, do not exist) agreed with one another, but because of the heroic post-production redaction skills of the assemblers.

Constantine’s Decisions

The official state-sanctioned assemblage of writings known as “the Bible” began when the Roman Emperor Constantine saw his empire increasingly divided by religious factions. In 325 AD while still embracing pagan Mithraism, he viewed the Christ God primarily as an effective orgon. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to keep his kingdom united by establishing Christian orthodoxy. This was the first of several such councils to decide upon the makeup or the “Canon” of the Bible. At the time of Constantine councils to mandate beliefs were necessary because varying ideas were popping up everywhere just like they do today.

For example, Docetism, based upon the gospel of Peter, one of the early books rejected, was widely spread. It taught that Jesus was not physically real but rather an allegory for the spiritual awakening possible within any person. Many scholars today argue that all of Paul’s letters reflect the same belief. Others disagree. At one council in ancient Chalcedon, it was decided that Christ was both human and divine. The opposition called the monophysites believed Christ was only divine. After the council voted the monophysites were declared heretics.

In the 4th century Pelagius refuted Augustine’s original sin doctrine, that man was predestined to be evil due to the fall of Adam and Eve. According to Palacios the mistakes of man did not come from inherent evil but rather from failed conscience and the ability to choose. To him guilt and sin were a matter of will not moral genetics. Pelagianism was anathematized as heresy in the 6th century but continues to this day. At the time of Constantine’s Council of Nicaea the prevalent view of Christian salvation as evidence in the gnostic gospels, and as taught by early scholars such as Origen in the 3rd century, was that people reincarnated to learn and grow from a variety of earth experiences, Christ could be within any person and any person could be a son of God, people were their own redeemers on earth.

A more favorable and utilitarian view to Constantine himself coming from a long line of emperor gods and sons of gods, beginning with Julius Caesar in 49 BC, was that salvation could only take place in heaven. Not surprisingly to get to heaven, people had to demonstrate appropriate obedience to earthly state-religion creeds, ordained clergy, and their leader Constantine.

Notice how the creator of the universe has nothing to do with any of this; human ego and power are at the helm. Arius argued Jesus could not be the same as God but Constantine’s Council at Nicaea made Jesus an incarnate son of God, just like Constantine declared himself to be. To make sure there were no errors of Jesus lingering about to compete with him Constantine applied the pagan doctrine of God celibacy to the Jesus-and-Mary story. To be saved people needed baptism into a confession of the Nicene and other creeds. People were executed for not believing what such counsels decided.

The early Christian reincarnation view was a threat to Constantine because it put people in charge of their own spirituality and posited a salvation with no time limits.

Constantine, of course, preferred the Church state in charge and putting people on notice that if they didn’t obey the church state during their one shot on earth (in Constantine’s domain, of course) hell awaited. It was a contest between individual spirituality on the one hand and the business of power religion and politics on the other. A vote was taken and, not surprisingly, the church state idea of heavenly salvation won. But there were still dissenters. Constantine immediately had rebels, such as Arius, branded as heretics and banished. All books contrary to the new orthodoxy were destroyed. Keeping one was punishable by death.

A second Nicaea vote was held, the dissenter weighed their options, vote with Constantine or be banished or worst. Of course, Constantine’s doctrine of heavenly salvation, and the deity of Jesus won by a landslide, that became the biblical “Word of God”.

About a hundred years later. not wanting to contend with the persistent heretical Gnostics who challenged the Nicene Creed and to make compliance doubly sure, the Archbishop Cyril had as many of the gnostic gospels and contrary books as he could find in Alexandria’s libraries burned.

Some early Christians hid their personal texts in earthen jars and placed them in caves to be preserved in the dry desert air. That’s why some of the Gnostic Christian texts have survived to this day, such as the Nag Hammadi Codices found in upper egypt in 1945. Pity those who disagreed with Constantine’s new orthodoxy. The beautiful Alexandrian teacher Hypatia was dragged to the church stripped by Cyril’s holy monks and flayed alive to the bone with oyster shells for her non-compliant reincarnation-flavored Christian philosophy. Imagine the degree of belief necessary to flay a living person. But these early church fathers felt they were just doing God’s bidding and besides they thought if their God could torture people eternally in Hellfire they should emulate such cruelty and ferocity as best they could.

In celebration of Cyril’s great contribution to holiness he was made a saint upon his death. Constantine the Great, who claimed a foreknowledge granted by God himself, has been revered even though he was responsible for the death of his wife Faustus and son Crispus in 326, one year after the council where he decreed what God says– as well as other atrocities that he did commit during his life.

This early history of the Bible did not incline me to really continue to labor over every biblical word voted on by Constantine, and the likes of Cyril. So I wondered why, 1,600 years later, should I insist on eating offal of an ancient world.

Why Not a Perfect book in Everyone’s Hands?

I also reasoned that if the creator felt it important that humans have a perfect book to show a path to heaven and avoid divine wrath, then it would be reasonable to expect that billions of copies in each of the ten thousand plus native languages should magically appear, one into each person’s hands, or at least an original Bible could be found, by which all Bibles could be judged.

Moreover everyone would have to be literate and interpret it in the same way. Then there is the fact that the general access to the 700,000 printed putative words of the Creator had to wait for Gutenberg in the 15th century, the inventor of the printing press, and modern mail services. That would make Gutenberg and mailmen among the most holy of all people.

Up to then, to keep the mystique and the clergy in power, the Bible was kept out of the hands of the populace for centuries. The flock was just spoon-fed official interpretations. In 1536 William Tyndale was garroted and burned at the stake. His sin was translating the Bible from Latin into English and thus making it more accessible to the common folk of the period. Wycliffe was also burned alive by godly clergy for attempting translations.

But in spite of hundreds of years of printing distribution and evangelism, no holy book (forgetting that none can be traced to an original) has yet been made available to all nations in all languages. One-third of the world has not even heard of it. That means since religions claim their holy books are essential, huge sections of the world are condemned.

To create humans in need of a holy book and then place them in a holy-book illiterate darkness would serve no purpose other than to condemn the world to wickedness and doom billions of souls. Attributing such an act to the Creator would make that creator fiendish or at best negligent.

Religion is presented as a moral beacon. Yet if the only way to get at morality is through a book, people would be faced with the impossible task of sorting through thousands of books to find “the one” or “the ones” written by the creator and then attempting to prove and decipher them. Finding and deciphering books is not morality. Yet people held in highest esteem by religions are the holy book decipherers. Those serious about holy-book religions will spend their entire lives memorizing scriptures, studying original languages, and arguing doctrine and prophecy. I was on that path and still have the Bible I used with worn pages and hundreds of tiny notes and cross references that I made in the margins.

Uncertain language

I was led to believe by my religion’s leaders that all Bible problems are solved by an understanding of the original languages. So I started to delve into the original language of the Bible writers: the Hebrew, the Aramaic, and the Greek, and language itself. But that only made it clear that language itself creates generous room for disagreement and latitude. For example, Bible words in the native tongues and those used in translations Greek, the Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, Middle English, modern English, and so forth can have multiple meanings and cultural nuances.

Vowels were not added to the Hebrew language used in the Old Testament until the seventh century AD. There were no punctuation, sentence breaks, paragraphs, chapters, or headings in the original Bible text. This made consistent copying and deciphering nearly impossible. I had to stop romanticizing about inspired Bible writers and face the reality of hundreds of ancient writings on skins and plant leaves without computer words spellcheck and the internet.

Even meanings for words change over time. For example, wife now means a woman married to a man. In Middle English it meant simply “woman”. This meaning remains to this day in words like midwife and fishwife. Think of the Dutch one to get into imposing today’s meaning of wife on writings just a few hundred years old. Considered the possibilities with writings thousands of years old in foreign languages.

Even the placement of a comma, if there are any, can make a huge difference in meaning. For example: “Woman, without her man, is nothing,” versus “Woman, without her, man is nothing.” Exact opposite meanings are produced by simple commas. Or consider the words of Jesus to the repentant thief hanging on the cross beside him: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in heaven,” implying that at death they would both be in heaven, or, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in heaven,” this implies that they may not get there until some undetermined time in the future. Both versions are in today’s official bible stamped as “The Word of God.”

Other examples of how language can’t really be precise: “the bandage was wound around the wound,” “The farm was used to produce produce,” “The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse,” “We must polish the Polish furniture,” “He could lead if he would get the lead out,” “The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert,” “Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present,” and on and on we could go.

Presently there are some 40 English versions and over 1,400 translations of just the Bible. There is no “one” Bible or “one” other holy book, nor are any of them better written literature as would be expected of the Creator than humans can write. Even if the Creator were a monoglot and all people on earth spoke the same language and the “canon” of the holy book was undisputed, the problems of interpretation are not solved. For example, a legal contract and a tongue in common to both parties can be interpreted differently. A judge and jury can also have different interpretations of it. A final judgment can cause debate in the legal profession for decades. That makes a writing in a foreign tongue translated over and over, written thousands of years ago, recounting oral traditions passed down through thousands of years before being written, impossible to be understood in one way by all people throughout all time. The thousands of vying religions based on the same book testify to this.

Hubris

Today it’s common in religions to romanticize the ancients by letting distance in geography or time lend enchantment to their words. I must admit to this as well. The (psalmists?) words and mysterious writings of the Ancients make it easy to attribute them to the Creator. But the past and its languages are not sacred for being past. Truth is also not time-sensitive. What was true in antiquity can be found in the living present.

But I reflected on the complexity of life in a universe holding more stars than grains of sand on earth, and more atoms in a grain of sand than stars in the universe. Just again to give some perspective, one of those trillions of stars VY Canis Majoris is so large that it would take a thousand years for a plane traveling a thousand miles per hour just to circumnavigate it. Given the scope of such reality it seemed the ultimate hubris to believe that man fills the mind of a creator who then stoops to converse in printed flawed and puny human languages.

The Word of God Claim

It’s embarrassing to admit that the Bible claim to it being the Word of God influenced me. Wanting to believe, I ignored other books, such as the Koran, making the same claim. Obviously since all holy books making the claim contradict each other, the claim is worthless. If the mere claim of God authorship is not sufficient proof and learned scholars can disagree after spending entire lives trying to figure out what true Scripture is or what it really means. A layman such as myself could justifiably feel hopeless.

But for a time I was able to set aside doubt, as most others, do by reasoning that all things are possible with a creator of infinite power, that would include guiding essential scriptural truths through the quagmire of human scribes and foibles, over the eons. But that rescue attempt was further foiled by examining the type of evidence used to support religious God figures such as Jesus.

Follow | Contact Links

Leave a Reply

Scroll Up To Top