For more than 2000 years, the Catholic Church has sold us its own version of the life, works and thinking of both Jesus and his followers, and the Bible has been, and still is, the instrument based on which it has carried out its alleged divine mission on Earth, to know the history of the Bible is to understand better Christianity and Catholicism.
Champagnat School. Lima, Peru. 1982. Religion class. 11:30 a.m.
Alan: Father, I have a question. When Jesus was in the mountain distributing bread, how come he created so many breads out of just one? Did he have special powers?
Father: (Sighs in disappointment). Alan, tell me, do you have faith?
Alan: Well, yes, but how was Jesus able to multiply the breads? I don’t get it.
Father: Alan, we can’t read the Bible without faith. It’s the word of God and we mustn’t doubt it. You must have faith.
Alan: But my father knows a lot and he says bread doesn’t appear out of nowhere, that’s why I want to know.
Father: It’s a metaphor, son. With his love, Jesus made it possible that all those present could share the bread they had and so they could feed on both bread and the word of God.
Alan: Oh, so nothing really happened? But, then, why would they write that he multiplied breads if people just shared them?
Father: But he multiplied them, in a spiritual way. I’ve told you, we must have faith. Without faith you can’t read the Bible and this is the instrument he left us to know him. We mustn’t doubt his word.
Alan: I didn’t know he left us the Bible. Whom did he leave it to? Whom did he give it to?
That day, as so many others, I was expelled from religion class.
I have held this dialog, based on the many questions raised by the Bible to my young spirit, hundreds of times during my childhood and adolescence. The answer was invariably the same: “It’s a matter of faith”.
If a priest would have told me that “the Bible was a collection of stories about God and about Jesus, written by people who knew them or heard others talk about them, and, although it has been manipulated, changed, mutilated, and is not perfect, is the most important document of our religion”… have I heard this, I wouldn’t have asked so many questions and, maybe, I would have been an acolyte. However, if I’m told that it is “the word of God” and that he left it to us so that we get to know him, then I have the right to try to understand.
The Bible you have at home didn’t appear mysteriously on the surface of Earth days after Jesus resurrected, much less was it found in Jesus’ tomb as a message to humankind, and, of course, it didn’t materialized in the hands of the apostle Paul when he fainted on the way to Damascus. The history of the Bible we now know is full of tampering and censorship. The Bible is not the “word of God” because God neither wrote it, nor dictated it, let alone left if to anybody.
The word “Bible” comes from the Greek “biblion“, which means book, and “biblion” derives from the Greek “biblos“, which means papyrus. Before the printing press was invented, the Bible was a collection of papyruses.
In this section of The Divulgers, we’ll focus our efforts on the New Testament since these stories are the basis of Christian faith and are, practically, the only testimony of Jesus’ life. Back then there were no photographs, or Internet, or TV, so the only way to approach the life and thinking of Jesus was oral tradition and, later on, the reading of the first manuscripts that collected said tradition.
These first manuscripts form the New Testament are considered by the Catholic Church as the first and only official compilation of writings on the life of Jesus. All of them were written by real people, of flesh and bone, some more inspired than others. Nowadays we don’t have the originals of any of those books. What we do have are thousands of copies handmade by scribes, in many cases, hundreds of years later.
Many of these copies are written in Greek, language in which most of the New Testament books were written. Some are papyrus fragments and some are codex, this is, collections of papyrus assembled as a modern book.
All of them contain faults, little mistakes made by the scribe who copied them or intentional changes made by the scribe so the text would say whatever he wanted it to say. According to Bible researchers (Erhman, Eisenman and Metzger, among others), there are more differences among these manuscripts than words in the New Testament. Some mistakes are mere spelling mistakes but others affect the meaning of a word, a verse or even a whole book.
If the Bible were actually the word of God, wouldn’t it be logical to think that we’d have a single version of his word?
Was Jesus a carpenter or an artisan? Was he from Nazareth or was he a “Nazarene”? In which gospel is the Holy Trinity mentioned? Why is the Gospel of Luke the only one that states that Jesus spent his childhood in Egypt? Why did the Gospel of Mark originally end without the tale of resurrection? Why is it that some gospels were chosen as “official” and others weren’t? Did you know that probably none of the apostles wrote the gospels of the New Testament? What other tales about the life of Jesus were excluded from the Bible?
The New Testament is used by the Church as a historical source to prove the existence of Jesus. And if these stories are not historical then Jesus didn’t exist and the Catholic Church shouldn’t exist either. However, when a contradiction arises, the Church denies the historical value of the New Testament and reduces everything to a matter of faith.
Another important point is that, like the Catholic Church, the New Testament has also suffered many changes during history, since Pope Damasus I commissioned Saint Jerome, in 382, to use the oldest Greek manuscripts to produce a Latin version of the book compilation we now know as the Bible.
The Bible is not the “word of God”. In any case, it is the word of many men, and The Divulgers will try to dissect it.