OK, the Old Testament was a mess. No argument. Entrails and goo on every page. And those genealogies! Oy gevalt. A definite swing and a miss by God.
You’d think He would have learned His lesson. But, no, He leaves the formation of the New Testament in the hands of whom? Human, that’s whom—the same people who would bring us the Dark Ages.
Really, He could have orchestrated this thing a whole lot better. Instead, the whole thing seems ad-libbed.
Let’s start at the beginning. Supposedly, God sent Jesus to earth, but he seemed to be operating without a script. First off, Jesus never told his disciples he came to die for everyone’s sins. How do we know that? We know it because the first church, the Mother Assembly in Jerusalem, overseen by Jesus’ very own flesh-and-blood brother James, was telling everyone to obey the Torah and to keep going to the temple to offer sacrifices for their sins.
And the resurrection—they couldn’t shut up about the resurrection. Jesus was coming back real soon to separate some things from other things.
Exactly why he had to die in the first place—not so much consensus, though. Just a lot of guesswork.
True, Jesus taught the first disciples, but being illiterate peasants, they couldn’t write any of it down. Didn’t matter to them. Saving Jesus’ teachings for posterity was not really an issue. Jesus was coming back any day now! Just keep telling everyone you meet! (How did they get the incorrect idea that Jesus was coming back real soon? From Jesus! Once again, ad-libbing.)
While the disciples were busy chattering about Jesus to their fellow Jews, this guy Paul came along and raised hell, putting Christians in the pokey. Then he received a revelation from The Man Himself and changed his tune. But instead of going to Jerusalem and meeting with James and Peter and all the other guys who knew Jesus in person to make sure they were on the same page, he went to the vast sands of Arabia—for three years!
When Paul re-emerged three years later, he had this thing he called “my gospel.” He was a savvy entrepreneur. He knew he needed to brand his product to differentiate it from the pro-Torah gospel being preached by James and the disciples in Jerusalem.
The guys in Jerusalem got wind of this, and they all but had an aneurism. We would know, they say, if Jesus had preached against the Torah—and he hadn’t. Why is this joker Paul, who never even met Jesus, why is he telling everyone that he knows what Jesus wants from them?
Despite the disciples’ concerns, Paul began setting up churches across the Empire. And he started writing letters to these churches. These letters didn’t comes across as something that was dictated from God, though. He didn’t seem to be operating with any sort of master plan, as if he were creating something authoritative and systematic. Instead, the letters were all reactive, trying to patch holes in the churches he’d founded. (The one exception is Romans. In that case, Paul had never been to the church, so he felt he had to give a detailed outline of the message he’d been preaching.)
Greek-speaking Jews from across the Empire would come to Jerusalem for the annual festivals, and the believers there would convert them to their pro-Torah version of the Jesus message. Then they’d take the Jesus message back to their hometowns and adjust it to fit their communities as needed.
As Paul’s popularity grew across the empire, they were often adjusting these stories to line up with his teachings, which hacked off the disciples in Jerusalem. James sent a delegation to the church in Galatia to tell them they must be circumcised and follow the Torah. And, of course, Paul went ballistic over this.
Shortly thereafter, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, slaughtering the Jewish population and destroying the Mother Assembly. From there, Christianity became a gentile religion, which was where it had been heading anyway—and, more and more, it came to look like Paul’s version of the church.
So when the time came to pick the canon of the New Testament several hundred years later, church leaders just went with the Majority Opinion, choosing the most popular (that is, Paul-inspired) writings that were thought to have come from apostles.
But they didn’t receive any epiphany from God as to what books to choose. Pure ad-lib. How do we know that? We know it because they included in the canon a number of books that were forgeries of apostolic writings, such as 1 Timothy. In fact, turns out none of the books that made it into the canon were written by people who actually knew Jesus, with the possible exception of the book of James, which ironically runs counter to Pauline dogma but couldn’t very well be left out because it was thought to have come from Jesus’ flesh and blood.
And that, my fellow heathens, is how we ended up with the New Testament that believers are so sure teaches Unalterable Truths about Jesus Christ—the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Really? This is how God gets His point across?
Well, yes—and no. God wasn’t involved in this whole convoluted, utterly human process. That shouldn’t shock anyone. That’s his M.O. At best, He nudges—maybe. Listen to Christians talk. They say, “I think God may be closing a door for me here” or “God really used that book you gave me. It really spoke to me!” They dismiss anybody who comes up and says, “God specifically told me X.”
But they insist the New Testament is God’s word.
Nope. What we have in the New Testament is something cobbled together by fallible humans, start to finish. Duct tape everywhere.
God’s not talking. That’s why we have the New Testament we have.
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