Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Evolution of the Bible

The Bible and how it was formed is a difficult and complicated subject encompassing about 3,500 years of history, culture, theology, and politics. Despite what right-wing conservative Christians would have you believe, the Bible was not handed, fully-formed, by God to George Washington alongside the Declaration of Independence.

I know what you're thinking. What does a skeptic know about the formation of the Bible? A fair amount, actually. How can you be sure the information presented here is correct? I had 6 Christian pastors give their approval that this information is correct and accurate. In addition two PhD's in religious studies also gave their approval for this information.

Fair warning. One of the pastors who reviewed this said to me, "be careful sharing this information with Christians. Many of them are not mentally or emotionally equipped to handle this information. It could cause some of them to question their beliefs." That's kind of the point, pastor.

The information presented here is a summary. Obviously we are talking about nearly 4,000 years of information that could barely be covered in an entire semester course in college, condensed into one blog post.  So we're going to start from the present and work backwards, but unfortunately we have to hit the highlights and leave a lot of good information out.

Finally, the Bible we are going to be discussing is the 66-book Protestant canon. There are 10 different canons of the Christian Bible in 4 major divisions. Each of the ten canons differs in which books are included or excluded that differs from the others. All ten canons are considered “closed” which means all ten believe that a time of continual revelation has ended and they are not likely to change in the future.

Our story begins in 1825, when 7 books were removed from the Protestant Bible. The seven books, called the Apocrapha, were removed from the Protestant Bible by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Apocrapha is the collection of 7 books which appear in the Catholic Bible but not in the Protestant Bible. So the Protestant Bible as it exists today, was born in 1825.

In 1647, the Westminster Confession of Faith was an assembly of the Church of England which determined the seven books of the Apocrapha did not meet the criteria to be considered authentic by the Protestant faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith established the 66 books of the Protestant Bible were authentic, God-inspired and true. After the Westminster Confession of Faith, Bibles were printed with the 66 books of the Protestant canon. The seven books of the Apocrapha were printed in a separate section from the other 66 books, which were removed completely from bible publications in 1825.  Until 1647, there was no Protestant canon.

Also, just as a side note, during his life Martin Luther also wanted to eliminate the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon. His pleas were rejected by the Westminster Confession of Faith. Because of Luther's stance on these four books, Protestant bibles that are written in German have the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation as the last books of the bible, this is called the Luther canon.

In 1546, the Catholic canon was galvanized at the Council of Trent which agreed on the 73 books of the Catholic bible and the period for open revelation was considered closed by the Catholic church. Before the Council of Trent, many different Catholic denominations used numerous canonizations. But of course the Canon was unified in 1546.

In 1442, The Council of Florence established the 73 books of the Catholic canon that the Florencian denomination of Catholicism were required to use. 100 years later, the Council of Trent established the confirmed that the 73 books established by the Council of Florence to be the universally accepted Catholic canon.

Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of information about what happened between the span of years between 382 and 1442. These of course were the Dark Ages where information, writing, etc. was very scant. We do know that in 382 AD, a canon was decided upon by the Council of Rome which established the writings of the New Testament and the Old Testament which were very similar to the canon decided upon in 1442. What differences there are we cannot fully flesh out due to a lack of empirical information.

The reason that the 382 Council of Rome is significant is because this was the first time the church met specifically to decide which books were the true, holy, and accurate Word of God after Christianity became the state religion of Rome.

In 325, one of the most significant events in world history occurred. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. The Council of Nicea was established. The Council of Nicea is one of the most significant events in the history of Christianity. This council established the theology of the holy trinity, galvanized the foundational church belief that Christ was, indeed, the son of God, the observance of Easter, and of importance to this blog which gospels of Christ were authentic.

Around 200 A.D., Jewish rabbis declared the Hebrew Tanakh (the Protestant Old Testament) was considered closed. 

Between 70 A.D. and 110 A.D. all of the apostolic gospels were written, including the ones which are not considered authentic like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary.

Between 40 A.D. and 55 A.D. all of the Pauline letters were written.  

In 200 BC, Ptolemy II, the Greek king of Egypt, ordered the Hebrew Bible to be translated into Greek for inclusion into the Library of Alexandria. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is called the Septuagint. The Septuagint is used by 4 out of the 10 christian canons as “The Old Testament”.  Paul, in his letters to the early christian churches, used the Septuagint as his reference to Old Testament scriptures. Jesus also quoted the Septuagint. The reason this is significant is because the Protestant bible does not use the Septuagint as the basis for its Old Testament.

What conclusions can a reader draw from this? I hope their own. Does the information presented make the Bible any more or less credible? No. The intention here is to challenge this false notion that the Bible is this perfect, unchanging thing. It's changed many times, and if history is any indication, it will likely change again in the future.