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Are you perfect?
By Elson T. Elizaga

Published Sept. 9, 2018. Also in Gold Star Daily.
Clasped hands on a Bible.
Bravenet stock photo.

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 employ this comment.

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, therefore, we must stop complaining about the president, the war on drugs, corruption, and the creeping, peaceful 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 these alleged 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 ….’”

I used to believed that these passages truly came from the mouth of Jesus, and recorded faithfully by his disciples. Unfortunately, scholars have established that their supposed authors -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- are unknown.The books are not original. According to 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 of existing manuscripts are between 66 to 110 years after Jesus’s death.1

Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic, were illiterate, but the stories about them are 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 use Biblical criticism.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Biblical criticism is a method that examines the Bible like any man-made document -- a novel, a historical manuscript, or a newspaper report. Using this approach, 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. Scholars have disovered that some stories are fictional, some factual. To get to the truth, the authorship, the writing style, the history of the place, the culture of the people and their politics and struggles should be taken into account. This method has enabled scholars to discover, for instance, that Moses may not have existed.

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

In-depth Bible study includes fearless critical analysis. Without it, Bible study can become Bible worship, a weapon for trolling, a convenient exercise in confirmation bias and nothing less than idolatry because the Bible is not perfect. End



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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