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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Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

All reported speech in the New Testament is only an interpretation of what was actually said

Not many people realise that the entire New Testament was originally written in Greek – a language that Yeshua and his disciples barely knew (if at all). Their everyday tongue was Galilean Aramaic. They may have understood a smattering of Greek since Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee and just a stone’s throw from Nazareth, was on the main trade route from Greece to Asia Minor.

Most Jews also learned Hebrew so they could understand the scriptures, just as Muslims today learn Arabic to read the Qu’ran. Yeshua would also have needed Hebrew to communicate with the temple dignitaries in Jerusalem who would surely not have spoken Aramaic. We don’t know if he spoke Latin, the language of the Romans. Probably not, which poses an interesting question – how did he communicate with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect, if indeed he really did (and there’s plenty of doubt)? Pilate may have spoken some Greek, but it’s unlikely they could have held a detailed conversation.

The implications are clear. Since the entire New Testament was written in a language foreign to Yeshua and the poor, illiterate Galileans with whom he associated, all reported speech in the gospels must be at least a third-hand translation of what was actually said. Or, more accurately, of the authors’ impressions of what was said or what the authors would have wanted him to say.

Aramaic, Hebrew and ancient Greek are said to be extremely difficult to translate into modern languages, but today’s expert linguists have a better knowledge of these languages and the people who spoke them than ever before so modern translations are considerably more accurate than their predecessors.

Scholars have thrown such additional light upon the original meaning of the scriptures that we cannot assume that a single paragraph of the Bible is understood in our day as it was intended at the time it was written.

Here’s the key. When reading any Bible passage we should ask ourselves, ‘What meaning did these events and sayings have for people living in that place at that time?’  Look for the meaning behind the words. That’s the challenge!

©David Lawrence Preston, 25.8.2016

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Until the early 19th Century few in the West questioned the Bible’s accuracy

Until the early 19th Century few people in the Christian world questioned the Bible’s accuracy. It was considered sacrosanct. Only when the biblical texts began to be studied seriously in the early 1800s and cross referenced with other sources did a better understanding begin to emerge. As result, most Christians at that time had a very unrealistic view of Christian history and their religion, and now, two hundred years later, most still do:

  • They don’t know how their religion was founded, who wrote – or did not write – their sacred scripture, the New Testament scripts, when, or in what order.
  • They’ve never compared the gospels and wondered why they differ so much both in content and detail.
  • They have no idea how the religion developed over subsequent centuries.
  • They can’t even tell you the real name of their saviour, the language he spoke, or the language in which the New Testament was originally written.

But unless we understand how the New Testament came into being and how it ties in with the historical and archaeological records from that time, we will never understand Yeshua [1] and the religion that functions in his name.

My interest was triggered when a friend lent me a book called ‘Joshua’. Written by a retired Catholic priest, Father Joseph Girzone, it tells the story of Yeshua’s return to Earth as a humble carpenter in modern-day America. It’s a heartening tale of a compassionate man who engages the local townsfolk with his warmth, wisdom and generosity. I won’t spoil it by telling you that happens, except that he ends up being sent to Rome and thrown out of the Catholic Church for subverting their religion!

Jesus

So impressed was I by this simple, down-to-earth tale that I started to explore the Christian scriptures. I read the New Testament cover to cover and attended Bible classes. I studied the Hebrew Scriptures (better known as the ‘Old Testament’). I rediscovered teachings that took me back to my childhood experiences in Sunday School. I even started referring to myself as an admirer of Yeshua, which, ironically, brought me into conflict with some Christians!

Then I realised: it is not following the gospel teachings that makes one a Christian – it is believing certain things about Yeshua, how and why he came into the world, how he left it, and what came after!

Frankly, 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 is a barrier. I can 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 enlightened people are doing in this modern age; long may it continue.

[1] Aramaic for ‘Jesus’. Jesus is a Greek name ascribed to him more than two centuries after his death

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.8.2016

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The Hebrew Scriptures – inaccuracies and contradictions

The Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament – is full of contradictions. If they were indeed dictated by G_d, as some Christians believe, it’s a G-d who frequently contradicts itself!

We don’t have to look beyond the opening pages to find the first significant example. In the very first chapter of Genesis, G_d creates the sky, the earth, vegetation and the sun and moon in the first four days (curiously the waters already existed); aquatic creatures and birds on the fifth day; land creatures and finally men and women on the sixth. These nameless humans are given dominion over the earth. Then G_d rests on the seventh.

In the second chapter, the earth, heavens and the first man, Adam, are created on the same day, then a beautiful garden, the Garden of Eden, for Adam’s home. Living creatures are created to keep Adam company, and finally a companion and helper for Adam, Eve. There’s no mention of six or seven days.

I reiterate: in Chapter One, man and woman are created simultaneously as G_d’s final flourish; in Chapter Two, the man is created before the animals, and the woman later as an afterthought.

If anyone tries to convince you that the creation stories are literally true, ask them ‘which story?’ They cannot both be true! But in my churchgoing years I never heard these two stories read together and compared. No-one ever pointed out the contradictions, nor did anyone seem bothered by them, probably because, like me, they hadn’t noticed.

So why the difference? It’s because the two stories come from separate sources, written more than three hundred years apart and later combined into a single narrative. The first version was probably written in the 6th Century BCE around the time when the Jews were exiled in Babylon.

And that’s just for starters. If Adam and Eve were the first humans, where did their sons’ wives come from? If everyone apart from Noah and his family perished in a great flood when they took to the Ark, then surely Noah, not Adam, is the father of today’s humankind? And how did the penguins, kangaroos and duck-billed platypuses make it to the ark?

As Oxford Professor Diarmaid MacCullough, an expert on biblical history, wrote: ‘The chronology of the Book of Genesis simply does not add up as a historical narrative when it is placed in a reliably historical context’.

As for the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, some passages are based on verifiable historical truth, but others have no basis in fact. For example, there is no written or archaeological evidence that the Egyptians ever enslaved the Hebrews (as reported in the Book of Exodus), nor that a large group of Hebrews (or any other tribe) wandered in the desert for forty years. This is based on events that almost certainly never happened; indeed, there is no evidence that any of the events described in the first five books or Pentateuch are literally true.

Religious writings are virtually all allegorical. Those who read them as historical fact are missing the point! Their ‘truth’ lies in the underlying messages they convey. Wake up, world!

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 22.8.2016

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