For twenty years as a Christadelphian I believed and taught the “Foundation” statement of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF):
“That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.”
However as time passed I came to realize that this “foundation” statement did not correctly and adequately define what the Bible is and how it works. This note offers an alternative way to understand how the Bible works.
What Is The Bible?
When we open the Bible at the first page and read: “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth……” it is not unreasonable to ask:
Who wrote this?
Is it true?
Is it inspired by God?
The answer to the first question cannot be known because the author or authors of the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) are anonymous. They are traditionally believed to have been written by Moses. However Moses himself never claimed authorship of those books and nowhere in the Bible is that claim made by anyone else. According to the Bible “The Law” was given by Moses (John1:17) but it is silent as to who wrote the first five books which are mostly history and not “The Law”. Moses is invariably spoken of in the third person, which would not be the case if he were the author. The Bible does not tell us who wrote the historical parts of the Pentateuch.
The answers to the second and third questions are not as easy as they appear. Yes it is included in our Bible, but the BASF foundation statement has specifically told us that many sections of the Bible are NOT inspired by God because of “errors of transcription or translation.”
For example in the King James Version of 1 John 5:7 we read:
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."
Christadelphians reject this passage and often omit it in public readings of the King James Version of the Bible. All modern versions of the Bible leave it out and even the official Latin Text (a revision of the Vulgate) of the Roman Catholic Church do not include it in their “Bible.”
The reason why they unanimously refuse to accept this section of the Bible as being inspired by God is because it is considered to be an “error of transcription.” Erasmus, the compiler of the “Textus Receptus”, on which the King James Version was based, noticed that the passage was not found in any of the Greek manuscripts at his disposal and refused to include it until presented with a manuscript containing it, while still suspecting, as is now agreed, that the verse was a forgery.
Erasmus held in his hands a copy of 1 John 5:7, written in an ancient manuscript, in the original Greek language and script, which supported his Trinitarian belief, but he only included it in his Bible under protest, because he did not believe that section was genuine. The Christadelphians agree with his judgment and warn us in their foundation statement that we must be wary of these sorts of “errors” in other parts of the Bible.
So even if a section of the Bible is written in the original language and script, in an ancient manuscript, the BASF quite rightly expects us to use our own critical judgment to decide whether or not it should be included in our Bible.
Which Parts Of The Bible Are Inspired By God?
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3: 16) but according to the BASF “All Scripture” is something different to the Bible that the Christadelphians carry to their meetings. The foundation statement is emphatic that “errors” abound in our Bibles because of faulty or fraudulent transcription or translation.
In the same chapter Timothy is told by Paul that the way that he should distinguish between this truth and error is by reading and interpreting the scriptures according to Paul’s way of thinking: “Thou hast fully known my doctrine …….. continue thou in the things which thou hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” (2 Tim. 10-14). In other words, studying the Scriptures is not sufficient, because the reader could be misled or misunderstand, as indeed was happening in Paul’s time (2 Tim. 3:1-9). According to the apostle, someone reliable has to tell the reader what the words of Scripture mean before they read them, otherwise they may not make sense of the Scriptures and come to believe in lies. Presumably it must also be necessary for someone reliable to tell the reader what is and what is NOT Scripture.
“I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying I have dreamed, I have dreamed” (Jeremiah 23:25) tells us that some prophecy given in the name of God was fraudulent and some of it was included in the Scriptures. For example the words “I have dreamed, I have dreamed” are definitely fraudulent and not inspired by God even though they are part of a (false) prophecy that is included in the Bible.
"For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1: 21) tells us that sections of prophecy were given by God, but it does not tell us which prophecies are genuine and which are erroneous or fraudulent.
“How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely” (Jeremiah 8:8) warns us that believers can be misled by scribes who forged false sections of Scripture (“the law of the Lord”).
The Bible itself also warns us of serious mistakes and muddle within its own content. For example Matthew 27:9 alerts us to the fact that a section of the book of Zechariah (probably the final six chapters) including Zechariah 11:13 was written by Jeremiah, before Zechariah was even born.
I could multiply examples like this a hundredfold but as this is a short note I do not have the space. However I have perhaps said enough to make my point. We would be wrong to accept everything in the Bible as literal truth or as “inspired” by a Supreme Being when both the Bible itself and the Christadelphian BASF tell us that this is not true.
Books That Have Been Lost From The Bible
Another important fact that should be considered is that many of the original books of the Bible are now lost and no longer constitute part of the modern Bible as we know it.
For example in Numbers 21: 14 it is stated, "Wherefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord………." The famous account of the sun and moon's standing still for Joshua is related "Is not this written in the Book of Jasher?" (Josh. 10: 13). David's Lament over Jonathan and Saul, in 2 Samuel 1: 17-27, is quoted with the reference, "Behold, it is written in the Book of Jasher." This Book of Jasher is several other times quoted, as is the “Book of the Wars of the Lord.” After all that is told of Solomon down to the time of his death, it is stated, "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the “Acts of Solomon?" (1 Kings 11: 41)
There are repeated references to, and quotations from the Book of the “Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” (e.g., 1 Kings 15: 7, 23); and the Book of the “Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” (e.g., 2 Kings, 14: 15, 28). “The History of Samuel the Seer”, “The History of Nathan the Prophet”, “The History of Gad the Seer” are all referred to in 1 Chron. 29: 29. In another verse we have references to “The Book of Nathan the Prophet”, and “The Prophecy of Ahijah”, and “The Visions of Iddo the Seer” (2 Chron. 9: 29 ). We are referred to “The Histories of Shemaiah the Prophet” and of “Iddo the Seer”, concerning genealogies (2 Chron. 12: 15). And we are told that "the rest of the acts of Ahijah, and his ways, and his sayings, are written in “The story of the prophet Iddo" (2 Chron. 13: 22 ). Also, "Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Jehu, ... who is mentioned in the book of the kings of Israel" (2 Chron. 20:34 ). “The Acts of the Kings of Israel” (2 Chron. 33: 18) is a work lost to posterity, as is also "The Sayings of the Seers" (2 Chron. 33:19). In the New Testament the “Book of Enoch” is extensively quoted (Jude 14, 15) (quoted from Enoch 2:1). However this missing book of the Bible is NOT lost. It is included in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and portions of its ancient manuscript were discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls which are at least two thousand one hundred and fifty years old! – But it is NOT in our Bible. Jude 9 quotes from the “Assumption of Moses” book as if it were Scripture, but it is not in our Bible and we only have an incomplete copy with large parts missing.
Books That Should Be Removed From The Bible
It is well known that a great many other apocryphal (spurious - doubtful) books have been removed from the Bible in antiquity and a few hundred others were considered for inclusion and rejected by the Jewish religious leaders or by the Early Church Fathers. Some of the apocryphal books remain in the Septuagint Bible. Some books that remain in our Bible slipped through the net and are obviously apocryphal. For example almost all scholars, theologians and most Christadelphians would agree that the Book of Esther cannot possibly be part of Scripture as it is full of historical inaccuracies and contributes nothing to our understanding of God’s purpose. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain examples of every book of the Old Testament but NOT Esther. It was not part of the Bible of the Essenes. The Song of Solomon is another book that makes no sense being included in our Bible and the Book of Revelation appears to be some sort of Jewish/Christian apocalypse work that is incomprehensible to everyone including the Christadelphians who rarely attempt to expound its meaning.
The Bible Of Jesus And The Apostles
Jesus was born into a hybrid, multiethnic, Roman, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic culture. Several very different Bibles existed in his time. For example there were the Hebrew Masoretic texts used in the temple, the Targums which were Aramaic translations of the Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint from Alexandria and the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes. However the majority of Old Testament quotations in the Greek New Testament are from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament, primarily from Psalms, Isaiah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the Book of the Twelve which were the prophets. For example, when Jesus read Isaiah (61:1-2) in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19), he used the language of the Greek Septuagint as his Bible. The early Christian Churches also referred to the Septuagint as their source of Scripture.
So when the Apostle Paul wrote in the Greek language to Timothy "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3: 16) he was speaking about the “Scripture” of the Greek Septuagint. When Peter wrote in Greek “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1: 21) he meant the prophecies contained in the Greek Septuagint. Why would the early Christians, who were mostly Gentiles, use the Hebrew or Aramaic Bible when they could not understand those languages? They spoke Greek and so they used the Greek Septuagint Bible.
It is hardly surprising that Christ and his apostles preferred the Greek Septuagint version of the Scriptures because the Hebrew Masoretic texts and their canon were written, preserved and authorized by the Scribes and Pharisees who were the deadly enemies of Christ and the early Church and they were the people who instigated the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of the early Christians. Christ said of these people in Matthew 23: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in………therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation……………….Woe unto you, ye blind guides…..which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel……….for ye are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but within are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness……….within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity…….ye are the children of them which killed the prophets…..ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?..... Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.”
Would you want those crooks to write your Bible? Would you trust them to decide which books were included and excluded from its canon? Would you consider them to be reliable scribes to guard against “errors of transcription or translation”? Do you think that they were honest enough to be trusted with your eternal salvation by composing your Bible? Or would you prefer to use the Bible of Christ and the Apostles?
The bad news is that the Old Testament of your Bible and of all modern translations is the one that came from the scribes and Pharisees. You have a version translated from the Hebrew Masoretic texts. Your New Testament came from the Pagan Roman Emperor Constantine and his murderous henchmen.
You have thirty nine books in your Old Testament, but guess what? Christ and his Apostles had forty nine books in their Old Testament, which both Paul and Peter claim to be inspired by God! For example Hebrews 11:35 appears to be a general quotation from 2 Maccabees 7 which was part of Paul’s Bible but you will not find it anywhere in your Old Testament.
Chaos And Confusion
So what are we to make of all this? The Christadelphian Statement of Faith tells us that the Bible contains errors and the Bible itself says the same thing. Jeremiah warns of false scribes misleading the faithful. We have shown that the false scribes who gave us our Old Testament were the ones who killed Jesus and persecuted the Early Church. Christ called them “blind guides” and said that they “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” Yet these are the people that the Christadelphians have trusted to give them a reliable Old Testament which they hope is “inspired by God” and will help them to attain eternal life in the Kingdom of God. The whole thing is about as crazy as handing over your retirement savings to Bernard Madoff or the Mafia to provide you with a secure and happy future!
The apostle Paul told Timothy that you can only understand the Scriptures if someone reliable explains their meaning and sorts out the truth and error. We have learned that some parts of the Bible need to be removed because they are spurious and the Christadelphians have done just that with 1 John 5:7. Many books of the Bible have already been removed, or were excluded before they could be added to the Bible. A large number of books of the Bible, which were source material for historical parts of the Bible and books of the prophets, have been lost thousands of years ago and we have little or no idea what was in them, even though the Bible urges us to read them. One book (Enoch) was written before the birth of Christ, is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, prophesies the coming of Christ and is quoted by the Bible but is excluded from the Bible! Different Christian religions and sects include and exclude different books from the Bible.
Which Scripture Is Inspired?
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3: 16) but how are we to know what is or is not, or was or was not “Scripture”? For a Christadelphian to hold up the Bible and claim that it is “inspired by God” is absurd. The Scriptures are not fixed, but rather they are something that changes and evolves. Books, passages and sections enter and leave the Bible over time. Abraham had no Bible. Moses perhaps had a short Bible. Jeremiah had a longer Bible. By Christ’s time the Bible would have filled an entire library, although some of the books were already lost and some were hidden in Dead Sea caves. By the time of the Emperor Constantine in the third century AD they had so much Bible that they were burning hundreds of its books because it was too much for anyone to read and it was driving them crazy trying to make sense of it all.
Little wonder that the BASF writes about “errors of transcription and translation”! The printing press had not been invented back then and those poor guys had to write it all out by hand thousands of times over and over again. They must have made millions of mistakes over the thousands of years in which they worked, writing and copying it all out by hand. The Bible claims that the original Scripture was inspired by God, but it does not explain what constitutes Scripture. Nowhere does it claim that the scribes were empowered by the Holy Spirit to not make any mistakes in transcription or translation or that the Holy Spirit guided them as to what material should be included in the holy canon of the Bible and what should be excluded. On the contrary, Jeremiah is emphatic that false scribes writing The Law of The Lord can mislead the faithful. We would be foolish to ignore his warning.
The Old Testament Does Not Claim To Be Inspired
In fact the Old Testament never claims that the Holy Spirit “inspired” anyone to write history. That is a novel Christian idea that would be foreign to anyone living before Christ. If you could go back in time and tell the people who wrote the historical parts of the Bible that they were inspired to write by God, they would almost certainly stone you to death for blasphemy! They understood that they were writing history and like all good historians of their time they were making a good story better by using invention, embellishment, borrowing other peoples’ historical stories and by using poetic license. It did not matter to them that much or all of what they wrote was not true because in the ancient world historians were story tellers. History to them was what Hollywood or computer games are to us today. It was entertainment in a boring world.
We do not imagine that Harry Potter is a real person who can perform magic just because we have seen the films or read the books. We understand that J K Rowling is telling us a story (which is not true) with an acceptable moral and ethical theme of good triumphing over evil. The people who wrote the historical parts of the Bible were the J K Rowling equivalents of their day. They were inventing stories with a moral message.
The Christadelphian Mistake
Christadelphians think that they are being “fundamentalists” by believing the literal truth of every word of the nonsense contained in the book of Genesis and the rest of the modern Bible, about God creating the world in six days, a talking snake, Noah’s ark etc. But if the people who wrote those words could come back and speak to us they would say “Are you nuts? We borrowed those stories from the Chaldean creation epics that we read during the Jewish exile in Babylon and stitched them onto the start of another scroll that contained stories about Abraham. It made the Abraham story better because it set him in a historical context and an ethical background of God opposing evil.”
A real Christadelphian “fundamentalist” would understand the “fundamentals” of how history was composed in the ancient world and believe the literal truth of what actually happened. What actually happened was that those stories were NOT true! Things never happened that way at all! But that does not matter because they were not written as true stories. They were written for a very different purpose. They WERE written and that IS true. It is true that they were written and it is true that they are great stories. Just like it is true that J K Rowling wrote some great stories about the evil Voldemort being vanquished by the morally upright Harry Potter. It is true that she wrote those stories and their moral message is true. Good people should triumph over wickedness. That is true. But the actual stories are fiction, just like large parts of the Bible are fiction. But that does not matter; in fact it is completely irrelevant to the main issue and purpose of the stories. If the reader can get the moral message from the story, the writer has accomplished everything that he set out to achieve.
The writer of Genesis did not have the faintest idea as to how the world and living organisms came to exist. He knew nothing about evolution or genetics or the DNA helix. He was stuck way back in the Bronze Age and he did not even have iron tools. So he made up his creation stories or borrowed them from the Chaldeans. What else was he expected to do? But what he did do and what is true, is that he wrote some of the most widely read and brilliant stories ever composed by a human. That IS true. In that sense Genesis and all of the Biblical history Is true, even if none of it never happened or did not happen in the way described.
Christadelphians claim to have “The Truth” but in reality what they do is impose their modern day Western preconceptions on some ancient writings that worked in a completely different manner to modern writings. They then spend huge amounts of time and effort trying to defend the historical accuracy of those documents and seeking to explain away the hundreds of contradictions. But they have set themselves a thankless task because that is not how those documents worked. The original writers were writing entertainment with a moral message.
Let us embrace the fascinating stories that these people composed and endorse their moral message. Enjoy the fanciful, self-contradictory history for the entertainment that it was intended to be. Reject the ethical content that does not comply with modern, enlightened human morality. Ignore the contrived, scheming writings of an ex-Pharisee control-freak like the apostle Paul. Accept the teachings of Christ when they coincide with decent human behaviour and standards of morality, but reject his bad tempered, burning in hell, judgment, eternal damnation outbursts as criminally minded, paranoid fantasizing.
The Bible has much to offer us if we accept it for what it is and how it really works. But we must also face the reality that the idea of it conferring eternal salvation on someone who is stupid enough to actually believe what it says is as barmy as believing that the words of J K Rowling will raise us from the dead. Harry Potter could perform magic in the printed word and in the special effects department of Warner Brothers movie studios. Likewise, Jesus Christ can perform miracles in the printed words of the English Bible. But those miracles have never lifted off the scrolls and pages on which they were written. They did not translate into the real world in which people lived and they never will. Harry Potter, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the promises of Bernard Madoff, Nigerian email scams and the Bible were all written in their entirety by humans; just as humans wrote all of the other books and writings in the world. Accept them for what they are and keep your money in your pocket. Do not invest in other people’s fantasies.