Christian Texts - Part 2
New TestamentMany people also believe that the Canonical Gospels of the New Testament were written 40 years or so after Christ died by the disciples and close brothers of the disciples.
The four canonical gospels were written to different audiences. They are four different views of Jesus. There are facts and sayings missing from some that are mentioned in others. Their focus and 'purpose' is different, not that there should really be an agenda with a gospel.
- The Gospel of Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written and was aimed at the Romans. It focussed on the acts of Jesus rather than his teachings and missed large sections of his teachings out. Perhaps Marks' gospel was based directly on 'Q'. The author of The Gospel of Mark was written by a Jew who was hiding in the catacombs in Rome from persecution of the Christians by the Romans. It was written at a time of much Christian suffering and sacrifice, and was perhaps written to bring out Jesus' sacrifice, and was very gritty. It could be considered arrogant of a person to write the first gospel of Jesus Christ, as he had most likely never met him. Mark begins his gospel with Christ as an adult.
- The Gospel of Matthew was written for the Jews, to emphasise continuity with the prophecies of the Old Testament and to proclaim Jesus as the King of Israel, King of the Jews. Matthew's Gospel was based on Mark's Gospel. It could be argued that he plagiarised Marks' Gospel. Matthew wanted a record of the sayings of Jesus and mainly focussed on his Galilee ministry. He perhaps felt that Mark wasn't bringing out the lineage of Christ and the fulfillment of prophecy for the Jews, and the fact that Jesus was King of the Jews.
- The Gospel of Luke was aimed mainly at the Greeks, with the focus being on Jesus as the Saviour of all nations. Luke's Gospel was also based on Mark's Gospel. Luke also wanted a record of the sayings of Jesus and mainly focussed on his Galilee ministry. Luke perhaps felt that Matthew's gospel was perhaps too focussed on the Jews, and wrote the gospel to make Christianity seem more respectable and mainstream-acceptable to the Romans and Greeks. He also wrote Acts, describing the formation of the early Church.
- John's Gospel was written much later and was very different from Matthew and Luke. It was more focussed on the mystery of the incarnation, on symbolism and proclaiming the glory of the only-begotten son of God. The author of Luke sought to supplement the other 3 gospels, and focusses more on Jesus' Judaean ministry. Whoever John was, he wasn't a disciple either as this gospel was probably written 70 years after Christ's death. John no doubt meditated on the other gospels and wanted to paint a complete picture of Christ, that the other gospels seemed to presented.
Each gospel is by no means a complete record of the life, actions and sayings of Jesus. For example, Luke 2:1-20 tells the story of a group of shepherds that after having been visited by an Angel of the Lord, went to look for Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The 'babe' had been recently born. There was no room at the inn in Bethlehem, so one can assume this took place in or immediately outside Bethlehem. It is not specified where the manger was, and in what type of building. Matthew 2:1-14 examines the story of the visit of the 'wise men' (not Kings), who followed the star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They visited the 'young child' of Jesus in a 'house'. It is not stated how old Jesus was at this time. The wise men 'stood over' him. Now some consider these two accounts contradictory. However, the way most people interpret the accounts is that Jesus was visited by shepherds in or around Bethlehem when newly born. Mary and Joseph then settled down in Bethlehem, after the census had taken place (we assume). When the child was very young, perhaps a few years old or so (we assume), he was visited by the three wise men. After this, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with Jesus to escape Herod's men. These accounts are not inconsistent but require a little extrapolation. It is odd that Luke and Matthew do not both mention these two events.
It could be argued that other, non-canonical gospels also contain facts about the sayings or actions of Jesus, such as the Gospel of Thomas (from the Nag Hammadi library). However, this is difficult to prove, but it is not inconceivable. This is discussed elsewhere.
In only small respects is there any discrepency between them however (e.g. the events following Jesus' resurrection). The fact that the gospels don't completely fit together is not really the point. They were books written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, but obviously who being flesh had views, interpretations and had a point to get across. That doesn't mean that they are not true of course. To take all these books, and the old testament books as literal historical facts might be considered unwise by some. Large parts are historical facts, but they are not all totally historically correct according to historical records and archeological evidence. The spirit and religious teachings could be considered to be what the Bible is really about. To dismiss the Bible because of any historical inaccuracy would be foolish and missing the point.
The Canonical Gospels could today be integrated into one 'super' gospel (which wouldn't be that hard to do - which is something that happened with the early Aramaic Peshitta Bible). For historical reasons, this will probably not be done in any formal capacity. They were included as four separate gospels to try to make the Bible as universally acceptable as possible, back in the fourth century AD.
Some scholars argue that there has been a degree of amalgamation of different versions of each of the four gospel books which may have been circulating during the fourth century, as well as a little creative editing, to tailor the books to their target audience and to emphasise certain aspects of Jesus background or life. For example, the birth of Jesus in the current city known as Bethlehem may not actually be correct, and his real birthplace may well be further north. However, Jesus had to be shown to be born in the City of David, with the connection to David being emphasised. Unfortunately we may never know as part of the ruins of the village in question has been asphalted over by a main road!
It is postulated that Luke's account of the census being the reason for the pregnant Mary to have come to Bethlehem as being incorrect, examining the writings of contemporary Jewish Historian Josephus, who recorded the activities of Herod in great detail, but never once mentioned an empire-wide census.
The Roman Emperor Constantine came up with the first formal Bible in 310 AD - Codex Vaticanus. Those books that we now know as the New Testament were formalised and agreed by the Catholic Church, in the Codex Vaticanus, to provide a unity and consistency as to what Christians should actually be reading (or rather be read in churches, as the public distribution of Bibles in people's own language would not occur for 500-1000 years later!) It is likely that those books that emphasized certain aspects of Jesus' nature were included, perhaps John being included as a compromise in some capacity (containing certain gnostic concepts but not the gnostic cosmology). The formation of the 'Bible' is discussed in the section below on Early Christianity.
Obviously there was much debate over what stayed in and what went out, and it is likely that books were removed or omitted that had fallen in disuse by early Christians, that has been written relatively late in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, that didn't quite meet with full agreement and which didn't fit the politics of the early Church.
The Jerome Bible could be perhaps considered a somewhat dubious translation of Greek into Latin. It was the first Latin Vulgate Bible available in Western Europe and was an important version in Western Christianity.
The Bible was kept in Hebrew, Greek and Latin only until around 1500, and was generally read and translated to Church congregations. No Bibles in other languages were available and Christians in general did not have Bibles to refer to or to study. They had to rely on the interpretation of the Bible versions from Church. The Churches of Western Europe were keen to keep hold of the Bible and thus retain a degree of monopoly and also control over their congregations.
In 1370 in England, John Wycliffe translated the Jerome Bible into English. The Wycliffe Bible was the first English Bible and it was actually illegal! Wycliffe was an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 14th Century and was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation.
Tindal, translated the original Greek and Hebrew Manuscripts into English in the early 1500s.
The history of the Bible was discussed in a documentary by Dr Robert Beckford.
Authorised Version of the Bible (AV / KJV)Tindal's English version of the Bible was used by King James in 1604, who wanted to unite the Country and also have his own Bible separate from the Catholic Church. So he took this last translation, took a big team of English Biblical scholars encompassing all the different camps, and came up with an amalgamation. The resulting King James Version, a.k.a. KVJ, Authorised Version (AV), was finalised in 1611. It was 85% Tindal.
King James was himself a Freemason. Please see the links below for more information.
The KJV Bible was unchanged until about 1900 when various newer English Bibles were produced.
The AV Bible with Apocrypha can be read for free at the link below.
The Authorised Version of the Bible issued by King James in 1611 did include the Apocrypha and it was the formal Bible for use in Protestant England! It was widely adopted by both Protestants and Catholics alike. The 1611 AV Bible was originally issued including the Apocrypha (aka The Maccabees Bible), which were deemed to be non-essential but still spiritually inspired books to be included in this Bible.
The Bible has been translated into a number of different versions since the 1611 Bible, e.g. New American Standard Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and Good News Bible are amongst the most popular. The New King James Bible is a version of the King James Bible translation reputed using more modern English. There are various arguments for and against this version as it makes rather unusual changes. My personal opinion is that if you want to read the KJV, then read the KJV and not the NKJV. If you want to read a modern Bible, then read a modern Bible. Please see the section below on Christianisation for more information.
The KJV Bible is now to be retranslated by a group of Vatican approved scholars, incorporating certain elements of the 'Dea Sea Scrolls'. These are literally only certain passages from the books written/stored by the Essenes, one of many Jewish Sects around before the birth of Christ. The Dea Sea Scrolls of course are different versions of books belonging to the Old Testament, and were written at a time of the Roman occupation of Judea. They do not affect the New Testament, which is probably the main area of contemporary debate. They certainly would never include the Nag Hammadi Library, which is reflective of the Gnostic tradition, and mainly concern the events of the New Testament and include completely new gospels and Codexes describing the Gnostic Cosmology, which the Catholic Church, or indeed most other churches, would never accept. It is perhaps ironic that the KJV is now to be re-written by Catholics, whereas in 1611 it's construction was instigated by Protestants. A certain number of Freemasons were involved in the writing of the 1611 Bible, so it will be interesting to see if any Freemasons will again be involved in the re-translation of the KJV. Hopefully it will not make the same 'errors (of judgement)' that the NKJV made.
I am not knowledgeable enough about the Essenes to ascertain what the general view is amongst Christians. They appear to have displayed some elements of Christianity and ascetism even before the birth of Christ. What influence they actually had on Christianity is hard to determine.
It should be noted that some contemporary scholars consider the Apocrypha (the 'optional books' in some editions of the KJV), those books most often used by Catholics than any other denomination, to reflect the more 'warrior' side of Judaism and Christianity, and these books were used/included by those that wanted to emphasise the dominance side of Christianity. I do not have an opinion about this at this stage. Perhaps this applies to some books of the Apocrypha, but certainly not all e.g. the tale of Daniel in the lion's den. Some of the Apocrypha books seem to me to be 'missing parts' of the Old Testament, whereas others do perhaps seem 'supplemental' in nature.
PeshittaThe Peshitta is the version of the Bible written in Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language):
The Peshitta Old Testament is the earliest piece of Syriac literature of any length, probably originating in the second century. Whereas the majority of the Early Church relied on the Greek Septuagint, or translations from it, for their Old Testament, the Syriac-speaking church had its text translated directly from the Hebrew text, similar to the proto-Masoretic texts. In some passages the translators have clearly used the Greek Septuagint. Supporters of the Peshitta OT argue that the Greek translation of the Hebrew is problematic in places.
The Peshitta New Testament is a reworking of Old Syriac texts (combined with some Western and some Byzantine renderings) to form a unified version of the scriptures for the Syriac-speaking churches, in the early 5th Century. It however does not include the books 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Almost all Syriac scholars agree that the Peshitta gospels are translations of the Greek originals. A minority viewpoint is that the Peshitta represent the original Aramaic New Testament (Aramaic being the actual language of Jesus and his disciples and the first Christian Churches in the East); the Greek New Testament being a translation of the 'original Aramaic NT'.
The Peshitta, lightly revised and with missing books added, is the standard Syriac Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Maronite Church, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church, the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
There are a number of translations of the Peshitta into English, including the Younan Bible, Lamsa Bible, Murdock Bible, Etheridge Bible and Khabouris Codex.
The most complete of these versions is arguably The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts, aka the 'Lamsa' Bible, first issued in 1933. This was translated from the original Aramaic Peshitta by Dr George Lamsa. It is argued that this version of the Bible is truer to the original texts. The Lamsa Bible uses ancient Aramaic scrolls for its translation, but in places reverts to the King James Bible where translation becomes difficult. The main area of contension is in the dying words of Jesus, in Matthew 27:46, which the Lamsa Bible translates differently. KJV:"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" vs the Lamsa Bible: "My God, my God, for this I was spared!"
The Lamsa Bible can be read on line at the links below. The first link is the OT, the second being the NT.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church CanonThe Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia, that was formerly part of the Coptic Orthodox church until 1959, which it was granted its own Patriarch. It is one of the few pre-colonial churches of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. It is thought to have been formed in 346 AD.
Some have observed that the Ethiopian Church is a shining example of Christianity working with the traditions of Judaism. The Ethiopian Church regards the Old Testament as as sacred as the New Testament, if not more so. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe many Jewish customs such as dietary customs and indeed circumcision, and some believe that Jewish practices and culture in the area predate Christ, which is not unfeasible or that unlikely given the history of the Jewish people. Perhaps the Jewish people should take note that it is possible to embrace both Judaism and Christianity together in a number of forms.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon contains a total of 81 books, including the books accepted by other Orthodox Christians.
- The Narrower Canon includes Enoch, Jubilees, and 3 books of the Meqabyan
- The Broader Canon includes all the Narrower Canon, plus 2 Books of the Covenant, four Books of Sinodos, A Book of Clement, and Didascalia.
No one has printed the Broader Canon since the early 1900s. The Haile Selassie Version of the Bible, published in 1962, contains only the Narrower Canon.