Which Bible is Which?

A lot of times during discussions, a person will say. “Have you read the Bible?”

When this happens, I ask them, “Which one do you mean? The 24 book Hebrew Tanakh (with all the stuff cut from the Old Testament), The 66 book version of the Protestant Churches, the 73 book version of the Roman Catholic Church, 78 book version of the Orthodox Church, or perhaps the 81 book version of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church? Or maybe you mean the 78 books of the New Testament apocrypha?”

At this point, they usually looked bewildered, and say that they thought there was only one. One “real” one anyway.

As a point of reference, I have read and own several versions, except the Ethiopian one, and I am working on that. My two favorites are a New American Standard which was given to my by Mrs. Clark in my old Green Harbor neighborhood (and has been on lots of adventures with me) and a Lutheran Study Bible with a huge notes section.

The bible as we know it evolved over hundreds of years, was translated several times, rewritten more than once, and finally forbidden to be read by Roman Catholics until 1943! (Just owning one was punishable for centuries). In each case, the books chosen were done to fulfill the agenda of whomever was putting it together. There is not one version! Just get a copy of one from before when the numbering was added and containing all those sections cut out in the last 400 years. Big difference. There are actually hints in the New Testament that Jesus wished Christianity to be an oral tradition only, with nothing written down. The “best version”, of course, is the one that YOU like the most. (Or another book, or no book at all.)

All of this forward is to get to the main point, the Revelation of John. This is the favorite chapter of fire and brimstone preachers, people who hate Democratic presidents, and those guys on late night AM radio stations. It seems to be Army Regulations that it be quoted (or misquoted) in my military unit every hour. Thomas Jefferson called it “merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.”

The Revelation of John was the last book added to the official list of bible books, not until the 5th century, almost 400 years after the believed death of Jesus.

The problems the early church leaders had with it were; the author was unknown, the contents are open to wide interpretation, and its just a dream. Lots of things only appear in this chapter, such as the belief that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden is Satan (which directly contradicts Jewish tradition). Otherwise, the book relies very heavily on the Hebrew Bible, making 348 allusions to it, mostly from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Psalms.

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea from 314, said that it was unbiblical and too open to abuse, and did not include it in the 50 bibles ordered by the Emperor Constantine I, some of the oldest official bibles ever made.

So how did it get in, and give all those televangelists something to talk about? Although rejected as unimportant by most of the early church leaders, it was included in the recommended reading list, and over time was included more and more in the accepted canon. Eventually, it was adopted for two reasons; it made a good ending to the New Testament (Jesus coming back after a time of great troubles) and it would scare the hell out of people. Reread that again if you need to. Certain hard-line bishops felt that the imagery would keep the flock more in line. Plus, since you were not allowed to read it yourself, somebody in authority would tell you what it said, with no possibility of rebuttal.

So, the next time you read it, or more likely hear someone talking about it, please keep these facts in mind. And don’t use it as an excuse to set fire to people, invade certain countries, reject various forms of technology, or accuse various world leaders of being the Anti-Christ. They are not. God loves you, and that is enough.

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