What Your Preacher Didn't Tell You considers the idea that Christianity as we know it is a Medieval European invention. Christian dogma conflicts with historic and scientific facts while directly contradicting what Jesus himself taught. For example, he didn't believe that he was divine, or that he or anybody else was bound for heaven. Although he was mistaken, he expected to become an earthly king.
In this study, author John Winsor supports these assertions with Jesus's own words, relying on the Bible as the primary source for the support of his assertion.
Today, believers are carefully taught to take their preacher's word for the meaning of the Bible. Sermons aren't question-and-answer periods; each preacher is assumed to have been "called" to serve as a direct conduit from God to their congregation. Even so, preachers regularly emphasize those passages that support Christian dogma and avoid or obfuscate those that don't; they avoid pointing out the thousands of errors and changes in biblical text that were made during Christianity's first few centuries. They often give their parishioners the impression that the Bible's text is too mystical and symbolic for lay people to understand; on the contrary, if you're armed with a few basic clues, it is fairly straightforward reading.
What Your Preacher Didn't Tell You provides some of those clues to enable anyone to read the Bible and understand what it really says.
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What Your Preacher Didn't Tell YouThat You Really Ought to Know
By John Winsor
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 John Winsor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRival Sects
Sectarian differences in early Christianity were extreme. Christianity was born into a world full of deities. The many Greek, Roman, Persian, and Egyptian gods were, of course, the most widely known, but local tribes worshipped their own parochial gods as well. People freely recognized a variety of gods—both their own and those of their neighbors. There were gods and goddesses of fertility for bountiful crops and healthy children, of power for victory in war and hunting. There were deities to watch over people in their homes or while traveling in dangerous places, gods of the sea, of wine, of fire, and so forth.
Christianity was born in the age of paganism. This polytheistic inclination is generally viewed now as anti-Christian. In reality, Christianity at the time was anti-pagan. Before the rise of Christianity, people in the Mediterranean region were fairly tolerant regarding alternative forms of worship. With Christianity came the concepts of monotheism (a single, all-powerful god of the universe) and of orthodoxy and heresy (right and wrong thoughts). Christians believed that they were right, so everybody else had to be wrong. They believed that their fate for all eternity rested on right beliefs; however they couldn't agree on what constituted right beliefs. To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, here are just a few brief sketches of differing views:
Marcionites differentiated between the Jewish god of vengeance and the Christian god of goodness and justice. Marcion constructed the first Christian canon, which consisted of Luke and ten of Paul's epistles. He removed any references that appeared to support the Jewish god. Marcionites asserted that the new god had come to save mankind from the old Jewish god. They also believed that Jesus only appeared to be human, that he had contacted the Gentiles through Paul because the Jews had hopelessly missed his point.
Ebionites were early Jewish Christians. They believed that Jesus was a great prophet but that he was fully human. They didn't believe that he was the son of God or that he was born to a virgin. They believed that, as Yahweh's Chosen People, they were his rightful followers.
Gnostics were a varied lot, but they generally held that the Creator was either incompetent or downright evil—that this world is a terrible place and that the Christ had come here to instruct them on how to escape from it. They thought that humans didn't belong here, that the words of Jesus carried a hidden message and that by deciphering it they could escape this world and reach their real home in heaven. Most Gnostics believed that the Christ was a messenger who temporarily inhabited the body of Jesus.
Arianists believed that Jesus was a creature begotten by the one true God, who was not begotten—and that Jesus was not a god.
Docetists believed that Jesus was completely divine, so that he only appeared to suffer as a human during crucifixion.
Manichaeists practiced a mixture of Gnosticism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism.
Different views of the meaning of gospel text fueled hot debates. If Christ was an immortal spirit who briefly came to earth and inhabited the mortal body of the completely human Jesus, then "My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?" in Matthew 27:46 meant that the spirit Christ had just abandoned the dying and completely human Jesus, who implored him to return. If Jesus was a demigod, then it was a plea for life from a son to his father. If Jesus was just a man who expected to become an earthly king, then God had broken a prophesied promise. These are not petty differences. In one case, Jesus the god or demigod physically suffered. In the other cases, Jesus, an ordinary man, suffered and died pointlessly. There were many other sects, but we'll now examine one in more detail—because it laid the foundation for modern Christianity.
The Roman Sect
The sect that led to modern Roman Catholicism generally believed that Jesus was mysteriously both god and human, that his mother was a virgin, that Jesus had always existed—mystically intertwined along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit to form the Holy Trinity (a concept that the sect's leaders debated and developed over time). Members of this sect held that Jesus died as the ultimate sacrifice for their sins, that the ritual cleansing of baptism was also necessary for salvation, and that true believers would join God in heaven when they died. They didn't think that performing good works or observing Jewish law were required. During the first three centuries of the Church, they assembled what is now accepted as the Bible. This sect ultimately won the dogma wars, but not because they were correct. They won in part because of geography. Many of them lived in and around Rome, which was the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation at that time. They won in part because they were willing to lie about their opponents. Most importantly, they won because Roman Emperor Constantine converted to their belief system around 312 AD (without renouncing any pagan gods). As the emperor goes, so goes the empire—if you get my drift.
The Authorized Version
Initially, the Roman sect was just one of many fringe cults. Before Constantine converted, Marcionites probably comprised the largest Christian sect, but as the Roman Christian population grew, its reach and power increased. Like modern corporations, its practitioners sought to eliminate the competition and absorb the followers of other sects. To this end, they banned the writings and dogma of competing sects as heresy (wrong thoughts). They constructed a canon that they asserted was the one-and-only authoritative collection of holy writings. Hundreds of Christian manuscripts were omitted (e.g., the Pseudepigrapha, the Apocrypha, the Gnostic Scriptures, the Kabbalah, and countless others)—not by God, but by the sect's priests. Far more material was omitted than kept. They banned and systematically destroyed conflicting documents. To prohibit challenges to their dogma by new divine revelations, they asserted that there would be no more prophets. Ultimately, members of all other sects were labeled as heretics and their ideas were suppressed.
Tens of thousands of changes were incorporated in the Bible's text. Most were typographical errors and mistranslations. Some, however, were intentional insertions, deletions, and alterations in response to various political and theological pressures. Some of the decisions about Christian dogma came in response to arguments from the pagans, who held that Jesus lacked the deportment of a heavenly being. Practitioners of revisionist Biblical history became known as "apologists." They authored a fairly popular form of tract called Apologia (apologies). Some of the apologetic language made its way into the official Christian canon. For example, the oldest known version of Mark 1:41 indicated that Jesus became angry when he was approached by a leper. The pagans saw anger as a trait unbecoming the gods, so the passage was revised to say that Jesus was compassionate. The Revised Standard Version says that he was "moved with pity." Jesus was originally described as a common laborer (Mark 6:3), but this was not a fitting occupation for a deity, so he was later described as a carpenter's son (Matthew 13:55). Ultimately, the decisions about which books to include and exclude and which passages to add, revise, and delete reflected the best interests of the priests and of the kings who controlled their purse strings.
The New Testament canon did not become settled for the first few hundred years after Jesus died. The Catholic Church Synods of Hippo in 393 AD, Carthage in 397 AD, and Carthage again in 419 AD assembled what is taken as today's Bible, although the dogma still undergoes adjustments. Constructing the Bible was mainly a weeding process. More material was excluded than included, so any notion that the Bible is a single narrative dictated whole and intact by God is utter nonsense. There were, for example, at least a dozen different Creation myths, at least ten gospels, stories about the life of Mary and the childhood of Jesus, and so forth. There were many conflicting prophesies about the end times as well. Miracles abounded. The phenomenon of faith healing—the "laying on of hands"—neither began nor ended with Jesus. Indeed, televangelists still practice it today—despite a complete lack of evidence that they succeed (other than uncorroborated testimony from over-zealous believers).
Some of the decisions about Biblical canon were based on considerations that we would now regard as rather bizarre. For example, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, said that there should be exactly four gospels because the world has four zones and four winds and the gospels would serve as the four pillars of the Church. He could also have pointed to the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) as the rationale. For the Medieval mind, numbers had mystical significance. Four represented the earth. Three represented the Trinity. So, for example, seven (4 + 3) and twelve (4 x 3) were magical numbers because they represented everything in heaven and on Earth. The beliefs in four zones, four winds, four pillars, and four elements were based on mystical misconceptions about the natural world.
Bible historians are still trying to sort out the problems in the Bible's text, but it's an arduous task because the number of discrepancies is vast (tens of thousands). Furthermore, none—zero—of the original documents are available for examination. There are only error-ridden copies of older error-ridden copies to rely upon. Even so, we can discern a fair amount of what Jesus and his followers believed—and it has very little to do with modern Christian dogma.
The Choice of Gospels
The Roman sect selected the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as authoritative works on the biography of Jesus. The term "synoptic" refers to the fact that these three books are in basic agreement regarding the synopsis of events that happened near the end of Jesus' life. The words spoken by Jesus in these books directly contradict many aspects of the sect's dogma, but these books had to be included because they were widely known and recognized as authoritative and the Roman sect's claim to orthodoxy was based on its adoption of the best texts.
The word "gospel" is commonly used to mean "truth." Like the Bible's books in general, the gospels amount to hearsay. They were written long after Jesus died and they were based on oral tradition, not on historical research. Nobody knows who the authors were, but they were not disciples of Jesus. Furthermore, the gospels are riddled with errors, revisions, additions, and deletions. They are not particularly reliable sources of biographical information on Jesus or his disciples, but they're all we have. Nothing was written by or about Jesus during his lifetime. The gospels of Matthew and Luke both mention the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, so they were written—or at least revised or finished—after that time. Most historians agree that they were based largely on the somewhat earlier gospel of Mark, which was written around 65 AD—about two ancient Hebrew generations after Jesus died, but it is possible that an earlier version of Matthew existed and the first two chapters were tacked on later.
Chapter TwoCast of Characters
Saul of Tarsus (AKA "Saint Paul")
It would be more correct to call modern Christianity "Paulism." By this, I mean that the core of modern Christian dogma is based primarily on the writings of the self-proclaimed Apostle Paul (3-67 AD)—born Saul of Tarsus (Turkey). He was probably a member of the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin. He was also a Roman citizen, so his father was probably a Roman soldier. He claimed that as a young man he had worked for the Sadducee high priest in Jerusalem. His job was to persecute enemies of the high priest (i.e., uppity Jews like Jesus).
Paul's autobiographical writing is fraught with contradictions, so it's possible that he embellished his life story to make his "conversion" seem more miraculous and dramatic. Not long after Jesus died, Paul claimed that he had a blinding vision of Jesus, who appointed him the "Apostle to the Gentiles." Although he knew very little about Jesus, he suddenly decided to spread his version of the gospel. Paul claimed to have visited the real Apostles, but, if he did, he apparently learned nothing from them. He went out and proselytized to Gentiles throughout the eastern Mediterranean—spreading his version of Jesus' message. His knowledge of the Old Testament wasn't particularly impressive, but he was more familiar with it than with what Jesus said. This may explain, at least in part, why he decided to preach to Gentiles rather than to Jews (some of whom actually knew Jesus and his disciples).
Jesus Versus Paul
Jesus specifically taught that the way into the Kingdom of Heaven (not heaven itself) was through good works. This would not have soothed the conscience of a man like Paul, whose past was, at best, less than exemplary. So his message was that Jesus had been sacrificed to gain God's forgiveness for men—freeing them from the need to do God's work. Jesus and his disciples followed Mosaic Law. However, knowing that the Gentiles really wouldn't go for the whole kosher experience, Paul decided that they didn't need to. Paul's message that mere belief is more important than good deeds is widely accepted, in varying degrees, by modern Christian denominations, but it was a concept utterly foreign to Jesus.
There are profound discrepancies between the messages of Jesus and Paul. These involve the path to salvation and even what salvation meant. This should give fundamentalists pause, but they don't really understand their own holy book. They rely, instead, upon their preachers to interpret the scripture for them—even though no preacher has an incentive to point out the discrepancies. Jesus awaited the establishment of a new physical kingdom here on earth, whereas Paul taught that the souls of believers would be whisked off to Heaven. Jesus emphasized admission into the Kingdom of Heaven (not heaven itself) based on good works, but Paul emphasized admission into Heaven itself based upon beliefs and rituals. I'll explain what Jesus actually taught in greater detail later, but for now, here are a few examples of the discrepancies between their positions:
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
The word "faith" can apply to beliefs (e.g., believing that God created the universe). It can also apply to actions (e.g., staying faithful to a spouse). When Paul wrote about faith, he referred to belief. For Paul, a faithful person believes that Yahweh created the universe and that the path to heaven comes from believing that Jesus is the "Lamb of God." For Jesus, a faithful person constantly behaved as Yahweh expected. Of course, he and his followers believed that Yahweh existed. They had no other explanation for their existence. Their faith, however, was measured in loyal actions.
Zoroaster, Cyrus, and Ezra
Between about 1000 and 600 BC, there was a great Persian (Iranian) prophet whom we know as Zoroaster or Zarathustra. His teaching profoundly influenced the major religions of today—including Christianity. His view of Creation was dualistic. He taught that the universe was created by separating the opposing forces of good and evil and that it could not exist without both. Each of the two forces was represented by a small group of gods. The universe would end in a battle between the two forces in which the good gods would ultimately prevail. The supreme god of goodness was Ahuramazda. Zoroaster taught three commandments: good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. He taught that those who performed good deeds would be rewarded and that it was especially important to care for the poor and meek.
Excerpted from What Your Preacher Didn't Tell You by John Winsor Copyright © 2011 by John Winsor. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: READING THE BIBLE....................1
Cast of Characters....................9
In the Beginning....................14
The Transition of Covenants....................29
First Century Judea....................34
The Gospel According to Me....................38
Reworking the Message....................54
PART TWO: DOGMA MEETS REALITY....................61
Dogma and Power....................63
Dogma and Science....................67
Patterns—Real and Imaginary....................80
The Soul—Then and Now....................83
Obedience and Faith....................86
Faith Healing and Miracles....................92
The Real Source of Morality....................97
Why Religion Persists....................103
PART THREE: WHY IT MATTERS....................107
Religion Versus Democracy....................109
The Founding Fathers....................114
Religion and Politics Today....................123
Getting Past Gods....................136