My view of the New Testament...

I've been studying scientific and archaeological evidence for the Bible lately and wanted a place to document my conclusions.

I assume many of the events described, including the miracles, actually occurred approximately as described. The gospels and Acts have ample evidence of being historically trustworthy and written by people genuinely wishing to factually present what occurred.

That said, there are errors of the kind we should expect with even the best eyewitness accounts. And there is added fiction; for example, making up the words of dialogs and speeches. And knowing details of events having no witnesses.

The influence of Greek philosophy and logic, with it's subsequent Hellenization of the Roman Empire resulted in the New Testament being for the most part historically trustworthy.

There are many references to fictional events of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Since these must be interpreted allegorically (how else to interpret fiction?), the New Testament writers interpret these by adding even yet another layer of allegory. For example, Paul's allegory of the bondwoman and the freewoman.

Errors...

  1. 6,000 years of human history, this idea borrowed from Judaism.
  2. Philosophy from Aristotle, the Greeks, Philo of Alexandria, and others; having many scientific errors and an unchristian worldview.

Objections that such and such a writer didn't have command of the language or knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures ignore the consideration that the New Testament writings may have been dictated to scribes. These scribes applied their skills in grammar and style, and some were likely religiously trained in the Old Testament scriptures before becoming Christians; able to quote Old Testament passages.

The events and teachings of the New Testament are a scrambled mess of contradictions; hopeless to sort it all out. Trying the harmonize the gospel accounts is impossible. Trying to reconcile the teachings of Paul and other writers is doomed to fail. We see this in the many various theological systems: each view proven using cherry picked verses. Seems you can prove any view at all! No wonder there are so many, each firmly believed and defended. My solution: reject them all; or be at least be extremely suspicious.

And so I reject: Young earth creationism, premillennialism and the rapture with its great tribulation and antichrist, Calvinism, charismatic, saved by faith only, scripture only, total depravity, legal models of justification, emphasis on works and law, so-called inductive Bible study (which is really just guided allegory disguised as application), long sermons by surfers, that wacky language Christian-ese, typology, public gossip prayer, pastors having no training in psychology destroying people's live by ineptly counselling them using so-called Bible principles and teachings, scientific ignorance, so-called Bible-based inequality of women and discrimination against women.

So the problem is: I never know for sure the exact details, or the exact context (what happened before and after), what the exact words were. The best we can know is, that it was something like such and such. Of course, standard theology and doctrine requires surgical precision, but this is not available. So, therefore, all these doctrines require updating and correcting.

I use B.C. and A.D. for dates.


Summary

There is enough historical information provably correct to ground the gospels and the book of Acts in the first century, written by the apostles or their helpers. The accuracy of the eyewitness accounts is only as good as modern day psychology indicates; the basic outline is correct with errors in details. And dialogs and speeches seem to be invented by the writer, presumably based on people's remembering of what was really said.

Just because certain events recounted in the New Testament are provably true doesn't imply they all are. Likely there were various fictional stories helpful people invented also included. I would guess the Magi visiting Jesus is in this category: somebody thought it would advance the cause of the gospel to portend his coming with a visit like this, as was common in other writings.

We should wonder why there are no accounts of healing people with tuberculosis, cancer, or malaria? Mostly it's blindness, deafness, dumbness, paralysis, leprosy, and demon possession. Perhaps some of the other cases are some other kind of disease: Peter's mother in law, Lazarus, the boy who died, the girl who died, and others; perhaps even the woman with the chronic bleeding.

It seems to me the Church missed the mark by turning it into a rigid domineering institution, probably using Judaism and the Romans as models. And the same for the priesthood with its clergy vs laity division. Analysis of what Jesus actually taught reveals none of this kind of thing.

So how can we read and meditate on the New Testament knowing all of this? We will never be sure of exactly what was said, or of what really happened. (Weirdly, even though some of these ambiguities are provable, fundamentalist evangelical Protestants assume anyway that every word is the word of God, as if they believe the dictation theory.)

I think Paul believed that Judaism with its law and rituals was from God, from Moses and others. He felt he had to explain how every aspect of Judaism related to Christianity, but didn't do a very good job with it. That's why his writings sound so confused, scatterbrained, and out of focus. But there was no need to embed Judaism into Christianity like this. (Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants still think you have to do this, not realizing that all of this Old Testament teaching was fiction; not from God at all.)

There are a few passages in which Jesus seems to validate Judaism. At first I thought it was because Jesus was so completely human that he was fooled in this just like the apostles, but now I just think these details about Jesus saying this kind of thing are invented, that is to say, fiction. Or, Jesus answers people's questions using their views, without feeling the need to correct them.

Where did people get the idea that the Bible was the word of God, as if written by God via the dictation theory? The only thing I can assume is that is was based on Judaism and their views of the Old Testament. The apostles just did the same thing they learned from the religion of their culture. Jesus didn't seem to try to correct this, perhaps knowing it was a waste of time.

We should wonder why Jesus had no concern to address social issues such as slavery, corruption in government, discrimination and exploitation of women, exploitation of poor and disadvantaged people.

The various Holy Spirit-inspired prophecies of the Old Testament are incorporated into the New Testament. In spite of the flaws in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit indwelt it. As a member of Judaism, you could do worse than to base your life on the Old Testament.


Gospels

Written by the apostles (Matthew, John) and companions (Mark of Peter, Luke of Paul) on the dates claimed by the Church. Probably written by scribes such that the grammar is that of the scribe.

Historically true, including the miracles, resurrection, and description of who Jesus is matching the Nicene Creed and the Trinity.

What about the healing miracles and other miracles of Jesus? I don't want to believe them (not because I don't believe miracles are possible; I do), but I must believe them. The many miracles are tightly integrated with the other historical narratives and can't be separated.

I have no trouble believing the resurrection; this flows from my view of the spiritual realm and the true nature of the universe as merely a temporarily corrupted version of the new heavens and new earth.

In my Bible Commentary I comment on what it would require of various passages for the information to be historically true.


Acts

Written by Luke on the date claimed by the Church, probably just after the story of Paul's shipwreck.

Historically true, including the miracles.

In my Bible Commentary I comment on what it would require of various passages for the information to be historically true.


Paul's letters

Written by Paul on the dates claimed by the Church. Probably written by scribes such that the grammar is that of the scribe.

Paul spends a lot of time writing topics of interest for Jews who would have to make a major shift in thinking to become Christians. These are not relevant to us today and are, in my opinion, strongly overemphasized in Christian teaching and doctrine.

Paul makes errors. For example:

  1. Teachings called "cultural" by those who today wish to ignore them. (But Paul doesn't say they are cultural. Weird.)
  2. That secular rulers are trustworthy keepers of the peace and administer justice fairly.
  3. That Christians should only use other Christians to judge court cases.
  4. That slavery is OK.
  5. That women are subservient to men.
  6. He uses Greek philosophy.
  7. The body is bad, the source of sin.
  8. Economic redistribution.
  9. Jesus would come soon. He didn't.
  10. That we shouldn't stumble our brother. But where is the line? Anything at all we do might stumble someone who believes bad teaching.
  11. The purpose of marriage is to avoid sin.

Other letters

Written by James, Peter, John, and Jude on the dates claimed by the Church. It is unknown who wrote Hebrews. Probably written by scribes such that the grammar is that of the scribe.


Revelation

Written by the apostle John on the date claimed by the Church, after or during his imprisonment on Patmos about 96 A.D. during the persecution of Domitian; definitely after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. Probably written by scribes such that the grammar is that of the scribe.

John had the visions he describes. The events take place in the spiritual realm, not on earth.

The audience of this book: (1) Christians in John's 7 churches who were experiencing the Roman persecution under Domitian in Asia, and (2) the next few generations of Christians who would experience far worse persecution by the Romans.

Some interpret the book of Revelation as containing a strictly chronological account of yet-future events. I see no reason to interpret it this way and doing so leads to the most impossible of interpretations. I consider this book to be a collection of unrelated visions about a variety of topics in similar format as the book of Zechariah.