Divine Errata

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He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

When the Bible was first officially put together back in the fourth century, a bunch of church big shots voted on which of the books got to be in it. Including the Old Testament wasn’t much of an issue since it had already been around for a long time and it was too late to cut most of that stuff. That’s how the Bible ended up having books in it like the totally boring Leviticus, the depressing Ecclesiastes, and the way pornographic Song of Songs. They probably should have cut a few of the grumpy minor prophets too, but there wasn’t much they could do about it at that point. By the time we got to the King James there were a bunch of things that ended up in the book that should have been axed.

But now that we’ve discovered earlier, more accurate manuscripts, we’re able to find the stuff that was omitted, changed or added later. For example, the Dead Sea scrolls reveal that Isaiah was only a prophet part-time; in the off-season he worked in pest control. The oldest Hebrew documents don’t identify David as the “king of Israel” but rather simply as “that guy who liked sheep a lot.” And the most reliable manuscript of 2 Corinthians does not read “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” but rather “if anyone is in Christ he is mildly annoying.” There are many instances of such errata.

Most interesting are the later additions to the gospel accounts. In the original manuscripts Jesus never freed a woman caught in adultery by drawing in the sand and challenging her accusers to throw the first stone. It’s inclusion raises questions about authenticity. Did it really happen or was the account an urban legend inserted after the fact because it sounded cool? Then there are the last twelve verses of Mark which are not included in the two most reliable early manuscripts. Did Jesus really say to preach the gospel to “all creation”? (Saint Francis of Assisi thought it was for the birds.) Did Jesus really promise that believers “will pick up snakes with their hands”? Did he really say that when they “drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all”? (What about Iocane powder?) And if Jesus really did say these things, why didn’t the original writers include them? Why the anonymous additions? What if part of the Holy Scriptures were written by some guy named Bruce?

And what if we discover even earlier manuscripts?  What if we find a prototype of the gospel of John that begins, “In the beginning was the camel?” What if there were only two original psalms, one of them a song about headaches and the other singing the praises of a good nap?  What if the only original plague was acne? What if we find out that the Trinity has four persons: the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and a designated hitter? What if we find out that Jesus actually died on a bus? It’s enough to make you hold out on the faith thing until all the evidence comes in.

It pretty much comes down to trust. Either you trust that the nameless editors had their acts together or you ignore the questionable sections. Personally, even if they are legit, I tend to read those sections with less conviction. I can’t help it. I certainly have no intention of picking up snakes or drinking deadly poison to test whether they’re inspired or not. But even if it turns out that Jesus only rose from the bed, I’m still going to believe in him. After all, a religion that can’t roll with the punches isn’t much of a religion at all.

Face and grease to you.

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