The Canonization of the Bible

Some ask why Mary Magdalene's Gospel is not in the Bible as we know it. There are MANY gospels that are not included in the Bible. The Bible was never "one book". The process of putting together the Bible is known as "canonization" and is well documented. Back in the 100s and 200s, books were written on "scrolls" - long parchments wrapped around a central core. These scrolls could be 35' or more in length. After 200, works were put into Codexes, individual pages bound together, for ease of reading. Which of these scrolls and codexes were included in the "official Bible" varies from group to group. For example, many religions believe in the "Old Testament" - but the Jewish version has the books in a different order than the Protestant version. The Eastern Orthodox religion includes books that the others do not.

The Samaritans only recognize five books in their Bible. The Ethiopian Orthodox church has 81 books in its Bible. The Syrians have 22 books in their Bible, while the Roman Catholics and Protestants have 27 books.

Dan Brown's error in this case is that there are NOT 80 non-canonical gospels! Sure, we just discovered a few more gospels in the last century which is rather amazing after 2000 years. But most researchers agree on a total gospel count of about 35.

Translation Issues

Not only are there different books, but there are different translations. The various books were written in "ancient tongues" that even now we do not necessarily fully understand the nuances of the languages. So when we then turn these books into English or French or other modern languages, we can easily mis-interpret or put a different shading of meaning on what they say. The books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament books were done in Greek. And we don't even have the "original" of these books - we have copies made by monks. So we are relying on those monks to have copied correctly.

For example, in Greek, the word pistis can either mean "faith" or "believe". So depending on who translated it, that word might show up differently in English. The Greek word dikaiosune can either mean "just" or "righteous". Again, whoever translates that word must choose how to be turn it into English to make the sentence read well. The Greek word "logos" can mean: speech, message, account, statement, saying, phrase, word. That's a lot of meanings to choose from, when making an English version!

On the other hand, sometimes translators try to add meaning by choosing words not necessarily called for. The Greek word for "messenger", for example, is sometimes turned into "angel" when written in English. Maybe the messenger WAS an angel - but that's not what the book says. It simply says a MESSENGER came.

Also, many of the books were written in poetry style, or to go with the tunes of popular songs of the day to make them easy to remember. There were metaphors used that work in the original language. So translators have to try to translate the meaning *and* the rhythm of the words which is really hard. Think of the classic saying "how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" It is cool in English, but if you turn it into French, the French would wonder why the phrase is interesting. It would lose its rhythm and similar-sounding words.

In the same way, at one point John the Baptist says "God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!" That seems pretty meaningless to us in English. But in Aramaic, the word for children is "banim". The word for stones is "abanim". He was making a play on words that his audience would easily remember.

Finally, as an interesting point, Christ is NOT the last name of Jesus. Christ is simply the Greek word for "Messiah". When the Bible's books were written in Greek, they were simply saying "messiah" when they said Christ. However, when that same word "Christ" was brought over into English instead of properly being translated as "messiah" in our language, people got confused.

Visitor Opinion -
On your page you state "the Roman Catholics and Protestants have 27 books". This number applies to the New Testament only. There are 39 Old Testament books in the Protestant bible and the Catholics incorporate the books of the apochrypha which gives them 46 in their Old Testament. Good site though!

My Response -
Yes I suppose depending which group or book or year you look at there are all sorts of different counts for exactly what was included or excluded. The general point is that there is no "one Bible" that is right across the world. Every different group of humans has picked and chosen exactly what they choose to believe is their "working Bible", from amongst the thousands of documents that were available.

Visitor Opinion -
I really enjoyed reading your pages on "The DaVinci Code." I was glad to get more information on the fuzzy points in the book and like your open discussion on the topics without labeling one interpretation as "THE Truth."

I noticed another error of sorts in "The DaVinci Code" which I didn't see specifically pointed out on your site. To the best of my understanding, the word "Christ" means "Messiah." This is why Jesus is often referred to as "Jesus the Christ" as well as Jesus Christ.

Though the two characters in the book are scholars in this area and should know the background of the word, they continue to refer to Jesus as "Christ" even as they discuss the difference between Jesus as mortal prophet and Jesus as Son of God, coming down heavily on the side of Jesus' divinity being a tool used by Constantine to strengthen Rome. If this was the character's viewpoints, I seriously doubt they would refer to Jesus as "Christ." Thanks again for a wonderful site!

My Response -
Yes, actually I do mention the Christ / Messiah issue on several pages on the site. But to be technical about this, Christ was the Greek word for "messiah". And what "messiah" means is "savior or liberator", specifically the one the Jews are waiting for to save or liberate them. It does not necessarily have to be a divine person, it's just someone to come help them out of the mess they are in. So from that sense, Jesus could be a messiah whether or not he is the son of God ...

Visitor Opinion -
Lately i've been questioning man and the bible. I feel the bible and religion in itself was created to keep humans "in line". Your arguments seem to be sourced from the bible itself. i am not an atheist but i question is as follows: is the bible in fact our true source to jesus. was it not written by man? was it not written like a broken telephone? how could christians base their church solely on books written by man? i'm a bit skeptical at this point in my life and would very much appreciate your opinion. Aside from the previous, i can see the church, that has been controlled by man, changing the story of Mary M., in order to prevent man's image from being tainted. If you have a book or any personal writing that you would be willing to share on this matter, i am very interested in reading it. thank you for your time and i apologize for my sentence fragments.

My Response -
Well, questioning "man" won't get you far :) All humans have their own points of view and their own interpretations of the truth. Just sit in on any court to hear how 12 witnesses of the exact same incident come up with 12 different versions of what happened. There is no one "Bible". There are countless Bibles, compiled at different stages in history, from different translations of a variety of writers' materials. The Canonization process was about a given group of people trying to do their best to include what they felt was relevent and to exclude what they felt was confusing or unnecessary or whatever. Did they have ulterior motives? Well of course they did! Every human does. They chose books which promoted their own points of view and helped to get their "flock" to go along with them. If you're going to put them down for that, then you will put down every parent on the planet too. Parents choose childrens' books for their children that reinforce their point of view. Parents of a girl who they want to feel like a princess will get her a ton of "beautiful princess" stories. Parents of a girl who they want to feel like an active individual will get her adventure stories and stories where girls are firefighters and police officers and so on. This stuff goes on every day and is a normal part of life. You just need to have your eyes open and be able to understand that.

I don't honestly think anyone feels Pope Gregory was deliberate in calling Mary M a prostitute. Most people feel he was more of a doddering old fool who just made mistakes like this. The issue is that many Catholics feel the Pope is "the mouthpiece of God" and if they admitted he made a mistake there, they'd have to open up a giant can of worms and admit that he could make mistakes in general, meaning ANYTHING he said could now be called into question. So it was more that they didn't want to give way on this relatively minor issue, because it could turn into a mess on really important issues.

In any case, some denominations see the Bible as a guidance provided by God couched in metaphors and situations easily understood by the flock. They don't believe the "giant flood" and so on actually took place, but that God was sending a message that we had to understand. Other denominations do actually believe the Bible is the literal truth from start to finish which I have to find pretty staggering given the archeological evidence we have for dinosaurs and such. These people feel that dinosaurs and world history is all made up by a giant conspiracy of scientists. The reason they cling so tightly to this belief is if we start to say that the Bible is NOT 100% true, then it means we now have to "pick and choose" what to follow and what not to follow. And again, just like in the Pope Gregory case, once you start to say you can disbelieve the little things (dinosaurs) what is to stop you from now disbelieving in the big things (idols=bad)?

There are so many books on these issues that I cannot even begin to name them all. Go into the nearest Barnes & Noble and walk into their Religious section. Pick any 10 at random and begin reading.

Visitor Opinion -
I do agree with your thoughts on the fact that people who have a very deep belief in their faith would be disappointed and disgusted by some of the claims in this book. However, I also think that most of them know that the messages the church preaches, and the essences of its beliefs remain true. I'm from Ireland. We are told here that St. Patrick brought Christianity to this country when it was a land of pagans. We are also told that the reason he was so successful was because he incorporated some of the pagan beliefs into his Christian teachings, making them more acceptable to the native Celts. It's not necessarily the institute itself that you believe in, it's what it stands for, what it represents.

My Response -
I have family in Ireland so I certainly understand some of the religious situations (and fighting) going on in that country. Certainly, I don't feel there is anything "wrong" in the Church trying to find ways to get its message across to locals by using terms and symbology that the locals would understand. St. Patrick used the common clover as a way to explain the complex concept of the trinity. He wasn't trying to "deceive" the locals, he was trying to help them understand a concept. Of course you have to assume that the church had good intentions (helping to save people) and not bad intentions (wanting to get lots of cash from naive villagers) but that is a separate argument.

Visitor Opinion -
You mention peoples views on the Gnostic Gospels not being as accurate as the Bible gospels. How many times have the Bible gospels been translated and edited to fit into the modern day Bible by Constantine? Making you could do some research and find out if Dan's [Brown] information is correct about Constantine being a pagan and blending the gospels to form a modern bible that would appease for Christians and Pagans.

Thanks for your time and obvious hard work putting up this site, it helps people like me who are seeking answers to innumerable questions,

My Response -
I have whole pages on the process involved in selecting and choosing which books are "fit" for the Bible. I don't say it's a wise or good process to throw out some things and keep other things. I just say that that is what they do :) It's extremely well documented that this picking and choosing went on, and there were MANY political reasons for what went in and what stayed out. Certainly "ease of getting people to accept the works" was a factor in there as were many other factors. So I don't think any one questions any of that.

Visitor Opinion -
I agree with you that the bible was no doubt 'hand picked' and canonised, so to speak, by men. However, those who believe in the bible 100% as God's word, believe those picking it were entrusted (or instructed) by God to do so. As such, the gospels picked are chosen 'by God.' I know, because I live with one of these people! It is cause for healthy debate, believe me!!

My Response -
Well yes, and that is why they believe the Pope is the mouthpiece of God as well. However, every group in religion has chosen a different set of books to include or exclude, so then you have to say that your religion is the only one that chose properly and everyone else chose incorrectly. And then you move on to the issue of translations. There are many, many translations out there and each one chooses different words and phrasings. Now you have to say one translation of your chosen books is correct and all others are incorrect. Then as time goes on, knowledge is gained and the group will choose a new translation to read. So now you're saying that you were incorrect before but have remedied the situation and with the NEW book you are now correct. Meaning that in another 100 years, you will probably get an even more improved version (as scholars learn more about the meanings of those older words and phrases) and that your new book will be even more accurate than the current one. Meaning you have to accept the possibility that the book you're using now is not fully accurate. It is only as accurate as our current knowledge of language is, which is not 100% accurate. So as much as you can say that the original writers were guided by God, and that the original book selectors were guided by God, and that the translators were guided by God, we are after all only human and we do make mistakes, which we later find and fix.

Also, we have to remember that cultures change over the years and what is appropriate for one culture can easily turn out to be inappropriate for other cultures. The following instructions are given in the Bible - does your house-mate believe these things are currently valid? I'll assume she's a female and ask:

* Lev 1:9 - Is she burning the bull on the altar for sacrifice as she is supposed to?
* Exodus 21:7 - Does she feel it's OK to sell daughters into slavery for cash?
* Lev 15:19-24 - Is she sure to have NO contact with any male while menstruating? Does she tell other women the same?
* Lev 25:44 - Does she feel it's OK to buy slaves from other nations?
* Exodus 35:2 - Anyone working on the Sabbath should be killed. Is she positive she has never worked (picking up groceries counts) and has she properly slain anyone she knows who has done this?
* Lev 10:10 - Eating shellfish is stated to be an abomination. Is she careful not to do this herself or to allow others to?
* Lev 20:20 - Nobody should approach God's altar with defective sight. Has she told glasses/contact wearers to stay out of her church?

If someone is going to say that 100% of what is in the Bible is true, then they better be following EVERY word in there. Because from that point of view, there is nothing inappropriate in the Bible, and it needs to be followed to the letter. My great-aunt was a strict believer in the Sabbath and that meant no cooking, no harvesting, no chores, no nothing. You ate leftovers all day, and you sat and talked with friends or read the Bible on your own. See if your "friend" is this obedient, I would doubt it.