Nearly a year and a half after I started, I’ve finished the Bible. To have read these texts is as it were to have performed an archaeological dig among the ruins of the ancient cities buried beneath the foundations of my soul. Layer upon layer of cultural accretion, settled into the soil from which our culture has grown. I have not been converted, only cultivated. But that is more than enough to expect from a book.
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amasapolis has written 64 entries about this goal
I can see why Robert Ingersoll called this “the most insane of all books.” But this curious and questionable tome, whose provenance as the Word of God not even the church fathers could agree on, seems to me perhaps the most profound of all the texts bound together in the New Testament, saving perhaps Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and certain passages of the Gospels.
I subscribe to the school of thought that sees the visions in this book to be metaphorical descriptions of spiritual states; a sort of guide book for the Christian aspirant to the stages of individual development leading up to the “Drawing Aside of the Veil”.
Of course this is only one possible interpretation of a symbolically dense text, which could just as easily refer to world events at the time of its composition as to events yet to come. It is quite possible that the text is a kind of secret code to which the key has been lost, whose true interpretation is forever hidden from us. Or it could be the meaningless babble of a half-starved mystic whose prolonged self-abnegation has blossomed in hallucinatoric frenzy.
An encyclical letter which claims to have been written by one “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”, i.e., a brother of Jesus, warning against the heterodox teachings which were in circulation among the faithful. This book makes references to two non-canonical books, The Assumption of Moses which provides an account of a dispute between Archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses, and the Book of Enoch, from which it quotes a prophecy attributed to the Patriarch Enoch, of the seventh generation descended from Adam.
Most contemporary scholars are in agreement that these “Epistles General” were written by the same person or group of people that wrote the Gospel of John (traditionally held to be “John the Evangelist”, although there is no general consensus as to who that was.
The first epistle was written to refute heretical priests, whom the author calls “antichrists”, who are spreading heterodox teachings, or the “spirit of antichrist”; specifically, that Christ is a being composed entirely of Spirit who was not manifested in earthly flesh, that his death by crucifixion was not an atonement for sins, and that it is no longer possible for man to sin.
In I John 5:7-8 there is a passage explicitly referring to the Trinity, known as the Comma Johanneum, which has caused a considerable amount of controversy through the ages because it seems to have been slipped into the text sometime in the 8th or 9th century. Isaac Newton devoted part of his An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture to the discussion of the evidence in favor of its inauthenticity.
The second epistle of John, the shortest book of the Bible at only 13 verses, is addressed to an “elect lady” or “the elect Kyrie” and warns her to be on guard against “deceivers” who “confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”, i.e., gnostics who believed that Christ is purely spirit, or people like C.S. Lewis, who think that the gospel of the crucifixion is an allegory or “true myth”.
The third epistle is seemingly a private letter written to one Gaius, commending a certain Demetrius and his party, and warning of the false teachings of a certain Diotrephes and his party. It seems to contain little in the way of doctrine or inspiration.
Probably pseudepigraphical works purporting to be written by the hand of Peter, the Chief Apostle and First Pope of the Christian Church (although whoever wrote the Book of Matthew may have disagreed with these honors). The first epistle, written to congregations in Asia Minor, exhorts its readers to hold firm to their faith in the face of persecution. The second epistle, which states that it was written shortly before its authors death(!), explains to those who are becoming impatient for the parousia (“appearance and subsequent presence with”) of the Lord that God has delayed the Second Coming so that more people might have a chance to repent and be saved.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? …You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
The authorship of this epistle is in doubt, as there are any number of Biblical Jameses to whom to may be attributed. Some ancient authors and church figures even claimed that this epistle was heretical. But over time it seems to have been accepted anyway.
An epistle of uncertain authorship (almost certainly not by Paul) meant to dissuade its readers from apostasy; probably it was intended to be read by Jewish converts to Christianity who, due to persecution by other Jews or some local authority, were wavering in their faith or tempted to revert to Judaism. The epistle cites numerous passages from the Old Testament which it attempts to reinterpret in support of Christian doctrine.
In this letter Paul urges Philemon to ‘reconcile’ with Onesimus, a fugitive slave who has since converted to Christianity. Paul states that, as they are both now fellow Christians, Philemon should accept Onesimus as “no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother”. This passage was of a matter of some dispute between slaveholders and abolitionists in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Does it or does it not uphold the social status quo?
A brief epistle describing the requirements and duties of bishops of the new church. For some reason the author cites Epimenides’ paradox.
These are letters written to a disciple of Paul concerning the conduct of bishops of the new church and sundry other matters about the proper comportment of Christians. Although traditionally attributed to Paul, their authorship is uncertain.