I originally submitted this article on JustOneOpinion.com on August 6, 2009.
I’m republishing it here for the benefit of the readers of my blog. This is the second in my series about mostly unknown but true facts about the Bible.
“Not only are most Americans ignorant of the contents of the Bible, but they are also almost completely in the dark about what scholars have been saying about it for the past two centuries” reports Bart Ehrman, a well respected professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. In his book, Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman shares many well-written and revealing truths supporting his assertion. A few of them are:
- The Old Testament consists of thirty-nine books written by dozens of authors over at least six hundred years. And Moses did not write the first five books. In fact, it is hard to know if he ever existed.
- The New Testament was written by sixteen or seventeen authors over a period of seventy years. Only eight of the twenty-seven books are written by the people traditionally thought to be the authors. Most of the books are written not by apostles, but by later writers claiming to be apostles
- When Paul wrote his letters (penned before the Gospels) to the churches he founded, he did not think he was writing the Bible. So, too, with the Gospels. Mark, whatever his real name was, had no idea his book (the first Gospel to be written) would be put into a collection with three other books and called Scripture; and he did not think that his book should be interpreted in light of what other Gospel writers would write some thirty years later in different countries and in a different context.
- The idea that Jesus preexisted his birth and that he was a divine being who became human is found only in the Gospel of John; the idea that he was born of a virgin is found only in Matthew and Luke.
- In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus never refers to himself as a divine being, as someone who preexisted, as someone who was in any sense equal to God. In Mark, he is not God and he does not claim to be. In fact, he confirms his fallibility in this Gospel by repeatedly predicting that the end will come right away, during his own generation, while his disciples are still alive.
- The Gospels for the most part do not provide disinterested factual information about Jesus, but contain stories that had been in oral circulation for decades before being written down. This makes it very difficult to know what Jesus actually said, did, and experienced.
- There were lots of other Gospels available to the early Christians, as well as epistles, Acts, and apocalypses. Many of these claimed to be written by apostles, who, with the exception of Paul, could most likely neither read nor write.
- The creation of the Christian canon was not the only invention of the early Church. A whole range of theological perspectives came into existence, not during the life of Jesus or even through the teachings of his original apostles but later, as the Church grew and came to be transformed into a new religion rather than a sect of Judaism.
And while the list of things we know about the Bible that ain’t so goes on and on, one of the most striking of the truths is:
- There is only one book in the New Testament, 1 Timothy—forged in Paul’s name by someone living later—that states that a woman’s place in the church is to be silent and to “exercise no authority over a man.” What’s amazing to learn is that in the books that Paul really does write, this policy is clearly at odds with what he preached and practiced.