Faith or Fact
The Origin of Christianity
by: Henry M. Taber
Comment by JT: This chapter deals with the idea that the Bible is inerrant, inspired by God. It is noteworthy that most of Taber's criticism is based on bible studies by Christian clergymen. Remarkably, in the 19th century, clergymen seemed much more willing to criticize the Bible — quite a contrast to the fundamentalism of today.
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WHAT is the foundation of the Christian religion? It is not, primarily, a belief in Christ, in God, in immortality. There is a deeper stratum than either of these upon which rests the towering structure of Christianity, and that is the belief in the inspiration, or infallibility, of the Bible; for the Christian’s Christ; the Christian’s God ; the Christian’s hope of heaven; the Christian’s belief in devils and angels; in a literal hell and in all else that the Bible teaches, are predicated on the assumption that it (the Bible) is inspired by a supreme and infinite intelligence, which Christian conception has formulated as a personal God.
The question naturally arises how does, or can, anyone know anything about inspiration ? What is inspiration? What is its process? Rev. J. M. Capes (of the Church of England), says -: “How can any person know that he was inspired? Such knowledge would be impossible. What trait could any man possess by which he could distinguish between a fancy that arose out of his own head or supernatural information?”
No one living has had any experience of being inspired and there is no reliable evidence that anyone ever lived who was inspired, in the sense in which the word is usually understood, viz.: that of a supernatural stimulus of the mental faculties. A truer view is to regard inspiration as the natural result of superior intelligence. Anyone is inspired who inspires. Inspiration is the possession of greatness, of genius. Rev. Dr. Rylance, in the North American Review for September, 1884, Says: “Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, inspired! Socrates, Sakya Muni, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, uninspired! a narrow view of the divine spirit’s operation in the world of moral intelligence and feeling.... Words from heathen authors have become part of what we hold to be supremely inspired Scripture and are themselves, therefore, inspired.”
Rev. Heber Newton says: “There is inspiration, too, in other sacred books: other bibles, than ours.”
Rev. J. T. Sutherland, in the Christian Register of July 21st, 1887, says: “We believe that inspiration is not something which can be locked up in writing or confined to any age or people; but that now, to-day, and here with us, just as truly as in Palestine two or three thousand years ago; the infinite spirit of Wisdom, Truth, Beauty and Love waits to come with its inspiration into every receptive mind.”
Every religion has its sacred or inspired book, but it is not recognized as such by the believers in any of the other religions. The Tripitaka is an inspired book to the faith of the Buddhist. The Zend-Avesta to that of the Parsee. The Book of Mormon to the Mormons.
Edward Clodd, in his Childhood of Religion, says: “ What Christians believe concerning the Bible is believed, in a still more intense degree, by the Bramins concerning the Vedas, by the Muslims concerning the Koran, and so on.” But each sneers at the claim of inspiration for the books of the others. Orthodox Christianity claims inspiration for the Bible alone and yet, as Rev. James Freeman Clarke says : “The Bible does not differ from other sacred books in its method of production.” John Fiske says: “The Hindoo sacred writings contain all the myths and fables found in the Christian Bible.”
Among Christians themselves there exists a wide difference of opinion on the question of inspiration of the Bible. And who is to decide as to who holds the correct view ? There are believers in plenary inspiration; that every word of the Bible is literally true, as does Mr. Moody, who says: “ If every word between the covers of the Bible is not absolutely true; then we had better burn it and build a monument heaven high to Voltaire and Paine.”
Per contra: Rev. Dr. Behrend, in the Forum for June, 1890, says : “ Current orthodoxy does not teach verbal inspiration.” Rev. Dr. W. S. Rainsford says:” Rather than believe in the literal truth of the Bible you might better throw it out of the window.” (Rev. Theo. Parker did throw the Bible on the floor, saying, “If it defends human slavery I cast it from me.”)
There are all shades of opinion among Christians on the subject of Inspiration.
Some, while repudiating verbal inspiration, profess to believe that in some inexplicable and indefinable way (what they choose to call) the ”word of God” is inspired.
There are those who believe that the Bible should contain other books, equally inspired, with those now recognized.
Rev. Geo. P. Fisher, D. D., says: “It must be remembered that they themselves (the books of the Bible) allude to lost books, which were evidently regarded as of equal authority with those in the canon.”
The three great branches of the Christian Church have each their own “inspired” book, unrecognized (as a whole) by either of the others.
The Romish Church admits — and the Protestant Church rejects — the books of the Apocrypha.
Great bitterness of feeling grows out of these respective claims for inspiration ; as may be illustrated by quoting from two religious journals-Roman Catholic and Protestant. The former speaks of the English authorized Protestant translation as “incorrect and dishonest,” and adds “‘to call that book the Bible is utterly absurd and false.”
The Protestant (the Churchman) retorts by speaking of the “queer story of the Vulgate and its printers’ errors, sanctioned by Papal Bull. . . . The barbarous lingo of Douay Jesuits…The Douay version is uncouth… It is no secret that at the Council of Trent there were no divines of sufficient critical skill and historical knowledge to decide the question of the canonicity of the sacred books on its merits.”
Among Protestants themselves wide differences of opinion have existed as to which were canonical books. Luther rejected the claim of inspiration for many of the Old Testament books and for the books of Hebrews, Revelations, Jude and James (the latter he tore from his Bible.) In addition to these four books, the Second Epistle of Peter and the Second and Third Epistles of John were deemed uncanonical by many Christians.
Michaelis hesitates about admitting the inspiration of Mark, Luke and the Acts.
Many other theologians have expressed more or less doubt on the subject of inspiration of the Bible, as a whole. Among these may be named Erasmus, Grotius, Archbishops Tillotson and Whately, Bishops Warburton, Marsh and Horsley, H. Arnold, Messrs. Maurice and Robertson, Charles Kingsley, Dean Stanley and Adam Clarke.
Paley, in his Evidences, says : “To make Christianity answerable with its life; for the… genuineness of every book ; the information, fidelity and judgment of every writer; is to bring… unnecessary difficulties into the whole system.”
President Potter, of Hobart College, in a recent sermon preached in the Church of the Incarnation, in this city, said: “Our Church lays down no definite standard as to inspiration; it leaves that largely a matter of individual thought.”
Inspiration is claimed for the original Hebrew and Greek writers; but, says Prof. Briggs, of the Union Theological Seminary: “It is sheer assumption to claim that the original documents were inerrant.”
Even admitting that the words of the Bible, as originally given and in the original language, were inerrant and inspired, we are met with an important difficulty in reference to the translations. The Bible has been translated and re-translated many times; each time with important changes.
The Protestant, King James, version took the place of imperfect previous translations, - but this, in turn, is regarded as imperfect and is now supplanted by the “New Version ; ” but which, Rev. Treadwell Walden (in Popular Science Monthly for June, 1890), says, “ is not a finality, but only tentative to that which shall meet the brave demand of the nineteenth century.”
Rev. Dr. Parkhurst (Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church) says that, “so far as the inspiration of the Bible goes, it lacks that certitude which is claimed for it by those who insist that no errors, in translation or otherwise, have crept into it.”
Froude says: “The authority of the translation was the first to be shaken; then variation in the manuscript, destroying confidence in the original texts. If the original language was miraculously communicated, there was a natural presumption that it would be miraculously preserved. As it has not been, the inference of doubt extends backward on the inspiration.”
Dr. Schaff (companion to New Version) says: “Inspiration was not provided for transcribers, any more than for printers; not for translators, any more than for commentators or readers.”
There are more decided and bolder expressions of opinion to-day than ever before on this subject of inspiration.
The Rev. Dr. Wm. Barry, in the Catholic World, says: “Methods of arguing in which the inspiration of Scripture… is taken for granted are simply futile in the eyes of a generation that has broken with Church traditions of every kind, Catholic or not.”
Rev. D. Wm. H. Ward, of the Independent says: “The day of belief in the infallibility of the Bible is past.”
Rev. George W. Buckley (author of Politics and Morals) says: “This dogma of the one infallible book is now fast losing hold of thinking minds, even in the more conservative churches.”
In the Encyclopedia Britannica is an article on the Bible, written by a theological professor (Robertson Smith, of Aberdeen), of the Free Church (the most conservative branch of the Scotch Church), which article is a most radical destruction of the popular conception of the Bible.
Rev. Henry Frank, D. D., of the Independent Congregational Church of Jamestown, N. Y., says: “The statement that the Bible is an infallible book of divine revelation to humanity, an unqualified and absolute guide to faith and practice, and the only book in all the world containing a so-called revelation, is unhistorical, uncritical and unqualifiedly false.”
Can inspiration be properly claimed for a book which contains such contradictions, inaccuracies and inconsistencies as are found in the Bible?
Dean Stanley says that the very first two chapters of the Bible contradict each other.
Rev. James Freeman Clarke says: “What is the argument for the verbal infallibility of the Bible? Not that there are no contradictions or errors of language, for these are numerous.”
Victor E. Lennstrand (the Swedish martyr to honest thought) says: “With regard to the infallibility of the Bible. a minister of the Swedish State Church has informed me that in this book there have been found no less than 9,000 mistakes in science and double as many in history and chronology. In 1873, Rev. Pumarius Fehr stated in the magazine Loesning for Falket that the interpolations and forgeries are no fewer than 30,000.”
Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “The inconsistencies, contradictions, errors and blots irretrievably demolish the supernatural idea of the Bible.”
Dr. Schaff says of the “ inconsistencies ” of the Bible; that they are “Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks in Vallambrosa.”
Inspiration is claimed for Moses, who was supposed to have written the Pentateuch ; but Biblical critics are almost unanimous in the opinion that Moses did not write those books.
Inspiration is likewise claimed for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; yet most critics assure us that, most probably, no persons of those names wrote those books.
Inspiration is claimed for Paul, as the author of Hebrews, and yet Origen says that Paul never wrote that epistle.
The Truth-Seeker Annual for 1888 says: “Such Christian writers as Davidson, Westcott, Oort, Hooykas, Kuen, Evanson, Bauer and Kitto question the ascribed authorship of many of the books of the New Testament.” Also, “That as to the authenticity of Mark, the only testimony is that Eusebius said that Papias said that John (the Presbyter) said that Mark wrote down what Peter said that Jesus said.”
Bishop Fanstus declared that “it is certain the New Testament was written a long time after Christ, by unknown persons.”
As to the time when inspiration was claimed for the Bible, Rev. J. T. Sutherland says: “The books of the Old Testament did not come to be regarded as really sacred much before the time of Christ, and for two centuries none of the New Testament writings were looked upon as equally authoritative with the Old.”
Westcott says: “When Paul spoke of the ‘Holy Scripture’ he meant exclusively the Old Testament.”
Dr. Davidson places the writings of Matthew at about the year 119; Luke, Mark and Titus 120 ; John’s Epistles 130; Timothy 140; John’s Gospel 150 ; Peter 170, and adds: “The first instance of the canonization of any of the books of the New Testament was about the year 170.”
Rev. James Freeman Clarke says: “ It took the Church three centuries to make up its mind what books ought to belong to the New Testament.”
In Westbrook’s The Bible, Whence and What? it is stated “The Councils that accepted the four gospels and seventeen epistles as canonical, rejected more than one hundred and fifty other gospels and epistles that claimed recognition.”
Mark Hopkins, in his Evidences of Christianity, says that the New Testament, “which we now receive, was not, in all parts, formally agreed upon till between three and four hundred years after the birth of Christ.”
Dr. Gardner says that “even as late as the sixth century, the New Testament canon was not settled by any authority that was considered decisive.”
Mosheim says: “As to when or by whom the books of the New Testament were collected into one volume, there are various conjectures of the learned.”
Max Müller says “‘Where, when and by whom was the Bible written?’ are questions which have never been satisfactorily answered.”
Rev. J. T. Sutherland says the Bible “was written many centuries apart, under widely different conditions of civilization, by writers widely differing in belief and style.”
Various councils of the Church, often reversing the decisions of previous councils on the question as to which were canonical writings, were held; until, in 1546, the Council of Trent settled the question for the Romish Church.
Dr. Schaff says: “ What was known as the authorized version, or King James Bible, originated in the Hampton Court Conference, in 1604, Dr. Reynolds arguing that there might be a new translation of the Bible, such as now are extant being corrupt. This (King James) Bible was completed in 1611, and was bitterly opposed by Romanists, Hebraists, Armenians, Socinians, Arians, and others.”
In 1647, the Westminster Assembly met and decided for the Protestant Church which were “sacred” writings.
The early Christians’ idea of inspiration was a vague one; and only such as the authority of the Church permitted.
The Romish Church, as Prof. Mivart says, still “claims to have existed before a line of the New Testament was written, to have authority to determine what was or what was not canonically inspired.”
With the right of private judgment, claimed by Luther, came the comparatively new doctrine of the inspiration or infallibility of the Bible itself, or its superiority and authority over any church.
Rev. J. T. Sutherland says: “The doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible was unknown till the sixteenth century.”
Henry H. Haworth in the London Spectator says: “Before the Reformation the Church was the depository and interpreter of truth. After the Reformation it was the Bible and not the Church which occupied this position. With the new criterion of truth a new theory of inspiration was introduced.”
Rev. James Freeman Clarke says: “The real reason which has influenced the Church to invent and maintain the doctrine of infallible inspiration is a supposed necessity. Unless the Church is infallible, say the Catholics, how can we teach with authority? Unless the Bible is infallible, say the Protestants, how can it teach with authority?”
The Romish Church determines the question of inspiration (and all other questions) by her Ecumenical Councils. How have these councils been conducted?
Milman says: “The Councils of the Christian Church have been marked by intrigue, injustice and violence.”
Rev. W. H. H. Murray says: “Within the Church were held great Councils, packed with partisans, as are our political caucuses with us: and dogmas and doctrines, under which Christianity groans to-day, imposed upon the Church by the scantiest majorities, through fraud and threat.”
Eutychius, in his account of the Nicene Council, relates that “the emperor (Constantine) selected 318 of the 2,048 bishops summoned to the Council, and as these 318 were orthodox in their belief, the othodox religion came thus to be established.”
It is by such means as these that the doctrine of inspiration of the “holy mother church” is established and accepted by Roman Catholics.
How can the Protestant Church establish its claim to any inspiration of the Bible itself when it is known that there are no autographs of the Bible writings extant; that there have been numberless alterations, omissions and interpolations, from time to time : that there are thousands of contradictions, errors, untruths in it, to say nothing of its vulgar, immoral recitals; that it has come down to the Protestant Church from the “Fathers,” who, as Scalliger says, “put into their Scriptures whatever they thought would suit their purpose,”
S. J. Finney says: “All the evidence we have of the credibility of the Bible is drawn from the Catholic Church.”
Rev. W. H. H. Murray says: “The dogma of the Papal Church are no more divergent from the simple truth — as Jesus proclaimed it — than are many doctrines held in the past by those who protested against the errors of Rome.”
Neander says: “Pious frauds overflowed the Church like a flood from the first to the thirteenth century.”
Mosheim says: “The doctrine that it was commendable to deceive and lie for the sake of truth and piety spread among the Christians of the second century” (when most of the books of the New Testament were, doubtless, written.)
Dr. Hedge, speaking of the time when the books of the New Testament were received, says: “ It was an age when literary honesty was a virtue almost unknown; when literary forgeries were commended; when transcribers did not scruple to alter texts in the interest of personal views or doctrinal prepossessions.’ ’
Dr. Temple, Bishop of Exeter, says: “The Bible is handed down from age to age and moulded by each in turn.”
Greg, in his Creed of Christendom, says: “The doctrine (of inspiration of the Bible) arose not because it was probable, but because it was wanted.”
Prof. Swing says: “The Bible has not made religion, but religion has made the Bible.”
Rev. W. H. H. Murray, speaking of certain passages in the Bible, says, “there is no doubt that they are gross fabrications, foisted — bodily into the Bible.”
The Companion to the Revised New Testament (approved by the Revising Committee) says: “We see on what slender authority it (the Bible) rests.”
And yet for such writings the Protestant Church claims infallibility! As Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “The record of a supernatural system should be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.”
Rev. James Freeman Clarke says: “No Church is infallible; no creed is infallible; no book is infallible.”
The dogma of the infallibility of a man is no more absurd than that of the infallibility of a book.
Rev. W. H. H. Murray, speaking of those “ancient legends which became hardened into modern dogma” says: “They are now being relegated to the limbo, unto which are flung the cast-off garments of vagabond theories.”
“When I was a child, I spake as a child; I understood as a child; I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
We, of mature age, have passed through the impressible and credulous days of childhood and have become educated thoughtful, reasoning men and women; so religion has had its stage of infancy, its “childhood hour,” its undeveloped, unlettered and irrational centuries of “belief by faith;” but, thanks to this cultured, investigating and scientific age, we are fast outgrowing childish thoughts and childish beliefs, and are now rapidly learning, as Rev. Heber Newton recently instructed his congregation, to “submit every article of faith to the test of reason.”
The mythical Santa Claus, which is so real and literal to our little ones, is left in the nursery as the period of maturity approaches, and so the puerile myths and fables of the Garden of Eden (as to which Henry Ward Beecher said “there never was such a gigantic lie told”) ; of the flood; of Jonah (which Luther characterized as “monstrous“); of the standing still of the sun; of the turning of water into wine; of the feeding of the five thousand; of bringing the dead to life, and of the resurrection (which, as Rev. W. H. H. Murray says, is a dogma “old as the world”), should all be relegated to the nursery of past and ignorant ages.
Rev. Dr. Leonard W. Bacon says: “All history is ‘sacred’ history.” It may with equal truth be said that all genius is “inspired.”
No intelligent, fair-minded person can “search the Scriptures” without being satisfied that they are as human productions as are the writings of Homer, Herodotus, Josephus, Dante, Shakespeare, Hume or Bancroft.
Col. Ingersoll (than whom there is no person-be he priest or minister-who is better informed as to the history and contents of the Bible) says : “All that is necessary, as it seems to me, to convince any reasonable person that the Bible is simply and purely human invention — of barbarous invention – is to read it. Read it as you would any other book; think of it as you would any other; get the bandage of reverence from your eyes; drive from your heart the phantom of fear; push from the throne of your brain the cowled form of superstition; then read the ‘Holy Bible,’ and you will be amazed that you ever for one moment supposed a being of infinite goodness and purity to be the author of such ignorance and such atrocity.”
I have not sought so much (as may be noticed) to present my own opinions on this matter of inspiration; not even to merely urge the views of those of acknowledged reliability (most of whom are Christian writers of eminence, whose authority cannot easily be gainsaid by other Christians), but rather to place the subject before your readers as an historical one; proving, I think, most conclusively thereby, the falsity and absurdity of any claim of inspiration for the Bible.
It seems incredible that cultured, reasoning people can believe in the “inspiration” of such a book; and inconceivable that on such belief could rest (as does) the entire fabric of orthodox Christianity. It is incomprehensible that truthful, pure-minded persons can respect a book that contains (as it undeniably does) more that is false and obscene than any other book that is permitted in the sanctuary of our homes.
Baxter — and many other Christian writers — considered many parts of the Bible immoral.
Bishop Colenso asks the significant question: “Would it not be well to eliminate from the Bible whatever is untruthful and immoral?”
Richard B. Westbrook, D.D., LL.B., also asks: “Why should we not have a Bible that all can read without shame, and the truths of which none can reasonably deny?”
Noah Webster says: “Many passages of the Bible are expressed in language which decency forbids to be repeated.”
And yet to circulate such a book probably not less than twenty millions of dollars, possibly more than double that sum, are annually expended by the Christian Church.
And James Anthony Froude says: “Considering the enormous and astounding follies which the Bible has been made to justify, and which its indiscriminate reading has suggested, and that the devil himself (if there be a devil) could not have invented an implement more potent to fill the world with lies and blood and fury, I think that to send hawkers over the world, loaded with copies of this book, scattering it in all places, among all persons, is the most culpable folly of which it is possible for man to be guilty.”
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