Who put the Bible together, and what are the texts they left out so that it would not have contradictions?

Question:

My father says he does not believe in organized religion because most churchs seem only to care for themselves and not other people. He also says that the bible is biased because it was written by man and that whomever put the bible together left out some of the texts because they didnt want the bible to contradict in any way. What are these supposed texts that were left out? How were the Old Testament and the New Testament put together? How different are the various translations of the bible from the original text?

Answer:

My first thought is that your father is not attracted to Christianity and simply does not want to be a Christian. His reasons are likely "smoke screens" intended to put you off. The "I do not want to be a Christian because of all the hipocrites" excuse is a weak one. However, even if these are more excuses than real reasons, you ought to be prepared to give a reasonable answer.

There are a lot of hipocrites who claim Christianity, of course, but this is not a rational excuse to reject the teachings of Jesus or the religion he founded. The life and teaching of Jesus speaks for themselves. If he is willing to listen, you ought to take the opportunity to share the real message of Jesus, his love and compassion and try to confront your father in a patient and loving way with Jesus. If he is willing to listen (a big if!), then perhaps you could ask him if he is attracted to the life and teaching of Jesus, apart from any bad examples he has seen. My suggestion is that you become a part of a strong, spiritual fellowship of disciples of Jesus who are great examples in opposition to your father’s somewhat weak excuse. In other words, the only way I can think of for deflecting this criticism is your own personal example of service to people and your community and involvement in a Christian group which does the same.

As for his rather unfocused criticism of the Bible, it certainly is not based on any real evidence. Your father has probably heard unsubstantiated criticisms of the Bible and not taken the care to investigate these claims. Perhaps you could ask him to give you some examples to support his criticism (or perhaps you should not, depending on his personality, as directly confronting his unsupported criticism might have the opposite effect!). My strongest suggestion in this area is that you respectfully ask him to read a book on the topic of biblical inspiration. I happen to have a book published on the subject which is my personal favorite! It is Reasons For Belief, available at www.ipibooks.com. I also have a new book on the subject titled Field Manual for Christian Apologetics, available from the same publisher.

It is obviously true that the Bible was written by human beings. However, the claim of the Bible is that it is "inspired by God" (2 Tim 3:16-17). The question that your father will hopefully be willing to ask without simply dismissing it without evidence, is whether this claim is true. There is a great body of evidence supporting belief that the Bible is indeed inspired by God. My suggestion is to give him one of these books so that he can at least be familiar with the evidence for the claim he dismisses, perhaps without seriously considering it validity. You ask what the texts are which were left out of the Bible. My response is that you should ask your father which texts he is talking about. My guess is that he probably has no idea, but I might be wrong. There are a number of other writings by Christians and by heretics in the second century which were not included in the New Testament canon. This is a fairly big topic, but, having read much of this other literature, my reaction is that such writings are very obviously of inferior quality. The reason the church did not include writings such as the Epistle of Barnabas or the Didache or the letter of Clement of Rome are obvious when one simply reads these texts. If your father compares the Gospel of John with the "Gospel of Judas" or the "Gosple of Thomas" with an open mind he will see right away the difference between an inspired text and an imposter. The key to this is whether your dad is open to an honest investigation. If he is not, your efforts in this area will not be fruitful and you will be left with having to simply do your best to present a good example of a kind of Christianity which puts to shame his unfortunate characterization of Jesus and his followers. If he is willing, I believe a book such as the ones recommended above may be very helpful.

The gathering of the Old and the New Testaments was done by the consensus of the Jewish teachers and the early Church leaders respectively. We do not have a detailed account of the process in either case, although we have available a number of very early discussions of the reasons for inclusion or exclusion of certain books from such writers as Irenaeus and Origen for the New Testament. In both cases, the evidence is that this was a consensus process of respected leaders. This is described in some detail in my book Reasons for Belief. As a rule, in the New Testament, the question asked by the church was whether the writings were "apostolic." In other words, whether they were considered to be inspired by the original apostles and their very close associates.

There are a number of very good translations of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available. The differences between these is relatively small, as all are based on the original, over which there is fairly little doubt. Of course, no translation is perfect, which is why a careful student of the scriptures will consult more than one translation. For a beginner such as yourself or your father, any of a number of good translations is perfectly adequate to begin a careful study of the Bible. Knowledge of the original languages is not needed for one simply interested in understanding the basics, but over time a student of the Bible might want to acquaint him or herself with a number of good translations.

John Oakes


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