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Are you perfect?
By Elson T. Elizaga

Published Sept. 9, 2018. Also in Mindanao Gold Star Daily. Revised October 13, 2021.
 
man praying with bible

Sometimes when I write an article that criticizes the president, someone would ask me if I am perfect, and if I am better than the president.

Many trolls use this question. The reasoning is if someone is not perfect, then the president is correct. Since I and the entire Filipino population are not perfect, therefore, the president is correct [always].

From our logic professor in college, we learned that this type of argument is non-sequitur, but during this phase of our political life, it can be a powerful, emotional attack -- possibly designed by the psychologists of Cambridge Analytica -- because it makes people, especially the religious, reflect on their weaknesses, shortcomings, and perceived "sins". The result is guilt and apathy: Since we are all imperfect, yes, therefore, we must stop complaining about the president, the war on drugs, corruption, and the creeping, peaceful invasion of China.

Perhaps we should just sit back and wait for our perfect God to take care of everything. God works in mysterious ways anyway, and if we don't let go, if we don't allow him to take care of the future, then, perhaps, we don't trust him at all.

Several times in social media, the persons who asked are you perfect would support their position with any of two familiar Biblical passages. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5, which contains these 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 ….’”

Formerly a conservative Christian, I used to believe these words came from the mouth of Jesus, and recorded accurately by his disciples. Unfortunately, I found serious, disturbing questions about their sources.

The questions did not come from outside the church, but from within. It began when one pastor noticed that I was reading secular books. They said I should first study the life and beliefs of the authors, because some of them might have views contrary to Christian teaching.

Then I discovered that the Gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are anonymous. The books are not original. The authorship was assigned by the Roman Catholic Church.

According to Bart Ehrman, the Gospels 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 66 to 110 years after Jesus’ death.
1

Moreover, Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic, but the stories about them are in written in Greek. So, scholars are not certain if the stories are true. The narratives might be fake news, partly or entirely. This and other pieces of information are the findings of scholars who practice Biblical criticism.

In layman's term, at the risk of oversimplifying, Biblical criticism is a research method that examines the Bible like any man-made document -- an ancient manuscript, or a newspaper report, for example. They analyze the authorship, the writing style, the history of the place, the culture of the people and their political condition and struggles. They also refer to findings of anthropologists, historians, literary critics, geologists and other scientists.

This inter-disciplinary method has enabled scholars to discover, 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."

So, I've come to conclude -- though I keep an open mind for the appearance of new evidence -- that the stories about Jesus and other personalities in the Bible are uncertain. Some are fictional, some factual, some peppered with myths, some contradictory, some influenced by Zoroastrianism, a religion older than Judaism and Christianity. For instance in the Old Testament, scholars have found no evidence that Moses ever existed -- a welcome thought for illicit lovers, and everyone else who have doubts about the Ten Commandments.

Without using Biblical criticism, one can make convenient but misleading conclusions because the Bible contains varied, sometimes contradictory ideas. It's like a restaurant menu. If one worships a ruthless God of War, he only has to cherry-pick passages from the Old Testament. If one prefers submission to authorities, and turning the other cheek, he can find supporting ideas attributed to Jesus.

A good example is the boxer, senator and conservative lay pastor Manny Pacquiao. He supports the death penalty because, he said, God permitted Pontius Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. He also said that homosexuals are worse than animals because the Bible says so. But Pacquiao, a millionaire, does not sell all his possessions, contrary to Jesus' alleged advice in Mark 10:21.

No doubt Bible study is a worthy pursuit, but only if it includes fearless, academic critical analysis. If blind faith is the platform, Bible study can easily become Bible worship -- a dangerous exercise in confirmation bias and possibly nothing less than idolatry because the Bible is not perfect.Black square indicates end of article.

RELATED

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


1 "Like the rest of the New Testament, the four gospels were written in Greek.[30] The Gospel of Mark probably dates from c. AD 66–70,[9] Matthew and Luke around AD 85–90,[10] and John AD 90–110.[11] Despite the traditional ascriptions, all four are anonymous and most scholars agree that none were written by eyewitnesses.[12] A few conservative scholars defend the traditional ascriptions or attributions, but for a variety of reasons the majority of scholars have abandoned this view or hold it only tenuously.[31]" ~ Wikipedia, "Gospel," accessed October 13, 2021.

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