This is a long series of questions and, necessarily a long answer. It was followed up by another long set of questions and my answer. Because of the nature of the questions I was not able to break it into smaller answers as I have done with some others.
You are obviously very intelligent. What has led you to believe that our Christian Bible is more than some reasonably accurate translations of various men's writings that reflect what they believed, observed, or had been told thousands of years ago?
I'm sure you know the history of the books men like you and I chose to include or exclude.
Upon what basis do you choose to believe that it is more than an extremely valuable record handed down to us from men of ancient times? How can you consider it to be superior to other "Holy" books that have influenced billions to love God and love their brothers and sisters?
The Bible is at best a history of the Jewish race plus the only record we have of a man whose wisdom I have come to love and whom I have chosen to believe was God come to earth, but at worst, it has mistakenly become an object of worship in itself that restrict its worshipers from following Christ's teachings.
All of the authors were just men, like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Pope John, you, me, and millions of others who've sought to report on the spiritual experiences of their lives.
Paul, more than any other man in history, created the cult of exclusitivity that distorts what Jesus taught. He was wrong as a tax collector, and he was wrong as he sought power in the early Christian movement, but by canonizing his writings as Gods words, his mistakes have been deified.
If a perfect loving creator God exists, and I choose to believe that He does, I cannot conceive of a plan that would limit Him in any way whatsoever from reaching out to His children's understanding. That's how I can be a Christian who loves all others who love God and their fellowman, regardless of their faith, with perfect confidence that God would not turn them away from whatever reward awaits us.
When we claim one finite book to be His sole revelation to man instead of mans effort to record His revelations, I believe we impede His ability to instruct all human beings in matters that would allow them to live in harmony with the laws of His universe.
All records, opinions and observations of mans understanding of God are valuable, but in the final analysis, PERSONAL PRAYER has been the one common denominator of all things spiritual since time began ... and all of the efforts to stand between God and man through books, pulpits, schools and tribunals have failed.
Why do intelligent men like you continue to believe that any one book, or collection of books, is superior to others in our search for the reality and love of our creator?
I will answer your questions generally, rather than each individually.
I have chosen to believe the Bible for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important and least valuable reason is that I was raised to believe in it. However, I have not been content to accept that training without further investigation. I have compared the Judeo-Christian tradition of belief in the revelation from God to other religions and found most lacking. The other holy books fail to satisfy my need for hope that this world is not a chance happening and that the reward for good and punishment for evil are only in this world. Some simply go against all my observations of this world, either through history or personal experience.
The real bottom line with the Bible is that it is either true in its claims, or it is a massive hoax of no value whatever. Either it is superior, as it claims, or it is worthless. It claims to be "inspired by God" and to be "profitable for reproof, for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Tim 3:16) If it is inspired of God, as I believe, then it is truly superior. If it is not, then it is of less value than many of the other holy books that don't claim divine inspiration.
That is where you and I differ. I believe the authors of the Bible were not mere men like you and I, or Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Pope John, etc. Because I believe in special divine inspiration, what the authors of the Bible wrote was more than just the seeking "to report on the spiritual experiences of their lives.
The Bible is the only record of the teachings of Jesus, whom you rightly claim to be God come to earth. It is the writings of John, more than any other, which point that out. It is the writings of Paul that emphasize the importance of that fact.
You particularly refer to Paul as the creator of the cult of exclusivity. If the writings of others beside Paul are to be accepted, Paul was a latecomer to the doctrine that Jesus stated (John 10:7-10) and that Peter preached, that "there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). You say he was wrong as a tax collector, yet he was never a tax collector. In fact, as a Pharisee taught by one of the greatest Rabbis of all time, being a tax collector would have been anathema to him. I find nothing in his writings that distorts the message I find Jesus teaching in the gospels. In point of fact, Paul was probably the least exclusivist of the New Testament writers. He wrote in Romans and Ephesians that everyone could be accepted into the faith, not just Jews and not just Gentiles, not just men and not just women, not just freemen and not just slaves.
To deny that God deals with man through a book is to reject Torah and the New Covenant. To reject those books requires a rejection of Jesus, because it is only in those books that we learn of Messiah and the one whom I believe to be Messiah.
You seem to be saying that all roads lead to God; that anyone who believes in God in any way will be accepted by God. This leads to a very subjective religion in which contradictory ideas are perfectly acceptable. Thus, even though Jesus preached against adultery the Greek worshippers of Dionysus could approach God through adulterous liaisons. Thus, the Jewish leaders were approaching God by having the one who claimed to be the Son of God hung on a Roman cross. Thus, Jesus willingly went to his execution which turned out to have no value to anyone at all (except those Jewish leaders who got rid of a rabble-rouser). If it is true that anyone who believes in God can come to him through whatever belief, then Jesus is not the Son of God but a liar and fraud. Actually coming to God through Jesus would be the one path that God might even reject.
I believe that a God who has established laws in his universe, and who has apparently stated that those laws include a "narrow way" to him, would be unjust and unloving to accept just anybody who came to him in other ways. That God would be neither just nor loving, because he would show a lack of love toward those who chose to follow his way over the broader ways, just as a judge who released a convicted criminal other than based on law would be unloving to the victims of that criminal.
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Thanks for your reply to my question. The points you make tend to parallel my own positions earlier in this wonderful journey towards truth. I too was raised to believe that our Bible was the inspired word of God, and I accepted that belief with all my heart.
I was a child evangelist from ages thirteen through fifteen , and "won some souls" with a message of salvation based on Ephesians 2:8-9 presented with youthful innocence and enthusiasm from the pulpits of small rural churches around Southwest Oklahoma. I've never regretted that short period of commitment to an exclusive doctrine of "heaven for good Christians and hell for all others" because I believe to this day that many people simply cannot deal with uncertainty.
I've witnessed the fact that many people's lives are changed for the better when they find a doctrine that makes them feel superior to others, if that doctrine promotes the idea of living better lives ... just as surely as many people are changed for the worse when they find a doctrine that makes them feel superior to others, if that doctrine promotes the idea of living worse lives. But, I digress.
How can we speak of the Bible as and "it" when it's not? Each book, letter, or fragment of writing within that canon is an "it", just as those that the men of the council chose to exclude were?
How can we use Paul's words concerning what he had been taught was "scripture" to support the idea that Paul was proclaiming his letter to Timothy to be "scripture"?
I have no problem with your beliefs (thank goodness you didn't say, as so many do, that you KNOW), just as I have none with any belief that leads one to prayer and an attempt to live a loving, caring life. However, I disagree with the idea that my personal opinion of the Bible as a book worthy of study, along with all else God has provided, constitutes my rejecting Christ as my best personal revelation of God's nature and will. I believe I stand with you, and all who have ever lived, to be judged by Him at the time of His choosing, and I pray, as you do, that He will forgive my mistakes and judge my sincerity.
As for the crucifixion being worthless if it was not the "washed in the blood" plan for salvation as taught by the church, I must also disagree. I think the greatest moment of my life occurred one night while studying the Gospels, when I realized that we have historical proof that eleven men were changed within a matter of days from cowards to heroic individuals willing to die for their faith. I actually cried as I realized that, although I know nothing of Gods reality, I do know men ... and those men could not have made the change without having seen the risen Christ. One of them? Maybe. Even two or three could possibly change their stripes. But all of them? Not a chance! That moment was a turning point in my acceptance of Christ's teachings as my personal gospel.
Yes, I do believe that there have been, and will continue to be, limitless revelations that allow God the Father to reach His children within their ability to understand with the fact that He exists, that He is a loving father, and that He seeks to prepare them for even greater revelations throughout eternity. Some are slow. Some are rebellious. Some are quick. Some are meek. Some are bold. Some are born in one circumstance. Some are born in another. Etc., etc., ad-infinitum. Like our own children, not a single one of them asked to be created, thus a loving father would withholds no effort to reach their understanding and love.
My question has become, and will remain ... how could a power capable of creating the universe set up some kind of monopoly game that dooms so many of His children by nature of their birthplace, intellect, knowledge, experience or other factors beyond their control?
Jesus himself said it all comes down to loving God and loving your brothers and sisters. Man has chosen to make it a contest. Man has chosen to "interpret" his simple words. I can hear the agony in His voice as he tried to reach the disciples with His message.
He indicated that there were other paths to Gods will when He said "I come not for the righteous but for the lost" ... and, "In my Fathers house there are many mansions ... I go to prepare a place for you.".
I believe His agony is even greater today as men continue, by misusing one or another of God's attempts to reach our understanding, to distort and alter the fact that perfecting our ability to love without rules or reservations is the first step on a journey that can never end ... and thus men become the greatest stumbling blocks to God's plan and purpose in creating us.
I have prayed for years and years that God would grant me the wisdom needed to understand why we must condemn other beliefs in order for my own beliefs to be validated, and at this point in time it remains one of the very, very few of my prayers that has gone unanswered.
Again, I thank you for taking this time with me, and I will close with a question and observation ...
If, as almost all of men's Christian doctrines proclaim, we live in a dispensation of Grace, unlike the earlier dispensation of Jewish law, how then can we argue that God's laws demand a "narrow way" and feel we could accuse Him of being unfair and unjust if He loved one of his children who had sought to love him and their brothers and sisters through some other road to understanding?
And, if we could find the kind of love in Paul's writings for those who disagreed with him that Christ exhibited when he cried out for God to forgive those who didn't understand what they were doing ... I could stand corrected on my opinion of that particular preacher.
In conclusion, please don't think that I don't admire and respect your ministry. We each must seek our own truth and answers for our questions. You probably do more good in a day than I've done in a lifetime in terms of turning people's hearts towards seeking Gods reality and purpose, just as those ministers of my youth did for me.
Pray for me, as I do for you and all who are trying to do Gods work.
I have spent some time rereading your response to my answers. I hope that you are right in your belief that there are many ways to God, and that He will "forgive my mistakes and judge my sincerity."
You did raise some additional questions that I want to address. I will try to keep my response brief.
You ask how we can speak of the Bible as "it", when it is not a single entity but a collection. I agree. However, it is a convenient shorthand used for centuries (even before the time of Jesus) to refer to the collected canon in the singular. Thus Jesus speaks of "the law and the prophets" as entities even though they contain several books each.
I did not intend to imply that Paul was claiming his own writings were scripture when he told Timothy of the profitability and inspiration of "all scripture." He was clearly speaking at that time of the Old Testament canon, but if one accepts the New Testament books as equally inspired it would apply to them as well.
The writer of Hebrews (who may or may not have been Paul) indicates that the value of the cross was that a better and final sacrifice was made for sin in the form of the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews chapters 7, 9 and 10) Whether written by Paul or another, the point is valid that God expected a blood sacrifice for sin, which He provided in Jesus. That sacrifice is validated by the resurrection. The resurrection is a great and marvelous thing, as you point out, but it is not the resurrection that saves.
You use two scriptures to establish that Jesus said there were other paths to God. One was John 14:2, "In my father's house are many mansions." This passage says nothing about the path to heaven, but just that there is room in heaven. The other was a misquote of Matt. 9:13, "I am come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Had there been any righteous they would not have needed Christ, but all except He were sinners. This does not in any way indicate multiple ways to heaven.
You refer to the doctrine that we live in a dispensation of Grace, unlike the earlier dispensation of Jewish law. I object to those being set against each other as two opposites. The Law was as much a law of grace as the Christian dispensation. God has always been a God of grace, but that grace has always been conditional. He made promises to the Jews preceded by "if you obey." The same is true of his grace through all ages.
Finally, you have a real problem with the writings of Paul. Perhaps it is my own personality that likes things nice and neat and logical that makes me appreciate Paul's writings. But you don't see in them the love of others that I see. Throughout the book of Romans he expresses his love for the Jewish people and his desire that they would come to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah. In 1 Cor 2 he pleads with the Corinthians to obey not the words of men (including his own) but the demonstrated power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God. In 1 Cor 9:19-27 he shows his willingness to humble himself in love for others that they might learn the truth, even if he were to suffer because of it. To me that demonstrates his love for others, not willing that any should perish.
As you say, we must each seek our own truth. I just pray that in my case and in yours that truth is also God's truth. I thank you for your prayers and will pray for you as well.