I have truly enjoyed your site. Since I began my quest (and oh, man, what a quest it's gonna be!), your thoughts have been most helpful. When I found it, I went home and told my wife all about this guy that totally doesn't believe in Paul. Of course, for me, having grown up in traditional Christianity, it was a bit to swallow, but you made your statements and then proved your points. Yesterday, I left the church I had been a part of. It was not a direct result of information you had provided, but it did give more information on which to make my decision. Fact is, if I had been content with things the way they were, I wouldn't have found your site in the first place!
Enough of all that--let me get to the point. I have some difficult questions, and I am hoping that you can help me out with them. You have weighed Paul in the scales, and found him to be wanting; by comparing his words with those of Acts, his teachings with those of Yeshua, his actions against his own words, and other criteria as well, it has been determined that Paul is not who or what he said he was. I looked at all of the things that you said about him, and if there is a Paul-salvaging argument to be had, I can't see where it is. But, I present this question: If Paul is examined and discarded based on this type of criteria, are the Gospels being held up to the same scrutiny? If we find discrepancies in Paul and cast him aside, do we cast off the Gospels if we find discrepancies there? The problem is, that in my quest, I have run across both problems in Paul as well as in the Gospels. However, I see that you hold to Yeshua and the Gospels, but have rejected Paul. Don't get me wrong--I'm not making an accusation; I simply want to know if you have encountered such problems in the Gospels as I have, and if so, how you still hold them as truth. If there is an answer for these things, I really need them.
This is a pretty trying time for me; I never thought I would be doubting the things that I am today. My whole life was based on them, and now that foundation is moving and shaking. Right now, I'm looking for solid ground! I understand that you are pretty busy, but if at all possible, I would much appreciate it if you could share some of your knowledge on this matter. Thank you in advance....
Your question concerning what is and what is not the infallible word of God is one that I have been asked quite a number of times. I intend to add a section to my book dedicated to this very subject. Usually I fire off a condensed version of my answer to those who ask, but I think this time I will spell it out in better detail for you and post it at my website for everyone until I get that part of my book written.
If Paul’s words are not infallible and we can tear his letters out of our Bibles, the question is, where does one draw the lines at what is and is not Scripture and stop tearing things out of the Bible? Many people, including family members, have gone to great lengths to inform me that once I start discarding portions of the Bible, I can-and-will do it to any part I “don’t like”. While this logic may appear incredibly profound on the surface, it is not true. This is because the criterion I use to determine what is inerrant Scripture in the Bible goes far beyond being a simple matter of my personal likes and dislikes. As you have noticed in my work on Paul’s words, there is much within the Bible itself that cries out against Paul. It is in the very conflict of doctrines presented in the Bible that it is demonstrated there are problems in blindly accepting the Bible as infallible. Herein lies the second of my two criterions on which I base my determination of what is and what is not Scripture. It is the fundamental premise that the truth will never be in conflict with itself. The truth will always add-up as it were. I will expand on this and my first premise in a bit. But first I want to step back from the smaller details of this debate and look at this picture from a broader perspective.
The idea that the Bible is the inspired word of God and “holy”, and is therefore infallible from Genesis to Revelation stems from one and only one very faulty premise. It is the belief that if God is sovereign, He must therefore be in absolute control of every event that transpires on earth. The logic then flows that if something is written in Bible, God must have wanted it there or it wouldn’t be there! This too sounds incredibly profound and insightful on the surface. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had a version of this logic pushed in my face. But the picture of an ultra-sovereign, all-controlling, predetermining, and predestinating God comes from the Bible in Paul’s writings, most notably Romans chapter 9. So now we find ourselves up against the following bit of self-supporting circular reasoning. It goes like this.
Question: How do we know God is sovereign and in control of every event on earth? Answer: Because the Bible says so! Question: So how do we know that what the Bible says is true? Answer: Because God is sovereign, which means He is in complete control and wouldn’t permit anything to be in the Bible that wasn’t true! Question: So how do we know God is sovereign again?...
This type of circular reasoning is about as airtight as they come. Until we come to grips with the fact that Paul is wrong in painting this picture of God as an ultra-sovereign, all controlling being, we’ll never break out of this trap. His picture is one that is laced with Greek philosophies of deity and is a pictured that is not seen in Moses or the prophets. These facts are covered in my book. See chapters The attributes of Deity part 1 part 2 and part 3 .
So once we finally break through this glass ceiling and realize that Paul is wrong about a number of things, then we are free to comprehend the fact that not everything that happens on earth is by God’s design including the putting together of the Bible. We are free to face the fact that the Bible itself contains errors and has man's fingerprints on it. We obviously have Paul’s! And then add to this the facts of Christian church history. From at least as early as the fourth century, Christian doctrine (as well as the canonization of the books of the bible) was established through tyranny in the blood of those who dissented… and there were many. As recently as a few hundred years ago William Tyndale was burned at the stake for merely translating the Bible to English and offering it to the masses. I would most certainly have suffered a worse fate for the things I have said if I lived back then. Contrary to what many Christians would have us believe, “Christ’s church” has not been established by sovereign providence, nor does it have God’s seal of approval by virtue of its longevity. For the most part, it was established and maintained for more than millennia through the tyranny of its leaders and their dictatorial control of the illiterate masses.
So how do we determine what parts of the Bible are God’s word? Here are the two premises I work from.
Moses and the Prophets are to be held as God’s word. And Yeshua’s words as recorded in the Gospels, Acts 1, and Revelation are also to be held as God’s word. Everything else in the Bible is questionable and must be held against these standards.
God will never contradict Himself. The truth will always be consistent and add up.
With regard to premise one, I must qualify it with the understanding that these are God’s words only to the degree they have been accurately transmitted to us down through the ages and languages. What God actually said to Moses and the prophets, and what Yeshua actually said are not to be questioned. But there is good reason to believe that what we have left of those recordings contains a number of glitches due to the man-handling it has endured. Typically, the Jews have done a significantly better job in accurately transmitting Moses and the prophets to us than the Gentile world has done with Yeshua’s words. Here is where premise two comes in. When there arises an inconsistency within these records, it is almost always a single passage against numerous others. In such a case, the single passage is to be questioned as possibly being in error either by someone’s conscious intent, a misunderstanding, and/or mistranslation. One case in point is my question of Yeshua’s supposed words in Matthew 29:19b, (See my article on this passage at http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/trinity.htm). Another example of a simple misunderstanding of a translator is Luke 23:29 (See my article Abortion in prophecy)
Also, when it comes to Yeshua’s words as recorded in the Gospels, it is only the words that would appear red in a red letter edition of the Bible that are to be held to the highest respect. This does not mean we need to have red letter Bibles! It's just that a red letter Bible clearly shows that there is a difference between what Yeshua said and what others said. Much of what is written in the Gospels is narrative and commentary by the writer. In the book of Matthew, the author repeatedly attempts to associate an event in Yeshua’s life with a prophecy from the Scriptures. This is a perfectly noble endeavor and the author does make a number of good quotes, but he also made several bad connections. The first three times he tries to make a connection, the prophecy he quotes has absolutely nothing to do with the event he records in Yeshua’s life. I’ll use the first one as an example. It is found in Matthew 1:23 where the author quotes Isaiah 7:14 and the passage that reads, “Behold he virgin will conceive and bear a son….” All of Christianity is familiar with this passage and hears it every Christmas. But most Jews know that in Isaiah the word translated “virgin” reflects nothing of virginity. The Hebrew word simply means a young woman and it is regularly used of a young married woman! And when the Isaiah passage is read in its entire context of chapter 7:1-8:10 it becomes painfully obvious that the young woman God has spoken of is not Yeshua’s mother Mary, but Isaiah’s wife. Having said this, this does not mean that I no longer believe in the virgin birth of Yeshua. I most certainly do. There is plenty of other evidence that calls for Yeshua's virgin birth that I won’t go into here. But the point to be made is that these are not the words of Yeshua. Theses are the words of the author of Matthew. They are his own personal observations and commentary and he was mistaken about the Isaiah passage. And as long as Christianity continues to maintain that every word of the Gospels is inerrant and God breathed it will give the Jews one more good reason to not believe because they see the obvious error.
It is important to recognize that only Yeshua’s words should be held to the highest esteem in the New Testament. This means even above those of the other writers because they too occasionally made errors. John, for example, was under the mistaken impression that Yeshua would return in his lifetime. It can be seen in 1John 1:18. He believed he lived in “the last hour”. Obviously he did not live to see Yeshua's return. Other examples of New Testament authors being mistaken could be cited.
But the Tenach (Old Testament) is not without a few of its own problems. There are a couple of Psalms that contain words that are obviously in error and even toy with blasphemy. Psalm 44 for example. It is a Psalm of the sons of Korah who are believed to have been contemporaries of David. I believe that verses 1-8 comprise the entire original Psalm of the sons of Korah and it is a beautiful Psalm. Verses 9-26 however were undoubtedly added as second and third verses to an old popular tune when Israel went into Babylonian captivity. Read the entire Psalm and notice how the subject matter takes a complete flip at verse 9. It describes conditions that were not in existence at the time of the sons of Korah. It goes on to actually accuse God of unrighteousness in dealing with Israel. Verses 17-22 are particularly notorious... and guess who quotes verse 22? Yup. It’s Paul, in Romans 8:36. I believe Psalm 89 is very similar to Psalm44. The original great Psalm ends at verse 37. The rest was added later.
There is also one other problem with a book from the Tenach that I have found. It isn’t so much an error or untruth being told, as it is there’s something missing. And what is missing would no doubt help in understanding what is a difficult book for many to understand. There is a gap in the book of Job. We are missing a significant piece of literature between the end of chapter 37 and the beginning of chapter 38. See article We are missing part of the book of Job!
But it must be reiterated that the problems with the Tenach (“Old Testament”) in general are few and far between. The point I am making by this example from Job as well as those from the Psalms and New Testament is that we need to come to grips with the fact that this wonderful book we call the Bible is not holy, perfect, or infallible. The Bible only contains the words of God, and it contains the truth. This fact still makes the Bible the best book on earth, but the truth must be sought after and dug out of it by those who are desperate for the truth it contains. When Christianity, or any other religion, elevates a piece of literature to the status of infallible is when the trouble begins. That is when faith turns to superstition and a piece of literature becomes an idol or god in itself. In this superstitious mode, man is not required to use his head. All he has to do is spend time with a book, believe, and fall in line.
The problems inherent with this frame of mind can be seen working havoc everywhere in the world. The worst of it is seen among the three great monotheistic religions in the world... Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions claim to believe in the God of Abraham as well as claim to believe the “Old Testament” to be God’s word. But each has their respective additions to it on which they focus the mainstay of their doctrine. The Moslems believe Mohamed’s words in the Koran are also the word of God. The Jews believe that God has spoken through the sages in the Talmud. And the Christians believe Paul’s words are the word of God. So for the most part, modern Islam is really Mohamedism, modern Judaism ...Talmudism, and modern Christianity ...Paulinism. All three have gone their separate ways and overruled the truth at the center. The ironic thing is that each can clearly see this problem in the other two, but none can see it in themselves. Everyone assumes they just happen to be in the group with the truth. Then, to complicate matters, many individuals from each of these religions are perfectly willing to die for what they believe! So we should obviously conclude that a conviction which causes someone to die for what they believe proves nothing concerning the truth either! It only proves that the one who gives up his life truly believes he has the truth.
I guess I've rambled on long enough. The summary short answer to your question Terry is that you are right. There are problems within the Gospels as well as in Paul's letters. But the difference is that all the words in Paul's letters belong to Paul. In the Gospels we have much narrative and commentary by the author that is not spoken by Yeshua and it is subject to error. Shake yourself free from the superstitious picture of a "Holy" book and stick with Yeshua's words and those who he endorsed... Moses and the prophets. And start with the assumption that the truth will always be consistent with itself. There will be no contradictions or double standards in it. You say your foundations are "moving and shaking". If you build on these foundations I guarantee you will experience the worst storms of your life! But you will not be moved.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel bless you richly as your heart longs for Him and the truth.
In Yeshua the Messiah,