Claims of Bible as ‘Word of God’
“Is Bible really the Word of God?” is perhaps the most basic question that crosses the minds of non-Christians. But, before answering this question, one should answer an even more basic question: “What is Bible”? Contrary to widely prevalent notion, Bible is not a book, but a collection of several books written over a period of several centuries. Secondly, there is not one Bible, but several kinds of Bibles, all differing from each other. So, the question, “Is Bible the Word of God?” itself is incorrect.
Bibles are divided into Old Testament and New Testament. Though Old Testament forms about 70% of all the Bibles, it is the New Testament that Christians consider more important, as it is the one that deals with Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity. I shall be focussing more on New Testament in this article. New Testament mainly deals with the life, miracles, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
New Testament starts with four gospels supposedly written by Mark, Mathew, Luke and John. They give us the details about Jesus’ life from his birth till the end i.e. his resurrection from death and ascending to heaven. The traditional view is that all these four are either Jesus’ apostles or are close to one of the apostles . Gospels are followed by letters supposedly written by the followers of Jesus and a couple of other books. The tradition also believes that these four men wrote the gospels independent of each other, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit and so are infallible.
The following are the major problems associated with bible
- Most of the books are not written by those to whom they are being traditionally attributed to
- Originals of none of the books that are part of Bible are available
- There are so many bibles
- Even within each bible there are several contradictions, which cannot be reconciled
Most of the books are not written by those to whom they are being traditionally attributed to
Except a few letters of Paul, none of the books were written by those to whom the tradition attributes them to.
|Name/s of book||Traditionally attributed author||Does modern scholarship agree with the traditional attribution?
|Four Gospels – Mark, Mathew, Luke and John||Mark, Mathew, Luke and John||No |
|Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon||Paul the Apostle||Yes|
|Colossians, 2 Thessalonians,||Paul the Apostle||Unsure |
|Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus||Paul the Apostle||No |
|Hebrews||Paul the Apostle||No |
|James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 John and Jude||James, Peter, John and Jude||No |
|1,2 and 3 John||John the Apostle||No |
|Book of Revelation||John the Apostle||No |
Originals of none of the books that are part of Bible are available
One might say that they don’t care about who wrote them as it is what is being written that is important and not the name of the author. That is understandable, if authorship is the only problem, which is not the case.
The fundamental Christian belief is that all the books of the New Testament are inspired by God, but the problem is that we don’t have those originals. What we have are copies that were made, in most cases, centuries after the originals were supposedly written. For example, the earliest manuscript of Gospel of Mark is from around the year 200 CE, which is approximately 140 years after it was written and 2 Corinthians is from year 350 CE, which is approximately 300 years after it was written. Bart D. Ehrman, one of the most prominent of the New Testament scholars in our times, did a very thorough and extensive research on this subject. One who is interested more in this may read his “Misquoting Jesus”
At a time when printing press was not there, copies of books were made manually and the scribes who made the copies invariably made mistakes. This is evident from the numerous differences that we find in the available manuscripts.
In Misquoting Jesus, Bart says: “…. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals – so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals……………. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later – much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…………. there are more differences among out manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament….”
So, if God did not perform the miracle of preserving the originals, there is no reason to believe that he did the miracle of inspiring the writers of books that are part of bible to write them in the first place.
There are so many bibles
One might still say that they don’t care about all these things and that only the Bible is important. But unfortunately, one can’t even say that as we don’t have Bible but BIBLES, several of them. Let us keep aside the finer differences between different bibles, even the number of books that each bible has, differ from each other .
|Name of the Bible||Number of Books|
|Ethiopian Orthodox Church||81|
The significant thing here is that about 50% of all Christians are Catholic, about 35% are Protestant and they don’t agree with each other on certain things as basic as what is the supposed word of God or the Bible. Several try to dismiss this by saying that the differences are minor and so it is not a big issue, which is not the case. Had the differences been really minor they would have sorted them out long ago, and we wouldn’t be having so many bibles and so many thousands of Christian denominations, even today. The animosity between the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther and Catholic Pope were such that each called the other antichrist  and hence, clearly the differences are not minor. Also people convert from one Christian denomination to other.
Irreconcilable differences within bibles
I have come across several who simply care about that one book in their hand, which they think is the bible. They don’t worry about the authors of the books, or the originals, or the differences in manuscripts or the different types of bibles. All that they cares is the book in their hands.
Unfortunately, even that is not reliable. There are many irreconcilable differences within bible. Let us see a few of them.
|When did Jesus take birth?||During the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1)||During the first census of Israel while Quirinius was the governor of Syria (Luke 2:2)||Herod died in March of 4 BCE and census took place in 6 and 7 CE, a minimum diff of 10 years |
|Jesus’ ancestry||Grand Father: Jacob
Great Grand Father: Matthan
Great Great GF: Eleazar
(Matthew 1: 15, 16)
|Grand Father: Heli
Great Grand Father: Matthat
Great Great GF: Levi
(Luke 3: 23, 24)
|On which day was Jesus crucified?||A day after Passover
(Matthew 26: 17 to 27: 46)
(Mark: 14: 12 to 15: 34)
(Luke 22: 7 to 23: 46)
|A day before Passover
(John 19: 14)
|What are Jesus’ last words on the cross||Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27: 46)
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (Mark 15: 34)
|Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23: 46)
It is finished (John 19: 30)
I have only listed a few discrepancies that too only from the four gospels. If we take the whole of bible into account there are hundreds like them
In short, we don’t know who the authors of bible are, we don’t have original copies of any of the books that are part of bible, there are several different bibles and even within a given bible there are 100s of contradictions. Considering all these things, it would be impossible for any rational person to believe that Bible/Bibles are the word of God. God would have done a better job, had he wanted to give his words to us through Bible.
- An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity by Delbert Burkett (2001) – Page # 175 – Cambridge University Press
- Bart D. Ehrman – Page # 29
- The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament by David E. Aune – Page # 9
- [Origen of Alexandria, quoted by] Eusebius of Alexandria. Ecclesiastical History 6.25. (Source: Wikipedia)
- Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible by James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson – Page # 1274
- Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse by Adela Yarbro Collins – Page # 28
- An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories – by Raymond Edward Brown – Page # 17
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