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Why do you criticize? Are you perfect?
By Elson T. Elizaga

Published Sept. 9, 2018. Also in Mindanao Gold Star Daily.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” ~ Matthew 7:3-5
man praying with bible
Bravenet stock photo.

Sometimes when I criticize a government official, someone would confront me with these questions: “Are you perfect? Are you better than the president?” The background of this response is religious, but I will explain it later.

Converted into a syllogism, the reasoning becomes this: If someone is not perfect, then the president is correct. You are not perfect. Therefore, the president is correct.

So, it’s ad hominem and non-sequitur. But it’s a powerful attack, possibly designed by the psychologists of Cambridge Analytica, because it makes people reflect on their weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. It makes them ask, "Am I a good parent?" "Am I a true friend?" "Am I an honest employee?" "Am I faithful to my spouse?"

The answers, of course, are "Maybe" or "No", because nobody is perfect.

“Are you perfect?” hits everyone in the guts. A male teacher who gives a passing grade to a female student because she is his secret girlfriend is not perfect. A wife working abroad and has a sexual relationship with another OFW is not perfect. A pedophile priest is not perfect. A cook who spits on the food for his master is not perfect. And a president who curses the Pope, who admits to have killed 1,700 people, is not perfect.

And, so, the argument goes, because we are all imperfect, therefore, we must stop complaining about their president, the drug war, the rising prices, and the invasion of China.

Sometimes when people ask “Are you perfect?” they support their idea with two familiar Biblical passages. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5, which contains this supposed words of Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

The other reference is the story of the woman taken in adultery as narrated in the Gospel of John 7:53—8:11: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees … made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’   … [Jesus said:] ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her ….’”

These are convincing passages, but unfortunately they are pockmarked with several problems. The authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are unknown. The books are not original. According the Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, they are “copies of copies of copies of copies” of ancient manuscripts already lost. The stories about Jesus are not written by his disciples or by Jesus himself but are "oral traditions", an euphemism for hearsay. And the dates of composition are between 40 to 100 years after Jesus’s death. Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic, but the stories about them are in Greek. So, we don’t really know if the stories are accurate. These are the findings of Biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, who use textual scholarship techniques such as "textual criticism, stemmatology, paleography, genetic criticism (critique génétique), bibliography and history of the book ...."

By using these techniques for years on thousands of manuscripts, Biblical scholars have discovered, for example, that the story of the woman taken in adultery is a foreign insertion in John and Luke. In biblegateway.org is this footnote: “[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

A long explanation is in gotquestions.org and Wikipedia. Gotquestions is conservative and believes the Bible is inerrant (without error). Despite this, it says, "The fact, however, remains that John 7:53—8:11 is not supported by the best manuscript evidence. Thus, there is serious doubt as to whether it should be included in the Bible. Many call for Bible publishers to remove these verses (along with Mark 16:9–20) from the main text and put them in footnotes."

What this all means is the story about Jesus and other personalities in the Bible are uncertain. Some of them are fictional, some historical, some of their statements may not be true. One who claims to be a follower of Jesus like senator Manny Pacquiao should seriously study these tough findings and stop randomly picking and spewing Biblical passages unless they know exactly what they are doing. Stop accepting verses at face value. Stop using them to fit a personal or political agenda, because this approach is not real Bible study. It is Bible worship. It is infantile and nothing less than idolatry because the Bible is not perfect.Black square indicates end of article.

POSTCRIPT. A good lecture by Bart Ehrman on "Misquoting Jesus" is available in YouTube.


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