Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Religious Book "Not Intending to Prove Anything"

I recently received this book in the mail:

In case you're having trouble reading the cover, it's entitled: Who really goes to hell? The Gospel You've Never Heard: What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God's work through Christ (A book for those in the church and those offended by it), and it's written by David I Rudel (with a foreword by Rev. Edward Hopkins).

Basically, even the title gives an indication of what this book seems to be aiming to do - show that the modern interpretation of the gospels is flawed, and offer a viable alternative.

Those who know me personally are aware of my views about Christianity - let's just say, I'm not a fan of the religion. If you believe what the Bible says, and do your best to follow it, you'll be a good person. That's cool. If it gives you comfort, that's great, and I envy you. I, personally, however, have done much thinking on the matter, and I am not a Christian, nor can I force myself to be one, nor am I going to pretend to be one.

This book didn't change my mind.

Yet, I'm going to be honest - I can't bring myself to finish it. I read up through page 20, which is the first chapter of part 1 ("Questing").

The following will be, step by step, some of the problems I had with the chapter that I read:

*On page 10, the author claims that Matthew Henry's Commentary is wrong with the interpretation of Luke 10:28. Yet part of the commentary which he seems to think is a problem is explicitly in my battered King James Version. In my version, it specifically says that the questioner asks the second question to "justify himself." Concerning this, the author states: "That commentary then says his second question is an effort at looking for a way out."

The manner in which the author's sentence is phrased at least indicates that he does not agree with the commentary interpretation. Yet, according to my KJV, that's not even an interpretation, but a statement of facts.

Now, Rudel is not using the KJV for his scriptural quotations. He's using one of those newer interpretations. So maybe his version is phrased differently, and takes out the connotation that the questioner is trying to flatter himself that he's still all right.

This possible difference brings us to an important concept, for me, however: translation.

We all know that if you translate something from its' original language, some of the original understanding is lost. The New Testament, specifically the gospels, were written in ancient Greek, later translated into Latin by St. Jerome, and later still, translated into English during the reign of King James. So, unless you're going to learn ancient Greek and read the gospels in the earliest form that you can find, I don't really think that you can look at the tiny differences between modern English bibles, pick the version you like best, and go, "See! I have a point!"

*On page 12, Rudel writes: "Evangelists today can sketch out their message in five minutes; you'd think if it were an accurate depiction of Christ's work, each writer would clearly write it somewhere in his gospel."

First of all, this passage is extremely rude. I really don't think that most modern Christian holy men are setting out to mislead people. I think that they have had a lot of theological training, and have read the gospels closely, and are trying to pass on the knowledge that they have gleaned. I assume Rudel is referring to a sermon, in which many pastors/preachers/etc. summarize the main points of their lecture. Still, Rudel's wording sounds very close to a personal attack. I don't see why anyone with an orthodox view of Christianity is going to read this book if Rudel's going to talk about the views they grew up with with such disdain.

Secondly, why? Why should the gospel writers have a clear interpretation of the overall message? When I read the Bible, it sounds authoritative in that it sounds like a primary source. And when you're talking about history, primary sources are to be read avidly, critically, and with interest. You can't get a better glimpse of history than from someone who says, "I was there. And this is what I saw." The disciples claim to be faithfully depicting the actions and at least the gist of the words that Jesus spoke - kind of like a memoir. Or maybe, more like a play, in which the reader/audience member sees the actions and hears the words, but needs to find meaning in the play him- or herself.

*Again on page 12, Rudel writes: " is hard to understand why they would not affirm the modern gospel (if it were true); instead they chose (or the Spirit chose for them) to relate teaching after teaching that chafes against it."

This statement is pretty broad, and the author has not given us evidence showing "teaching after teaching that chafes against it."

*On page 13, the author writes: "It appears the Greek version of Matthew we have today might come from an earlier Hebrew version written before the Gentiles were welcomed into the church." He says this to make a point. Well, if that's the case, then why should we consider the gospels reliable at all? It says that Matthew is a tax collector. As a government official for the Roman Empire, Matthew, if he's literate at all, is most likely to read and write in Greek or Latin. And considering the area in which the gospels are set, most likely to read and write in Greek.

And don't you think that it's kind of odd that Matthew isn't introduced in his own gospel until chapter 9 verse 9? Everything that is related before we, the readers, meet Matthew is therefore heresay, rather than something Matthew witnessed himself.

*On page 13, Rudel quotes Matthew 5:19-20, the beginning of the sermon on the Mount. "Jesus says, anyone who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

He uses this passage to point out that many modern Christians deny that being a good person and doing the right thing gives you favor in God's eye. I don't know that that's true, exactly, but many modern interpretations of the gospel claim that people are ONLY saved through faith and the grace of God. Which means that it doesn't matter what you do, because you will never be perfect like God, and so can't gain eternal life without his help. I don't think, however, that most Christians are like, "So do whatever you want b/c good works don't really gain you shit," which is kind of the impression Rudel is giving me.

I also find Rudel's interpretation of the passage not simplistic enough. That sounds odd, I know, but since he's claiming modern views are wrong b/c they've strayed from literal interpretations of the gospels (which, considering how often Jesus spoke in metaphor, doesn't really sound that weird to me, but whatever), I kind of expect him to pull apart these passages that the church generally interprets "wrong" and explicitly show me how he interprets them differently. But he just kind of makes these general statements that I don't even usually agree with.

I'm skipping ahead to page 19, which has one of the worst lines, in my opinion: "Nothing here is meant to prove anything, just indicate why the modern gospel does not seem the natural conclusion from Jesus' teachings for a number of reasons."

Way to wuss out. If you're not trying to PROVE that the modern interpretation is wrong, and offer a viable alternative, why did you write this book? And why should I read it?

So I'm not.

Title: Who really goes to hell? The Gospel You've Never Heard: What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God's work through Christ (A book for those in the church and those offended by it)
Author: David I Rudel
Publisher: Biblical Heresy Press
Copyrite: 2009
Website that goes with book: