Hard Questions About the Bible

Archive for December, 2011

About Protestants

My sources are Wikipedia and ‘The World’s Religions’, by Peter Clarke, Reader’s Digest Books, 1993.

In the 16th century, many factors contributed to the erosion of people’s faith in the Roman Catholic Church.  This led to the Protestant Reformation, because the reformers ‘protested’ the doctrines, rituals and structure of the Catholic Church.

It was led by Martin Luther, a German monk who rose to become a professor of biblical theology at Wittenburg University.  He was appalled by the corruption of the Catholic Church, especially at the church’s sale of ‘indulgences’, by which people could buy salvation and escape the punishment of purgatory.

After studying the letters of Paul in the New Testament, Luther also taught the doctrine of justification by faith alone, meaning that salvation comes only by acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior, not by good works.

Luther was joined by other reformers, but doctrinal and cultural differences between them resulted in the different denominations that still exist today.

If the Bible is a true document, why do differences exist between the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations and others who claim to be Christian churches?  Most Christian churches consider the Bible to be the ultimate authoritative word of God, but they may interpret it differently.  Also, sometimes they fix upon and emphasize a certain part, and they lose focus on the whole picture.  The Bible is a huge book, there are a lot of things that can be isolated and taken out of context.

Past history, even current history, has shown that pastors, bishops, priests, church leaders and even the Pope are fallible people.  Even great Bible heroes were not always ‘holy’ and had their faults.  If you want to know the truth about the Bible, it’s better NOT to rely ONLY on people (who by nature are fallible), but to read the Bible for yourself, and always consider the whole picture.

Next:  Origins of Christmas

About the Catholic Church

My sources are Wikipedia and ‘The World’s Religions’, by Peter Clarke, Reader’s Digest Books, 1993.

The New Testament of the Bible talks about the early history of the Christian church, up to about 70 AD.  The following history is not in the Bible.

In 64 AD the Roman Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome, and began to persecute them.  Emperor Diocletian carried out the Great Persecution (303-311), in which Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated and condemned to gladiatorial contests.  The persecution ended in 311, when Galerius issued an edict which granted Christians the right to practice their religion.

In 312, the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, because he believed the Christian God helped him win a crucial battle for the imperial throne.  Constantine became the patron of the Christian faith, supporting the church financially, building basilicas, granting privileges, promoting Christians to high offices, and endowed the church with land and other wealth.  Eventually, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.

The church grew in two places, Rome and Constantinople.  Rome fell to the Visigoths in 410, and began a period of turmoil.  In 800, Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope, and re-established the dominance of the church in Europe.

In 1054, because of cultural, spiritual and political differences, the church was split into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.  The final break was over whether the Pope in Rome was supreme, or equal to the patriarchs of the Orthodox church.

According to the Catechism (official teachings), the Catholic Church is the ‘sole Church of Christ’, the Pope is the successor to the apostle Peter, and Catholic bishops have a lineal succession from the apostles.

Under Constantine, the church gained status and wealth, this led to more emphasis on ritual, and major corruption, which was the main cause of the Protestant Reformation.

Next:  About Protestants

Comparing the Religions

I’m summarizing the religions in the order that it is believed they originated.  (See other posts for more info)

It is not known when Hinduism originated, it evolved over thousands of years among different people and includes numerous traditions, sharing common themes but does not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices.

Judaism is the oldest monotheistic (believing in one God) religion.  It’s holy book, the Tanakh, (The Old Testament in the Bible) is the record of the creation of the world, the origin of man and the nations, man’s fall into sin, and the history of the Jewish people.

Buddhism started with Siddhartha Gotama in Nepal, who realized that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, and explored different teachings, finally finding the way to enlightenment.  He was not a God, nor did he claim to be.

Christianity has the same roots as Judaism, outlined in the Old Testament.  The difference is that Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah, who came as the ultimate sacrifice to conquer the sin started by Adam.

Islam has its basis with the prophet Muhammad, who Muslims believe received revelations from God over a period of twenty three years.  Islam also has its roots in Judaism and Christianity, holding that many Biblical figures from Adam to Jesus were divine prophets.

Hinduism has a diverse set of beliefs and practices.  Buddhism is mainly about philosophy and Buddha himself did not claim to be a god.  Among the different religions of the world, the Bible is the most complete body of religious writing.  It has extensive information about God, God’s relationship with man, sin, early world history, prophecy, philosophy and wisdom.  Jews, Muslims and Christians have differing amounts of agreement on the Bible’s New Testament, but agree on the Old Testament as a spiritual and historical work.

Does the existence of other religions prove or disprove the Bible?  I encourage people to check out the sources of my information on the internet (see my other articles), research more and decide for themselves.

Next:  About the Catholic Church

About Judaism

Does the existence of other religions prove that the Bible is not true?  Let’s look at Judaism.  I’ll compare and contrast later.

The following is summarized information from http://www.jewfaq.org/index.htm

Judaism is a religion, a set of ideas about the world and the way we should live our lives.  There is a lot of flexibility about certain aspects of those beliefs, and a lot of disagreement about specifics, but that flexibility is built into the organized system of belief that is Judaism.

Many people who call themselves Jews do not believe in that religion at all!   More than half of all Jews in Israel today call themselves ‘secular’ and don’t believe in God or any of the religious beliefs of Judaism.  Half of all Jews in the U.S. don’t belong to any synagogue.  They may practice some of the rituals and celebrate some of the holidays, but they don’t think of them as religious activities.

Most secular American Jews think of their Jewishness as a matter of culture or ethnicity.  When they think of Jewish culture, they think of the food (bagels and lox, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup), the Yiddish language (a mixture of German, Hebrew and other languages), of holidays and cultural values.  Most of that culture is really Ashkenazic (from Eastern Europe).  Most Jews in America today are Ashkenazic.  Jews from different parts of the world have many different traditions.

Common ancestry is not required to be a Jew.  Many Jews worldwide share common ancestry, as shown by genetics, but you can also be a Jew by converting.

The traditional explanation about Jews, and the one given in the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament in the Bible) is that Jews are a nation.  Throughout the Bible and Jewish literature, the Jewish people are referred to as the ‘Children of Israel’, a reference to the fact that they are the physical or spiritual descendants of Jacob, who was later called Israel.

Next:  Comparing the Religions

About Islam

Does the existence of other religions prove that the Bible is not true?  Let’s look at Islam.  I’ll compare and contrast later.

The following information is from Wikipedia.org

Muhammad (570-632 AD), was a trader, later becoming a religious, political and military leader.  Muslims do not view Muhammad as the creator of Islam, but instead regard him as the last messenger of God, through which the Qur’an was revealed.  Muslims view Muhammad as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets.

The following information is from islamicity.com

Who is Muhammad?

Muhammad was born in Makkah in the year 570, at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe.  Muhammad was of a deeply religious nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society.  It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira.

How did Muhammad become a prophet and messenger of God?

At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel.  This revelation, which continued for twenty three years, is known as the Quran.

Do Islam and Christianity have different origins?

No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons, Muhammad from the elder son Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from the younger son Isaac.

Next:  About Judaism