This is a conversation I’m having with a Christian at another forum. My response is a bit long so I’m going to post from about the middle of the conversation:
For example, studying Biblical criticism has led me to the conclusion that the historical Jesus didn’t say almost anything that has been presented in the gospel narratives. The “Jesus” in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, Thomas, John, Peter, etc. is simply the sockpuppet of the gospel authors, using Jesus as a polemical device to further their theological agenda(s). The same thing happened to a lesser degree with Paul and his writing – almost 50% of his writings in the New Testament are “forgeries”, for lack of a better word. The history of early Christianity is wrought with polemics and deception, using and abusing Christian (and Jewish) scripture to further their theological agenda(s). If a Christian in the 2nd century felt that “true” Christianity was a certain way, and they see a Jesus presented that differs from how they felt Jesus should be, they simply changed the scripture. There was no “Christian canon” in the 1st and 2nd centuries other than the Tanakh, so interpolations in not-yet canonical Christian documents was rampant. This is, again, why appealing to subjectivity is a fool’s errand. Faith takes precedence over fact, plain and simply. This inexorably leads to deception. And if subjectivity (faith) takes precedence over objectivity (fact), how can a Christian tell the difference between faith and self-deception?
I just don’t see that as the case, I mean your speculating that the early Christians felt comfortable in not altering OT scripture because it was sacred and yet felt comfortable altering a letter from Paul or a Gospel narrative.. and if they did, then to what possible end. What gain would come to them for such a thing. I mean these people went through round after round of severe persecution for their beliefs. It would stand better to reason that if there was a selfish intent then such a persons would have been better off working with the accepted beliefs that went without such punishments.
Now, I am not saying that there weren’t transmissional and translational discrepences and errors. Nor am I saying that there weren’t intentional interpolations.. the Johannine comma being the most notable. However, I am saying that I do believe that there are other plausible ways of looking at the situation, intents and so forth other than the way you have seemed to present it.
[H]ow can [I] as a Christian tell the difference between faith and self-deception? What methodology would [I] use? Hopefully I answered a bit of this earlier, but I’ll have to go with Ayn Rand on this one. The best answer would likely be to, “Check your premises.” 🙂
I urge you to actually study early Christianity. The most glaring interpolation is the synoptic problem: Luke and Matthew are basically interpolated versions of Mark. While Mark, the first gospel written, is generally seen to have been written around 70 CE, the first Christian document be to elevated to the level of “holy scripture” was Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians around 130 CE by the “heretic” Basilides. But prior to that, the only “holy scripture” was the Tanakh – thus Matthew and Luke had the freedom to change Mark as they saw fit, since Mark wasn’t “canon”. A gospel being canon doesn’t happen until 140 CE. And even so, Christians (like Justin Martyr in 150 CE) accused Jews of removing certain scripture that proof-texted evidence for Jesus’ messiah-hood – yet there’s no evidence of these supposed “deletions” in the oldest Hebrew bible texts.
Another example, the bishop Marcion is the first Christian to compile a “New Testament” in 140 CE and the first Christian to collect “all” of Paul’s letters. But Marcion’s canon only consisted of 10 Pauline epistles and one gospel. Not only that, but our current Pauline corpus is incompatible with Marcion’s Christology – so Marcion’s Pauline epistles couldn’t be the same ones found in our current New Testament. The only explanation is interpolation. Even worse, it’s an odd coincidence that Marcion’s canon didn’t contain the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) and those are the three Pauline letters that most NT scholars conclude weren’t written by Paul… so they must not have existed when Marcion compiled his canon. Marcion’s canon consisted of the seven Pauline epistles that are generally agreed to be authentic to Paul and three that have undecided authorship.
Of course, Marcionites accused the proto-Catholics of interpolation, and the proto-Catholics accused the Marcionites of interpolation. But the only reason why we have almost half of the NT made up of Paul’s letters is due to the popularity of Marcionism. The proto-Catholics simply “catholicized” Paul to win over converts from the Marcionites. Hence the post-Marcion creation of Acts of the Apostles and the Pastorals.
And how about the Ebionites? Their name is Hebrew (ebionim means “poor ones” in Hebrew) and they apparently only regarded a Hebrew version of Matthew as sacred scripture along with the Tanakh. But our current Matthew shows no signs of being a translation from Hebrew, and the Ebionites didn’t believe in the virgin birth or Jesus’ status as the literal son of god – so their “Matthew” must have been different from our current Matthew.
And then the gospel of John probably had three different authors.
Of course, Christianity as a whole is one huge abuse of Jewish scripture. Jesus supposedly thought Daniel was a prophet, but prophecy ended upon the deaths of the last prophets like Zechariah and Malachi. Daniel was written during the Maccabean revolt of 164 BCE due to the “abomination causing desolation” (a statue of Zeus) that Antiochus set up in the temple. Thus Daniel isn’t a contemporary of any other prophets and lived less than 100 years before Jesus – a long time after prophecy had ended. This is why Daniel is Ketuvim (writings) and not Nevi’im (prophets) (the K and N in TaNaKh). The Psalms, also, are Ketuvim and not prophetic which invalidates all of the supposed “prophecies” about Jesus like Psalm 22, 26, 31, and 110.
There’s obviously a lot more abuse of the Tanakh by Christians who place their faith before fact, but that would probably take this post further into BC&H category.
[As for checking my premises] [t]hough I’m not much of an Objectivist, I do check my premises repeatedly 😉 I think I’ll list them here
1. I exist
2. A world exists independently of my senses (this is unfalsifiable, but the only other option is solipsism)
3. I’m an imperfect human being, thus my senses aren’t 100% reliable
4. Induction is an imperfect epistemology since it relies on the previous premise (and maybe the Problem of Induction).
5. Deduction is more robust than induction, but is reliant on the previous 2 premises.
Following these three premises, there are some conclusions one can draw:
1. Since my senses aren’t 100% reliable, I have to appeal to sources outside myself for reliable information about the world. Hence my constant appeal to objectivity when wanting to deal with objects (i.e. reality).
2. The vast majority of human beings in history have held inaccurate or just flat out wacky beliefs. This is from my undergraduate studies of history, sociology, psychology, and world religions. Thus an inductive argument against religious beliefs.
3. Confirmation bias is a well known psychological phenomenon [where we are quick to accept information that confirms what we already believe and are quick to reject information that doesn’t confirm what we already believe]. Since confirmation bias is ubiquitous, I should be skeptical of my beliefs that simply “feel good” without objective (P2) support. Quite ironically, that “feels right” feeling is a base emotion, just like anger or fear. The feeling of certainty can be stimulated by thoughts, not by logic or reason. Ergo, there’s no necessary correlation between what feels true and what actually is true. This is why I’m consistently trying to be less wrong than I currently am. Selection bias [where we count the hits and ignore the misses so that we erroneously have 100% success] is also a consistent pitfall of induction that many people do not realize they do.
This is really a fleshing out of my third premise above, and what I think constitutes “self-deception”.
4. Religions spread in the same exact way as other sociological beliefs. The reason most Americans are Christians is the same reason most Americans speak English.
These conclusions make me highly skeptical of the claims of the religious. In order for religious beliefs to be true without appealing to objectivity, my third premise has to be rejected. The only way you can trust your “feelings” on things is if you have perfect senses and confirmation/selection bias don’t apply to you because you are a superbeing. Evolutionary psychology basically states that our cognitive and empirical facilities only excel at helping us not end up dead. Beyond that, everything else isn’t really necessary, just surplus. So a person can have inaccurate beliefs but as long as those beliefs don’t kill them, they can be selected for.
And then, I’m of the belief that an interventionist, personal god invalidates my second premise. Miracles, signs, and other supernatural events that only one person can see that cannot be validated by unbiased (i.e. objective) sources means that this god can produce illusions that are only visible to the “believer” for the sole purpose of making them faithful to this god. How then, can we know anything is real? A miracle working god would naturally push me towards solipsism.
This is a basic summary of why I’m skeptical of and ultimately reject modern Christianity.