The Voice

WRITER INTERVIEW IN THE VOICE MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2015

Adam Dickson puts some questions to author David Lawrence Preston

How did you start out as a writer?
I started by writing papers for academic journals. I had several dozen published. One was a case study on Aldi in 1990 (before they came to the UK) that won me an award for European Business Case Study of the Year.

In 1993 I started collaborating with a holistic health practitioner to put together a course in living we called the Dynamic Living Programme which was purchased in 27 countries around the world. We also published three books together – Creating Confidence and Awaken Your Inner Power (Element Books) and Decide to Win (Cassell) on sports psychology.

Our partnership was terminated in 1997, and since then I have published four more – on Confidence Building, Life/Self Coaching and Spirituality. The latest – 201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To) – examines the Christian religion from a historical/factual point of view.

I also produce a regular blog – blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk – covering my interests in health, spirituality and personal development.

How did you become an author for Hay House?
I approached them with my latest book. They referred me to their imprint, Balboa. Balboa embraced it enthusiastically.

Your most recent book has a controversial theme – can you tell us about that?
Ever since I was a child dragged to Sunday school every Sunday I have questioned the validity of many of the Christian teachings. The New Testament (Old, too) is full of contradictions and untruths and much – while acceptable to earlier generations – simply doesn’t make sense in terms of our modern scientific understandings.

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What are your writing aims for the future?
My next book will present a 21st Century version of progressive Christianity – compatible with scientific discovery – in which the old myths are discarded and deeper truths about the nature of the infinite and spirituality are discussed.

I also write on health and, in particular, energy medicine and the biofield. Some of my material finds its way onto my health and energy website, www.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk.

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Adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas!

The four gospels cannot be combined into one coherent narrative

Adding the gospels together and pretending the result makes sense is like adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas!

Some writers of yesteryear attempted to combine the four gospels into one coherent narrative, as if they TRUTHFULLY describe the same events from only slightly different perspectives. They do not; their perspectives are VERY different.

For a start, most of the material in the Fourth Gospel is not found in the other gospels, and most of the material in the other gospels is not found in the Fourth. From the opening passages about the pre-existence of the ‘Word’, the contrast could not be greater. Yeshua, the reluctant Messiah of the Synoptics who taught the coming of the Kingdom of G_d, has been replaced in the Fourth Gospel with an other-worldly ‘Christ’ figure making extravagant claims about his own identity. And that isn’t the only difference.

In the Synoptics, Yeshua ministered in Galilee for less than a year before heading south to Jerusalem to confront the authorities. In the Fourth Gospel, his ministry lasted 3-4 years and Galilee is barely mentioned.

The sequence of events is also different. For instance, the well-known incident in which an angry Yeshua drives the moneychangers from the Jerusalem temple takes place in the second chapter of ‘John’, but in his final week in the Synoptics.

There is no birth story in the Fourth Gospel, and no mention of Bethlehem; Yeshua is explicitly described as coming from Nazareth. Nor does it say what happened to the risen Yeshua after he had appeared to the disciples.

That’s why adding the gospels together and pretending the result makes sense is like adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas. There are too many contradictions!

©David Lawrence Preston, 22.5.2019

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Science and Christianity

Christianity has always had an uneasy relationship with science. Many scientific discoveries have appeared to question the very basis of this religion.

The problem for Christians is that some of the statements in the Bible are just plain WRONG. For example, at the time the Genesis creation stories were written, the Hebrews believed that the Earth at the centre of the universe, it was flat and covered by a dome above which were ‘the waters’. Occasionally the dome leaked (it rained). The sun and stars were fixed to the inside of the dome, and below the ground was the place of the dead, portrayed by the ancient Greeks as Hades.

It’s hardly worth stating that we know better now.

In the Middle Ages, scientists were harshly treated for publishing theories which were perceived to contradict Biblical teachings. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) published an astronomical model in 1543 which had the sun at the centre of the universe and the Earth and the other planets rotating around it. He did not attract the censure of the Catholic Church at the time, but Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) was not so lucky a century later when he propounded a similar view. The church declared his findings false and contrary to scripture and forbade him to promote his theory.

Galileo later defended his views in his ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’, which angered the Pope and the Jesuits, both of whom had supported him up until this point. He was tried by the Holy Office, found guilty of heresy and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took 359 years to rectify this wrong. In 1992, Pope John Paul ll acknowledged in a speech that the Catholic Church had erred in condemning him.

For several hundred years, science and religion staged an uneasy standoff. Scientists avoided making contentious statements about religion and vice versa. Then came Charles Darwin, the author of ‘The Origin of Species’. He was declared ‘an enemy of God’ for daring to advocate a theory that refuted the church’s view of creation. Even so, he never lost his belief in a creative force behind the universe. He wrote, ‘When I wrote The Origin of Species, my faith in God was as strong as that of a bishop.’

Some pioneers of science had no difficulty seeing science and religion as compatible. Albert Einstein was viewed as a heretic by the church, yet he had a profound belief in a universal mind, spirit or creative intelligence that transcended the universe and was beyond our comprehension. He and many others, including Sir Isaac Newton and the ‘Father of Quantum Mechanics’, Max Planck, shared a sense of humility and awe at what they discovered in the natural world and gave the credit to this creative intelligence.

Nowadays the church is more comfortable with scientific research. The Catholic Church, for instance, employs ordained scientists to investigate such diverse subjects as the big bang, epigenetics and global warming, but their starting point is always the Bible teachings. They seek to fit the data to the Bible teachings, not find the best explanation that fits the data. We are without doubt gaining a greater understanding of how the material universe works, but are no nearer to understanding why the universe is as it is than were the ancient Hebrews or Greeks.

©David Lawrence Preston, 12.6.18

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Happy Easter Everyone

Every year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, Christians celebrate Easter, as they have ever since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Easter is the day on which they believe their Saviour’s body came back to life after suffering a horrendous death, and that he was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending to ‘heaven’ on a cloud. This is the very basis of the Christian religion.

JC

They believe it because some of the Gospels (not all of them, as we’ll see) say it happened. But most Christians have never read the New Testament in full, let alone studied it. They don’t know who wrote it, or when, or how it came to be in its final form. Nor are they aware of the inconsistencies and contradictions it contains.

If they read it, knew its history and thought about it, Christians would realise that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are just as implausible as a three day old mangled dead body coming back to life would be today!

The church says the contradictions don’t matter, but they would, wouldn’t they? What matters is that believers accept their version of events without question, as a matter of faith, without letting inconvenient facts getting in the way.

But surely for the New Testament stories to have any real value they must be substantially true, which means historically accurate. Otherwise they are on the same par as the Tales of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and other stories written to make a point – thought provoking but works of fiction nonetheless.

What the Gospels Actually Say

The church claims that the entire New Testament was written by people who were all either present at the events they describe or who spoke to eyewitnesses and then presented accurate, unembellished accounts of what they saw or heard.

But this simply isn’t true!

The earliest gospel was written around 70 CE, and most Biblical scholars agree that it is probably the most historically reliable. The second and third were written around 80-90 CE and the fourth between 99-100 CE. All four were unnamed until the late second century when the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were ascribed. But they didn’t reach their final form until much later, after they had been translated and mistranslated many times and many additions and redactions had been made.

The longer the period between the actual events, the writing of the manuscript and its reaching its final form, the more embellished became the story.

The earliest New Testament writings are seven of the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus (Thessalonians 1, Philippians, Philemon, Corinthians 1 and 2, Galatians and Romans). These date from 53-58 CE, a quarter of a century after the crucifixion. The other letters in Paul’s name were written much later after his death, not by him.

Paul had met with at least two of the disciples who knew Yeshua, Peter and James, yet he never claimed a physical resurrection. He wrote that Yeshua appeared in changed form. He wrote (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7): ‘For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received,’ and went on to report a number of ‘appearances’ to the twelve disciples (strange – after Judas’s suicide there were only supposed to be eleven) and to a wider group of believers.

The First Gospel (later named ‘Mark’) originally ended with the body missing and an angel telling the disciples to return to Galilee where they would see him. They were clearly not expecting this, and fled in terror (Mark 16:5-8). Much later, another section was added by an unknown author (Mark 16:9-19) in which Yeshua ‘appeared’ to them several times and spoke. Nowhere did either author claim that he had risen in bodily form.

The Second and Third Gospels (written around 80-90 CE and subsequently named ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’) used the First as a guide and added their resurrection narratives. reported dozens of sightings, although their accounts are remarkably inconsistent. Most of them began and ended mysteriously, for instance, he ‘drew near,’ then ‘disappeared from sight’ like a ghost.

The Third Gospel expanded the story, adding several more appearances in which Yeshua ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. Later, he ‘withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.’ (Luke 24:51) None of these incidents are found in the other Gospels. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’ (Luke 24:50) Perhaps he wasn’t sure of his facts or like any good journalist didn’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as the Third Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period.

By the time the fourth Gospel was written, it was clear that most Jews did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah, and this was reflected in the increasingly exaggerated claims made on his behalf.

Whereas the first three Gospel writers portray Yeshua as what G-d would be like if he took human form, the Fourth Gospel (‘John’) thought he was G-d! This work is regarded by scholars as an abstract work of theology rather than a serious attempt at historical accuracy. Here Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb but warned her not to touch him since he had not yet ‘ascended to the Father’. (John 20:17)  Later he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds. He also he appeared to different disciples on various occasions, in one instance filling their nets full of fish and offering bread and fish for breakfast. On this occasion, in common with most of his ‘appearances’, they did not recognise him immediately.

The Gospels agree on only two details – that the tomb was found empty on the third day after the crucifixion, and that Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered the empty tomb. None of them say that Yeshua was seen walking out of the tomb, nor do they explain how he was seen fully clothed, considering the burial clothes were left in situ.

What happened to the body?

The Second Gospel has an interesting postscript that illustrates the writers’ dilemma: explaining what happened to Yeshua’s body. According to ‘Matthew’, the Jewish leaders, petrified of what would happen if the word got out that Yeshua had come back to life, paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to spread the story that the disciples came by night and stole the body while they were asleep. ‘This story is still told among the Jews to this day,’ he wrote fifty years after the crucifixion. (Matthew 28:15).

It was normal practice to leave crucified bodies on the crosses until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then remove the bones and dispose of them in sulphur pits outside the city used as a crematorium. It is highly probable that this is what happened to Yeshua’s body too.

But to say so would not have suited the gospel writers. Instead they wrote that Pilate allowed the body to be taken by an influential follower and placed in a sealed tomb. Quite why the Pilate would have allowed this particular troublemaker to be given special treatment is unclear.

When Yeshua died, his disciples were scared and confused, their hopes that the ‘kingdom of God’ was about to appear and reform the world shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, their successors began to see him as the personification of G-d, and then G-d himself in human form. But how could G-d die? How could they execute G-d as a common criminal and leave his remains to rot in a sulphur pit?

Hence the Easter stories transformed Yeshua’s death and abject defeat into a noble sacrifice, the triumph of life over death, the victory of the Saviour over the Romans and the ultimate vindication despite not being recognised as the Messiah by the Jews. This was their purpose.

A miraculous presence

Apart from the apparent disappearance of the body, the only other historical fact of which we can be sure is that some of Yeshua’s followers believed that they felt the miraculous presence of their dead Master and perhaps saw visions of him. We can’t say exactly what these, but they obviously felt real because many of them suffered and died for it. It’s not unusual for bereaved people today to ‘see’ a departed loved one or ‘feel’ their presence – it happened to me when my father died.

But, in common with Paul, Peter, James and the authors of the First and Second Gospels, I don’t believe his body came back to life in a physical sense. If he had, the events would surely have been mentioned in the historical records of the day, not just the Gospels, and the Jewish population would surely have been won over. But they weren’t.

Diabolical Mimicry

There were many myths concerning a dying and resurrected god-man across the Middle East from the 5th Century BCE onward. In Egypt:

  • He was God made flesh, the Son of God.
  • His mother was a mortal virgin.
  • He was born in a humble cowshed before three shepherds.
  • He turned water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
  • He rode triumphantly on a donkey while people waved palm leaves to honour him.
  • He died, and on the third day rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory.
  • His followers awaited his return as judge in the last days.
  • His death and resurrection were celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolised his body and blood.

This was not Yeshua ben Yosef, the man whose life inspired the Christian religion, but the Egyptian god-man Osiris, five hundred years before his birth! The similarities were so obvious that the Second Century Roman satirist Celsus described Christianity as ‘diabolical mimicry’ and accused Yeshua of ‘having invented his birth from a virgin’. But this is unfair – Yeshua knew nothing about this (and neither did his mother) since the virgin birth stories were invented long after their death.

Of course, the resurrection is not verifiable in a factual/historical sense. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe, no evidence, no insights, no knowledge, no common sense will shake your belief.  That’s the way the human mind works; it’s also the nature of belief.

© David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.2018

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Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Heresy and Truth

In the early 1980s, the newly appointed Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, said he did not believe the gospel birth stories nor that that a physical resurrection had taken place, and that such beliefs were not necessary to be a good Christian.

You may remember the uproar in some Christian circles. Many – including the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher – thought he had no right to call himself a Christian and senior members of the Church of England demanded he be tried for heresy (the last heresy trials had been over a hundred years previously).

Moreover, on the day of Dr Jenkins’ ordination at York Minster, lightning struck the Minster and part of the roof caught fire. Proof, said his critics, that God was angry with the church for appointing him.

All this made quite an impression on me, having rejected the strict Methodist upbringing to which I had been subjected. I began to take an interest in religion from a historical point of view. I quickly discovered that Bishop Jenkins was merely expressing a view that had long existed among scholars. For example, Dr Albert Schweitzer wrote in 1906: ‘The histories of Jesus’ birth are not literary versions of a tradition, but literary inventions.’[1]

But what was the Bishop really saying? Let’s take a look at the Christmas and resurrection stories:

The Christmas story which is enacted around the world every December is based on just two gospels – ‘Matthew’s’ and ‘Luke’s’. ‘Mark’ and ‘John’ have nothing to say on the issue. Indeed, the Fourth Gospel reports an incident in which a crowd doubted that Jesus was the Messiah precisely because he did not come from Bethlehem, but from Galilee[2]

nativity

The familiar Christmas tale combines ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’.

Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. Their son was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. They were visited by shepherds and three wise men from the East. According to ‘Matthew’, and ‘Matthew’ alone, the family then had to escape to Egypt to avoid persecution from King Herod. Eventually they returned to Nazareth and nothing more was heard of them for over a decade.

Now apart from the sheer implausibility of such a tale, it is compounded by a number of ‘inconvenient’ facts based on what we know about history and the culture of Palestinian society at that time.

To start with, the above narrative is a combination of two incompatible and very different sources. The only thing they have in common is the location, Bethlehem, and their wish to portray Jesus’ birth as important. ‘Matthew’ was also concerned to link it in as many ways as possible to the ancient Hebrew prophecies.

There is no mention of this miraculous birth anywhere else in the New Testament: no mention in the earliest gospel, ‘Mark’, and no mention in Paul’s letters, which pre-date ‘Mark’. Paul had met with the disciples Peter and James (Jesus’s biological brother) – surely they would have discussed such a remarkable turn of events? Or is it simply that these stories hadn’t yet been circulated when the earliest New Testament texts were written?

There’s no mention of the birth in ‘John’s’ Gospel; no mention in the Acts of the Apostles; and no mention in the later letters. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus make any reference to his birth, and neither do his mother or his brothers! Curious!

Bethlehem

It was especially important for the author of ‘Matthew’s Gospel’ that Jesus was seen to come from Bethlehem, since the prophet Micah had foreseen a Messiah being born there [3]. ‘Matthew’ stated it as a fact [4] but made no attempt to explain how they came to be in Bethlehem; that story came only from ‘Luke’. He wrote that a census was to take place which required every citizen to return to their ancestral home. Because Joseph was said to be a descendent of King David, this meant David’s city, Bethlehem.

Good story. The problem is, it simply isn’t true. Historians have searched in vain for an empire-wide census at the time of Jesus’s birth, but there was none. In any case the Romans had no jurisdiction to hold a census in Galilee since this was Herod’s province. And not even the Romans would have insisted that a heavily pregnant woman travel the eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem through hostile territory on a donkey.

The flight into Egypt

According to ‘Luke’[6], after the birth the family immediately returned to Nazareth. But ‘Matthew’s’ gospel says that Mary, Joseph and the baby fled to Egypt to avoid an order from King Herod that all new born Jewish boys be killed. But there’s no record of any such decree, and no record of a slaughter of Jewish babies at that time. It is simply a literary way of linking Jesus’s birth to the passage in the scriptures in which Yahweh says, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’[7]

So were ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ fibbers? Yes and no. They saw no harm in using a little artistic licence or borrowing a few ideas from other cultures. They simply wanted to encourage people to join their new community.

JC

Let’s turn to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

While Jesus’s crucifixion is not in doubt (it is about the only fact about his life that is mentioned outside the official gospels), the circumstances of his burial are contested. It was unheard of for a crucified person to receive a decent burial. It was normal practice to leave them on the cross until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then take the bones to the sulphur pits outside Jerusalem which were used as a crematorium. The balance of probability is that this is where Jesus’s body ended up too.

The gospels say that that Pilate, the Roman governor, gave permission for Jesus’ body to be removed and placed in a tomb. Quite why this notoriously cruel and ruthless man would have given permission for the body of this particular insurgent to be given this special treatment is unclear, except it set the scene for what followed next.

Nobody saw Jesus walk out of the tomb!

Why make up a story? When Jesus died, his followers’ hopes that he was the one to liberate his people were shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, successive generations of Christians began to see him as the personification of G_d. But how could G_d die? How could they execute G_d as a common criminal?

The New Testament writers and subsequent theologians had a lot of explaining to do! Resurrection was the startling explanation they came up with.

According to the gospels, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that he would be killed and then resurrected on the third day[3]. Did he actually speak those words? We don’t know. According to these same sources, nobody – not even his closest disciples – expected him to rise again, and when the post-Easter Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them, all the witnesses were so surprised they didn’t recognise him.

Most of the gospel sightings began and ended mysteriously. Usually he ‘drew near’ then ‘disappeared from sight’. But the gospel writers went to great lengths to insist that the risen Jesus was not a ghost, nor a badly injured man hobbling around. Even though he could appear and disappear at will and walk through walls, they claimed he ate, drank and could be touched.

Paul of Tarsus would not have believed this. He believed that Jesus returned in changed form, not as a resuscitated corpse but transformed into a spiritual body

I don’t have space to go into all the inconsistencies in the resurrection stories, so I’ll summarise:

  • In ‘Mark’s’ Gospel the disciples fled in terror and returned to Galilee.[4] The original gospel ended there, but decades later twelve extra verses were added by a second author in which the Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them several times, spoke to them and was immediately whisked away to heaven. Nowhere does either author claim that Jesus had risen in bodily form.
  • In ‘Matthew’s’ Gospel, Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus as they fled from the empty tomb, but she didn’t recognize him. Clearly he wasn’t the man they remembered from just a few days earlier.
  • ‘Luke’s’ Gospel added several more appearances in which Jesus ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. There are no such claims in ‘Mark’ or ‘Matthew’. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’
  • In the Fourth Gospel – written around 70 years after the crucifixion – neither Mary Magdalene nor Peter recognised him at first. Later, he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds.[5] He also appeared to the disciples on various occasions, once while they ate bread and fish for breakfast and another in which he appeared on a beach and gave the disciples some advice on fishing.[6]
  • Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as ‘Luke’s’ Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period before the momentous events of Pentecost.

Once again we find ourselves wondering which, if any, of these accounts is correct, since they can’t all be right! The only things the gospels agree on is that the tomb was empty on the third day and Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered it. Bear in mind that with many of the gospel stories, the longer the period between Jesus’s life (c 5 BCE-30 CE) and the writing of the gospel (c 70 CE – 105 CE), the more embellished they become.

Psychologists tell us that we are just as likely to see what we believe as believe what we see. In my opinion there’s no verifiable evidence for a physical resurrection, just the words of a small group of devotees. But we must all decide for ourselves. Whatever you choose to believe is true – for you. That’s the nature of belief.

Bishop Jenkins described the resurrection stories as ‘a conjuring trick with bones’ – hardly likely to endear him to the diehards. But what I believe he was trying to say was important – seek the deeper, metaphysical truths in the scriptures rather than blindly accepting them as literal truth (which they are quite plainly not).

But what are these truths? The 19th Century mystic, Charles Fillmore, said that ‘there is only one metaphysical interpretation and that is your own.’ In other words, what matters is what the biblical texts mean to you. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of divine consciousness or the Christ spirit within, and the resurrection about re-affirming the indestructible nature of consciousness.

Spirituality for me is knowing that the life force, universal energy, Christ spirit, zero point field,  whatever you want to call it, is present everywhere, including in me, and expressing it with joy. I believe that Bishop Jenkins – the man branded a heretic by members of his own church – thought the same.

I conclude my book ‘201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)’ with the following comment:

If I have to believe in a virgin birth, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then there’s no hope for me. For me, in this sense conventional Christianity is a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving G_d wouldn’t do that to me anyway).

That’s what Bishop Jenkins was driving at. That’s not heresy – that is truth!

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.3.2018

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[1] The Quest of the Historical Jesus

[2] John 7:40-42

[3] E.g. Mark 9:31 and 10:34; Matthew 16:21 and 17:23; Luke 9:22 and 24:7; John 20:19

[4] Mark 16: 5-8

[5] John 20:19-20

[6] John 21:4-6

The earliest passages in the New Testament

Not many people realise – even Christians – that the earliest passages in the New Testament appear in letters written by the apostle Paul of Tarsus around 52 CE. They think the gospels came first, but they didn’t. Paul’s genuine letters predate the first gospel, ‘Mark’, by 15-20 years.

By the time the official gospels came to be written (between 70 CE and 105 CE) the fledgling Christian community had been heavily influenced by Paul’s letters. They are the only New Testament writings of a known individual describing his experiences first hand, which cannot be said of any of the other letters, the gospels or Acts of the Apostles.

Paul’s letters are arranged in the New Testament according to length, the longest (Romans) first and shortest (Philemon) last. This is not in the order in which they were written, nor does it reflect their authenticity, subject matter, literary quality or importance.

Thirteen letters in Paul’s name appear in the New Testament. Paul wrote, or more accurately, dictated, only seven of them; the other six were not written by him but, presumably, by Paul’s followers and successors. Some of the early letters reached their final form several decades after his death.

The seven definitely by him, all between 52-62 CE, are:

  • Thessalonians 1
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Corinthians 1
  • Corinthians 2
  • Galatians
  • Romans

Four letters are so different in style, content and doctrine and written so late that they could not have been by the same man:

  • Ephesians (c80-100 CE)
  • Timothy 1 (c95-100 CE)
  • Timothy 2 (c95-100 CE)
  • Titus (c95-100 CE)

Colossians and Thessalonians 2 are also attributed to Paul, but scholars are divided about their authenticity. The consensus is they were probably written in the seventh or eighth decades. (See Kenneth Davis’s brilliant scholarly work,  ‘Don’t Know Much About The Bible.’)

Forgeries? Yes, but in those days it was considered perfectly acceptable to use the name of a respected deceased person, either to add authority to a document or express what the writer thought he would have said had he still been alive.

The irony is, most clergy know this to be true but make little mention of it from the pulpit. Why not?

©David Lawrence Preston, 20.1.2016

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Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Why spirituality and religion are so different

Religion and spirituality are not the same. Spirituality is not concerned with myths and fairy stories, but with life. That’s why many people are leaving the traditional religions. They cannot relate to the dogma and ritual that characterises them. They say nothing to them about life as it is lived.

To be valid, a spiritual truth must be true for everyone, everywhere and for all time. It must apply equally to people living in the Arabian Desert, the Arctic wilderness and the Himalayas; in the fifth century BCE, tenth century CE and the twenty-first CE; men, women and children, the old and the young; those who have passed on and those yet to be born.

Religions seldom satisfy these criteria. Some are even restricted to a particular race or genealogy.

A religion is a formalised set of beliefs. It lays down what its followers should accept as true and how they should behave. It insist on compliance and reproaches those who transgress. Often fear and chastisement are used to ensure conformity.

Any religion which controls, divides and excludes cannot, in my opinion, be truly spiritual.

All bone fide religions began with a search for truth, but the living message of spirituality that they purport to offer has often been lost. No doubt the founders of our great religions had the best of intentions, but in a spiritually enlightened world there would be no need for separate religions, as John Lennon said that in his song, Imagine.

Even so, the major religions have much to teach us. Their common ground far outweighs their differences. 90% of their teachings are the same; wars have been fought over the other 10%, so let’s focus on the 90%! No one creed has exclusive rights to the truth. We should look for points of agreement and put differences aside.

We should seek truth wherever we can find it and welcome the many paths that are open to us.

©David Lawrence Preston, 26.12.17

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365 Spirituality book

David Lawrence Preston illuminates biblical inconsistencies in new book

David Lawrence Preston illuminates biblical inconsistencies in new book

A historical/factual perspective on Christian doctrine, discrepancies therein contained

BOURNEMOUTH, England — David Lawrence Preston notes that he was inspired to write “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)” (published by Balboa Press) after his investigation of Christian doctrine, which lead to the discovery of a significant amount of inaccuracies and contradictions within the canon text. Here, he labors to irradiate these inconsistencies while still finding value in Christian mythology from a non-religious viewpoint.

Preston dismantles discrepancies with clear language, intent on instruction for the wider public. The 201 points format provides further accessibility to the reader. Preston aims to inform people about scripture in the Bible they may not have otherwise been aware of had they ended their religious education after Sunday school.

An excerpt from “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”:

“If I have to believe in a virgin birth, voices from the sky, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then Christianity hinders me. It’s a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving God wouldn’t do that to me anyway). That’s what more and more people are doing in this enlightened age.”

More information is available at http://blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk/.

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“201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”

By David Lawrence Preston

Hardcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336994

Softcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336970

E-Book | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336987

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

 

About the Author

David Lawrence Preston is a speaker, life coach and author specializing in life enrichment, holistic health and spirituality. His interest in Christianity dates back to his school days and his passion researching the world’s great spiritual traditions. He lives by the sea on the South Coast of England, where he dedicates himself to helping create a kinder, more authentic and spiritual world.

 

He Never Came Back (Even Though He Promised)

Social media recently reported that a Roman Catholic Cardinal, Georgio Salvadore, has stated that it looks as if Jesus Christ is not coming back, thus refuting a core Christian doctrine that lasted for nearly two thousand years. The cardinal is said to have then astounded his audience by claiming that when Jesus promised to return he must have been drunk!

Christians at first were upon in arms and later relaxed when the word spread it was a hoax. Apparently there is no such person as Cardinal Georgio Salvadore.

Even so, the fictional  Cardinal was touching on a raw nerve. The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke, originally written between 70 CE and 85 CE) make it perfectly clear that their prophet, known as Yeshua in his lifetime, promised many times before his death that he would return at Father God’s instigation to establish the kingdom of God on Earth, and he would do so within a generation.

If you doubt this, take a look at Mark 9:1: ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.’ If that doesn’t convinced you, Mark 1:15 reports him as saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

He reaffirmed it in his Last Supper speech, telling his disciples, ‘I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it with you in my Father’s kingdom’ (Matthew 26:29). He didn’t mean a kingdom somewhere else and in the far distant future, but right here on Earth within the lifetime of those present.

By the time the Fourth Gospel was written around the turn of the 1st century, it was already clear that Yeshua’s prophetic words had been empty. Christians were embarrassed and widely mocked. He had not returned, and far from God establishing a kingdom for the Jews, the Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed by the Romans along with the rest of the city. Jews who survived had scattered in fear of their lives. That’s why the Fourth Gospel hardly mentions the supposed return.

It’s also why the last book of the New Testament to be written, the Second Letter attributed to (but not actually written by) Peter, felt the need to make excuses for the uncomfortable fact that the kingdom promised by Yeshua nearly a century earlier had still not materialised. ‘Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,’ it pleads, ‘that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.’ (2 Peter 3:8)

Why doesn’t the church have more to say about this part of Yeshua’s message? Is it because they worry that bringing it to people’s attention would make a vital part of his core teachings irrelevant in our time? After all, he was wrong. The world was not transformed within the lifetime of his disciples. God did not appear, and neither did he. And he probably never will.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 7.11.17

 

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Archbishop Bemoans the Absence of God

Following recent announcements by the Pope that seem to overturn the Catholic Church’s longstanding teachings on women priests, the literal truth of the Bible and homosexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Church, has weighed in with an interesting comment of his own: the recent terrorist attacks on Paris made him doubt the presence of G_d!

This is extraordinary particularly since progressive Christianity appeared to be moving away from the nonsensical notion of an bearded old man looking down from above to a ‘Presence’, an ‘Intelligence’ that is ever-present, all- powerful and all-knowing, not a person but an energy and information field not unlike the concept of the Zero Point Field of quantum physics.

The ancient Hebrews believed there were many gods but theirs, YHWH, could be located in a portable tent (yes, really!!) or later an inner room in the Jerusalem Temple. They were YHWH’s chosen people, showered with benefits when the observed his/its laws and subjected to punishments verging on the vindictive when they did not.

The G_d of the New Testament was portrayed as the ‘Father Within’ who could be both a source of inspiration and comfort, but also a harsh judge and exterminator.

So, Archbishop, which G_d are you referring to? Is yours a G_d that happily withdraws from the world allows untold suffering to ensue? One must assume so. An ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing Intelligence would be, well, ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing!

The question of how an all-powerful, loving G_d could create a world of such suffering, misery and disease is one of the great contradictions in Christianity. Theologians conclude that it is because G_d allows humans to make our own choices, but if we choose unwisely we must suffer the consequences. This is the doctrine of free which is supposed to explain away most of the tragedy and hardship in the world.

But it doesn’t. Did those people in that Parisian theatre choose to be brutally slaughtered by these medieval butchers, any more than the passengers on that Russian airliner or London bus, the occupants of the Twin Towers and those unfortunates beheaded by sadistic scum in the Syrian desert?

I think not. But one thing I do know – the faith represented by Archbishops and Popes is built on shaky foundations and has a lot more explaining to do!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 22.10.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press/Hay House, 2015