Growing up, I had questions about the Bible and I got the response of “faith” when it was not answered directly from scripture. Faith may be good enough for those that settle for answers provided by those that don’t know… it was never good enough for me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am an iconoclast… a questioner… suspect of authority and the sources of power. I’m not a conspiracy theorist… but I am a person that has determined that the reason for certain things is very simple: control and power.
When I discovered there were “other” books of the Bible that weren’t included in our holy King James version, I asked who decided what “books” were included and why were the other “books” excluded. The answer I received was simple… “the Bible is the literal word of God and those other books were not the word of God.” That is not an answer, yet no one in positions of authority in my church was ever able to answer me. As an adult, I found out that the “books” of the Bible were determined by Emperor Constantine… well actually Eusebius (a Roman historian and a guy who liked to argue1) who Constantine empowered. This first collection of the Canon of Scripture was printed and later was standardized by some of the first ecclesiastical councils in Hippo Regius (393 AD) and at Carthage (397AD)… both in North Africa and both of them nearly 360 years after the death of Jesus. No one making the decision of what was the standard Bible had ever lived in Christ’s time.
These “books” were determined by the following criteria:
- prophetic authorship – the book must have been written by an apostle or prophet… or one who had a special relationship to one an apostle or prophet… which was determined by Eusebius and the councils.
- witness of the spirit – the book had to have an inner witness to the Holy Spirit… because God’s people could distinguish between “wheat from chaff.”
- acceptance – the final test was that the “people”of God accepted the book… Eusebius being the first Christian to accept it of course.
So historically, the Bible was originally determined by a historian and then accepted as the standard by a group of Christian leaders nearly 400 years after Jesus’ birth, and accepted by criteria as noted above. This criteria based on historical authorship, witness of the Holy Spirit2, and general acceptance seems to be very subjective. I was never told these things… I had to discover them later. Faith wasn’t the right answer… because there was an actual answer.
When I asked why we used the King James Bible, I was told cause the good King James wanted to enlighten his subjects. This too was the wrong answer. King James had the Bible translated to get rid of the Geneva Bible which was the accepted version at the time in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. King James was a devout believer in the “divine right of kings” and the Geneva Bible, with its marginal notes, questioned many concepts of the orthodox religion of the time… which included the “divine right of kings.” King James believed his subjects should suffer in silence and historically, King James was a known homosexual, dabbled in bestiality, and supervised the torture of some of his subjects. Additionally, the original King James Bible included the Apocrypha books which a bunch of Dutchmen excluded in 1618 at the Synod of Dordrecht in Holland. Again, I was asked a question that no one could answer… yet had an answer.
This Bible – based on a Roman historian’s determination, standardized by men nearly 400 years after Jesus’ death, and translated by an asshole – was the book of my religious youth. This book was exactly what my ancestors wanted to return to… a “primitive form of Christianity.” My church of my youth was a church of the American Restoration Movement. I was raised a Campbellite… it wasn’t until I was an adult and did a little research that I found out I had a name… and it wasn’t protestant.
It seems, that right after the American Revolution there was a desire among certain Christian congregations and sects to return the American protestant Christian to a primitive religion that was based solely on the King James Bible’s New Testament… these congregations were among the Baptists… which started calling themselves Separate Baptists and they rejected the idea of creeds (like the Nicene Creed) and wanted to structure their churches on nothing but the King James version of the Bible. This movement took firm root in the rural and frontier areas of America, especially the south. There were two prime movements within this idea and they were the Stone and Campbell Movements.3
My church came from the Campbell Movement, which originated out of Pennsylvania. Unbelievable to many a Restoration protestants today (and me)… the Age of Enlightenment had great influence on the Restoration Movement and Thomas Campbell (head of the Campbell Movement) was a student of philosopher John Locke… and Campbell basically wanted a church that reduced Christianity to a set of essentials that all reasonable (common?) persons could understand and agree.
For awhile the Stone and Campbell Movements merged, but split later in the 1840s which led to today’s separation in what we call Church of Christ and the Christian Church. Both of these denominations are subject to no governing body, and each individual congregation is independently run.
What I remember of the preachers of my youth was that none of them were religiously educated… why would they be… the church they shepherded was one based on the Bible and Bible only… who needs a theological education when all the answers were in the Bible. There was no need to understand the history of that specific denomination or Christianity as a whole… historical facts had caused the birth of these specific (and independent) churches… yet these churches by the 1970s and 1980s had forgotten what caused their historical development… and no one knew how the Bible had been determined. The churches of my youth had been born of a “sinful and animal loving” power-hungry king from the 1600s and used a Bible that had gone through numerous revisions… including a revision by a bunch of wooden shoe-wearing Dutchmen.
“Faith” is what I was told as a child. I have no faith in the word “faith” and I trust no organization or movement that is based… historically based… on the concept of ensuring “subjects” suffer in silence. I have no faith in a foundational document that is determined by a small group of powerful men who never knew Christ or knew anyone who lived in Christ’s time. I do, however, have confidence in my ability to read, research, and find facts4 over bullshit… so I guess I didn’t need faith… I just needed to be educated.
1. People who like to argue about important things are called “polemist”… who knew I was a polemist?
2. When Constantine was ordering Eusebius to standardize the books of the Bible, he was also convening Christian Bishop councils to determine important matters. The First Council Nicaea dealt primarily with the issue of the deity of Christ, but the general notion of the “divine three”… the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… did not become doctrine until the Council of Constantinople in 359AD. This council was convened by Roman Emperor Constanius II.
3. Puritanism is a form of restoration and primitive Christianity movements.
4. If you think I am full of shit on any of this… do your own damn research.