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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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jesus-tattoo-modern-dot-matrix

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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jesus_crucified

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

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 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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The birth of Jesus Christ took place in the town of Bethlehem near Jerusalem. This is when Christians say that God, who created the heavens and the earth, became a baby, when God was made flesh.

For a long time people thought Christ was born on December 25th in the year 1. That is why Christmas, the day that marks his birth, falls on December 25th and why the years are numbered the way they are. But from what we know now, it seems more likely that he was born in the spring in about the year 7 BC.

Most of what we know about his birth comes from the Bible, the Christian holy book. Here is the story it tells:

Jesus Christ was born to Mary, a virgin. Even the Koran agrees on that point. The father was not Joseph, the man she was about to marry, but the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel visited her and told her about it. She wondered why God chose her but, being a faithful servant of God, she accepted it.

Just before Mary was to give birth, the Romans, who ruled the land in those days, told everyone to go to the town of his birth to be counted. So Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, where they were living, and travelled to Bethlehem.

When they got to Bethlehem the town was full – there was no place for them to stay. So they wound up in a stable for animals. It was there that Mary gave birth to Jesus. He was not born in a palace to a princess but to a simple but pure woman in a stable.

The shepherds who were taking care of their sheep nearby heard about this from angels, who filled the night sky. They went to see.

When Jesus was born there was a strange star in the sky, called the Star of Bethlehem. There are different ideas about what it was, but whatever it was it brought three wise men from the east called magis. They gave him three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

King Herod found out from the three wise men that a king of the Jews was born in Bethlehem, meaning Jesus. Herod was only half Jewish and owed his power to the Romans. Jesus, on the other hand, was born of royal blood in the line of the greatest Jewish king of all time, King David.

Not wanting to take any chances King Herod had all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed. An angel warned Joseph. He took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt just in time. They came back after Herod died.

Right up till the day of he died many expected Jesus to make himself king and free the Jews from Roman rule. It turned out very differently. He was not here to free Jews from Romans, but man from sin.

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