Rebuttal of Chapter 3: The Bible's False Friend
This is a commentary on the Watchtower Society's 1989 book The Bible: God's Word or Man's?, Chapter 3: "The Bible's False Friend".
The Bible's False Friend
By the end of the first century, the writing of all the books of the Bible was completed. From then on, Christians were in the forefront of copying and distributing the complete Bible. At the same time, they were busy translating it into the most common languages of the day. While the Christian congregation was busy with this admirable work, however, something was beginning to take shape that would prove very dangerous to the survival of the Bible.
This is true. It is good to remember, however, that when the book speaks of "Christians" at this time (from the end of the first century onward), they are really talking about 'apostates'. By this time, as the following paragraphs go on to show, the apostate influence had already taken hold of the congregation to an extent, and this influence rapidly grew through the following decades and centuries. Interestingly, it was these 'apostates' who decided which books belonged in the Bible, and who busied themselves with copying and translating and distributing the word. Was God behind these apostates' efforts to preserve his word?
2 This development was foretold by the Bible itself. Jesus once told a parable of a man who sowed his field with good quality seeds of wheat. But "while men were sleeping," an enemy sowed seeds that would produce weeds. Both types of seeds sprouted, and for a while the weeds hid the wheat from view. By this parable, Jesus showed that the fruitage of his work would be true Christians but that after his death, false Christians would infiltrate the congregation. Eventually, it would be difficult to distinguish the genuine from the false. -- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
3 The apostle Peter frankly warned of the effect of these weedlike "Christians" on the way people would view Christianity and the Bible. He warned: "There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively." -- 2 Peter 2:1, 2.
These two paragraphs are correct.
4 Even during the first century, the prophecies of Jesus and Peter were being fulfilled. Ambitious men infiltrated the Christian congregation and sowed dissension. (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Peter 2:21, 22; 3 John 9, 10) During the following two centuries, the purity of Bible truth was corrupted by Greek philosophy, and many mistakenly came to accept pagan doctrines as Bible truth.
So as stated earlier, it was during this time of ambition, dissension and worldly philosophy that the Bible, as we know it today, took shape. When we talk about the Bible "surviving" intact to our day, we really don't know if that is true or not. What if these 'apostates' got rid of books that they didn't like? What we have today in the form of the Bible is a direct result of 'apostate' action.
For example, although not included in the Hebrew versions of the Bible, the Apocrypha was included in a translation of the Hebrew texts into Greek made at Alexandria, Egypt, beginning in the 3rd century BC. This translation, popularly called the Septuagint because of the legend that it had been made by about 70 scholars, became the Bible of the early Christians before there were any New Testament writings. In about AD 400, when St. Jerome made a Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, he included the Apocryphal books (somewhat against his better judgment) because they had been in the Septuagint used by earlier Christians. These books thus found acceptance in both the Latin (Roman) and Greek churches. In the Bibles used in these churches, these books are found distributed throughout the Old Testament and are not considered Apocryphal as they are in Judaism, but as authoritative. Some modern editions of the Bible include these books as a separate section.
The books in this collection are: I and II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to the Book of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Song of the Three (or the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Young Men), Daniel and Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, and I and II Maccabees.
If your Bible does not contain these books, then the choices these 'apostates' made certainly greatly reduced the influence of the apocrypha in your life. Have you ever read the Book of Judith, for example?
How do you know that the Bible has really come down to us intact, since it depended on 'apostates' to collect and preserve it?
5 In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine adopted "Christianity" as the official religion of the Roman Empire. But the "Christianity" he knew was very different from the religion preached by Jesus. By now, the "weeds" were flourishing, just as Jesus had foretold. Nevertheless, we can be sure that during all that time, there were some who represented true Christianity and labored to follow the Bible as the inspired Word of God. -- Matthew 28:19, 20.
There does seem to have always been some who resist the common beliefs of the day and strike out on their own. Of course, this resistance occurs in all religions, and so it is hard to make much of a case for anything based on this. The last sentence in paragraph 5 is given without proof, just conjecture.
Bible Translation Opposed
6 It was in Constantine's time that Christendom as we know it today began to take shape. From then on, the degenerate form of Christianity that had taken root was no longer just a religious organization. It was a part of the state, and its leaders played an important role in politics. Eventually, the apostate church used its political power in a way that was completely opposed to Bible Christianity, introducing another dangerous threat to the Bible. How?
This is historically correct.
7 When Latin died out as an everyday tongue, new translations of the Bible were needed. But the Catholic Church no longer favored this. In 1079 Vratislaus, who later became king of Bohemia, asked the permission of Pope Gregory VII to translate the Bible into the language of his subjects. The pope's answer was no. He stated: "It is clear to those who reflect often upon it, that not without reason has it pleased Almighty God that holy scripture should be a secret in certain places, lest, if it were plainly apparent to all men, perchance it would be little esteemed and be subject to disrespect; or it might be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning, and lead to error."
One could debate the merits of this argument, but in general it strikes me as a bad idea. I won't defend Christendom all that vigorously, and leave that to others who may have the inclination.
It is good to remember, however, that Latin had not died out as an everyday tongue by 1079 (as the paragraph seems to imply). It was still the common language of that period, with a tremendous amount of literature being written in Latin. Some of the most enduring medieval and world literature was produced during the 12th and 13th centuries -- in Latin.
During the late Middle Ages the use of what are now the national languages of Europe began to find greater expression in writing, though works in Latin were still being published as late as the 18th century. Early Renaissance writers often used it as well as their vernacular languages. Here we have an example of the WTS getting history wrong.
8 The pope wanted the Bible to be kept in the now-dead tongue of Latin. Its contents were to be kept "secret," not translated into the languages of the common people. Jerome's Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5th century to make the Bible accessible to all, now became a means of keeping it hidden.
Remember, Latin was hardly the dead language that it almost is today. Not only was this true in Jerome's day, but also in Pope Gregory VII's day. If a person really wanted to read the Bible, he needed to get educated, just as when an illiterate person becomes one of Jehovah's Witnesses today, they are expected to learn to read. Granted it was harder in the Middle Ages, and opportunity was not there for everyone, but it was not impossible either.
9 As the Middle Ages progressed, the Church's stand against vernacular Bibles hardened. In 1199 Pope Innocent III wrote such a strong letter to the archbishop of Metz, Germany, that the archbishop burned all the German-language Bibles he could find. In 1229 the synod of Toulouse, France, decreed that "lay people" could not possess any Bible books in the common tongue. In 1233 a provincial synod of Tarragona, Spain, commanded that all books of "the Old or New Testament" be handed over to be burned. In 1407 the synod of clergy summoned in Oxford, England, by Archbishop Thomas Arundel expressly forbade the translating of the Bible into English or any other modern tongue. In 1431, also in England, Bishop Stafford of Wells forbade the translating of the Bible into English and the owning of such translations.
This is a prime example of the danger of organizations, for they eventually succumb to the inevitable goal of perpetuating themselves, even at the expense of Bible truth. What the Church did in the Middle Ages was wrong, and they deserve condemnation for their acts.
It is good to remember, however, that we are focusing on arguments that would hold up the Bible as the word of God. Although the history in this chapter is basically correct, it doesn't really address the overall theme of the book very well. No argument, no proof is offered here.
10 These religious authorities were not trying to destroy the Bible. They were trying to fossilize it, keep it in a language that only a few could read. In this way, they hoped to prevent what they called heresy but what really amounted to challenges to their authority. If they had succeeded, the Bible could have become just an object of intellectual curiosity, with little or no influence in the lives of ordinary people.
This is an excellent example of control. By controlling information (in this case the Bible), the church could hold onto it's power and authority, and yes, control, over the common people. There is much danger when any person or organization has such control over others -- as can be evidenced by the corruption and abuse within the church.
Of course, one can easily see how the WTS acts the same way today, controlling the type of information that the average JW is allowed to read. By doing this, they handle 'challenges to their authority,' just as the ancient church did.
The Bible's Champions
11 Happily, though, many sincere people refused to follow these edicts. But such refusals were dangerous. Individuals suffered terribly for the "crime" of owning a Bible. Consider, as an example, the case of a Spaniard named Julián Hernández. According to Foxe's History of Christian Martyrdom, Julián (or, Juliano) "undertook to convey from Germany into his own country a great number of Bibles, concealed in casks, and packed up like Rhenish wine." He was betrayed and seized by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. Those for whom the Bibles were destined "were all indiscriminately tortured, and then most of them were sentenced to various punishments. Juliano was burnt, twenty were roasted upon spits, several imprisoned for life, some were publicly whipped, many sent to the galleys."
These anecdotes don't prove much, other than highlighting some examples of adherence to right principles even in the face of death. You have to admire these men for what they did. But such acts of bravery and courage can be found among all ideologies on earth. Wherever and whenever you have an idea people believe in, you will find those willing to die for those beliefs. Wars are a prime example.
Just because someone is willing to die for his or her belief, it doesn't mean that belief comes from God.
12 What a horrible abuse of power! Clearly, these religious authorities were by no means representative of Bible Christianity! The Bible itself revealed to whom they belonged when it said: "The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother." -- 1 John 3:10-12.
Yes, indeed, this was a misuse of power. A strong warning example about the ability of power to corrupt (see Animal Farm by George Orwell).
13 How remarkable, though, that men and women were willing to risk such shocking treatment just to possess a Bible! And such examples have been multiplied many times over right down to our day. The deep devotion that the Bible has inspired in individuals, the willingness to suffer patiently and to submit uncomplainingly to terrible deaths without striking back at their tormentors, is a strong evidence that the Bible is the Word of God. -- 1 Peter 2:21.
This now becomes an unwarranted leap of logic. Let me reword that last sentence and see how it sounds this way: The deep devotion that the Koran has inspired in individuals, the willingness to suffer patiently and to submit uncomplainingly to terrible deaths via suicide bombings is a strong evidence that the Koran is the Word of God. You don't agree? Is not devotion being shown? Is not a willingness to suffer and die being shown? So why is this argument not just as valid?
14 Eventually, after the Protestant rebellion against Roman Catholic power in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church itself was forced to produce translations of the Bible in the everyday languages of Europe. But even then, the Bible was associated more with Protestantism than with Catholicism. As Roman Catholic priest Edward J. Ciuba wrote: "One would honestly have to admit that one of the more tragic consequences of the Protestant Reformation was a neglect of the Bible among the Catholic faithful. While it was never completely forgotten, the Bible was a closed book for most Catholics."
This is historically true, but as shown, this subheading does not really address the issue of the Bible being God's word. Instead, it relates the history of Christendom and those individuals who were devoted to the Bible. But devotion alone does not provide sufficient proof. Men can be devoted to a wide variety of beliefs, not all of them true.
15 But the Protestant churches are not free from blame as far as opposing the Bible is concerned. As the years passed, certain Protestant scholars mounted another sort of attack on the book: an intellectual attack. During the 18th and 19th centuries, they developed a method of studying the Bible known as higher criticism. Higher critics taught that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth. Some even said that Jesus never existed. Instead of being designated the Word of God, the Bible was said by these Protestant scholars to be the word of man, and a very jumbled word at that.
The WTS has always feared intellectualism. 'Independent thinking' is roundly condemned. So this subheading falls under this category: Use name-calling to make a point. Is this too harsh a statement to make? Well, consider how they use the terms 'Higher criticism' as an insult. They don't really explain why these 'higher' critics decided that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth, they just say it as if we all know this is absurd. This is classic advertising technique, 'we don't want to be like those people, we're better than that!'.
Some of the ideas in paragraph 15 that the Society attribute to 'higher' criticism can be backed up with facts. Many times on H2O this has been done. Legends and myths? The global flood account has been shown to fall under this category, for modern geology has clearly ruled out this as even a possibility (see Problems with a Global Flood and The Flood as a good starting point for more information).
Higher criticism is defined (by Compton's Encyclopedia) as: Critical study of biblical texts to ascertain their literary origins and history and the meaning and intention of the authors.
Would you call this an "attack"?
Besides, shouldn't the bible be able to stand up to intellectual scrutiny, considering it's alleged author is God?
Consider this: when a scientist writes a research paper, would he not make sure his findings are accurate and can stand up to the scrutiny of the research community, his peers? Even if he relied on an assistant, as the author he is ultimately responsible for the work, and it is his reputation at stake, would he not do everything within his power to ensure the accuracy of both his research and his conclusions as recorded in his manuscript?
God supposedly transferred his thoughts to imperfect humans to record. If he was able to do this, certainly he could ensure that his words would hold up to intellectual scrutiny by mere mortals!
16 While the more extreme of these ideas are no longer believed, higher criticism is still taught in seminaries, and it is not unusual to hear Protestant clergymen publicly disavow large sections of the Bible. Thus, one Anglican clergyman was quoted in an Australian newspaper as saying that much that is in the Bible "is just wrong. Some of the history is wrong. Some of the details are obviously garbled." This thinking is a product of higher criticism.
This last sentence is an example of name-calling. Later on in this book, the WTS will attempt to answer some of these charges with specifics, but we shall see that there is more to the arguments of these higher critics than the WTS is willing to admit.
"Spoken of Abusively"
17 Perhaps, though, it is the conduct of Christendom that has posed the greatest obstacle to people's accepting the Bible as God's Word. Christendom claims to follow the Bible. Yet, her conduct has brought great reproach on the Bible and on the very name Christian. As the apostle Peter foretold, the way of the truth has been "spoken of abusively." -- 2 Peter 2:2.
Indeed, this is most true. When people look at the lives of most Christians, they are turned off. This is true of all Christian religions, including Jehovah's Witnesses. Conduct does get noticed, and people do make judgments based on this conduct.
18 For example, while the church was banning Bible translation, the pope was sponsoring massive military efforts against the Muslims in the Middle East. These came to be called "holy" Crusades, but there was nothing holy about them. The first -- termed the "People's Crusade" -- set the tone for what was to come. Before leaving Europe, an unruly army, inflamed by preachers, turned on the Jews in Germany, slaughtering them in one town after another. Why? Historian Hans Eberhard Mayer says: "The argument that the Jews, as the enemies of Christ, deserved to be punished was merely a feeble attempt to conceal the real motive: greed."
Sad occurrences from history. It is true that all the so-called divinely inspired words of God (claimed by adherents of the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc.) seem to inspire in many of their followers a dislike of others. In the past we have examples such as in paragraph 18. Today we have other religious conflicts, both overtly, as well as those who wait for God to do the killing for them.
So the WTS is quite correct when they note that many people are turned away from the Bible by the conduct of its followers.
19 The Protestant rebellion in the 16th century dislodged Roman Catholicism from power in many European lands. One result was the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) -- "one of the most terrible wars in European history," according to The Universal History of the World. The basic cause of the war? "The hatred of Catholic for Protestant, of Protestant for Catholic."
And such types of wars continue to this day. Religion has often been the cause of suffering, due to religious zeal and intolerance as a result of the bible' influence on these people.
20 By this time, Christendom had begun to expand beyond Europe, carrying "Christian" civilization into other parts of the earth. This military expansion was marked by cruelty and greed. In the Americas, the Spanish conquistadores quickly destroyed the indigenous American civilizations. Noted one history book: "In general, the Spanish governors destroyed the native civilization, without introducing the European. The thirst for gold was the principal motive that drew them to the New World."
21 Protestant missionaries also went out from Europe to other continents. One of the results of their work was the promotion of colonial expansion. A widespread view today of the Protestant missionary effort is: "In many instances the missionary enterprise has been used as a justification and a cover for the domination of people. The interrelation between mission, technology, and imperialism is well known."
A point that could be argued by some, when you get into motives, but I tend to agree with this paragraph.
22 The close association between Christendom's religions and the state has continued down to our day. The last two world wars were fought primarily between "Christian" nations. Clergymen on both sides encouraged their young men to fight and try to kill the enemy -- who often belonged to the same religion. As was noted in the book If the Churches Want World Peace: "Certainly it is no credit to [the churches] that the war system of today grew up and has worked its greatest havoc among states devoted to the cause of Christianity."
Again, devotion to the Bible has, historically, led to hatred of those who do not follow it, or even those who don't follow it the way they feel it should be followed. As Jehovah's Witnesses, we felt the same way toward others, ostensibly loving them, but also waiting for them to be destroyed by God for not acting the way we feel the Bible says we should act. This is a common viewpoint throughout history and, as stated above, a prime reason why many turn away from the Bible.
The Word of God Survives
23 We recount this long, sad history of Christendom to highlight two points. First, such events are a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It was foretold that many claiming to be Christian would bring reproach on the Bible and the name of Christianity, and the fact that this has happened vindicates the Bible as being true. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that the conduct of Christendom does not represent Bible-based Christianity.
This is such a universal occurrence among belief systems, it was quite easy for Bible writers to make this claim and have it come true. The miracle would have been if this had not happened!
As for representing Bible-based Christianity, the WTS encourages the same condemned thinking. This idea of a warrior God destroying all your enemies is not far removed from Christendom's crusades. The only difference is you have God doing the killing for you, instead of you doing the killing "for God".
24 The way genuine Christians can be recognized was explained by Jesus himself: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves." (John 13:35) Further, Jesus said: "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world." (John 17:16) On both counts, Christendom betrays itself as clearly not representing Bible Christianity. It claims to be the Bible's friend, but it has been a false friend.
Christendom rightly deserves condemnation for its actions and failures. This is an easy target.
25 The second point is this: In view of the fact that Christendom as a whole has acted so much against the interests of the Bible, it is remarkable, indeed, that the book has survived until today and still exercises a good influence on many people's lives. The Bible has survived bitter opposition to translating it, onslaughts from modernistic scholars, and the unchristian conduct of its false friend, Christendom. Why? Because the Bible is unlike any other written work. The Bible cannot die. It is the Word of God, and the Bible itself tells us: "The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures for evermore." -- Isaiah 40:8, The New English Bible.
The final leap of logic. Even though no point has been made that would demonstrate or prove the Bible is God's word, the WTS leaps to that conclusion as if it had. This chapter really just focused on the failure of people who claim to follow the Bible but really focus on their own agendas.
Here's another way of looking at this argument. The WTS has presented a historically correct case of how the Bible has been used throughout history as a tool to corrupt, control and manipulate. It has been used to justify and rationalize some of the most bloody wars in history. Zealous adherence to it has bred hateful intolerance. These are the fruitages of the Bible's survival to our day. Not the sort of conclusion you would hope for? Yet there it is, in this chapter.
As for the Bible surviving great odds, it was shown last week that this is true of other religious writings, and therefore not a unique occurrence.