What We’ve Gotten Wrong about the Bible, and Why We Need to Reconsider

It’s a crazy book to be sure, and crazy people love to beat non-religious people over the head with it, despite the fact that Jesus (in the Bible) told His followers not to do that.

It’s an ancient book too. Our modern Bibles are copies of copies of copies – spanning thousands of years. The people who made these copies sat at a table, with a pen, and a candle, and were sure to make mistakes, and press their own agendas.

The most popular book ever written about the origin of the Bible (to my knowledge) quickly became a bestseller, mainly because it told us what we wanted to hear – the Bible we have today doesn’t represent, with any reliable degree of accuracy, what was originally written. Toss it. It’s garbage.

Eat that, crazy religious people.

The problem is that the archaeological evidence doesn’t support this book’s conclusions, neither does a book that the same author co-authored some years before writing Misquoting Jesus.

You can say that the Bible is a crazy book, and reject it, and I’d totally understand, and we could still be best friends.

But you can’t say that what we have today doesn’t represent what was first penned.

I know, I’m an Evangelical, and this smacks of me trying to defend my tribe at all costs. But I swear to all that is holy that I’ve done my homework here. I’ve considered as many sides of the argument as I can. And while this might sound like it’s going to be a boring, nerdy blog post, there’s an interesting story here. Hang tight for a bit.

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

Sometime in the mid 1900’s, a shepherd tending his flock near the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran threw a rock into a cave to scare out one of his sheep that had wandered in. He heard a crash, then entered the cave to investigate. His rock had broken a jar containing what he thought to be a bunch of old leather – a portion of it was sold to make shoelaces until someone got a clue that these were very old, very valuable religious documents.

Among these manuscripts was a complete copy of the Old Testament book “Isaiah,” dated around 125 BCE (the actual book was penned around 700 BCE).

At the time, the oldest copy of Isaiah known to be in existence was penned around 1000 CE.

There was a stretch of almost 2000 years between what was originally written and what we had in our hands. It was widely believed, understandably, that the 1000 CE copy of the Isaiah scroll could be nothing like the original. Too many scribes (and others) had gotten their hands on it – surely it was corrupted beyond restoration.

And now we could prove it. We had a copy of this scroll that was penned somewhere in the middle between the original and the 1000 CE version. Everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that when the 125 BCE version was compared to the 1000 CE version of the Isaiah scroll, they’d be different, proving that the people who made all these copies, changed them – over and over again.

Here’s what happened, and it turned everyone’s understanding of the Bible on its head – for awhile.

When the 125 BCE Isaiah scroll was compared to the 1000 BCE version, there were differences. Here’s an example of one place where these two scrolls diverged – from Isaiah 53:3, what many scholars believe to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

  • He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 1000 BCE version
  • He is despised and rejected of men and man of sorrows, and he knows grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; and despised him, and we esteemed him not. 125 BCE version

Of all the differences now catalogued between these two versions, 95% of the time, they’re not a big deal, and don’t change the meaning of the text. Sure, there’s an occasional “big deal” change that was made by ancient scribes, but a) it doesn’t happen very often and b) modern scholars are really good at comparing all the manuscripts we have and getting at the original – sort of like people who restore old paintings, they can tell what’s missing by what’s there.

What the Dead Sea Scroll taught us was that, somehow, a bunch of ancient, different, unrelated people managed to transmit a very lengthy document for 1000 years with an alarming level of accuracy.

Misquoting Jesus

The same holds true for the scads of New Testament manuscripts that we have in our possession. There are differences – legions of them, but the vast majority are “small deal” differences; something akin to “see spot run” vs. “see spot hasten.”

For example, one copy of Galatians 1:4 reads “… who gave himself for the sake of our sins” while another reads “… who gave himself to atone for our sins.” Someone changed something, but both say the same thing.

To be sure, there are “big deal” changes that were made, something akin to “see spot run” vs. “see spot read,” but they don’t happen very frequently (liberal scholars put it at 5%, some say less), and again, there are folk trained in the fine art of getting close to the original based on what they have.

In the popular book I mentioned above, Misquoting Jesus, Dr. Ehrman only offers “big deal” examples of the changes scribes made. He doesn’t mention the fact that these don’t happen very often. This leaves the reader with the impression that every time a scribe changed something, it was a huge change that significantly diverged from the original meaning of the text.

It’s easy to read Misquoting Jesus and walk away believing that our modern Bibles are garbage.

But in an earlier book that Dr. Ehrman co-authored, the facts are more clearly stated – 95% of the time, scribes got it right, for thousands and thousand of years. For some reason, he left that out of Misquoting Jesus, which is a good thing if you’re trying to sell a book about the Bible to our modern culture.

Word of God?

Bart Ehrman’s spot-on. Scribes changed the Bible – they got sleepy, left out some things, added others. Sometimes they got uncomfortable with what they were reading. Sometimes they added explanations and qualifications, either in the margins or directly into the text. But, at worst, 95% of the time they did it right – no technology, no governing body, nothing to keep them in check, save the fact that they thought they were copying the very words of God, and they might get in a world of trouble if they screwed up.

You can say that the Bible is utter hogwash, or that the people who wrote it were crazy, but the belief that we can in no way recover what was originally written, or that our modern Bibles are a collection of horribly corrupted manuscripts has no sound evidence.

For me, the Bible has saved my keester on many occasions. In it, I’m commanded to unconditionally forgive, to invest in the lives of people who are poor, folk who are hurting. It paints the picture of a God who doesn’t fuck around, yet also loves and forgives without limit or qualification.

This book has taught me to give myself and everyone around me a break, which has brought a level of peace to my life that no other book has.

And when another Bible-believing brother or sister tries to convince me of things that are “un-Biblical,” like “fight the gays!” and “God’s a Republican!” I’ve been formally trained to use the Bible to straighten them out.

There are some things in the Bible that are difficult to reconcile, and hard to understand. If there is a God who can know and do much more than us, His truths will seem weird, even crazy at times. So I go with the stuff that seems clear to me, and leave the rest to the mercy and love that the Bible has led me to count on.

An Evangelical Revisionist’s Take on the Bible

It’s dizzying to think about how many people have read the Bible cover to cover, and how many different perspectives there are on it’s overall message.  Some read it as a legal document, laying out in great detail how one should live in a way that makes God happy – pleased to lay His lightning bolts aside, momentarily at least.  Some read it as a way to get into heaven, with little regard for life in the here and now – and only those with the proper theology are accepted.

Others read it as a document of war, releasing them into the world to point fingers, judge others, and be an agent of God’s wrath, only to find themselves batting for the wrong team.

I was once asked to lead a study on the historical happenings of the Bible – the places, people, events, etc., of the Old and New Testaments.  I rebelled and instead made an attempt to teach both Testaments as one story – which it is by the way, but I didn’t do a very good job.  I started with a room full of people and quickly whittled it down to a small gathering – a little too counter-cultural for this conservative crowd.

In preparing for the class, my perspective on the Bible, and ultimately what God really wants from us, was forever changed.

At the time, my wife and I were about to experience a huge life change, an adoption that would bring challenge, hardship, and joy in one big heaping helping of a little girl named Hannah.  Before her arrival, we decided to go to Brazil, relax and spend some time together.  I read the Bible, uninterrupted, cover to cover, very quickly, on one very long flight, paired with boxed wine and airplane food.

I was taught in Seminary to pick each passage apart, to read the “original” languages, consult multiple resources, etc., before making a decision about what that passage might mean.  Reading it cover to cover in one sitting was something I hadn’t done before.

There’s one theme that pops up over and over again, with alarming repetition, something I would call one of the most prevalent, if not the most prevalent themes of the Bible.  It’s one that, interestingly enough, doesn’t get a lot of air-time from Sunday morning pulpiteers.

Over and over again, in the Old Testament, and in the teachings of the New, God says to everyone He runs into, “Trust Me.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I want things to work out in your favor.”  “Please, whatever you do, wherever you go – TRUST ME.”    It’s hard to catch if you read the Bible slowly, but I dare you – read it fast, really fast, cover to cover, not stopping to ruminate over the parts that bother you, or the ones that don’t immediately make sense.  And drink some crappy boxed red wine.

Sure, there are passages in the Bible that talk about God’s unconditional love, His unlimited power, and how He worked it out so that anyone that wants to go to heaven can go.  There are statements about right and wrong, instructions about how to live, etc., but these are all subtexts in submission to the overarching principle that God wants us to trust Him.

Since my “conversion” on the flight to Brazil, I now hear God saying to me “I know more about what you want than you do.  I won’t give you life on your terms, it’ll be on mine, because my way will get you where you want to go quicker and more completely than yours.  If you’ll trust me I’ll write a story for you that will be amazing.  We can do things your way if you want – you can write your own story, but I write better stories than you do.  Trust me.  It won’t be easy, but it’ll be great.”

If you don’t believe in God, that’s cool, I respect you.  I have great friends who don’t believe as I do, not to mention the fact that they’re the ones who know how to really party.  But imagine for a minute what would happen to the world if everyone believed that there was this “thing up there” that could do anything it wants, loves unconditionally, and is interested in everyone’s life the way a really good parent is interested in her children.

There would be peace.

Peace is the biggest issue in our world.  Always has been.  When people are set at ease about their lives, their finances, their relationships, politics, how things will ultimately shake out, etc., they’re less likely to do bad, and more likely to do good.

I know people of peace, people who look at God this way.  They see what they have instead of stressing about what they don’t.  They’re comfortable in their skins – it doesn’t matter what other people think when you believe that everything will turn out OK.  They’re hard workers. They know work is good, but they don’t stress about it because they have trust, which, ironically, makes them more effective at what they do. Their peace derives from their belief that everything will work out in their favor, which is dependent on their view of God and ultimately their trust in Him.

God doesn’t want you to be a flaming, irrelevant, religious person by the way.  The other guy wants that.  It’s a truly crappy way to live.  Remember that Jesus’ first miracle was to make 180 gallons of wine at a party full of already drunk people.  He doesn’t want you to blindly adhere to a life-numbing list of rules and principles.  He doesn’t want you to be unhappy.  He does however want to change you – to remove the things that are keeping you from being free, from being the person you’re supposed to be.  This process isn’t “easy,” or “safe.”  Trusting Him will mean facing fears that you’ve been chained to most of your life.

But when you believe that He’s on your side, and that He’s a badass who’ll fight for you, with you, and against you when you head in a direction away from freedom and peace, you can face anything.

Jesus said something akin to, “I have peace inside of me – My peace.  God’s peace.  This peace I’m giving to you.  Therefore, don’t be scared.  Of anything.”

There’s one hitch though.  When God sets people free, He wants those people to go and free other people.  God’s freed ones are to be like a vaccine in the jugular vein of a world that’s ever-hurdling towards more fear, anger, suspicion – ever decreasing peace.  What we receive from God we’re to give to others, like Jesus did.

That might sound like a lot, but when you’re at peace, you’re also at strength – your resources aren’t tapped by fear, anger, etc.  I think that’s why religious people look so tired all the time – always trying to bring good into the lives of others, but doing it from a place of obligation, fear, and spiritual stress – not peace.

I had a very troubling conversation with a Gay woman several months ago.  She was afraid that God hated her because she was Gay.  It made her feel gross.  Unlovable.  I very quickly relieved her of that lie and laid on her the truth that God’s love for her has no boundaries or conditions – no barbed wire.  You wouldn’t believe how it changed her – the idea that God loves her, that she can now trust Him to walk alongside her.  Boom.  Peace.

May that kind of peace be with you, and extend far beyond you.





A Revisionist’s Take on Adam and Eve

This might make some people grumpy, but the gist of Adam and Eve has nothing to do with God communicating to us what marriage is supposed to look like.  The message goes way deeper.  But, since the author wasn’t a white Evangelical, the meaning can get easily missed.

The story goes like something like this: God creates some stuff, then sits back and says “Wow, that’s good.”  Then He creates some more stuff and sits back again and says “Wow, that’s good.”  This happens a few more times, then He creates Adam, sits back and says, “not good.”  The author has set us up to expect God to really pat himself on the back at Adam’s advent, but we get the opposite.  Very strategic.

What’s not good is the fact that Adam is “alone.”  So the author brings in Eve (in Hebrew “Ish,” not sure how we got “Eve”).  Then God declares that she will be Adam’s helper.  This is traditionally interpreted as “Adam’s the leader, Eve’s the follower” and has been used throughout history to bolster the philosophy that the husband should always be in control – never questioned, always followed. People also mistakenly use this passage to defend the idea that everyone’s supposed to be married.  I’ve been a part of too many churches where single folk are looked down upon.

What’s actually happening here is that God doesn’t want Adam to be the only person on the planet, so he brings in Eve, to co-labor with Adam (ie help him) to bring in more people.  What’s fascinating is that this is the first time that God ceases to create by Himself.  From this point forward, – throughout the remainder of the Ancient Jewish and Christian Scriptures (commonly referred to as “The Bible”) – God doesn’t make a move without people being involved on some level.  Whenever God creates, moves forward, develops something, etc., He’ll be doing it with people from now on.

So again, this wasn’t written to serve as some kind of blueprint for marriage, it’s given to make two very important, often overlooked points.  God’s first act was to make a place for people, then make people. He’s still making people and we can infer from other areas of Scripture that these people are important to Him.  God’s really serious about this apparently. God’s also really serious about working with us, including us in what He’s doing, so much so that if we don’t respond, it doesn’t get done.

This is God’s first order of business – so it should be ours.  We should place people- the importance of people – at the center of our understanding and at the center of our religious life – and figure out what God’s up to so that we might join Him. Whatever it is, it’s going to have something to do with people.

Religious activities that put traditions, behavior, facilities, places of influence, affluence, etc. at their core have sorely missed the point.  Adherents of this type of religion are typically folk who place importance on almost anything but people, and can, many times, find themselves fighting for the wrong side. Alone.  Not good.




An Evangelical Pastor’s Apology to the Gay Community


Hi, my name’s Mark, and I’m an Evangelical.  (all: “Hi Mark”).  Worse, I’m a pastor. Many from my tribe won’t understand why that can often be considered a bad thing.

I’m writing to make an apology.  I can’t do anything about the way my brothers and sisters are failing to reach out to you, interacting in ways that are patently unBiblical, and ultimately causing great harm.

But I can say I’m sorry.

Before I make my (our) apology, let me give some background (and a bit of a rant) that condemns – on very firm Biblical grounds – the way so many Evangelicals interact with Homosexuals.

Jesus said “Do not give dogs what is sacred, and do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Sometimes Jesus used sarcasm when addressing religious people, especially people who believed they were God’s favorite.  This is one of those times.

The “holy” people in his audience were more likely to be addressed by Jesus as dogs than the “dogs” he refers to here.  He’s being sarcastic about how his audience views people who don’t have their religious shit together.  Dogs.  Pigs. People of no significant import.  That’s not how they should be considered.

Take a look at His followers/best friends – all people who were considered to be worthless in the eyes of the holy folk.

He’s being sarcastic about “pearls” as well.    In Jesus’ day, as in ours, religious people had traditions, observances, trinkets, behaviors, etc. that were considered to be clean, shiny, holy.  Sacred.  These people from time ad nauseum have been tempted to hoist their precious beliefs, however true or untrue they might be, upon others who aren’t interested in them.  Their victims, hungry for love and acceptance, usually get angry and “bite back” as Jesus warned they would.

Telling Gay people to stop being Gay, then mistreating them on some level when they don’t respond, is a textbook example of ignoring Jesus’ very sarcastic warning here. We’re not to force our beliefs, traditions, etc (“pearls”) on people who aren’t interested in them (“pigs” as so many Evangelicals treat them today).  If we do, we’ll get our asses kicked, sort of like we are today.

Because “pearls before pigs” is such a popular activity, people who aren’t Evangelical usually don’t get warm feelings in their tummies when they hear the word “Evangelical,” much less “Pastor.”  Its also the predominant reason why the Evangelical church is so quickly losing it’s voice in our world.  We’ve lovingly embraced an activity that Jesus not only condemned, but presented to His audience as a really stupid thing to do (what idiot would feed “Pearls” to “Pigs?”), and something that would ultimately not have a happy ending.

If this makes you grumpy, please don’t post any “You don’t know your Bible” comments below.  I spent 4 years in post graduate studies at one of the most conservative Evangelical seminaries in the country (go DTS!).  Much of that time was spent learning ancient Greek and Hebrew.  I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time studying the Bible, sitting through lectures, sermons, reading countless books, commentaries, etc.

I will say however that the interpretations here are not my own, They’re from the great (Evangelical) Dallas Willard in his book “Divine Conspiracy.” His thoughts on this changed my life.

I know the passages in scripture that you’re thinking about.  I’ve pored over them too.  None of these give you license or freedom to judge, condemn, ostracize, belittle, or otherwise cast shame upon the Gay community.  None.  Shame on anyone who uses the very word of God to make people feel horrible, and to be agents of dissension in our “Christian,” “United” States.

Remember that the people who resisted Jesus were religious.  They believed that their way of life made them better than others.  They looked down on the “sinners” and wouldn’t be seen with them.  It’s easy to be on the wrong side when your focus on God has been supplanted by a focus on Good Behavior.  That’s not what Jesus was about.

Sorry, I’ve digressed.  I’m really angry.  My apology to the Gay community is this:  I’m sorry that so many of us have decided to disregard the Bible’s very clear commandments to love you, serve you, accept you, walk alongside you, and be your friend.  I’m sorry for the way that so many of us look down our noses at you.  I’m sorry for the war that is ramping up against you.  You want love – we’ve responded with stones.

These activities, when compared to Jesus’ commandments in our Bible, are completely ridiculous.  We, like someone trying to feed jewelry to an animal, have lost our minds.  Why would you listen to us?  I’m truly sorry for all the ways that you’ve been hurt by this.

God loves you more than you could possibly understand.  As you are, right now. Have compassion and mercy on those who have burdened themselves with darkness, seeking to change you instead of extending the love that God has cast before them.

If you’re reading this and you’re an Evangelical who judges Gay people, sees them as a threat, holds them at arms length, can’t see past their lifestyle, etc. – welcome brother or sister.  I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m praying for you.  But there is so much more to the Christian life than picking out 1 thing and going to war against it.

This happened in Jesus’ day too.  But the people who were considered to be horrible sinners were befriended by Jesus, then unleashed into the world to forever change the face of religion. Based on this, If He were to return, I’m convinced that there would be hoards of Gay people in his entourage, followed by the “Holy” people condemning the immorality of His followers, just as it was when He came the first time.

For now, you might want to get used to Gay people. God loves them just as much as He loves you.  Make friends with a few – it will help you to not be so disgusted, to see more clearly their humanity, and ultimately get more comfortable with your own.

Either way, get ready, The Bible suggests strongly that heaven will be crawling with them, so much so that the other place might look more like heaven to you than heaven itself.