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Christianity: The Bible

Menu:

Gospels, epistles, etc. that became
 part of the Christian Scriptures, and
some books that were rejected

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Overview:

During the early Christian movement, there were about 40 Gospels and hundreds of Epistles circulating among the various faith groups. Centuries later, four Gospels, 13 Pauline Epistles, 8 Epistles written by others, and Revelation were selected to form the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament).

It is composed of 27 books, containing a total of 260 chapters. However, not everyone has agreed with the official canon:

bulletThere was considerable controversy over the Gospel of John in the early church councils. Many bishops felt that it should be rejected from the canon
bulletIn his translation of the Bible into German, Martin Luther downgraded the book of James because it stressed good works, and the book of Revelation because he felt that its portrayal of a hate-filled, revenge-seeking God is incompatible with the Gospel message. He relegated both books to an appendix.

The final 27 books which form the official canon was written by an unknown number of authors; most estimates run from 9 to 15. They describe events, beliefs, activities etc. during the interval circa 7 BCE to perhaps the mid 2nd century CE.

Comment:

Christians have many conflicting beliefs about the Bible. The table below contrasts the beliefs of the most conservative and progressive wings of Christianity. Roman Catholics and mainline Christians often hold intermediate beliefs:

Bible Topic Conservative Christian Beliefs Progressive Christian Beliefs
Typical denomination Southern Baptists;
Assemblies of God
Liberal wings of the United, Episcopal & Methodist denominations
Writings inspired by: God who prevented the Bible's authors from error. Beliefs/opinions of the authors and their faith groups.
Accuracy Inerrant; as originally written. All of the text is true, and describes Jesus life and mission precisely, without error. The bible teaches the same message throughout. Contains some errors, religious propaganda, and fictional material. Contains evidence of evolving religious beliefs throughout.
Internal Consistency of the Bible All passages are totally consistent. Contains contradictions, due to the conflicting beliefs of its authors and their sources.
Usefulness All scripture (i.e. the Hebrew and Christian scriptures) is useful for guidance and spiritual development. Passages referring to slavery, oppression of women, execution of non-virgin brides and victims of rape, genocides, etc. do not reflect the will of God and must be rejected.
Interpretation Literal interpretation wherever possible. Interpret some literally, others symbolically, some as text imported from Pagan religions, some viewed as religious propaganda.
Non-canonical texts (e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas, etc. Works of heretics with no useful content. Works of great importance because they reveal the large diversity of beliefs among early Christians.

These two widely divergent views make it impossible to make definitive statements about the Bible that are acceptable to everyone. Conservative and liberal Christianity are in effect two separate religions. We will describe the beliefs of both wings in this section.

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletDescription, author(s), and date of each book in the Christian Scriptures (and some that never made it into the official canon):
bulletThe Gospels: the story of Jesus' life, ministry, execution & resurrection.
 
bulletOverview of the Gospels in (and excluded from) the official canon
 
bulletDifferences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels
 
bulletParallels between the Gospels and Pagan mythology
 
bulletThe Gospel of Q: A main source of Matthew and Luke?
 
bulletThe Gospel of Judas: An alternate description of Judas' role
 
bulletThe Gospel of Barnabas: Apparently a medieval forgery
 
bulletA comparison of the Book of Job with the Luke's parable of the Good Samaritan
 
bulletThe Gospel of Matthew -- the Gospel for the Jews
 
bulletActs: a description of two of the three main groups within the early Christian movement: the Jewish Christians and the Pauline Christians.
 
bullet"Pauline" Epistles: The early letters, major letters, prison letters and pastoral letters, most of which state that they were written by St. Paul. Theologians differ on their actual author.
 
bulletGeneral Epistles: Books by a variety of authors from the early Christian movement.
 
bulletRevelation: A book about an anticipated time of great turbulence, pain and death. It has been interpreted by different theologians and faith groups as describing:
bulletPersecution of the early Christian church by the Romans, or
bulletA series of visions or hallucinations by its author, or
bulletEvents that will happen some time in our future when the end of civilization as we know it is predicted.

bulletDeletions, additions etc. in the Christian Scriptures
bulletTranslation errors and forgeries in the Bible
bulletVerses missing from the Gospel of Mark
bulletThe last verses of Mark

bulletInterpreting the Christian Scriptures:
bulletComparing Gospel interpretation by conservative and progressive Christians:
bulletOverview
bulletAdditional material
bulletBible Inerrancy (freedom from error)
bullet"Biblical Criticism"  - Analyzing the Bible as a historical document
bulletThe Jesus Seminar (very progressive theologians, studying early Christian writings)

References:

  1. P.N. Benware, "Survey of the New Testament", Moody Press, Chicago IL (1990) (conservative Christian beliefs) You can read reviews and/or order this book from Amazon.com bookstore
  2. C.M. Laymon, Editor, The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, Abingdon Press, Nashville TN (1971), P. 122 (liberal Christian beliefs) Read reviews and/or order this book
  3. Bible Notes at http://www.aitcom.net/ (conservative Christian beliefs)
  4. R.M. Helms, "Who Wrote the Gospels," Millennium Press, Altadena, CA, (1996) (very liberal beliefs) Read reviews and/or order this book
  5. B.L.Mack, "Who Wrote the New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth," HarperCollins, San Francisco, (1996) Read reviews and/or order this book

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Copyright © 2001 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Most recent update: 2009-AUG-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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