Thursday, June 11, 2009

Will the real Bible please stand up?

Earlier this week I got this email from a friend who had been reading the blog and had a question. (She said I could post it. Thanks!) Here's the email, with only a couple of minor edits to protect her anonymity:

My sister got married and she asked me to read an excerpt out of the "bible" during her ceremony. Now, keep in mind that she got married in a catholic church. Being the nice sister that I am, I agreed to do it. I don't know how familiar you are with Catholic ceremonies... but usually 2 family members or friends will each read a scripture from the bible before the priest marries the couple. During the rehearsal, I went up to the podium to read the scripture. As it turns out, the "scripture" was from the Catholic bible and not "the bible". So it derived from a book that doesn't even exist in the real bible. Anyway, I talked to my sister and told her that I could not read that particular scripture because it wasn't actually in the bible. She began to cry and beg me to read it. I asked her to ask someone else to read it but no one else wanted to go up in front of the whole church to do it. She said that if I loved her (here comes the guilt trip) that I would do it. And I still resisted so she said that we could look up a different scripture later that night. As it turns out we were so busy that night and the next morning that we didn't have time to research a different scripture. The one that the Catholic church wanted me to read talked about marriage (I don't remember exactly what it said). Anyway, at the end of the scripture, you are supposed to say, "The word from the Lord" and the whole church says, "Amen". Anyway, I ended up doing it for my sister's sake and I told my self that I wasn't going to say that last part, "the word from the Lord"; but I was nervous and read it real fast and ended up saying that line. In the bible it says (and correct me if I am wrong) that the only unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. My question is, do you think that reading that scripture to a Catholic congregation is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, especially because I knew that it is not an actual "word from the Lord"? Can I be forgiven for this????

I can't believe I did it. Never in my life would I have thought that I would do something like that. I should have just let my sister cry or be mad at me. I have definitely prayed for forgiveness but obviously I am still fighting condemnation. And worst of all, I don't know if this is a sin that can be forgiven...please help.

Dear friend,

Thanks for writing me. It does sound like you’re fighting some condemnation here, but let me just say first of all that if reading that passage was an unforgivable sin, there will be a lot of Christians in hell. It sounds to me like the only sin you’ve committed here is violating your conscience. (See Romans 14.)

The topic hits on some huge perspective issues that you may find kind of amazing. Most Christians in the United States have a very small perspective when it comes to global Christianity.

Here in the U.S., we generally recognize only two of the three major branches of Christianity: Protestant and Roman Catholic. But there is a third, and I have no idea why the church isn’t more aware of it. So let’s do a quick church history review.

In 1054 the Bishop of Rome (recognized as Pope Leo IX) sent a delegation to the Bishop of Constantinople (recognized as Patriarch Michael Cerularius) to settle a dispute over which one of them was the rightful world leader of the church. When the Bishop of Constantinople refused to recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Rome excommunicated him. That means he kicked him out of the church and basically condemned him to hell, which was his right if he really was the true Vicar of Christ (i.e. the Pope). The Bishop of Constantinople responded by excommunicating the Bishop of Rome, which was his right if he really was the true Vicar of Christ.

The church in the West and the church in the East never reconciled, even though they both rescinded the excommunications in 1965. Today we refer to the Eastern church as the Orthodox Church, and it has several branches (Russian, Greek, Syrian, etc.). The church in the West became known as the Roman Catholic Church.

Then in 1517 (or 1521, depending on how you date it), the Protestants split from the Roman Catholic Church. From the Protestants, we get basically everybody else (Baptists, Methodists, “non-denominationals,” and so forth).

Why is that important? Because we all have different books in our Bibles.

Catholics and Protestants have the same New Testament, but different Old Testaments. The Catholics have everything the Protestants have, but there are a few extra books they refer to as “deuterocanonical.” Protestants generally just call them “apocryphal.”

Why are they different? The Protestant canon (list/collection of books) is the same as the Jewish canon. The Catholic canon is the same as the Septuagint, which was the Bible translation that Jesus and most of the early church read. Which is better? You decide.

The Orthodox Church is really different. Their canon has pretty much the same books we use in the West, but certain branches won’t, for example, include Revelation. Can you imagine your Bible without Revelation? They don’t believe Revelation is the authentic Word of God, so they don’t include it.

If Martin Luther had his way, Revelation might not have made it into the Protestant canon either. Neither would James, Hebrews, or Jude.

Now before I mess up your confidence in the canon of scripture too much, you have to consider that we’re all pretty much working from the same list of books. Some Christian canons are a little broader than others, but no major group wants to include, say, “The Gospel of Thomas,” or “The Revelation of Peter.” (The major exceptions here would be the Mormons and big fans of The Da Vinci Code.)

Should we include the deuterocanonical books? Jesus read them. There’s some dispute over whether Jesus quoted them as scripture, but some of his statements sound eerily suspicious. And consider this.

Here’s Jude 14-15, from the Protestant canon:

“It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousand of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’”

Now here’s I Enoch 2, from the deuterocanon:

“Behold he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all of flesh for every thing which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.”

Looks like a quote to me. As for the whole “Word from the Lord” thing, if you’re ever in a situation like that again, maybe the priest would be ok with you saying, “Thanks be to God,” if you still have a problem with it. But if you can call it a sin, you have a lot more certainty than I do about this issue.

So what Bible should we read then? I’ll give you a rule of thumb that works for me. Maybe it will work for you, and maybe it won’t. I believe God called me to my church for a reason. I think I have a purpose there, and it’s no accident that this is my church. My church is Protestant, and uses the Protestant canon. I use the Protestant canon. I’ve read large parts of the deuterocanon, and I’ve read sections of books most all Christians agree are apocryphal. But I look for God to speak through the Protestant canon of scripture. If the book of Sirach proves helpful as well, great. It was in Jesus’ Bible. I’m assuming he read it. At the same time, Jesus didn’t assemble the Septuagint. The fact that he read it isn’t necessarily an endorsement of its canon.

That’s a lot of information. Hope it helps. And thanks for your question. Hit me up anytime!



  1. You are fine. I am sure your sister appreciates what you did for her.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Sorry Solid_Id. Say what you will about me, but please leave my friends alone.