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

The entire New Testament was originally written in Greek – a language that Jesus/Yeshua and his disciples barely knew. Their everyday tongue was Galilean Aramaic, now defunct.

Yeshua may have understood a smattering of marketplace Greek since Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee and just a stone’s throw from Nazareth, was on the main trade route from Greece to Egypt and Asia Minor and it’s possible he heard it spoken, but he wouldn’t  in Greek, and nor would his disciples.

Most Jews learned some Hebrew so they could understand the scriptures, just as Moslems today learn Arabic to read the Qu’ran.

Yeshua would have needed Hebrew to communicate with the temple dignitaries in Jerusalem who would surely not have spoken a rural tongue like 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 did?

The implications are profound. Since the entire New Testament was written in a language foreign to Yeshua and his associates, all reported speech in the gospels must be at least third- or fourth-hand hand and a 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. Moreover, Aramaic, Hebrew and ancient Greek are said to be extremely difficult to translate into modern languages.

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?’ Then look for the true meaning behind the words.

©David Lawrence Preston, 31.8.16

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Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Why doesn’t the Church own up?

Earlier generations were unwilling to challenge the Bible from a scientific or historical point of view, but now we are willing, and, moreover, we can.

Biblical scholarship has reached a new high in recent decades. New and better evidence has become available for historians, theologians, archaeologists and linguists to scrutinize for factual accuracy and new meanings. They have a better understanding of 1st Century Palestinian society than ever before.

Scholars go back to the earliest possible sources to uncover the influence of the numerous editors and translators. They can discern with a high degree of certainty where sections have been added or where original material has been altered. They examine the style and language of different passages to identify where several authors were at work. They study the context in which the manuscripts were written so they can piece together clues and fill in the gaps.

And yet many Christians continue to insist that the gospels were written by eye witnesses and are 100% reliable testimonies.

Much of what I included in my book, 201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To) has been known for at least a couple of centuries and taught in seminaries and theological colleges around the world. Some has found a wider platform in the broadcast media and literature, but is rarely communicated to the people in the pews.

It’s about time it was!

 

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.8.2016

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The End of Celibacy?

In February 2013 a most remarkable thing happened – the Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien, called for an end to the requirement that Catholic priests be celibate, and urged the next Pope to allow them to marry. The insistence on celibacy, he said, left many priests struggling to cope with the demands of their ministry. The burdens of being a priest were too much to bear alone, without the support of a companion or a loving family*.

Obviously this was not the first time a senior Catholic had urged reform, nor the first time that Pope Benedict XVl, true to form, refused to consider change. But many priests hailed his comments as a brave contribution, and, of course, most other religions and Christian denominations have no problems with non-celibate, married clergy. Moreover, former Anglican priests opposed to the ordination of women have been allowed to transfer to the Catholic Church if married.

But the most interesting thing about his comments is this: the Cardinal fully recognised that the tradition of celibate priests did not come from the man in whose name the Church exists, Yeshua ben Yosef. The Gospels clearly state that he was strict on divorce and adultery, but are silent on celibacy. Indeed, coming from a culture in which family and children were highly valued, it is most unlikely that he saw marriage as undesirable or celibacy within marriage as commendable. ‘It (celibacy) is obviously not of divine origin,’ said the cardinal. He’s quite correct.

Of course, any suggestion that Yeshua was ever married or ever had sex is quickly dismissed by the church hierarchy as ‘heresy’ even though there is the strong possibility that he did both.  But the early church, driven no doubt by Jewish tradition and with the words of Paul or Tarsus ringing in its ears, made sure that the role of women in the early church was downplayed and any writings referring to Yeshua as a normally functioning male suppressed.

Celibacy has been a requirement for Catholic priests only since the 12th Century, although the thinking behind it comes from a rich tradition of despising the body and condemning women and sexuality as distractions from spirituality. After the religion was taken over by the Roman authorities in the fourth century, the body came to be seen as inherently evil and paying it any attention as sinful. For over a thousand years some Christians chose to deprive themselves of all physical comforts and even beat themselves thinking this would bring them closer to their G-d. But that was not Yeshua’s teaching. Why would he have bothered to heal people if he had not considered the body important?

Moreover, the church realised that there were gaps in the Gospel accounts of his teachings, and took it upon itself to plug them. That’s how teachings on such matters as the Holy Trinity, purgatory, the Mother of G-d and infant baptism came about.

Neither of the words ‘celibate’ or ‘celibacy’ appear in the Bible. There’s an old tale of two elderly monks who had spent a lifetime making copies of copies of the Bible by hand. One day, the first monk said to his colleague, ‘I’m going down to the library to look at the originals, to remind myself what they look like.’ A few hours later he reappeared, ashen faced. ‘What’s the matter?’ asked the second monk, ‘you look as if you’ve seen a ghost!’ ‘I checked, and it says celebrate,’ he replied.

Cardinal O’Brien has highlighted one way (of many) in which the church has made a mockery of history and distorted the teachings of the man it claims to represent. But there’s a twist. A few hours after he made his remarks, the news broke that he had been accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ by a number of individuals, including ‘inappropriate contact’ with several priests thirty years before. Shortly afterwards, he resigned, without admitting guilt.*

As the prayer says, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ G-d sure works in mysterious ways!

©David Lawrence Preston, 5.4.2016

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* Two weeks’ later it was clear why the Cardinal made these remarks – he admitted that his sexual conduct had ‘fallen short of what was expected of a Cardinal, Archbishop and priest’ and that some of this behaviour had been more recent. The Catholic Church announced an enquiry, although if they remain true to tradition, it is unlikely the full facts will ever be known.

 

G_d is an equal opportunities employer – pity about the church!

I saw a T shirt, ‘God is an equal opportunities employer – pity about the church!’

20th November 2012 saw the debacle in which a handful of Church of England members were able to scupper the Church’s plans to introduce women bishops. It was later reversed, but not to universal acclaim.

The argument against women bishops centred on a number of fallacies. The first (and most obvious) is that 21st Century humans should pay blind obedience to words written nearly two millenia ago by people belonging to a primitive society very different to ours. Opponents of women clergy claim that the scriptures state unequivocally that only men are suitable for the calling. They say Yeshua himself was a man, he chose only male disciples and there are biblical references to women taking a subsidiary role in church. These don’t come from Yeshua himself, but from his self-appointed, celibate and seemingly misogynistic apostle, Paul.

Paul clearly regarded women as subservient to men. For example, in Corinthians 1 he stated that a husband is the head of his wife and tells women to cover their heads when prophesying.[1] Nor did he regard them as suitable leaders. ‘Paul’s First Letter to Timothy’ sets out the author’s advice for running a church. ‘I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent’, he wrote. He then tells women that their salvation comes from having children, which makes me wonder what devout and celibate nuns make of that!

Jesus

There are many reasons for not relying on these words. For a start, Paul didn’t write them. The letters to Timothy were written in the final decade of the First Century (thirty years after Paul’s death) by an unknown author. It was considered perfectly acceptable in those days to ‘borrow’ the name of a deceased person and express what the author thought that person would have said had they still been alive.  That’s what the author(s) of most of the New Testament letters did.

The early Christian community was noted for its egalitarian attitude to the genders, which brought condemnation from their Jewish neighbours. By the end of the First Century some Jewish Christians thought it had gone too far. 1Timothy was part of their attempt to put Christian women back in their place.

Secondly, the ‘Purity Laws’ that ruled Jewish religious practice decreed that women were less pure than men due to their natural bodily processes of childbirth and menstruation, and because they don’t have a penis (yes, really!!).

Thirdly, we don’t know for sure what the original passages actually said. All the New Testament writings were augmented, edited, redacted, translated and mistranslated many times before reaching their final form. That year, church leaders in Rome recognised today’s 27 books as the New Testament, but by then many ‘adjustments’ had already been made. Women were thought to be a distraction and carry a greater burden of sin than men. The evidence was the  story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, proof of the evilness of women.

Another fallacy that was put forward by opponents of women bishops is that the Church of England should pay heed to the wider community of churches, including the Roman Catholics. But excuse me, didn’t the Protestant churches break away from Rome precisely because they didn’t agree with Catholic teachings and practices? Fortunately in 2014 the C of E took the lead. By then the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury supported women bishops, and even Pope Francis was moving slowly in that direction.

Who can seriously argue that women are not just as capable of being good priests, ministers, bishops – and Popes – as men? Women have proved their worth as ministers in many denominations for many years. Aren’t many of the feminine traits the essence of spirituality? Yeshua certainly thought so. The gospels say he cared deeply for women, and frequently put his reputation on the line by praising them.

It’s time for enlightened 21st Century thinking to put unenlightened and outdated 1st Century thinking in its place in every denomination. I just hope I live long enough to see it!

 

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Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.3.2016

 


[1] 1 Corinthians 11:5

Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015