The M+G+R Foundation

Biblical Literalism or Symbolism?
It Is Both - It Just Depends on the Circumstances - Part I
Originally published on  June 24, 2005

PURPOSE

The purpose of this two-part (1) sequence of documents is to tackle a technique that is often used to disfigure people's faith - whichever the faith of their choice may be.

We have touched on one facet of this danger in earlier documents (2) ; now we will identify the other, and far more dangerous, facet: the technique used by those who, quoting the Holy Scriptures: (a) justify just about any criminal act "in the Name of God"; and (b) "can show" that there are key contradictions in them thus "proving" the inherent "unreliability" of Scriptures.

Why is this so important? Unfortunately, believers have been erroneously taught to place their faith in either an institution or in a book instead of placing their faith and entire trust in the God they believe in. (3) The institution and the book are instruments given to believers to nurture and strengthen their faith; they are not to become the objects of their faith.  When faith is not based on God, those bent on doing evil only have to: (a) discredit the religious institutions,  exploiting scandals; and/or (b) prove the Sacred Scriptures wrong. Once that is done, the individual believer becomes completely disoriented.

INTRODUCTION

We will attempt to accomplish these purposes by using the same techniques they use, but in reverse. We will point out apparent errors in the Holy Scriptures and other religious texts and show that they are not really errors, even though they may appear as such to the average under Evangelized individual.

Do not make, O Christians, the mistake of thinking: "That would never happen to me!" Jesus Himself warned us that:

"And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.... For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect." [Matthew 24: 22-24]

This will not be an exhaustive study of the issue at hand. That would generate unnecessary volumes upon volumes of examples. Through Parts I and II of this document, we shall only utilize a few key examples to illustrate the point, and to underscore the importance of continually seeking coherence in the understanding, interpretation and application of the Holy Scriptures and other religious texts.


DETAILS

There are several reasons why the Holy Scriptures and lesser religious texts may appear contradictory or outright wrong. For example:

(a)  The adjustment of a communication from God to the intellectual level of the recipients of the communication at a particular point in time.
(b)  The Judeo-Christian Holy Scriptures have been translated over 3,000 times, and, in far too many cases altered just to suit very temporal agendas. Temporal agendas change with time, while the Divine Agenda never does.
(c) The Holy Scriptures show only "window shots" of events that were continuously evolving.
(d) The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures is colored by the social and religious customs of the area as well as the epoc in question, and in an understanding of the faith in question.
(e) The Greek texts and other religious texts which become "Holy Reference Points" for the theologian, scholar and faithful may be inaccurate because:

(i)  alterations were convenient to some religious institution at the time; or
(ii) the popular passions decided to make it so "for oour own good"; or
(iii) translations may be wrong, even radically so; or.
(iv) the original Greek texts of the New Testament were lost long ago - even before St. Jerome translated copies of them into Latin.


(a)  The adjustment of a communication from God to the level of development and intellect of the recipients.

This was covered in our just released document Creation vs Evolution (1) .

(b)  The  translation of the Judeo-Christian Holy Scriptures.

Anyone who speaks/understands more than one language realizes that just the mechanical translation of words does not convey the true meaning of a thought. The translation of the words must also be accompanied by their expression within the cultural framework of the language it is being translated into.

[An interesting exercise to illustrate this point is to have a native Portuguese and a native Brazilian who are fluent in English (but not intimately familiar with, say, the US culture) translate a brief text in Portuguese to American English and to King's English. The four documents, most likely, will convey different imagery and inaccuracies.

Conduct the same exercise, but translating a US English text to Spanish,  with representatives of all Spanish speaking countries in Latin America and Spain and you will have a menagerie of images conveying the message and many of them will deviate greatly from the concept contained in the original US English text.]


When to this dimension we add thousands upon thousands of years of cultural and linguistic evolution and the ever evolving archeological interpretation and re-interpretations of those past cultures, one must be very careful in not placing too much weight in the meaning of certain isolated words or statements.

In addition to all of that, there is yet another dimension to be concerned about: The spiritual dimension of the concept being transmitted.

It is totally possible to translate a spiritual text from, say, English to Portuguese  and convey the exact same spiritual message, while the mechanical translation of said text, even taking into account the cultural coloring of both languages today,  would appear totally wrong. The reverse is also true.

In many cases the errors are simply out of ignorance and the poor spiritual illumination of those who study to be theologians, but do not know God, or those who study to be shepherds and who do not know God either. The "knowledge of God" (that is, intimate communion with God) is the foundation of all knowledge. With the exception of Paul of Tarsus, most of those selected by Jesus were uneducated men (i.e., culturally and religiously ignorant), but it was through their intimate communion with Him that the foundation of Christian knowledge was laid.

An example of a translation problem

Let us review the various versions of Colossians 1: 24 and compare them with its true translation:

It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church - The New Jerusalem Bible

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church. -  The Douay-Rheims Version

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the churchThe New American Bible

It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church - Daily Roman Missal - English Edition prepared by Rev. James Socias, a devotee of Jose María Escrivá and his work.

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: - King James Version

The overall impression from the above verses is that Christ's suffering was incomplete. His passion, crucifixion and death just was not sufficient suffering - just "did not quite make it" - and Paul has now to "make up the difference." This concept/translation is somewhere between blasphemy and heresy. However, in the most accurate translation of the original texts that we have found we read:

Now I enjoy the sufferings I endure because of you, and the suffering of Christ, which are still lacking in my flesh, are being fulfilled in favor of His Body, which is the Church.  - Translated from the original Greek text by Msgr.  Dr. Juan Straubinger

As the reader can easily see, the suffering that was lacking was not Christ's suffering but His suffering manifested in Paul's flesh for the benefit of Christ's Body, the Church. This is a tremendous difference from all other man centered versions.

No Biblical error. Paul did not make a mistake either - it was simply that it did not occur to the translators, except to Msgr. Straubinger, that all that  is Christ and of Christ was,  is and will ever be perfect and no man can even think of making up something that Christ lacked, (except, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Moon (4)   claim to be making up Christ's incomplete mission). But that is another story altogether; a story well covered in False Dawn (5)

Many, many other apparent errors could be brought to light but we are only trying to show one or two examples of each category.


(c) The Holy Scriptures show only "window shots" of events that were continually evolving.

There are Biblical passages where we may find outright (apparent) contradictions and those are used in many cases to prove that the Holy Scriptures cannot be trusted. What is being ignored is that the events that we are reading about are on-going. One individual may say "yes" in one of the Gospels and then say "no" in another of the Gospels. Was the time exactly the same? No. You may agree with us now and ten minutes later you may not - that does not show incoherence, that show that the circumstances were different ten minutes apart.


An example of such - "window shot" -  problem

Luke 23: 39-42

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.  But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?    And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.  And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. - King James Version

Matthew 27:38 - 44

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.  And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,....
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.  He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.  The thieves also, which were crucified with him, "cast the same in his teeth" ["cast the same in his teeth"  means that they were joining in  the insults.] - King James Version

Incoherence? No. Both thieves could have been indeed mocking Him as we read in Matthew 27:38-44 until one of them was awe struck by Jesus' demeanor, even in such condition, and had a conversion upon which he then did say what we read in Luke 23: 39-42.

A recent and close example: One "instant" before a man's flash-like conversion, he may have been seeking ways to force a decadent life upon himself, without being aware of what was about to happen. In the instant after the flash-like conversion, what he had been seeking was no longer important or of interest.  It was immediately discarded since his priorities had been instantaneously changed. If one would report the "instant before" and the "instant after" there would appear to be total incoherence, unless one knew what happened in between.

As the Biblical example shown before - there are many more situations in which the only reflect a report at two different "windows of time" and do not necessarily reflect errors in the Holy Scriptures.

(d)  The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures hinges on the social and religious customs of the area and the time in question.

To translate ancient texts one must understand the social and religious customs of the time in question lest the translation of the Word of God becomes a vehicle of confusion.

An example of the consequences of ignoring customs at the time in question

Luke 17: 28-36

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.   Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. ....

[after setting the Sodom and Gomorrah backdrop we continue to read]

I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.  Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.   Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. - King James Version

This passage has obviously given headaches to many non-spiritual translators and shepherds. We could see this passage being utilized for other purposes since a question would come up (or be brought up) - without a doubt - regarding the two men in a bed: Obviously one was in the "wrong position" and was left but the other was in the "right position" and was taken. The reader may use his/her imagination to see how much damage could be squeezed out of this monumental error.

Dr. Straubinger was the only one that we found (amongst several versions of the New Testament in five languages) that had the correct translation:

I tell you, that night there will be two men reclining at the same table: one would be taken.... etc.

"Elementary, my dear Watson" - as Sherlock Homes would say. There were more like very low platforms and men reclined by them while eating the food placed on those low platforms.

Someone mistranslated "reclining" to "lying" while ignoring the fact that it was a food related scene [women would be grinding grain (logically in the kitchen) and men working (cultivating) in the field]. The was "bed" was added because there is in a bed where one normally reclines these days and a major error appeared in most versions of the New Testament.

Once again, errors of this type abound from the many non spiritual and culturally impoverished translators.

(e) Many other religious texts which become "Holy Reference Points" for the faithful may be wrong (and lead to spiritual errors) because:

(i)  it is convenient to some religious institution; or (ii) the popular passions decide to make it so; or (iii) incorrect translations (some of which are downright wrong - to the extent of directly contradicting the version of the Word of God that the faithful assume is authoritative); or (iv) the original Greek texts of the New Testament were lost long ago - even before St. Jerome translated copies of them into Latin.


(i), (ii) and (iii) As examples we will just cite a few statements without categorizing them. The reader should be able to do so on his/her own.

Example No. 1: In Volume II (Lenten Season) of the Liturgy of the Hours,  Page 976, in Second Reading in a Treatise by St. Basil we read in the last sentence that  "---we become God". 

We Comment: This is troubling because this sounds like New Age (6) philosophy.  We find the same phrase in the Portuguese Version - Page 898. Thus it is not an error of translation into English. Unfortunately we find such aberrations that in too many accepted and approved religious texts. Although man was created in the image of God, man will never become a God.

Example No. 2:  "Through the intercession of Mary many souls are in Paradise.... for God has entrusted Her with the keys and treasures of  the Heavenly Kingdom." St. Thomas Aquinas (7)

We Comment:  The Catholic Church teaches that it is the Successor of Peter who has the Keys of the Heavenly Kingdom. Where is the coherence?

Example No. 3: Speaking of Israel: "What is your iniquity, O daughter of Jacob, that your chastisement is so severe? You have dishonored the King and the King's Son, you shameless one, you harlot!" St. Ephrem (7)

Example No. 4: "The Jews wander over the entire earth, their backs bent and their eyes cast downward, forever calling to our minds the curse they carry with them." St. Augustine  (7)

We Comment on both of the above:  Isn't a fundamental Christian teaching:  "..forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us..."?  (8)  Such statements would render Sts. Ephren and Augustine anti-Christians.

Example No. 5: "They who are not baptized cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven." Ven. Louis of Granada  (7)

We Comment: If that were true, imagine the fate of those who are to blame for a failed Evangelization effort and the resulting lack of universal conversion.

Example No. 6: "God cannot do that which is against the faith. He cannot do what is against the truth." St. Ambrose  (7)

We Comment: Now it seems that the Faith sets the limits for God or that the Faith is as perfect as God. St. Ambrose seems a bit confused or, was it a translation error?

Example No. 7: "Crucifiers of Christ ought to be held in continual subjection." Pope Innocent III  (7)

We Comment: Did not Jesus say from the Cross: "Father, forgive them for the do not know what they do"?

Example No. 8: "He who does not believe contracts an incurable sin; for by his disbelief he dares to assert that God is either impotent or a liar." St. John Chrysostom  (7)

We Comment: To contract a disease one has to be infected by someone. In this case "someone" are those who through poor examples and a failed Evangelization effort have led many away from the True Faith. Therefore, from the condition of the world today, if we are to apply St. John Chrysostom's rule to the Church Administration, we can confirm our evaluation of them: They have been and are ill - very, very ill.

Amongst the many less than fortunate statements made by men and women honored by the Roman Catholic Church, there are also many true gems. This is just another example of the absolute need for theological coherence to rule.


(iv) The original Greek texts upon which the New Testament are based were lost long ago. This will be covered in Part II of this document - but "dark" as it may appear, it has a "happy and faith building conclusion".


IN CONCLUSION

Biblical literalism or symbolism? It is both; it just depends on the circumstances. With an intimate relationship with God we should be able to sail through life with a minimum of errors and difficulties. Let us remember the admonishment from Our Lord Jesus Christ:


"For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect." [Matthew 24: 24]



NOTES____________________________________

(1) Part II of Biblical Literalism or Symbolism
(2) Is it Creation Vs Evolution or is it Evolution Vs Creation? - Part I and Part II
(3) The Foundation of the Faith Must Be God
(4) Mr. And Mrs. Moon of the Unification Church Crowned Joint Messiah
(5)  False Dawn -  The United Religions Initiative, Globalism, and the Quest for a One-World Religion
(6)  An Extensive Expose of the New Age Movement
(7)  The Apostolic Digest - Complete and Final Edition - 1987
(8) Gospel of Mark 11: 25-26  Our Covenant With God

All Documents of This Series

The Time Line of the Creation Story

Biblical Literalism - Part I
Biblical Literalism - Part II

Creation vs Evolution - Part I
Creation vs Evolution - Part II

The Book of Enoch
The Selection of the Elect

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