What Makes Scripture “Holy”

I recently had a conversation with a man who viewed Christianity through the lens of Bart Ehrman’s work. In particular, this man mentioned his reliance upon Ehrman’s book called “Misquoting Jesus.” I haven’t read any books by Ehrman, though I’ve now read snippets online, thanks in part to Google Books.

Ehrman’s approach to scripture is highly praised by some. One reviewer was convinced that the emperor Constantine controlled the Council of Nicea, and through it, determined the canon of scripture we have today and the doctrine accepted as “orthodox.” If that notion sounds familiar, it’s because you heard about it in Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The DaVinci Code. While that novel was still top on the bestseller lists, I happened to be in a Border’s bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin, and couldn’t help overhearing a loud conversation about it between two crunchy females, in which one exclaimed (so that all nearby could hear), “I’m so glad that the truth is finally coming out!” To them, Christianity as a whole was finally debunked.

I don’t know if this is Ehrman’s view too, but a good number of his disciples seem to hold it. His work that I perused on Google Books compiles several non-canonical books from the first few centuries after Christ, claiming that the are “lost scriptures” of Christianity. Reading his translations, it seems clear to me that they were not so much “lost” as simply rejected. They do not have the character of the New Testament scriptures, and contradict it in fundamental ways. Beside that, they all seem to have been written at relatively late dates in comparison with the New Testament scriptures. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ehrman is able to hold these non-canonical books in similar regard to the New Testament canon not so much because he has elevated the importance of the non-canonical books (though that may also have happened), but because he has taken a rather low view of the New Testament scriptures. In particular, he doesn’t seem to regard their self-claimed divine inspiration (e.g. 1 Peter 1:12, 2 Peter 1:21, John 20:31, 2 Timothy 3:16) as something worth believing. If these writings are not divinely inspired, then they are merely the products of various individuals, replete with redactions and copyist changes both intentional and unintentional. If they are not divinely inspired, then there’s no reason to suppose that God has preserved them in any way through the history of the Church. If they are not divinely inspired, then it would make sense that the development of the New Testament canon was a mere exercise of human power and influence.

If the New Testament writings are not divinely inspired, though they claim to be, then there is no more reason to base our faith upon them then upon the writings of William Shakespeare.

However, if we believe the claim of divine inspiration, then all of those things are reversed. We are then not at liberty to dispose of any part of the scriptures, because there is no way for a mere creature to judge the writings of his Creator. We must even believe that the transmission of the New Testament text through the human work of scribes was somehow governed by God so that His original message was preserved. What’s more, we are forced to believe what those writings say about Jesus, and that’s really the center of this controversy. It’s not so much about the Bible as about the one Person who is both true God, one with the Father, and true Man, born of the virgin Mary. It’s about our utter need for a Savior, and the way in which He had to accomplish our salvation all alone, without any help from us. It seems clear to me that those are the things which Ehrman’s disciples (generally speaking) really want to circumvent.

The scholarly credentials attached to Ehrman are impressive, and at least some of his disciples seem to think that those credentials should put an end to all argument against his work. However, in my slight reading of that work, I have found at least one obvious historical error. He claims that the Jewish canon (the Old Testament) was not assembled until well after the Christian era began. However, it’s clear that the Septuagint (a common Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) existed well before Christ. Granted, there are details about the Septuagint which are unknown to many casual Bible students, but Ehrman’s implication is that even the selection of our Old Testament books took place under some suspicious Christian influence. Not so. That the Septuagint also included apocryphal parts considered important by many Jews makes no difference. That the Septuagint was not really a single, authoritative version also makes no difference. The fact is that the Old Testament books were assembled together long before Jesus was born, so that He could refer to them all (The TaNaCH: Torah or Law, Neviim or Prophets, and Chetuvim or Writings) in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51, which mention the first and last murders recounted in the Jewish scriptures. The historical evidence against Ehrman’s claim is not limited to the Septuagint, either. Yet for a Christian whose faith is in Jesus Christ, and is based upon the Bible, the decisive evidence against Ehrman’s claim is Jesus’ own acceptance and promotion of the Old Testament canon.

It’s not hard to see that there is a chasm here between two parties, or even two worldviews. It’s not between the scholarly and the unscholarly, but between those who believe that the biblical scriptures are intrinsically holy and those who believe they are made “holy” by the decisions and influence of mortal men. It’s a divide of faith, more than anything else. There are many people who have been raised on the notion that the most worthy god we have is Science. It’s the only religion allowed in American public schools. Meanwhile, Christianity has always embraced science as the beneficial study of Creation, but not having authority to trump what God has revealed. Many of the world’s most significant scientific discoveries were made by Christians, based upon their biblical worldview. Ehrman’s scholarship, on the other hand, represents the application of Science-as-religion to the sacred scriptures of Christianity.

The Evil of Mortgage Insurance

I’d blogged quite some time ago about the unwillingness of my brother’s mortgage lender to work with him so that he’d be able to make some kind of payments and stay in his home. I’d been amazed to hear about that unwillingness, because it’s obviously in the bank’s best interest to keep a mortgage-paying homeowner living there, even if it means the payments are lower for a while. The alternative is to lose those payments altogether and have to deal with what’s left of the property after the homeowner defaults and moves away to parts unknown. I would even venture that when the homeowner lives in an area or works in a field hit hard by a tough economy, the mortgage lender should be even more apt to work with the borrower, especially when the borrower contacts the lender in good faith to explain the situation and make some serious compromises.

Unfortunately, that theory was completely shot to pieces by the experience of my brother and his family. Why, why why?

The answer is now oh, so obvious and simple. Private Mortgage Insurance. Mortgage Insurance can also be public, that is, provided by the government. My brother’s was the private kind, in which the lending institution requires the borrower to pay a monthly premium (say $120 or so) to a third party, an insurance provider. In exchange for this service (provided by the borrower’s extra payments), the mortgage provider enjoys reduced or eliminated risk. With mortgage insurance, a defaulted loan is no longer such a problem for the lending institution. Voila! There is now little to no incentive for the lending institution to help its customers. That’s evil. Customers become, well, what would you call them? Targets? Victims? Suckers? Of course, this is just another facet of the evil already known: that too many publicly-insured mortgages have been provided to people who really had no ability to pay for them. But see? Private mortgage insurance is just as bad.

All of this leads me to conclude that mortgage insurance is intrinsically evil. Well, OK. It’s not evil like sin, but it is evil like temptation. It leaves its targets/victims/suckers with no recourse but to default. This is what happens when people and governments artificially change the natural forces of the economy. Look for more examples coming to a world superpower near you, only now with lots of hope and change.

Digital Television Transition

Congress, at the request of the President, has been trying to push back the date for the digital television transition that this nation has been preparing for two years. On the surface, the reason for this is concern for those who are still unprepared. So out of that concern, the federal government may spend millions of its constituents’ tax dollars to delay the transition for another six months or so.

I could understand the concern if the issue were a transition from 60Hz electricity to 50Hz electricity, or 120v household voltage to 220v. There are some whose lives would be in jeopardy if they were not prepared for such a change. But television? It doesn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense, that is, until I asked myself what essential role television plays for our elected representatives. See, TV is not really essential for we the people, but it is essential for those who need our votes. If a sizeable number of “poor” people are bereft of television, they might just turn on the radio instead. There are some in power who would gladly pay millions of our dollars to prevent that, especially if those poor people might listen to an AM station between noon and three Eastern time.

Even worse than tuning in to AM radio, those “poor” people would no longer be coached on how to think. They might begin thinking for themselves, and evaluating the performance of their elected officials purely on the basis of their own sense and principles, and in the best interest of their families. Some political agendas would certainly suffer.

Television is like the Matrix, with one important difference. Instead of turning human beings into batteries, it helps turn them into votes. To certain officials of our government, uninterrupted television service to their constituents is absolutely essential. It will be interesting to see if their secret fears are realized.