Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series of articles. Please click Previous to read the first part.
And he said to them: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be condemned. Furthermore, these signs will accompany those believing: By the use of my name they will expel demons, they will speak with tongues, and with their hands they will pick up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly it will not hurt them at all. They will lay their hands upon sick persons, and these will become well.”
So, then, the Lord Jesus, after having spoken to them, was taken up to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. They, accordingly, went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and backed up the message through the accompanying signs.
The above passage appears in some “ancient manuscripts” but not others. Most Christians, other than some Pentecostals [who regularly die from handling poisonous snakes], consider them spurious.
But did you know that there are other parts of the Christian Greek Scriptures (better known as the New Testament) that are also disputed? These include John 7:53-8:11, Hebrews, James, 2John, 3John, Jude, and Revelation.
In addition, it is almost universally acknowledged that the following epistles found in the NT were not written by Paul: 1Tim, 2Tim, Ephesians, Titus, 2Thess, and probably Colossians. They are what we would today call “forgeries”, along with interpolations in parts of 1Cor and 1Thess.
But removing just the acknowledged forgeries from the NT does not remove all of the harm it can still engender in those who take it literally. For instance, if we remove the above-quoted passage from Mark we are still left with this from Luke10:19:
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
We’re also still left with the verses in Acts which Jehovah’s Witnesses use to justify withholding blood transfusions from their children.
In addition, there are significant discrepancies between The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.
The Acts of the Apostles also records some acts of dubious morality such as Paul striking a man blind for questioning his message, sending an escaped slave back to his “master”, and Peter striking a couple dead for not donating 100% of their proceeds to the church.
As pointed out in the article Did Paul Invent Christianity? Paul ignored Jesus’ teachings, and even contradicted him (and Peter) on the issue of whether the Law was to remain in effect.
Finally, we know that the miracles attributed to Jesus were mostly (if not all) legends borrowed from other cultures. Even the idea of a son of a god being born to a woman on Earth, then dying and resurrecting, was a worn-out notion long before the first century (to insert the obligatory pun: it had been “done to death.”)
Miracles were not a reliable sign used to identify the Messiah anyway:
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the chosen ones.
Miracles are, by their nature, unbelievable; they contradict the laws of physics, and you can’t do that — even if you’re God.
That last statement is bound to rankle believers, so let me elaborate. Let’s say that I play God by creating a two-dimensional world on a piece of paper with my pencil. Okay, I created this world, so I can damn well do what I please with it.
Only, I can’t. I can’t make the characters I draw speak audibly or have them dance into the third dimension [well, maybe with some creative origami and a pair of scissors] I can’t expect them to go out and get jobs, etc. There are limits to what can possibly take place in the two-dimensional world I have created. Even though I possess powers that a two-dimensional being would consider supernatural [if they were capable of thought], when it comes to my dealings with two-dimensional characters on paper I can’t go beyond the restrictions of that world, and it doesn’t matter a jot if I created it or not.
So too, in our universe there are restrictions: they are known as the laws of physics. God itself cannot violate these laws. This is why “miracles” [the violation of the laws of physics] are only reported where scientific scrutiny isn’t available. Either they happened in the distant past, or they are simply unverifiable hearsay where we are asked to take someone’s word that they took place. But what is more likely: that someone is mistaken/fibbing, or that the impossible has occurred?
For all of these reasons it makes sense to abridge the NT: eliminating the spurious, the forgeries, the borrowed legends, the wrangling over doctrines, the contradictory events, the immoral actions, and the miracles.
What we should be left with is what should concern a Christian the most: the words of Jesus, with just enough context to establish their setting. Then we can compare the philosophy of Jesus to other philosophers (and our own common-sense and empathy) and see if he still stands out on his own apart from all of the baggage his words are normally forced to endure. This gives the teachings of Jesus a fair shake in the marketplace of ideas as it keeps us from rolling our eyes due to the words being sandwiched between miracles and legends.
This is exactly what Thomas Jefferson did in 1820 when he completed “the Jefferson Bible” (full title: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English). He did this with a razor and paste: cutting out all of the junk in the NT and leaving just Jesus’ words and the context in which he spoke them.