Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Why I am a Christian

I would love to say that the heavens tore open and the angels came down and I saw God, but that is not how it went. I would love to be able to say it is because Christians are such nice people who are leading the revolution to make the world a  better place, but it is not like that either.  I love books so instead  it came through a book: the Bible.

I used to be a Marxist – I rarely called myself that back then, partly because Marxism just seemed like common sense to me. I was a materialist: everything is just matter in motion, no gods need apply. Religion was for old women, like my very Catholic grandmother.  No one with any brains would go for that stuff.

I promised my wife that I would read the whole Bible. So I did, from end to end. I was shocked: God told the Jews to wipe out people, to play dirty tricks on them. It was full of all these rules about animal sacrifice and these overly long visions of prophets that made them seem more mad than wise. Then there was Jesus performing miracles – and everyone knows that miracles go against science. Etc.

So at first reading it did more harm than good. My mother-in-law, another very religious old woman in my life, said it was because I had read it like a paperback novel. I forgot to pray! Right: pray to a god who is not there. And besides, I am not that simple-minded when it comes to books. But it was that – knowing about books – that was my undoing.

I had read communist histories of China so I knew what a history book is like when it is blinded by its own ideas. To my surprise the Bible was not like that. And the miracles were rare and surprisingly matter-of-fact.

Then there was the Resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead. The truth of Christianity rises or falls on that one piece of history. I thought it would take me 30 seconds to show how it could not be true. But 30 seconds turned into 30 minutes then 30 hours then 30 days then 30 months – it became all I could think about – and yet still I failed. I thought of everything, like maybe he played dead or his followers went mad. Surprisingly none of it held up.

I did not want to be a Christian. First, it is what my wife and mother-in-law wanted and I did not want to give in to them (and in the end I did not: I became something that in their eyes was even worse than a Marxist: a Catholic. It nearly tore my marriage apart). Second, it went against my intellectual pride. I did not want to be told the answers – I wanted to find them out for myself!  But then I remembered something a favourite schoolteacher once told me: the truth is more important than your pride.

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Does the Bible say that slavery is wrong? Yes, but not straight out.

The Bible has been used to argue both for and against slavery. A clear case of that was in America in the early 1800s. Just as with prohibition and abortion later on, many who opposed slavery did so for religious reasons.

Yet slave owners had their own choice Bible verses by which to defend their actions. But it was, in effect, a derailing tactic:

  1. Anyone who seriously reads the Bible knows it is not just a trick bag of verses. A battle of the verses is completely the wrong level at which to settle the issue.
  2. Despite their carefully chosen Bible verses, slave owners knew deep down that what they were doing was wrong from a Christian point of view. Why else their need to look down on black people?

Reading and understanding the Bible is something that takes a lifetime. I used to think the Bible was just a pack of lies, but that was before I read the whole thing for myself from end to end. It is too easy to take it the wrong way if you just read bits of it. The Bible has to be read in full. Not all of it is meant to be taken literally and there is often more then one layer of meaning.

Further, as a Catholic I do not believe in private interpretation. It is way too easy for people to read the Bible in a way that excuses their sins. I have seen that with my own eyes. In America you saw that in the 1800s with slave owners and you see it now with some homosexuals.

That does not mean I read the Bible with my brain turned off. Hardly. But what it does mean is that if I disagree with the Church over some point of doctrine because of my reading and understanding of the Bible, I assume the Church is way more likely to be right – it has been doing the Bible thing way longer than I have.  It is like when you are 14 and you think you know more than your parents – well, the truth is, you do not. Your parents have lived much longer and so, in most cases, they are that much more likely to be right.

Many Catholic societies have practised owning slaves, owning people as property: Roman, Brazilian, Haitian, etc. But most have not. And, so far as I know, popes have never defended the practice and have often condemned it. But as with adultery and bad government, they are not out to save society but to save souls.

The Bible nowhere clearly condemns slavery, polygamy or infanticide and yet most Christians through most of history believed those things were wrong. Why? Because they go against the moral understanding of the world that the Christian Bible gives you. The best way to express it in a few words: We are all sinners yet we are all God’s children.

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Here is my second rewrite of 1 Corinthians 2, this time as a blog post. A much harder thing than turning Greek into English since it requires understanding what the Bible says and putting it in a way that works as a blog post, which is not how Paul wrote it back in the days before Blogger and WordPress. But since this is my first try, I will pretty much stick to the points Paul made and in the order he made them. As a start.

Corinthians: put your faith not in what people tell you but in the spirit of God.

When I visited you I was weak, I was afraid, I was shaking like a leaf. I did not have fine words, I was not up on all the latest thinking. All I had, all I knew – all I thought I should have to know – was Jesus Christ, Christ dying on the cross.

So instead of trying to persuade you with fine words and subtle points, I showed you the spirit and power of God. Because your faith should be built on that, the spirit of God, not on words, not on what people say, not on the wisdom of man.

The things we told you were based not the wisdom of man, but on what the spirit of God has showed us: a secret that has been hidden by God since the beginning of time – for us, for this moment, for our glory. That is what the Bible was talking about it when it said:

Eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man,
the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Think about it: no one knows what is in a man’s heart except for that man’s spirit. In the same way, no one can possibly know what is in God’s heart except for the spirit of God.

And that spirit has been given to us.

And what we say comes from that spirit.

Now the things we say might seem utterly foolish to you. And that is just how it will seem if you look at it the way most people do. Because the only way you can understand it, the only way it can make sense, is to have the spirit of God in you.

Once you have the spirit of God you will see everything the right way. What people say will no longer matter to you. Because then, like us, you will see things from God’s point of view, not man’s point of view. Because knowing the mind of Christ is knowing the mind of God. And that is all you need.

My first observations: some would call this a translation, but for me it is too loose for that. But, come to think of it, maybe you could blog the whole Bible, or at least good stretches of it, this way. At Wal-Mart I once saw the New Testament sold as a girl’s magazine!

My second observations (December 2009): This is way easier to understand than the Bible!! But it could be made better if I made the points in a different order and lost some of the old-fashioned, King James sort of language.

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My rewrite of 1 Corinthians 2 in the Bible:

  1. And I, when I came to you, brothers, came not with better words or better wisdom, telling you about the mystery of God.
  2. For I thought it best not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
  3. And I in weakness and in fear and in much trembling was with you.
  4. And my speech and my message was not in the persuading words of wisdom, but in showing the Spirit and the power,
  5. so that your faith be not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
  6. We speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who come to nothing:
  7. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a hidden wisdom, which God foresaw before the ages in glory for us,
  8. which none of the rulers of this world knew: for if they knew, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
  9. But as it has been written, “What the eye did not see and the ear did not hear and into the heart of man did not enter, these things God prepared for those who love him.”
  10. But God showed them to us through his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
  11. For who among men knows the things of a man except for the spirit in the man himself?  In the same way too the things of God no one knows except for the Spirit of God.
  12. Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which comes from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.
  13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which human wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
  14. A man in his soul does not accept the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are to be judged spiritually.
  15. But in his spirit he judges all things, yet is judged by no one.
  16. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may teach him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

I took the the Authorized (King James) Version and changed it as little as possible while remaining as true to the Greek and as clear in current English as I could.

The main differences between me and the Authorized Version:

  • aion = age, not world
  • psykhikos = in his soul, not natural
  • pneuma = Spirit, not Holy Ghost
  • peithois = persuading, not enticing
  • kerygma = message, not preaching
  • arkhontes = rulers, not princes
  • mysterion = mystery, not testimony
  • pro-orisen = foresaw, not ordained
  • apodeixei = showing, not demonstration

In addition I changed some of the prepositions to make their meaning clearer.

During my rewrite I also looked at the Vulgate (Latin) and the New Jerusalem Bible (Grey English).

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When I was reading some of the early Greek Christian writers, like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius and Athanasius, from the period from 100 to 400, I noticed something strange: they misquote the Bible, and in a way that favours the Christian position over the Jewish one.

This was strange because they did not otherwise seem so dishonest. Then I noticed that Justin Martyr and Clement both misquoted Psalms 96:5 in just the same way, replacing “idols” with “demons” (daimones in the Greek). That was odd because although demons are being cast out right and left in the New Testament, almost nothing is said of them in the Old Testament.

What is going on?

As it turns out, they were faithfully quoting the Septuagint, the main Greek translation of the Old Testament in those day. The Septuagint was translated by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria in the centuries before Christ, back in the days of the Ptolemies. When Christianity arrived on the scene, the Septuagint was disowned by the Jews, but it is still, to this day, used by  Eastern Orthodox Christians to translate the Bible.

Not just that, but the Septuagint also happens to be what the New Testament mainly quotes. Jesus and Paul rarely quote what we know as the Hebrew Bible. Instead they quote the Septuagint, the Greek Bible that most people knew. In Palestine in those days people knew Aramaic and Greek and maybe some Latin, but only scholars knew Hebrew.

But why are the Hebew and Greek Bibles so different, why idols instead of demons? Did the Septuagint translators just make a mess of it?

In the centuries before Christ there was more than just one Hebrew Bible. We know this from the Dead Sea scrolls. There were three main ones: the Masoretic, the Samaritan (for the first five books only) and the version from which the Septuagint was translated.

Later, after the rise of Christianity, the Masoretic text became the main Bible for the  Jews and it is what present-day Protestant and Catholic Bibles translate. So what we read in our Old Testaments is not quite what Paul and Jesus read. For them Psalm 96 spoke of demons, not idols. And the Christ that Isaiah foretold in verse 7:14 of his book was to be born of a virgin (parthenos), and not just of a young girl (ha’almah).

Another strange fact: the earliest near-complete manuscripts of the Bible are not the Hebrew Masoretic texts of the Jews, but the Greek Septuagints of the Christians! The translations made by an offshoot of Judaism are older than anything we have in Hebrew! The reason for this is that Greek and Christianity were far more common than Hebrew or Judaism, and so created far more copies, more of which last down to our day.

Saint Jerome, when he translated the Bible into Latin, started with the Septuagint, but later switched to “the Hebrew truth”. A practice the West has followed ever since. It is still unclear to me why he switched and which Hebrew text he was using….

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Vulgate-manuscript_1The Vulgate (405) is the Bible as it was put into Latin by Saint Jerome. It was the main Bible people read in the West till the 1500s. It was the only book that Gutenberg ever printed. Even today the Catholic Church still uses it.

It is written in easy Latin: although Jerome wrote to his friends in the old-fashioned Latin of Cicero, for the Vulgate he used the Latin of the streets, which was already beginning to turn into Portuguese and French and so on. His starting point was the (cringey) Old Latin Bible.

Some English Bibles are based on the Vulgate: Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, Confraternity and Knox. But not the King James or Authorized Version: it goes back to the Greek and Hebrew that the Bible was written in.

Some English words that come from the Vulgate: creation, salvation, justification, rapture, testament, regeneration, apostle, angel and the phrase “far be it”.

The Vulgate’s New Testament is far better than anything in English:

  1. It is much easier to turn the Greek of the New Testament into Latin than into English.
  2. It is more faithful to the wording of the New Testament.
  3. Jerome had much older copies of the New Testament than we do. He even had the book of Matthew in Hebrew. We have it only in Greek, which came later.
  4. The koine Greek that the New Testament was written in was still a living language in Jerome’s day. He would know the shades of meanings of words much better than we possibly can.

For the Old Testament, Jerome started out by basing it on the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament that Christians had always used up until then. But then he gave that up and based it on the Masorah instead, the Hebrew Bible that Jews used.

It is because of this decision by Jerome that Catholics and Protestants now use the Masorah for the Old Testament while Orthodox Christians still use the Septuagint.

The part of the Old Testament that Christians know best is the book of Psalms. Since Christians knew the wording of the Septuagint psalms so well, Jerome translated them twice: once from the Septuagint and once from the Masorah. That is why you see the book of Psalms twice in some Vulgates.

The Catholic Church says the Vulgate has no errors that would affect religious teachings. That is a natural thing for it to say: it has been using the Vulgate for over a thousand years. Until the 1960s Latin was the language all the priests and bishops knew. It was even the language used in part of the church services.

There are two sorts of Vulgates that you can get these days:

  1. The Stuttgart: an attempt by scholars to get as close to what Jerome wrote as possible. It is based on the oldest copies of the Vulgate that we can find.
  2. The Nova Vulgata: the Vulgate used by the Catholic Church. Not all of it is Jerome’s: some of it is new.

– Abagond, 2008.

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How to translate the Bible

The Authorized Version (AV) or King James Bible is the best translation of the Bible done so far in English. Here are the rules, written and unwritten, that the translators followed:

  1. Start with the Bishops’ Bible (1568). Use its wording except where it is wrong.
  2. Translate every word. You do not always have to translate a word the same way into English.
  3. Keep the original word order as much as possible.
  4. You may add words to the English for sense, but clearly show which words were added. (This is done with italics in the AV).
  5. Read the English to others. The AV must be good for both public and private reading. (That it must sound good as spoken English also makes verses easier to remember.)
  6. Do not invent new ways to translate words. For example, the Greek episkopoi has always been translated “bishop”, so do not make it “overseer”.
  7. Prefer familiar names of people and places where they exist. For example, use Job, not Ijob.
  8. Where a word can be translated in more than one sense, use the sense favoured by the ancient church fathers.
  9. Faithfulness to the original is more important than style.
  10. Do not add notes. The English must stand on its own. References to parallel verses are allowed.
  11. You may consult five other translations: Tyndale (1526), Coverdale (1535), Matthew (1537), the Great Bible (1539) and the Geneva Bible (1560).
  12. Find about 50 of the most learned men in Hebrew and Greek. Divide them into six companies of seven to ten translators each.
  13. For each book of the Bible, assign it to one of the six companies. Each member translates it independently of the others. When they are done, they come together and come up with a common translation. They send this to the other five companies for review and then make any final changes.
  14. When all books of the Bible have been translated, the twelve top men come together and review the entire Bible.
  15. Consult outside experts as needed. Allow them to send in their own observations.

If you count the consulted translations, then each line of the AV has been translated or reviewed 20 times. This makes outright errors in translation rare.

On the other hand the men who did each of the 20 steps were all Protestants who lived in the same age in the same country. Although the translators were far more humble and faithful to the Word of God than those of our time, they were bound to be affected by the ideas they held in common.

None of the translations of the past 50 years have been clearly better than the AV. Yet there is a crying need for a new translation because the English of the AV is too old to clearly understand.

The new translations are bad because they break one or more of these rules. The AV will last till a new translation more or less follows the same rules as the AV.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Authorized Version

The Authorized Version (AV) (1611) of the Bible, also known as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV), is the most read English translation of the Bible, if not the most read Bible translation of all time.

The AV translates the Greek of the Textus Receptus for the New Testament and the Hebrew of the Masoretic text for the Old Testament.

While it is the best translation ever done in English, it is not perfect:

  1. Its English is becoming too old to clearly understand.
  2. We now know that the original that it translates has errors. None of them are serious.

The New King James Version (NKJV) attempts to set right the first but not the second.

So far no new translation has been good enough to take the place of the AV, not even the NKJV.

The authority and respect that the AV enjoys today did not come about till 1700 when a whole generation had grown up on it and it alone.

Before 1650 the Geneva Bible stood against the AV. It was the translation of choice for Milton, Bunyan and the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America on the Mayflower. It was the translation of those who fought for the republic in the English civil war in the middle 1600s. Those who fought against them for the king read the AV. In the end the king’s men won and so did their translation.

The AV is a faithful translation. It is not as good as the Latin Vulgate – it is much harder to turn Greek into English than into Latin. But it translates the original almost word for word, even keeping much of its word order.

The English translations of the past 50 years are much looser than the AV, putting a much thicker layer of interpretation between the reader and the original.

The AV is so close to the original that it sounded a bit strange at first. It was full of strange Greek and Hebrew ways of putting things, like “stand in awe”, “it came to pass”, “by the skin of his teeth” and “from time to time”. None of these expressions were common before 1700, yet sound completely natural now. That shows the influence the AV has had on English.

The AV is written in the English of south-east England. It has helped to make that sort of English a universally accepted form of the language.

The AV sounds old-fashioned to us, but it sounded old-fashioned even when it first came out. In 1611 few still said “He loveth his dog” instead of “He loves his dog”, or “The house and the windows thereof” instead of “The house and its windows”. That old-fashioned sound comes from the way it was translated.

The AV that is commonly printed today drops the books of the Apocrypha, uses updated spelling and punctuation and is no longer printed in thick, Gothic letters.

The King-James-Only Movement accepts the King James Bible as the only trustworthy translation of the Bible.

– Abagond, 2007.


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The Bible (by -400), also called Scripture, is the holy book of Jews and Christians. They regard it as God’s message to the world. The word Bible comes from the Greek ta biblia, “the books”: It is made up of the sacred writings of Jews and Christians.

Scripture was the main name for the Bible in English before the middle 1800s. It is what Shakespeare called it. It is what Jesus and Paul call it in the King James Bible. It comes from scripturae, Latin for “writings”, which is short for “the law, the prophets and the writings”, the three main parts of the Bible in their day.

The Koran is the holy book of the Muslims. It has nothing to do with the Bible, even though it has some of the same stories. Muslims believe the Bible is a holy book, but one where God’s message is incomplete and got screwed up by people who wanted to make the prophet Jesus into a god.

The Christian Bible is made up of the Old Testament and the New Testament:

  • The Old Testament is the Christian name for the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. Its books were mostly written between -950 and -100 and took shape as a set of holy writings between -400 and +100.
  • The New Testament is made up of the books that Christians added to the Jewish Bible. Its books were written between +30 and +130 and took shape between 140 and 367.

The Book of Mormon is made up of the books that Mormons added to the Christian Bible in the 1800s.

The gospels are the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. For Christians it is the heart of the Bible. The gospels tell the about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The rest of the Bible, both the Christian and Jewish parts, are there to help understand the gospels.

The Torah is made up of the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. For Jews it is the heart of the Bible. It has the Law of Moses, which God gave to Moses to give to them. It has hundreds of laws, like what not to eat. The first ten laws are known as the Ten Commandments. The rest of the Jewish Bible is there to help understand the Torah.

The Talmud is not part of the Bible. It has teachings about the Law that were passed down by word of mouth through the ages till it was written down in the 700s. It tells how to apply the Law to daily life.

The Septuagint is the Jewish Bible translated into Greek by the Library of Alexandria in the -200s.

The Vulgate is the Bible translated into Latin by St Jerome by 405.

The Apocrypha are those books of the Bible that Jews removed after the time of Christ, stuff like 1 Maccabees. Among Christians, many Protestants have removed them too.

– Abagond, 2006, 2017.

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