NOTE: In the Cultural Commentary we occasionally depart from the morning news to explore more perennial faith questions. Recently I asked readers to suggest common misconceptions or roadblocks to the Christian faith. The first subject in our short series is foundational to the rest: Can we trust the Bible?
A reader asks: “I would like to know how people can state that the Bible was created by King James to keep his subjects in line.” A related question: “How can we determine that the canonized Bible is THE Bible and the other books are not? Can we rely on them?”
King James had nothing to do with creating the Bible. In January 1604 he commissioned the English Bible that bears his name, but did none of the translating himself.
The books comprising the Old Testament were written and compiled over centuries of Hebrew history. According to Jewish tradition, councils meeting in AD 90 and 118 finalized the list we have today. New Testament books were selected by three criteria: (1) written by an eyewitness or based on eyewitness testimony; (2) possessed merit and authority in use; (3) accepted and used by the entire Church. Councils in the fourth century confirmed the 27 books which Christians had already affirmed over generations.
There were no “smoke-filled rooms”—the books that were excluded were clearly not inspired by God. For instance, The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ tells of a time when Jesus stretched a throne his father had made too small (ch. 16) and killed boys who opposed him (19:19-24).
Here’s an interesting question: “How do we know the Bible wasn’t written ‘backwards’ and chapters and verses ‘added’ by monks and priests to make the Old Testament and New Testament ‘flow,’ have prophecies predicted and fulfilled, etc.?” Answer: Old Testament texts were completed and used for many centuries before New Testament books were written. If Christians tried to edit the Hebrew texts to make them more “Christian,” rabbinic scholars would have exposed their scheme.
One more: “How do we reconcile contradictions between the Old and New Testaments?” Most of these so-called contradictions result from misunderstanding historical context. For instance, “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24) limits retribution to the crime committed; “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) has to do with slander, not criminal behavior. When we interpret the text according to its original authorial intention, such issues are resolved.
Andrew Jackson called the Bible “the Rock on which our Republic rests.” John Adams would have agreed: “Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.”
Will you regulate your conduct by its precepts today?