What is faith?

I'd like to do some writing, thinking and discussing about the subject of faith. I have some ideas about it, but I'd like to hear from you, so here are some questions to get things started:

1. What is faith? How do you define the word?

2. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? In all situations or just some?

3. Does your answer to #2 hold true for people with faiths other than your own?

4. How do you decide what to have faith in?

6 Passages That Weren't in the Original New Testament

The printing press was invented in 1439, so for the first 1400 years of Christianity all of the books were copied by hand. For the first 300 years, that work was done by literate church leaders rather than by a class of professional scribes and monks as was the case later on. The same Christians that were preserving and copying the texts that became the New Testament were also embroiled in several theological debates. We now know, based on comparisons of the surviving manuscripts from the history of the Church, that those early copyists made changes to the text. Most of those changes were minor mistakes like spelling, word order, skipping a line or just a simple misreading. But in some cases, entire verses or passages were inserted by the scribes to bring the text in line with their theological views and to bolster their position in the debates of the day.

1. Mark 16:9-20

Beginning of a Latin Gospel of Mark, Book of Durrow (7th century).

What it says

Our most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end with Mark 16:8, which says that some women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus, but never mentioned it to anyone. This may have been all there was to the story when the Gospel of Mark was written, but when church leaders were copying this book more than a century after it was written, this abrupt ending must not have seemed right to them. So, they added some post-resurrection appearance stories and a commission from Jesus calling people to be baptized, speak in tongues, heal people and handle deadly snakes without being harmed.

Why they changed it

By the time this passage was added, the other Gospels with their post-resurrection appearances and ascension accounts were well-known throughout the early church. The abrupt and unimpressive ending of Mark may have been a source of embarrassment for the church. It served as a record of the changes that had already been made to the stories about Jesus. The addition of this ending brought Mark in line with the other Gospels and smoothed over this inconsistency. (I also discussed the ending of Mark here.)

2. John 7:53-8:11

Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Guercino, 1621

What it says

This passage contains the story of the woman caught in adultery. It is the source of the iconic phrase "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Although it is a charming story about grace and forgiveness, the textual evidence suggests that this passage was not in the original version of the Gospel of John.

Why they added it

There's no obvious reason for the insertion of this story. It may have simply been a part of the oral tradition about Jesus that was added to the margin of a manuscript by a scribe and inserted into the text by a later scribe. Interestingly, we have manuscripts that insert this story at different points in the Gospel of John. One scribe even stuck this story into the book of Luke. Most modern translations include this passage but label it as a later addition. If you see the Bible as a book written by a perfect God and transmitted by fallible humans, then you must discard this passage as a human invention, which is a shame because it teaches a nice lesson.

3. John 21

What it says

John 20 ends with what looks like a closing statement:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Third Appearance of ChristJohn 21 seems like it was tacked on to an already finished book, but there are no surviving manuscripts that omit John 21. So, the only evidence that this passage was added by a scribe is the internal evidence of the text itself. If it is an addition, that would help make sense of John 21:24 which speaks of the author of the book in the third person.

Why they added it

This chapter includes the reinstatement of Peter, who had denied Jesus a few chapters earlier. This addition resolves that story line. Perhaps some early scribe listed an example of those "many other miraculous signs" after the end of the book (borrowing a story from Luke 5:1-11) and the next scribe copied that section as if it were part of the text. But if that happened, it was already done before our oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John.

4. Luke 22:17-21

What it says

Here is the passage as it appears in the NIV, with the added passage in bold:

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.

The Last Supper, 1498, by Leonardo da Vinci

Why they added it

One of the theological debates that raged in the early church was about the meaning of the death of Jesus. Each Gospel has its own perspective on the significance of that central event, and each of those views had its defenders in the early church. Outside of this passage, the Gospel of Luke describes the death of Jesus as a miscarriage of justice and an occasion for repentance, but not as a sacrifice for sins. The addition of these lines to the text serves to bring Luke into agreement with what became the Orthodox view of the death of Jesus. The language that was employed here is very similar to what's found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

5. Luke 22:43-44

Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann

What it says

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Why they added it

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is always calm and collected, never letting his emotions get the best of him. Although several of his stories were copied (almost) word for word from Mark, the author of Luke always left out the parts that showed Jesus getting angry or upset. These two verses interrupt the flow of the passage, they don't fit in with Luke's usual portrayal of Jesus and they are not present in our earliest copies of the text. But why would this be added?

One of the theological controversies in the first few centuries of the church surrounded the question of who Jesus was. Was he a man? Was he God? Was he both? All three of these views were present in the early church. The latter ultimately won out and the other views were declared to be heresy. Luke was the gospel of choice for those who said that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human. Some scribe inserted this passage so that Luke, like the other Gospels, attributed human emotions to Jesus.

6. 1 John 5:7-8

What it says

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (KJV)

Excerpt from Codex Sinaiticus including 1 John 5:7–9. It lacks the Comma Johanneum.

Why they changed it

The first line of this passage is not present in any manuscripts produced before the 16th century. All Bible scholars now recognize that this passage was inserted to improve the case for the doctrine of the Trinity, which is not clearly stated in the Bible outside of this added passage. Most translations of the Bible now omit the added passage or relegate it to a footnote. The King James version includes this passage because it was translated from late and unreliable Greek manuscripts.

Why it matters

Textual criticism is the field of study that attempts to discover what the original version of the Bible said. This is especially important for Christians who believe that the New Testament was inspired by God. If some passages were added or altered by human scribes, then those must be discovered and stripped away so we can get closer to the original text. But those changes also tell us something about the early church leaders. Many of them did not see the New Testament as an immutable document delivered from God, but as a text that could be changed to bring it in line with official church doctrine.

Perhaps you see these as a minor changes that don't affect the central message of the New Testament. I wouldn't consider the identity of Jesus, the doctrine of the Trinity and the meaning of the death of Jesus to be minor issues. But there is another, bigger problem with brushing these changes aside. They are probably only the tip of the iceberg. The oldest surviving copies of several books in the New Testament were made over 100 years after the original text was written. There may have been very significant changes to the text during that interval, but in the absence of manuscripts we don't know what they were (unless we rely on internal evidence as in the discussion of John 21 above). There's no reason to think that the copyists of the first 100 years were any more shy about making changes than the copyists of the next 300 years.

The changes that we know about show that even if the original books of the New Testament were inspired by a god, they were not miraculously preserved. That job fell to humans who introduced thousands of unintentional and intentional changes. So, even if you can come to terms with the changes I've listed above, you must also face the possibility that there are many more changes that we will never discover. And if the scribes were willing to make changes, then the Gospel authors probably were, too. In fact, we can see that Matthew and Luke took passages from Mark and made changes to them.

There are a lot of good ideas and stories in the New Testament, but I don't see how anyone can view it as a perfect book without disregarding loads of evidence.

(Much of the information for this post came from Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. It's a good introduction to textual criticism.)

City council

Tonight I was sworn in as an Adrian city councilman. The mayor resigned a few months ago and one of the aldermen was acting as mayor. The council decided to appoint him as mayor and they needed someone to serve the rest of the alderman's term (about 14 months). I volunteered and the council appointed me. I went to every council meeting for around a year when I was helping out at the newspaper. I got familiar with the issues they were dealing with and became interested in the process.

Adrian is a town of around 2000 people and it's growing at a healthy pace. We're in the middle of building a new water plant. The city also owns a nursing home. This town has always been my home and probably always will be. It's a great place to live. I love it and I want it to succeed. I'm looking forward to serving.

Before you forward that email

SnopesIf you get an email forward that seems too amazing, frightening, sad or heartwarming to be true, it probably is. Before you hit that button to forward the message to your friends, take 60 seconds and type the subject line into Google. You can also throw in a word like "snopes," "hoax" or "chain letter." There's a good chance that the story in the email was made up and you don't want to forward a story that claims to be true but isn't, do you?

There are several sites dedicated to debunking fictional chain letters and other internet rumors. If you run a Google search about the email, one of these sites is often the number one result.

snopes.com

chainletters.net

breakthechain.org

Don't believe everything you read.

Help Scott get this job

If you've got a minute, follow the link below and give my friend Scott's video application a rating of 5.

Scott's video application

He's applying for a caretaker/PR position in Australia. I think he'd be great at it.

Hell is Terrorism

Last fall my family and I were taking a walk around town when we saw this church sign:

If you live like there is no God you better be right.

Emma read the sign and we discussed it as we walked. Sara quickly noted a grammatical problem with the sign, but I will leave that aside for now and focus on the meaning and the goal of the sign. There may be other possible meanings, but I think that this sign was put up to send the message that people who "live like there is no God" will be tortured in hell for eternity unless it turns out that they are right and God does not exist. The sign belongs to a church in the Southern Baptist Convention, which broke away from the rest of the Baptist Church in 1845 so that SBC members could continue to own slaves. Someone in the church decided that the doctrine of hell should be used to threaten the public but hell should not be mentioned by name on a public sign.

First of all, if someone is convinced that God does not exist and the Bible is not true, then they almost certainly don't believe that hell exists. So, even if threats of torture were a good way to bring people into your church, the sign would still be ineffective because it threatens the reader with a nonexistent punishment.

Hell is a bad way to make and keep converts because it relies on fear. There is a name for the tactic of using irrational fear to change a person's beliefs or actions: terrorism. When a religion uses hell (or any other threat) to scare a person into line, they're using the same tactics as Al Qaeda, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Hezbollah and the Ku Klux Klan. Just to make myself clear:

Hell is terrorism

Terrorism is an act of desperation. It is used when a group is unable to convince others based on the quality of their ideas. Remember that when you see or hear the threat of hell from a religious group. I'm happy to report that my 7-year-old daughter is already very skeptical of the doctrine of hell. I hope that she'll be immune to this kind of fear mongering if anyone ever tries to use it on her.

Those who believe in the Christian hell rarely lose any sleep worrying that they've chosen the wrong religion and they'll end up in Jahannam, Naraka, Tartarus, Xibalba or the hell of any other religion. Even (or maybe especially) those who preach hell know that it's easy and useful for a religion to invent stories about hell, but impossible to prove or disprove them.

There are plenty of Christians and churches who have left behind sadistic doctrine of hell and the tactic of terrorism in general. Of course, the easiest way to rid yourself of the fear of hell is to realize that the Bible is a collection of stories composed by humans to further a religion. It makes perfect sense that those ancient yarn-spinners would cook up the idea of hell. "Do what we say or the invisible man in the sky will make you go down to where it's hot and you're eaten by worms forever!" When their promises of pre-death punishment or blessing were shown to be empty, they shifted to promises about what happens after you die. We know better than to be moved by spooky stories like that today, right?

Church and State Reprised

Several of my Facebook friends have been joining the cause Keep God in Schools. Back when I was a pastor, I wrote an article for the church newsletter about the separation of church and state. My view today is very similar to my view then. Separation of church and state is good for the church and good for the state. I would love to discuss this with anyone who disagrees. My first question: Which denomination's understanding of God should be taught in our schools?

A Film About Homosexuality and Christianity

Is it possible to be a devoted Christian and an openly gay person? How do Christian families deal with the news that their child is gay when their church tells them that homosexuality is an abomination? These are some of the questions tackled in the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So. This award-winning film tells the stories of several families and how they were able to make peace between their religious beliefs and their love for their children. There are also interviews with religious scholars on both sides of the issue. Many scholars believe that the Bible, when interpreted correctly, does not condemn homosexual relationships.

The film is heartwarming and instructive. Although you hear from some Christian leaders who maintain that homosexuality is wrong and some that don't, in the end it's clear that the filmmaker sides with those who are more accepting. He shows the healing that comes to families who love and accept their gay children unconditionally. He also shows one family that was torn apart permanently because this religious belief came between a mother and a daughter.

Here's a trailer for the movie:

Here's a clip showing a little cartoon from the movie about whether homosexuality is a choice:

Millions of Christians and thousands of churches already welcome gay members. In my neck of the woods, churches are not so forward thinking. Many still believe that gay people must try to change their orientation by prayer and sheer force of will or that they must be celibate for the rest of their lives. I hope people watch this film and learn that there is a better way.

An update to my religious autobiography

I recently ran across a book that played a significant role in one phase of my life, so I've updated my religious autobiography by adding this paragraph:

Over the next few years I had many discussions with family and friends about my shift in beliefs. For some of them, my decision to go to a church that worshiped with instruments was almost as bad as abandoning God altogether. (This fact would prepare me and them for the bigger shift that I would go through a few years later.) One of the books that helped me cope with this situation was Free In Christ by Cecil Hook. The book is available for free online or you can order a print copy. Hook never left the coC, but he spoke persuasively against the legalism and division that is so prevalent in many churches of Christ. I recommend the book to anyone in the church who wants to see things from another prospective and anyone outside the church who wants to see what makes this little non-denominational denomination tick.

Twain on Irreverence



"Irreverence is another person's disrespect to your god; there isn't any word that tells what your disrespect to his god is."

-- Mark Twain

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