Are these Really the Words of Jesus?

In the first century most information was not recorded, it was reported orally.  Jesus taught orally, the disciples listened, remembered, and eventually wrote down what he said. The problem is obvious, how do we know if the disciples accurately recorded the words of Jesus many years after they were spoken?  For example, compare Matthew 16:13 with Mark 8:27and Luke 9:18:  What does Jesus say? “who do the people / crowds say that I / Son of Man is?”

Two issues are involved.  First, should we argue for the “exact words” of Jesus in the first place, and second, how can we determine whether the words of Jesus are in fact accurate reflections of what he taught to his disciples and the crowds?  I will discuss the second question in the next post, but for now, how can we be sure that the words of Jesus as we have them in the text could be what Jesus actually said?  Essentially, there are three options for the Words of Jesus.

  • The gospels are the exact words of Jesus.  In the modern world, we expect newspapers to record exactly what someone says.  If not, the person quoted will likely complain that they were mis-quoted. In fact, the presence of quote marks is an indication in the modern world that the words between the quote are the exact words that were said.
  • The word of Jesus in the gospels are fabrications of the early church.  The early believers created sayings for Jesus to meet needs in their own communities.  The sayings that were created usually are the claims that Jesus makes to be the Messiah or to be God.  The gospel writers are using “creative license” to make Jesus claim the things that the church came to believe about him.  This is the position of the Jesus Seminar scholars.
  • The words of Jesus accurately reflect the things that Jesus said, but likely not the exact words in every case.  The gospel writers accurately give the gist of the teachings of Jesus.  This position understands that in the oral period there were possible adaptations and changes made to the sayings of Jesus, but that the changes were not as radical as the second position states.  In fact, the proof that the gospel writers did not create sayings is found in Luke 1:1-4 – Luke bases his gospel on the reports and teachings of eyewitnesses to the events.

Scholarship usually uses the terms Ipsissima Vox versus  Ipsissima VerbaVox is the “very voice” of Jesus, while verba refers to the “very words” of Jesus.  The gospels record the voice of Jesus rather than his exact words.  Why is this so?

First, Jesus likely taught in Aramaic, the common language of the first century Jew.  When addressing a crowd of Jews in a synagogue, Aramaic would have been the only language he could have used.  The text of the New Testament is in Greek, implying that the words of Jesus have been translated from their Jewish / Aramaic context into the Greek  language.

Second, Jesus is said to have spoken for hours to attentive audiences (Mark 6:34-36.)  The longest speeches in the Gospels would only take a few minute to read (Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse, for example).  The writers are clearly giving us the teaching of Jesus in a summary fashion.

Third, It is very likely that Jesus taught very similar things in different places.  Many in the crowds would not have traveled with him, the theme of the Kingdom of God and the ethical demands of the Kingdom would be repeated in many different settings in similar, although different ways.  Which set of sayings does Matthew record?

In the end, I think we ought to treat the words of Jesus in the gospels the same way that we would treat the words of any ancient speech.  No ancient writer claimed to have written word for word what was said by a historical character.  In the ancient world, this was impossible and not expected as it is in the modern world.  A writer like Thucydides knew that he did not have the exact words of the famous speeches in his history, but he was confident he had the gist of what was said.

A question remains for the evangelical Christian:  Is “the gist of the words of Jesus” good enough?

30 thoughts on “Are these Really the Words of Jesus?

  1. We do not have enough data on a Jesus character to make an conclusions at this point. It is not even clear yet if a historical Jesus existed. Right now what we have is speculation. The real question is will we ever find more data that will allow use to become more clear.

    I have begun to accumulate data on the subject at;

    I am happy to talk with others that are also interested in this topic.


  2. I’m ok with the gist of Jesus’ words being recorded in the scripture, and not the exact words that he said. In my opinion, it’s almost ridiculous to argue that the exact words, in their entirety, were recorded and are what we read in the Bible now. To argue that the exact words were recorded from a teaching in that era, without any way of recording outside of being hand written, is hard for me to believe.
    One thing we, as evangelical Christians, have to understand is that the writers of the gospels were divinely inspired as they recorded the teachings of Jesus. I’m taken back to 2 Timothy 3:16 so often as I keep reading this book, and keep involved in discussion like this. As an evangelical Christian, I have to fall back on the simple truth that “All scripture is God breathed.” Whether this is an historical account from Moses, a letter from Paul, or an account of one of Jesus’ sermons, the truth remains the same.
    Another thing that I was reminded of when reading, was of my own note taking in a lecture, or a sermon. I don’t come anywhere near to copying verbatim what is being taught or preached. Instead, I take notes on the main points, parts that resonate with my own life, important aspects, or parts that the teacher/preacher points out as important. I think that we should view the gospel accounts of Jesus in the same way. The writers were recording the most important aspects, the points that Jesus was really trying to make, and the truths that resonated within their lives.

    • I agree with you David. There was one time that I was very curious about the fact that just regular humans were the ones writing the Bible. and I had some conversations with people about it, and was reminded of those verses that talk about how scripture is God breathed. I believe that when these men were writing the gospels and recalling the times they heard Jesus speak or the events they had witness to describe, God put into their hearts and minds the things to put down. Like you said, when I listen to a lecture or something, I do not copy word for word. and later on in tests or when I have to recall the information I often times just have the most important topics pop into my head.

    • I really like what you’re saying here Dave! And I really like the example you give, of you taking notes on a sermon. You don’t get the exact words, but you get the “gist” of what the speaker is trying to say through his main points. I also agree with your statement that every Scripture is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) I also want to point out a verse that also deals with the words of Jesus. It’s Luke 21:33 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” I have a feeling that this statement made by Jesus was one of those major points that Luke’s resources didn’t want to mess up.
      I also believe that the first readers of this book would have also argued this book if it was completely wrong. I mean, the first readers were also around when Jesus was around, so they would have been a good critiques of what the writers for the Gospels have to say.
      Also, what about all of the Old Testament that Jesus quotes, according to the writers. They obviously didn’t miss those major points in Jesus’ speeches. I have a feeling that if they were able to remember those quotes of the OT then they are going to be right on track with what Jesus meant when He was here on earth.

      • Interesting. I think that this all is right, and that is how we should approach the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God” [ESV]. HOWEVER, this authority of Scriptures is coming from a faith ALONE standpoint. Yeah, from this worldview, we see that all scripture is God breathed, all scripture is profitable. This means that through the summary of the authors in regards to Jesus’ sermons, we take that as the “voice of God” [plong]. “No ancient writer claimed to have written word for word what was said by a historical character. In the ancient world, this was impossible and not expected as it is in the modern world. ” [plong] This seems like it was essential to understanding this discussion. Oral tradition had worked [and still works] for years past, and I would believe that people would continue to be extremely good at the “trade” because that was all that they knew. It wasn’t a “if I don’t record this I may lose this information forever” but it was a part of who they were, just as it is for us to write things down now so we don’t forget [oral traditions would be extremely difficult in this day and age I think, because of the reality that we can type word for word and have other things remember a saying or sermon rather than us having to remember]. Fundamentals in ANY sport are still the same, if not extremely similar because it is what works in the game [basketball shot form, tennis strokes].

        One of the challenging questions that come from this discussion is…aside from the standpoint of faith, do we have really have ANY certainty that the scriptures were the EXACT teachings of Jesus? If I may put it into context – a nonbeliever trying to see if Jesus is real and existed, etc… My whole point in asking this question is that maybe we try and prove Jesus through formula and facts… when maybe there just aren’t enough facts aside from the faith? I don’t know… I guess the internet is as good as any place to try and sort these questions out.

  3. The conveyance of truth was not left to merely the whims and potential faulty recollection of the New Testament writers. Keep in mind the promise of Christ to his disciples in the last hours of his life:
    “…When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” John 16:13f
    “…Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Pet 1:21
    Ultimately, the substance underlying each word of the recorded message must contain the author’s intended meaning, and so also our interpretation.

    • I have to agree that the words of Jesus in the gospels are merely the gist of what Jesus said. Not only does this mean that each author of the gospels can write what they believe Jesus to have said in summary, but also that each author gave his perspective of what Jesus preached. However, to say that this is the “gist” of what He was saying seems to downplay the words’ authority. They are merely the ideas God planned to convey to His people. This is the fact that Scripture is God breathed, not necessarily the words themselves, but the entirety of Scripture. It is also obvious that they cannot be exact words, because they would be in conflict with one another and it seems, as David said, ridiculous to argue. Jesus said what He wanted, and, through God’s sovereignty, the words were recorded exactly the way they were supposed to be. This is the only conclusion we can make.

      • I agree with what you are Joe about the words of Jesus in the gospels are merely the gist of what Jesus said. The authors writing Jesus’ words would have to be from their own perspective. I am very positive that we can trust the writers of the gospel to accurately write the words of Jesus, even if they are not the exact words of Jesus. It is how God chose to give us the words of His Son. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed.” We have to have faith that these words, even though they not be the exact word of Christ, that they are Words that we can all learn and grow from.

  4. I love the comments made so far. There is some really good scripture being quoted in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:21. Quoting these two passages does give us the sense of completion that we have concerning Jesus’ words. We are not only relying on man’s recollection and oral tradition, but we also have the Holy Spirit guiding the thoughts and words of the gospel writers.

    In addition to this, I do not know if the word “gist” gives an accurate perception of what the gospel writers knew of Jesus’ words. Today we look at quotations and we automatically know that what will follow are the exact words that were spoken out of the mouth of the person quoted. However, in biblical times, when someone is “quoted” this was not the case. In the biblical times when you quote someone you get the meaning that he is saying and that is his quote. It did not matter that you got word for word verbatim. So for the authors to get the meaning that Jesus was saying and quoting him, they have given us more than enough for our faith.

  5. I struggle with the word “gist” especially when you combine that with “the words of Jesus.” I echo what Joe said, “to say that this is the “gist” of what He was saying seems to downplay the words’ authority.” In my mind, the word gist does just that.

    Though, I recognize the importance of 2 Timothy 3:16 as others have in this discussion. If the “gist” of what Jesus actually said, was inspired in the writings of the New Testament it seems they are the words God choose to get across to us through the gospel writers. Luke 1:1-4 speaks to the fact that Luke took great care in writing his gospel account. How am I to question what was recorded in the Word whether it was the vox or verba of the Lord after looking at 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Does it even matter after thinking on such a passage? Paul says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). The scriptures make us wise for salvation through faith period.

    I do though understand how the modern reader has trouble with the words of Jesus being more of the Ipsissima Vox than the Ipsissima Verba of Jesus. All throughout high school I lived and breathed journalism and it has given me quite a framework for the importance of word for word quotes. A printed or published story in our day is far less significant if it does not have direct quotes and perspective from the subject of discussion. I am one of those people who will listen to sermons or speakers and record word for word what they say when they say something that catches my attention. I have included all of this to say, I recognize the struggle of modern readers of the gospel.

  6. @Anna “I lived and breathed journalism and it has given me quite a framework for the importance of word for word quotes.”

    This is a good analogy. Do you think there was anyone in the ancient world who would share your view of the importance of quotes? As it turns out, no one had a modern view of journalistic integrity as we know it today, but to create ideas and put them into the mouth of a character in a document claiming to be historical (like Luke) would not have been accepted either.

    I guess the idea of Ips Verba tries to avoid the anachronism of modern journalism and the idea of total creation on the part of the gospel writers.

    • I have a heard time thinking about a world where journalist integrity as we know it today was unheard of. It makes me wonder what one witnessing the stories of the gospel would write down or remember and pass down. I feel like it would be a little like the game telephone. The story changes completely in a matter of a few retellings. The way that God inspired the gospel writers is so interesting to me (2 Timothy 3:16; Luke 1:1-4). I have never taken the time to think about it so much as I have with this class. I enjoy the discussion to say the least.

  7. I really agree with what Anna said about how using the word gist, kind of makes the words seem less meaningful. It is almost like saying, “well you get the basic idea…whatever!”
    I can see the ideas of each of the viewpoints on the words of Jesus. Firstly that they are word for word and lastly that they are the overall theme of what Jesus was teaching. I am having a hard time with the second idea though of what might be one of the options of Jesus’ words. Does it mean that the writers wrote what they wanted to hear? That they just wrote down what they wanted to be taught?
    I think it is an interesting argument. Some people chose only to believe things that they are 100% sure is quoted correctly. For me, an evangelical Christian, I chose to cherish the Word of God and take the words that are written to heart. I also am faithful that the words that are in my Bible today are exactly the words God wanted me to read, and that is good enough for me! 🙂

    • I agree with Anna said about the word “gist” it almost seems like less of a summary, and more of just a couple sentences describing the basic idea of what Jesus was teaching. I don’t think that the “gist” is enough, but it’s what we have and all we have so we can’t do much about it. I don’t think that the authors took what points they liked the most and then threw it together, I believe it was a delicate process, and even though it would have been nice to know the exact words Jesus said to his disciples while preaching I know that there is a reason as to why what is in the Gospels is there.

  8. After reading what David had to say, I definitely agree with what he said. The scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16 “all scripture is God breathed.” is all I can think about. Yes, it is hard to fathom how these writers wrote down every word accurately that Jesus said. I think this plays a huge part into our faith, we all know that God did not just choose random people to write his Holy word, he knew who he wanted to write before they were even born. I find myself getting caught off guard by some of these post, not going to lie! I never think about if what Jesus said (written in the Bible) was what he REALLy said. Going back to the point I said earlier, it is a faith thing. Unfortunately, trying to figure out historical Jesus and faith Jesus is really hard for me. I would rather just take the Bible as is and not even look deeply into, but I am finding out God wants me to stretch my knowledge and learn as much as i can about him!

  9. I would concure with Anna, and Joey.
    When I hear the term gist, I think back to mobster movies, where a couple of thugs beat up an individual who owes money. After the assault they say that they want their money, or… (and they pound on their own fists), and say you get the “gist!”
    All you know is something bad will happen but you don’t know exactly.

    I don’t want the gist of what Jesus is saying, I want the actual words. If i was misquoted at any point in my life, I would be quite perterbed.

    It feels as if the person who is taking you words and giving you the gist, or misquoting you didn’t even care about what was really said. For me that is why I choose to appreciate the words of Jesus, and believe that what he said is true.

  10. I find myself in agreement with what is being said in these comments. When first reading through the blog, I seriously found myself rolling my eyes. I am getting tired of hearing how people argue over things of what I feel, have little to no significance to having a saving knowledge of Christ and growing in relationship with him. I feel that sometimes these arguments get a little out of hand. Why does it matter if these are the exact words of Jesus or not. Like previously stated in several replies, the Scriptures were God-breathed, and God-inspired according to 2 Tim. 3:16, what else do we need to know?
    I believe that the sayings of Jesus are not necessarily word for word, but are accurate enough so that we have a good understanding of what Jesus did say. As I was reading in Luke 1:1-4, I saw that in verse 2, in reference to the oral stories that have been passed along, Luke wrote, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” This goes to show that not all of what is written is accurate. I really like how Joey put it, “For me, an evangelical Christian, I chose to cherish the Word of God and take the words that are written to heart. I also am faithful that the words that are in my Bible today are exactly the words God wanted me to read, and that is good enough for me!” There is no more that I need to know about this topic, for I know and believe that I am reading God’s words.

  11. I believe that the third example is more fitting in this situation. Like was said Jesus would speak to a group of people for hours and there is nothing that was recorded about him doing so. So, either the writters believed that the speeches were too long to include so they left them out or they wrote down what they believed was the “gist” of the message. Also there is how Jesus most likely spoke and taught in a different language then that which was recorded. This could have conflicts when translating. Some languages do not have exact words when you translate which would make it hard to have the “exact” words. With all of these things it makes me believe that it would be hard to have the exact words that were spoken, but I believe that the authors remebered and recorded what Jesus was saying to the people.

  12. The question of whether or not Jesus’ exact words are recorded in the Gospels is a very thought provoking one to say the least. When I was reading Luke, I actually was thinking about whose words are actually found in the first 4 chapters. For example Luke 1 has a song from Mary and another from Zechariah. It makes me wonder if either of these were their exact words or if Luke summarized the songs. Mary’s song is quite similar to that of Hannah’s song found in 1 Samuel 2. It makes me wonder if Luke somehow heard Mary’s song or if he summarized Hannah’s song after orally hearing the similarities.
    I do not think there is any way the very words of Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. One of the reasons I believe this is because, I don’t think Luke knew Jesus personally. I also agree with David because if everything was hand written or orally past down it would be pretty difficult to get every word to match up. Like P. Long said in his post, a third reason I believe Jesus’ words were summarized is the fact that with all the long speeches given by Jesus, all of it was probably not included (Sermon on the Mount). I think that the words of Jesus are indeed summarized like David’s notes can be. In my opinion, the summarized version of Jesus’ words is good enough. The main points were clearly communicated by each of the authors according to their styles and opinions. Each writer has their ways of telling the Gospel. I think Blomberg gets that point across the best by saying, “… A Gospel writer connects his episodes merely with “ands” or “buts”… (260).

  13. Factual evidence indeed is hard to gather when everything is presented orally. The narrative of Christ is a vital tool in Christian faith. If this is skewed by miswritten text or editing, beliefs may be completely altered. Faith is of large importance in Christianity, but what does one hold to be completely true in the Gospels? Is this something automatically believed because it is written in the Bible? Brent posted about the way information was gathered in biblical times. He stated: “When you quote someone you get the meaning that he is saying and that is his quote.” Information about Christ and what was said has been presented in the Gospels. When reviewing the Gospels one can find no controversy in what has been said. The writters may have translated quotes differently, but the meaning is the same. If four different writters can gather these oral messages and write so similarly to one another, how can this not be true?

  14. I agree with what mostly everyone is saying how it’s okay if it’s just the gist of things because again what David and Katelynd said:2 Timothy 3:16- “all scripture is God-breathed..”. There might be a few things left out but I’m sure that the most important imformation is in there. I don’t think the writers would leave anything out that was important. I really like what Katelynd said about it being a faith and trust thing. I believe thats where some of our faith comes from-knowing and believing that all the scripture is there and it doesn’t matter if it’s just the gist because that’s what people usually pull out from scritpure anyway. I liked how Kyle brought back the statement that Jesus talked for hours. There is no way that writers will be able to capture everything that He siad and to have it accurately.

  15. Of the possible scenarios listed above for the writings of Jesus there is no doubt that the early church did not make up or modify the words of Christ. If the early Christians would have made up the sayings, they would have made them line up word for word in the books. The early church would have most likely paraphased the sayings of Jesus to get what they wanted to say out of them but, it does not seem as though the words are paraphased.
    I believe that the word of God is totally accurate in all ways. First off, “no [archaeology] discovery has ever disproved a biblical reference” (Lee Strobel 367). Also I believe that there was not enough time for legends to develop between the time Jesus was on earth and the time the gospels were written down.

    Stoble, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. Print.

    • Lee Strobel, FYI. I would point out that if something like Q could be shown to exist, it would be a “literary artifact” which stands between the events and the final recording of those events. At the very least the Sayings Source would be an early set-form of Jesus’ words, making the “Case for Christ” even more secure.

  16. After reading the post and looking over some of the entries, most people have responded with scripture from 2tim3:16, and 1 Peter 1:21 as their main proof text for the authority of Scripture, and the Word inspired by the Spirit. Others have also commented on the word “gist,” however when I first encountered this subject it was a very hard thing for me to understand. There was a point in my walk in the faith where I thought the NIV was the only translation ever made, I had no idea all the different translations even excited, and at the time I had no historical background for the text of Scripture. The idea that the words in the bible had been passed through several languages and translated countless times made me sick to my stomach (I didn’t understand it then). At the time ‘the exact words’ and the ‘exact truth’ seemed to be all that I longed for. However, I think this is an important verse to add Rom 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Just like how in Luke 1:1-4, Luke uses personal testimony, The Word of Christ has had the power to change my life. My main point here is that regardless if Christ teachings were summarized in the writers own words, the message is still divine and has authority within itself, and I can attest to this because the very Word of God has changed me!

  17. I think Joe makes some good points in his post. Even if the words of Jesus in scripture are the “gist” of what he was saying, it still has the power to change lives and speak to people’s hearts and minds. Many people have used 2 Timothy 3:16 in their posts, so I figured I would jump on the band wagon. I believe that this verse doesn’t necessarily tell us whether or not the words in the bible are direct quotes or summaries, but it does tell us that the words found in there are God-inspired. So if you are a Christian and believe that 2 Timothy 3:16 is true, and you believe that scripture cannot contradict scripture, we still don’t know whether they are direct quotes or not, but we can know that what is contained in the bible is truth.

  18. To P Long’s question, “Is ‘the gist of the words of Jesus’ good enough?” I would say yes they are. If we believe in God’s control and involvement in the compiling and writing of the scriptures than how can it not be? If it’s good enough for God it’s good enough for me! Yes, it might make me feel uncomfortable to think that Jesus’ words were not recorded exactly, but if the all powerful God chose to let it be that way, then He had good reason for it. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” This seems to be an issue of if we believe that this is truly the word of God, because if we truly do than we must also believe it was written and constructed the correct way, the best way for God’s plan and purpose (Romans 11:34).

  19. I am completely okay with the “gist” of the words of Jesus. Like David, I am reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16 which speaks about how the scriptures is inspired by God and by God alone. They may be written by man.. but man was most definitely inspired by God.Jesus had numerous teachings and when he taught, his disciples listened and took notes. There is no way they recored the exact words of Jesus using nothing more than a hand to write everything down. Instead, they recored the main ideas. When I listen to a sermon by my pastor I listen very well and take not only of his main points and some things I can take an apply to my life. I come no where near copying everything word for word.

  20. This is pretty solid when it comes to scriptural support (the postings). I agree with what has been said but if you want to approach this from outside of scripture, how would you do it?

    First off, you need to look at the context of the summaries that the disciples are writing from. In many instances, Jesus is speaking to large crowds of people. If the disciples were in cahoots with each other and decided to summarize fake sermons or slant teaching to manipulate them, the multitudes of people who heard Jesus’ teachings would be all over their false writings immediately. This fact alone supports the textual accuracy of their summations. However, you could also point to the tendency of the day towards oral traditions. We learned that the oral law (passing of the Torah by way of mouth) became extremely common and memorization was key. It is possible, maybe even probable, that the disciples had committed to memory the teachings of Jesus. Now I know in my life, when studying for a test or writing a paper, I have all the information I need and then some. My task at that point is to summarize what i need to convey in a concise and effective manner. It is not acceptable or even convenient to write down verbatim what i know. Instead, I hit on all the key points that I need conveyed. This is one very possible method that the disciples used. At the very least, it makes the most sense to me…

  21. As I already posted on the discussion post concerning Q, the issue of inspiration, I won’t belabor the point by repeating myself. However, inspiration and preservation (the latter almost more important as it seems irrelevant if text was inspired if it ended up being corrupted and mistranslated) are precisely at issue here. There can be no doubt that translations say different things, even to the point of writing in ebonics or southern hillbilly dialect. That there have been translations is inevitable as pointed out by P Long both from Aramaic speech to Greek and then to English. Add in the changes that occur in any language through time and without assuming a position of word-for-word preservation, it is impossible to ignore that changes are inevitable and perhaps even profound.

    Now, all of this can be “answered” by falling back on the issue of inspiration, and this has been done repeatedly in the comments by quoting II Timothy 3:16-17. Beside the difficulty of having to first assume the word-for-word preservation of this text in order to use it to support the assumption (circularity at its finest), there’s a severe logical problem if this verse is taken in context. Paul is writing to Timothy and exhorting him to remember that “from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures” (v. 15). Nothing here or in the chapter indicates that Paul thought this letter to Timothy was part of scripture. At best the verse can be used to indicate that there were some writings out there that Paul and Timothy considered scripture, but at no point is Paul looking at himself as a source. That what Timothy and Paul knew to be considered scripture is undoubtedly different than what modern believers take to be “the bible.” Even a rudimentary understanding of the process involved in determining what was and what was not to be included in what became known as “the bible” indicates a great degree of politicking and involves people who’s beliefs protestants certainly wouldn’t agree with.

    Granted, all this can be “solved” by invoking an assumed position of inspiration. But then comes the problem of just what precisely is inspired and what is not. The problem of accepting that “the gist” was correctly translated and handed down is the very nebulous nature of what “the gist” means. For we aren’t talking about chicken recipes or even Shakespeare, where errors/changes from the original really don’t affect anybody except perhaps in giving indigestion and causing headaches in thespians. The issue here is eternal salvation of the immortal soul, for which error in getting things right means eternity in torment. With all the knowledge we know concerning the deep problems with human memory, the changes involved in oral transmission and the effects of socialization in making decisions, relying on “the gist” seems not only problematic but dangerous. The joke often said of Islam is that scholars mistranslated a word and instead of virgins, it means raisins. Humorous to be sure, but corollaries for Christianity should cause no small amount of sweat on the brow.

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