The Final Bible Secret Re-revealed! Are There Any Bible Secrets?

*Did God hide secrets in the Bible itself? Did the 1st Christians hide the truth? Is Christianity one big conspiracy? Was Jesus a Buddhist?*

 

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So, are there secrets in the Bible? And did the church cover up secrets about the Bible?

To conclude the God From the Machine series Bible Secrets Re-revealed (which has been looking at claims made on the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed) let’s explore these questions.

In this series, we’ve refuted these claims:

Further, many of the other articles posted on God From the Machine in the past year have refuted claims made elsewhere, including the claim that Christianity came from paganism.

What has become overwhelmingly clear is:

(1) Many of these claims that attack Christianity and deny the traditional understanding of Christianity are based on unadulterated speculation.

and

(2) The “very public” nature of biblical Christianity makes secrets within the faith highly unlikely.

 

Unadulterated Speculation

We live in the time of nonstop television programming where literally hundreds of channels are competing for your attention. As a result, even channels that appear to be educational are drenched in sensationalism.

As we have seen with the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed, serious history has been substituted with conspiracy theories, sloppy half-information, and grand conclusions based on shoddy evidence – if any evidence at all.

We also live in the age of the internet, where every nutty conspiracy theory is kept alive by continuous circulation by those who don’t know any better or those who accept as truth anything they come across that reinforces their chosen worldview.

The great thing about hackneyed conspiracy theories is that they survive because of lack of evidence, not because of convincing evidence — which is backwards from how much of the rest of the world functions.

It’s like finding two red puzzle pieces (that may not even belong to the same puzzle) at the bottom of a drawer and jumping to the conclusion that the completed puzzle must be a Lamborghini.

“How do you know it’s a Lamborghini?” someone might ask you. “Did you find the box with the other pieces?”

“No,” you answer, “but I know there are puzzles of Lamborghinis out there.”

“But how do you know those pieces are a Lamborghini? Where’s the box with the other pieces?”

“Someone purposely hid the box, so I can’t prove it.”

“Can you prove someone purposely hid the box?”

“No, they covered that up too!”

Do you see the problem with this sort of thinking?  

Hey, maybe you’re even right. Maybe it is a Lamborghini. But don’t expect anyone to take you seriously until you find that box.

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As we have seen in this series, little evidence (if any) support the more outrageous claims of the unbelieving scholars on the History Channel, and what evidence there is doesn’t justify the claims they’re making. Much more obvious (and less scandalous – and thus, less TV-worthy) explanations account for the evidence.

Sadly, this mindset permeates everywhere.

For example, I once had a history teacher tell me Christianity comes from paganism. I asked, Where are the primary documents of the supposed myths that are similar to Christianity? What I was asking for was hard evidence. What evidence did she offer? A Youtube video! (And a lame one at that!) I honestly wanted to say to her, “Shame on you! You’re a history teacher! You should know better!”

(To read my article on how claims that Christianity is from paganism are unfounded, click here.)

 

So, Was Jesus Influenced by Buddhism?

Uhh… What?

Here is another example of this unbridled speculation. The fact that this was even suggested on Bible Secrets Revealed illustrates just how much of what is offered on these shows are based not on serious academic investigation, but careless conjecture and even dishonest assumptions.

If this is a serious theory, the one making the claim has a mountain-sized burden of proof, because no serious scholar actually believes this because all evidence says otherwise:

Christianity’s founder was a Jew in the Jewish land of Judea. All evidence shows Christianity spread from Jerusalem, initially by Jesus’ Jewish disciples. The first Christians were Jews.

Are you noticing a pattern here? In order to understand Christianity, one must understand the Jewish faith. This is why Christians must read and understand the Old Testament, not just the New Testament.

In fact, this is exactly what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did. They constantly refer back to the Old Testament to put what is happening in the New Testament into context. To chase after unsubstantiated claims that Christianity originated from Roman paganism, Buddhism, or any other worldview other than the ancient Jewish worldview will lead to a dead-end.

But what about Jesus’ “lost years” between his birth and ministry, as was brought up on the History Channel? All evidence points towards him being a carpenter in Judea. Is it possible he traveled to the East and learned about Hinduism or Buddhism? Sure, it’s possible, but is it plausible based on the evidence? If we’re going to accept this theory, why not say Jesus traveled to northern Europe and became a Viking for a few years?

Everyone can speculate. But what does the evidence say?

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Conspiracy Theory Theories

One more thing to consider before moving on:

Homicide detective and former atheist, J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity explains what is needed for a successful conspiracy:

  • (1) A small number of conspirators. (Less people involved, less people to screw things up.)
  • (2) Thorough and immediate communication between the conspirators. (There’s a reason police separate suspects. Without this, they can’t keep their stories straight.)
  • (3) A short time span to keep the secret. (The more time that passes, the more likely the secret will come out.)
  • (4) Significant relational connections. (A strong bond between those involved, leading to an unwillingness to sell each other out.)
  • (5) Little or no pressure. (If no one cares about the conspiracy, no one is going to look into it or expose it.)

Wallace points out that even conspiracies with most or all of these 5 characteristics rarely remain hidden—and the first Christians had none of these things!

(We won’t be exploring this further here, but I recommend picking up Wallace’s excellent book.)

Cold-Case

Simply & clearly lays out the historical argument for the reliability of Christianity from an interesting perspective.

A Public Faith

From the beginning, Christianity has been a very public religion. Jesus preached in public and he performed miracles in public. Furthermore, the most important miracles of Christianity —Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection—were public.

Notice, this is very different than other religions that make miraculous claims. Often, only the founder witnessed a miracle or experienced an encounter with God or an angel.

Because of the public nature of Christianity, it should be the easiest faith to disprove, yet it has continued to grow for two thousand years.

Even today, two thousand years later, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is hard to refute, and when all the evidence is taken together the only plausible explanation is that God did something miraculous.

So we have to ask: If God decided to reveal himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, why would he keep other things concerning salvation secret?

I cannot think of a single reason.

If God went through the “trouble” to reveal himself to us, would he not reveal everything he wants us to know?

As I said, Christianity has always been a public religion, and it still is. There are no secrets to salvation that those outside of the church don’t know about. Outsiders and unbelievers are invited to join Christians in their worship services at all times; anyone can go into a book store and learn what Christians believe by picking up a Bible; no “secret knowledge” is given to those who “join,” and there are no secret rituals.

Those that claim to be Christian churches but do these secret things are cults on the fringe of the faith, and I wouldn’t consider them Christian in any biblical sense.

The History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed (and the like) are determined to make it appear that the exclusion of certain ancient writings from the Bible were an attempt to suppress some truth or to hide some secrets. But the truth is much less complicated, much less exciting, and much more starkly obvious: the church was protecting God’s Word from corruption.

(To read more on God From the Machine about the uniqueness of the Christian Scripture and Christianity’s “public-ness” click here.)

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But Did God Himself Hide Secrets in the Bible?

So, how should Christians think about divine secrets?

Scripture informs us quite clearly:

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  (Deuteronomy 29:29)

 

As finite, limited humans, there are things we simply cannot know — unless God has revealed them to us. And there are things God has not revealed. Why? I doubt we’ll ever know within this age or lifetime (but I’m betting primarily for our own good).

Here, we must trust the sufficiency of Scripture. God has revealed to us, through Scripture and Jesus Christ, all we need to know (and all he wants us to know).

Jesus Christ himself, as our perfect model, displays this humility concerning the acceptance of the revealed things and unrevealed things. In Matthew 24, we get these puzzling words from Jesus concerning the End Times:

 

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36)

 

But don’t Christians believe Jesus is God the Son? Doesn’t God the Son share the same nature as God the Father? How can Jesus not know the future?

The answer lies in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When God the Son took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, he voluntarily limited himself, depending on God the Father (because, again, Jesus is our perfect model):

 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Thus, in his incarnate state as Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son accepted that any supernatural knowledge was dependent on whether God the Father gave it to him. This is a concept many Christians overlook or misunderstand, but the point that concerns us here is this: Christians need to humbly accept that there are things God simply has not revealed to us.

(In addition, the next time some misguided pastor or radio host announces that he has studied the Bible and figured out the date of the Day of Judgment, be sure to point out that not even Jesus knew.)

Does that mean we shouldn’t pour over the Scriptures, studying them intensely to understand all that God has revealed? Of course not! But it also means we shouldn’t be inventing “secrets” that simply are not there.

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MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: The Book of REVELATION (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

This continues my analysis of the Church of God’s use of the Bible to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See list of earlier articles below.)

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

MotherGodandAss

Revelation is a favorite book of the Bible for unorthodox sects, full-blown cults, and a general assortment of nuts because it’s highly symbolic and notoriously difficult to understand. Because of this, people can read all sorts of crazy things into the text that simply aren’t there.

The Church of God (COG) uses primarily two passages from Revelation, in chapters 19 and 21, to “prove” Mother God is in the Bible.  As always, before looking at these passages, we must first understand the context in which they appear.  Understanding cannot come without context, yet often verses are quoted alone by the COG and other groups that misuse and/or misinterpret the Bible.

CONTEXT: THE GRAND CLIMAX

The book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and Chapters 19 through 22 of Revelation are the last chapters of the Bible.  Thus, Chapters 19-22 are the grand climax of the story of salvation told in the Bible and the culmination of all history.  (For a quick overview of the story of the Bible, read my article “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology – the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” here.)

Chapters 19-22 foretell the final, ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, God the Son.  The “multitude” in heaven rejoice as Christ returns to live in peace with his creation, but first he must carry out the Final Judgment and the defeat of his enemies — evil, sin, Satan, and death — in easily the most gory, violent imagery of the whole Bible.  Afterwards, the old creation, which was corrupted by sin, passes away, and the New Heaven and New Earth come, where God the Son will live with his people eternally in peace.

MARRIAGE IMAGERY

Here’s the first verse the COG uses from Revelation:

Revelation 19:7

“Let us rejoice and exult

   and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

   and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Based on symbolic language used throughout the New Testament, including Revelation, the Lamb is clearly Jesus Christ.  Since the COG appears to agree here with orthodox Christianity and this interpretation is uncontroversial, there’s no need to discuss the Lamb imagery here.  But “his Bride” is not Mother God, as the COG believes, but the church.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is often referred to as a bridegroom (or “groom,” in modern terms) and the church – the united community of Jesus’ followers – is often referred to as his “bride.” Though Revelation contains a lot of baffling symbolism, this symbolism is extremely clear due to its wide use.

For example, in Mark 2:19, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

In John 3:29, John the Baptist also describes Jesus as the bridegroom:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul uses marriage imagery. The Corinthian church is being led astray from the truth of Christ, but Paul says he has married them to Christ, the church’s “husband,” as if they were pure virgins.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”

Further, in Ephesians 5:22-33, the love of a husband and wife is compared to the love of Christ for his church. Just as a husband and wife join lives and become “one flesh,” Christ and the church become one flesh. In fact, God created marriage to symbolize Christ’s relationship to the church.

For instance, Ephesians 5:25-27 reads:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

And if that evidence doesn’t convince you, in Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells parables about a wedding feast to describe his coming kingdom.  Appropriately, when Revelation 19-21 tells us of the ultimate culmination of God’s kingdom, what sort of imagery does the writer use?  Wedding imagery!

Further, this imagery is not unique to the New Testament.  Like much of the imagery used in the New Testament — and especially Revelation — it goes back to the Old Testament.  For example, Isaiah 25:6-8 uses imagery of a celebration feast to describe the age-to-come under God’s victory and complete, perfect rule:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”

In fact, notice the similar language in Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, proving a further connection between these passages…

“He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

(*Since it is so common for groups like the COG to take verses out of context to “prove” their misguided interpretations, I recommend reading all of the above passages in context so you can see clearly that I am representing the Bible accurately.)

In fact, marriage language is used throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s relationship to Israel, his chosen people.  Israel is often portrayed as the bride of God, and likewise, often accused of adultery for being unfaithful to God.

All of these marriage images are important to what’s going on in Chapters 19-22 of Revelation, which describes Jesus’ Second Coming — bringing with him the New Heaven and New Earth, which is the culmination of God’s kingdom and the final, perfect union of Christ and his people, the church.

Earlier in Revelation, we already see this imagery in Revelation 14:4, where the church (Christ’s people) are depicted as pure virgins, who have remained faithful to Christ, and are, thus, ready to be wed:

“It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb”

Thus, when Jesus returns, it’s announced in Revelation 19:7 that the church, the Bride, is ready for her “marriage” to the Lamb of God, Jesus:

“for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;”

Therefore, it’s quite obvious, the Bride is not any sort of divine goddess, but the church.  Revelation tells of the final climatic union of Christ with his church, and the writers of God’s Word chose to use the earthly language of marriage to illustrate this joyous day.

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NEW JERUSALEM: CITY or WOMAN?

The other passage from Revelation used by the COG is found after Christ’s victory over evil and death at the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, where Christ comes to live in eternal peace with his people and his renewed creation…

Revelation 21:9-10

“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

 

The COG calls Mother God, “Jerusalem Mother,” because in order for what’s written in Revelation to work in favor of the COG’s mistaken theology, Jerusalem must be understood to be not a city, but a divine woman, Mother God.

The COG uses similar thinking in interpreting Galatians 4:26 (“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother”), but we refuted this in our last article about Mother God.

This is an odd interpretation to say the least. As with the other verses we analyzed in earlier articles, there’s nothing in Revelation that leads us to conclude that Mother God is a biblical figure or that Jerusalem symbolizes a divine goddess.  The only way these interpretations work is if we start with an assumption — an already established idea — of Mother God and insert her into the text.

The “Bride” of Revelation 21:9-10 is not a divine female person to be literally wed to God.  The “Bride” is the New Jerusalem, the holy city of the New Earth, where Jesus will spend eternity with his church, his people.

Just before 21:9-10, in Revelation 21:3-4, we are given a description of the culmination of God’s redemption of creation — the climax of all of salvation-history and the climax of the whole Bible: the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth.  All of creation is made new; sin, evil, and death have been destroyed; and God can finally live in perfect shalom with his people.  It reads:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

 

Revelation is highly symbolic, so how literally we should take the description of the New Jerusalem that follows is debatable, but it’s clear we are dealing with a place here — not a person — a place where God will dwell with humankind.  New Jerusalem is certainly not a female deity marrying Jesus. In fact, just before 21:9-10, John, the author of Revelation, writes:

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21:2)

 

Here, New Jerusalem is plainly explained to be a “holy city.” Further, it’s described as being “prepared as a bride.”  The city is not called a literal bride.  The use of “like” or “as” in a comparison shows it’s a simile – figurative language, not literal language. New Jerusalem is to be the dwelling place of God with his people.  Were it to be the other way around, where the bride was to be understood literally and the city was figurative, would it not read…

“And I saw the bride, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a holy city adorned for her husband”… ?

But that doesn’t quite work, does it?  In fact, why confuse everyone by naming the bride after a city in the first place?  Why not just call her Mother God if that is who the bride is?

As Craig Blomberg in From Pentecost to Patmos writes, “…a holy city will descend from the new heaven to adorn the new earth.  Whereas we began in a garden, we will end in a city — God’s people in perfect community.  That the city is called the new Jerusalem suggests the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel as well as to humanity in this revelation.  But the city is also a bride (just as Yahwah [God] and Christ are portrayed as bridegrooms to their followers throughout the Old and New Testaments, respectively.)”

FromPenttoPAtmos

Excellent read & resource.

When we come to Revelation 21:9-10, the verses the COG uses, the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” is still referring to the city:

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,”

We are told right in the text that he is shown a city as “the Bride,” and what follows after 21:10 is a long description of that city. If Jerusalem is, in fact, Mother God, aka “Jerusalem Mother,” then she’s a divine woman with a high wall, twelve gates, and the length, width, and height of 1,380 miles; in fact, she is a perfect (and quite humongous) cube!

Now, someone may challenge me and say I admitted above that Revelation is highly symbolic so it’s difficult to know what should be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively.  Could the description of the New Jerusalem be poetically describing the splendor of Mother God?

As I showed above, from the context we can be confident that we’re dealing with a place here, not a person.  Further, as I’ve stated many times before, nothing in the Bible gives any indication of a divine mate for God, whether it’s referring to Jerusalem or anything else. There simply isn’t any evidence.  If we accept that the description of New Jerusalem in Revelation is Mother God, then what prevents us from also concluding – despite the obvious lack of evidence – that New Jerusalem symbolizes Darth Vader, George W. Bush, or the NY Jets?

“QUEEN OF HEAVEN”

 

Though I didn’t encounter this on the COG’s website, a friend of mine who had an interaction with a young woman involved in the COG said to him that the Bible speaks about the “Queen of Heaven.” I’m familiar with the verses she referred to, and they’re about a pagan goddess named Astarte (or Ishtar).

I’ve written an article about this before called “Did God Have a Wife?” Read it here.

CONCLUSION

 

As one video on the Church of God’s website proclaims, the “mystery of the Bible hidden for 6,000 years” has been revealed at last!

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If anyone claims to have a new understanding of the Bible that has never appeared before in the over 2,000 years of history since Jesus walked the earth, be suspicious – be very suspicious.

If any church hopes to convince us of another way of understanding the Bible, there better be a dump-truck load of evidence from the Scripture. Thing is, if there was that much evidence in the Scripture, someone would’ve seen it a long time ago.

The biblical verses the COG quotes to support their beliefs are scant and inadequate, and they crumble when looked at in context. If the COG is going to accept these verses as evidence of Mother God, then they also have to accept Hosea 4:5, which reads:

“I [God] will destroy your mother.”

 

Was God a domestic abuser?

Of course, the COG would not accept Hosea 4:5 to be anything about Mother God. Most likely, they’d say I took the verse out of context.

Exactly.

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A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

If I come across blunt or even a bit harsh, it’s because I believe the Bible is the Word of God so I take it seriously when someone distorts it. That being said, I have the utmost concern for the members of the Church of God. I believe the members of the COG are hungry to know the true God, but false prophets and teachers have led them astray and their eternal souls are at risk. I pray these blog articles will lead them to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.***

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

A great book for helping with understanding of Revelation

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

My earlier articles on the Church of God & Mother God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31

Also, I do not intend to debate here whether the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31 (World Missions Society Church of God)

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:31)

 

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

 

This continues my analysis of the Scripture the Church of God (COG) uses to justify their belief in Mother God.  (See a list of earlier articles below.)  To read the introductory article about the COG and Mother God, click here.

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

 MotherGod_IFollow

Above are two verses from the Bible (Galatians 4:26 & 4:31) that the COG quotes on their website as evidence for Mother God in the Bible.  Now, you may be thinking Galatians 4:26 even mentions the word “mother,” so it must be about Mother God! But let’s look at what Paul is writing about in Galatians.

Remember context is always the key…

 

What’s Paul So Angry About?

Galatians is considered Paul’s most angry letter. It even excludes Paul’s normal thanksgiving in his opening introduction for those receiving the letter.  Its absence is very noticeable because we see similar friendly openings in all of his other letters – even the more stern ones. So what’s Paul so upset about?

This is what Paul’s upset about: The Galatians had reverted back to legalism, believing that Christians must still follow the Jewish religious laws for salvation. This was a big issue with the first Christians because Christianity came out of Judaism, the first Christians were Jews, and Jews faithfully follow the Old Testament law.

But Christians have been set free from the law because Jesus Christ fulfilled it by his death and resurrection. The religious law was temporary until the good news of Christ came and freed us from it (See Galatians 3:15-25).

The Christians in Galatia had backslid and had gone back to believing and teaching someone must still follow the Old Testament law, even as a Christian (See Galatians 4:8-20).

When we come to Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses a story from the book of Genesis about Abraham’s wives Hagar and Sarah and their sons to support his argument. The idea Paul is arguing is that someone can choose to be a slave to the law or free through Christ, but one cannot be both.

 MotherGodGalatians

Abraham & his Wives = Domestic Trouble

Abraham (Abram) is the father of the Israelite nation, the Jews. In Genesis 12:1-3, God speaks to Abraham and promises him that he will make a great nation through Abraham’s descendants, through which the whole world will be blessed. (This promise was fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham.)

But later, in Chapter 15, Abraham and his wife Sarah (Sarai) still do not have a child. God reaffirms his promise, telling Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

In Chapter 16, we get the story of Sarah (Sarai) and Hagar. Sarah has grown weary of waiting for God to give them a child, so she tells Abraham to sleep with their servant/slave Hagar. Abraham listens to his wife, and Hagar becomes pregnant and gives birth to Ishmael.

This was sinful for both Abraham and Sarah.  Beyond the obvious sexual sin, both Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God to fulfill his promise and they took matters into their own hands.  As you can imagine, the situation also leads to domestic trouble.

Fourteen years later, in Chapter 21, Abraham is one-hundred years-old, and Sarah is in her nineties, and as God promised, Sarah becomes pregnant!  She gives birth to Isaac. Again, as you can probably guess, the birth of Isaac doesn’t help the domestic situation.

Sarah witnesses Ishmael, now a teen, mocking either her or Isaac, so Hagar and Ishmael are cast out of the home of Abraham. Though Ishmael wouldn’t receive an inheritance from his father, God cares for him and his mother and promises that Ishmael’s descendants would become a great nation as well.

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The Free Woman & The Slave Woman

Now, back to Galatians 4:21-31: Paul uses Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman) to make a point about being free through Jesus Christ or a slave to the Old Testament law.  (Take a moment to read Galatians 4:21-31 here.)

First, let’s take note that Paul clearly states in 4:24 that he’s using the story as an allegory, a symbolic tale to convey a message:

 

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants.”

Thus, he’s clearly speaking figuratively here, not literally.

Basically, Paul’s whole analogy in 4:21-31 goes like this: God gave two covenants — one of slavery and one of freedom, symbolized by Sarah (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman).

Paul writes:

 

“One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (4:24-25)

The covenant of slavery is the Old Testament law, represented by Hagar and Mount Sinai (the place where Moses received the Old Testament law from God). This covenant of slavery is also represented by the “present Jerusalem” – the non-Christian Jews of Paul’s day, who still follow the Old Testament law.  They are the “children” of the slave woman because they’re enslaved by the Old Testament law.

Paul then writes the line used by the COG:

 

“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (4:26)

 

Following Paul’s analogy and argument, “Jerusalem above” is contrasted with the present, worldly Jerusalem, which is still in bondage to the Old Testament law. “Jerusalem above” is the heavenly Jerusalem – the true, free Jerusalem. This looks forward, past the present age to the future – to the New Heaven and New Earth where the New Jerusalem will come with Jesus’ Second Coming (See Revelation 21). Keeping with the Hagar/Sarah (slave woman/free woman) analogy, Paul states in 4:26 that the New Jerusalem is the “mother” of Christians because they’re not slaves; they are free.

Keeping with the imagery of Sarah (who was old and barren when she became pregnant) and the future victory of Christianity and the New Jerusalem, Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27:

 

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

   than those of the one who has a husband.”

 

Paul goes on to explain in 4:28-30 that Christians, like Isaac, are the children of God’s promise. And just like Ishmael (“who was born according to the flesh”) showed contempt for Isaac (who was “born according to the Spirit”) when he was born, the non-believing Jews are persecuting the Christians of Galatia. Yet — Paul points this out by referring to Genesis directly — Ishmael was cast out and didn’t get the inheritance of his father Abraham, and the same will happen to the Jews who still hold to the Old Testament law and don’t believe the good news of Jesus Christ.

Then Paul concludes with the other line used by the COG:

 

“So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

 

Thus, Christians are not slaves, but free. To be a child of “the slave” would make someone a child of Hagar. Likewise, the “free woman” is not some divine goddess, but Sarah.

This may help you to follow the argument made by Paul:

 SLAVERY

Slavery = Old Testament law = Mount Sinai =

“Present” Jerusalem =

Hagar (slave woman) =

Ishmael =

No inheritance.

 FREEDOM

Freedom = Salvation through faith alone = Jesus Christ =

Jerusalem above/New Jerusalem= 

Sarah (free woman) =

Isaac =

Receives the inheritance.    

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

 

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: REVELATION 19:7 & 21:9-10.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

apostles1

How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

Angels_Dove

THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

 Apocrypha

New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

can-we-still-believe

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22 (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.23.37 AM

In the previous article of this series I analyzed the Church of God’s use of Genesis 1:26-27 and Isaiah 6:8 to justify their belief in Mother God. Below, I’ll continue to analyze the Scripture they cite as biblical proof of Mother God.

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

As I did in my earlier articles, I’ve purposely avoided exposing myself to any negative websites or information about the Church of God (COG) and have based my analysis strictly on their explanation of their own beliefs a stated on their official website.

 

Since they use the Bible to defend their views (and they appear to believe the Bible is the Word of God), I’ve used the Bible to analyze and refute their beliefs as unbiblical and as a corruption of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See below for other articles concerning the COG.)

 

Before reading further, I would recommend you pause and first read an earlier article I wrote about poor biblical interpretation and how certain churches, sects, and cults misuse Scripture. The principles in that article certainly apply here, as you will see.

 

The following practices of poor biblical interpretation (manipulation-?) are the most evident in the COG’s use of Scripture:

  • Isolating verses and taking them out of context.
  • Imposing views on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself.
  • Jumping from one part of the Bible to another with utter disregard of context to “prove” ideas, beliefs, or opinions.
  • Inconsistent decisions on what should be taken literally or figuratively, often based on preconceived ideas.

 

world-mission-society-church-of-god-god-the-mother

JEREMIAH 31:22

“How long will you go here and there,

O faithless daughter?

For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—

A woman will encompass a man.”

 

Like many of the passages the COG cites as evidence of Mother God in the Bible, Jeremiah 31:22 sounds mysterious, and may even lead you to suspect there is some sort of hidden meaning behind it, but by simply looking at the verse in context, the meaning of the passage becomes clearer.

 

CONTEXT

The prophet Jeremiah wrote his book during the harsh, tumultuous times after the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the deportation (the Exile) of Jews to Babylon. Like the other prophets, Jeremiah states God allowed this calamity to fall on the Jewish people as just judgment for their sin and idolatry.

 

But, also like the other prophets, Jeremiah isn’t all negative: he also gives a message of hope, where God will redeem the faithful.

 

This message of hope is seen in the verses preceding 31:22. Take a moment to read it, covering 31:15 to 31:22.

 

Rachel is Weeping

 

Verse 15 refers to Rachel weeping for “her children,” the exiled Jews:

 

“Rachel is weeping for her children;

   she refuses to be comforted for her children,

   because they are no more.”

 

We find Rachel way back in the book of Genesis. Rachel was Jacob’s second, but favorite, wife (Genesis 29:30) and the mother of Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 30:22-24; 41:50-52). Notice Ephraim is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:18 as also grieving.

 

Like many of the prophets, Jeremiah uses a lot of poetic imagery. The idea here is that the Exile is so devastating to the Jews that even Rachel is mourning.  It would be similar if I said to an American today, after someone had burned an American flag, that Betsy Ross (the woman traditionally credited with sewing the 1st American flag) is weeping over the treatment of the flag.  The person would know that I didn’t mean this literally, since Betsy Ross lived in the 1700-1800’s, but poetically.

 

But Jeremiah moves on to the good news. God will have mercy, and a faithful remnant will return to their land. Note the imagery of roads in 31:21, implying their return:

 

“Set up road markers for yourself;

   make yourself guideposts;

consider well the highway,

   the road by which you went.”

 

Israel, the Jewish people, are then poetically personified as a young woman, a “virgin” and “faithless daughter” in 31:21-22:

 

“Return, O virgin Israel,

   return to these your cities.

How long will you waver,

   O faithless daughter?”

 

And then we have the mysterious and infamous words of 31:22 used by the COG as evidence of Mother God:

 

“For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:

   a woman encircles a man.”

 

First, it’s clear from the context of the rest of Jeremiah that jumping to the conclusion that this verse is about a female deity of any sort has no textual or logical grounding. If you continue to read the rest of Jeremiah, you will find so such evidence of “Mother God” either.

 

Admittedly, this single line “a woman encircles a man” is a bit of a mystery. One commentator even says the clear meaning of this line is “enigmatic.” Yet the only way to justify that this is about Mother God is to read a preconceived idea into the text, not by letting the text speak for itself.

 

Unorthodox sects and cults often grab onto unclear lines of Scripture and insert their own meaning into them. Further, the same commentator who labeled this line “enigmatic” also writes that though this one line is unclear, the rest of the chapter surrounding it is perfectly clear and unambiguous.

 

Though Israel is a “faithless daughter,” God will still give her a “new thing” – a new life as he brings her back to her land from exile. “Encircles” in 31:22 (“a woman encircles a man”) can also be translated “encompasses” or “protects.” What the line is most likely symbolizing is that the “woman” (Israel) will grow in strength, even to the point of being strong enough to protect “a man.”

 

As you can see, nothing in Jeremiah supports the claim that Mother God appears in this ancient book of prophecy.

 MotherGod& Aha

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?

**Has the Bible been translated & re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the originals said?  How can we know what the original manuscripts said?**

 

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

Scribe1

Has the Bible been “translated and retranslated” so many times that the meanings of the original texts are “muddled” and lost?  Is the Bible corrupted and altered beyond ever knowing what it truly said?

First, do you know anyone who is bilingual?  Are you bilingual?  Trilingual?  Have you ever heard someone translate anything into another language, like, say, something in English to their non-English-speaking parents?  Did the parents understand?  Of course they did!  Though a 100% literal word-for-word translation from one language to another is sometimes difficult, that does not mean words, sentences, and whole books cannot be accurately translated.  Accurate translation is an everyday occurrence.

Our modern English translations of the Bible are translated directly from the original languages the books of the Bible were written in – ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – and we have more ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible today than ever before in modern times.

It’s true that sometimes translators have to use some personal interpretation to choose the right words if there are no exact parallel words, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have accurate translations.  For example, Greek has several words for love, but English has only one.  The Greek word eros is the type of love that has to do with sexual passion.  So, a translator translating a Greek-language sentence into English may translate a sentence using eros…

The adulterous man loves the woman.

But it probably could be better translated:

The adulterous man has passionate love for the woman

or The adulterous man has lust for the woman

or The adulterous man has an irrational passion for the woman.

Each translation is correct, and the main idea of the sentence is preserved, but picking the right words or phrases makes it more precise and clear.

This is an advantage of having so many English translations today available for people who cannot read the Bible in the original ancient Greek or Hebrew; they can compare translations to gain a better understanding of the nuances of some of the words and phrases.

Some translations are more “literal” and try to translate word-for-word.  These translations – like the NASB – may read a little awkwardly at times, but they’re useful if you don’t speak the original ancient languages of the Bible and you want to closely examine a section of text.  Other translations have more interpretation and translate the passages idea-by-idea.  These translations – like the NLT – are smoother to read, especially if you’re reading a whole book or through the whole Bible.  The NIV translation falls in the middle of the two types, which is why it’s one of the most popular translations today.

I prefer the ESV, which is a word-by-word translation, but it’s much more readable than the NASB.  Again, comparing translations helps with understanding perplexing passages, leading to more clarity.

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TEXTUAL CRITICISM

We can trust the modern translations of the Bible are accurate to the original manuscripts because of what is called textual criticism.  Textual criticism is the discipline of comparing all of the available ancient manuscripts we have today to make sure we have the most accurate version of the Bible possible.

Today, we’re in a better position than ever before in modern times to accurately reconstruct the wording of the original manuscripts of the Bible because of the sheer number of manuscripts that have been discovered.

Because people are imperfect, there are mistakes and variations in the manuscripts made by the scribes who copied them by hand, but because we have such a large number of quality ancient manuscripts, it’s easy to compare them and identify the errors.

The New Testament is easily the written work with the best evidence to support it from the ancient world.  We have about 5,500 ancient manuscripts.  The only ancient work to come anywhere close to this is Homer’s Iliad, which only has about 700 ancient copies.  But even this high number of manuscripts is rare.  In fact, we’re lucky if any ancient manuscripts that have survived until today are numbered even in the double-digits.

DATING THE MANUSCRIPTS

The dating of the New Testament manuscripts we have are extremely close to the dates the originals were written.  The earliest piece of a manuscript we have is a fragment from the Gospel of John, dated to about 125 AD.  Most scholars date John’s Gospel as being written in 95 AD.

Over eighty New Testament manuscripts are dated to the third and fourth centuries, and five mostly complete texts of the New Testament date from the fourth and fifth centuries.  Since all of the New Testament was written by the end of the first century, this may still sound like a long time, but compared to other ancient writings, this is extremely close.

It’s important to understand that the ancient New Testament manuscripts we have are from all over the ancient world as Christianity spread.  Had there been radical differences in the supposed “earliest versions” of the New Testament, it’s doubtful the network that spread and formed new churches in new areas (think of it like a tree growing with new branches) would all have the same New Testament texts.  At least one of those branches, isolated from the others, would’ve passed on and preserved the “older version.”  So, say, for instance, churches in Spain or Asian Minor would’ve had a much different version of the Gospel of John than we have today.  But this is not the case.

Because we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts – 5,500 (and this only includes the Greek texts and isn’t counting the thousands of ancient manuscripts in different languages) – which come from all over the ancient world, we can be secure that we have the original readings in our hands.

NT_JohnR_frag

Earliest fragment of the New Testament. From John’s Gospel. Dated about 125 AD.

BART EHRMAN’S SKEPTICISM

Agnostic New Testament scholar and author Bart Ehrman speaks a lot about how we can never find the “original text” and how he believes the New Testament books have been radically changed over time.  For example, he mentions 2 Corinthians may have been anywhere from two to four letters originally.  Can we find the “original text”?

Much of Ehrman’s protests about finding the original texts seem to come down to how a person prefers to define “original text” and his assumption that all of the written works of the Bible have been in a constant state of constant change.  Though there are variations found in the vast amount of ancient manuscripts we have, much of Ehrman’s assumptions that the books of the New Testament, like 2 Corinthians and the Gospel of John, are hopelessly corrupt are just that: assumptions.  Where is the evidence for these massive changes?  Where are the manuscripts that show the works in their earlier forms?

Ehrman may respond that those manuscripts are so old they probably no longer exist, but that doesn’t solve his problem, because he has just admitted there’s no evidence for his assumptions.  Almost all of the theories of composition Ehrman sites, “however probable, remain entirely speculative in the sense that no manuscripts have ever been found of the supposed sources that a biblical writer used,” including, for example, a version of the Gospel of John without the prologue and epilogue, 2 Corinthians split into two or more individual letters, or even the widely accepted theoretical Q document.

Due to the over 5,500 ancient manuscripts we have of the New Testament, variations are easy to identify and correct.  Further, even with over 5,500 manuscripts, none of those manuscripts show any of the massive editing or changes Ehrman imagines.

Further, even if they did exist, what would it matter?  This would only mean they may have served as a source for the future, completed work as we now know it.  Even conservative evangelical New Testament scholars agree that some of the Gospel writers most likely referred to earlier written texts for some of their information.  In fact, there’s even evidence from the early church fathers that there may have been a Hebrew or Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew before the Greek version we know today.  Just because some of the material or even a majority of the material appeared in an earlier form, it doesn’t mean it’s a corruption of the text.  What matters is whether the information is accurate or not.

FOR HOW LONG WOULD A MANUSCRIPT SURVIVE?

The material used to make ancient manuscripts was fragile and perishable (which is one of the reasons ancient manuscripts are hard to come by today), but some manuscripts may have lasted much longer than originally believed.  In a study of late antiquity libraries, collections, and archives by George W. Houston, published by Oxford University Press in the book Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, he proposes that manuscripts could be used from 150 to 500 years!  For example, the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus (B) was re-inked in the tenth century, which proves a manuscript can last and be used for at least 600 years!  This fact seriously improves the plausibility that the original texts existed to be copied for much longer than previously suspected.

 

Other articles in this series: Did Constantine compose the New Testament? & Did God have a wife? & Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write? & Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

SOURCES & RECOMMENDED:

can-we-still-believethe-jesus-legend