It’s impossible to tell what the New Testament means if you don’t know what it says.Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities
When I was in college (back when there were only four TV channels, and one of those was PBS), there was this story circulating that twenty, forty, a hundred or a thousand monks had all separately translated the Bible into what became the King James Version (KJV), and that all of them came up with exactly the same text. This was to counteract the argument against Biblical literalism when the “literal” book you were holding was the KJV. For that to happen, the argument went, the process had to be divinely inspired.
One of the differences between then and now is that this stuff is now a lot easier to look up. Plus, with archaeologic findings from the past 60 years or so, there is more known about the early history of the New Testament.
Among other things, these early manuscripts are significant for showing that the books of the New Testament were not copied with the assiduous care you might think or hope for. In fact, the earliest copyists appear to have been untrained and relatively unsuited to the tasks; they made lots of mistakes, and these mistakes were themselves then copied by subsequent copyists (who had only the mistake-ridden copies to reproduce) down into the Middle Ages.Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities
(Just now, when typing the above short quote, I made at least three mistakes the first time through, and I’m typing not doing calligraphy!)
Augustine, before he was Saint Augustine, reported that he was converted to Christianity while standing in a garden and hearing the words “Pick it up and read it, pick it up and read it” (more here). This inspired him to read the New Testament and he became one of history’s leading Christian theologians. But, what version did he read? And how much was he influenced by his mother, who was herself later declared a saint?
If we recognize that the Gospel is a divinely inspired but still man-made story, then we can open ourselves up to its deeper truths.
TAKE AWAY: The best we can do to understand the Gospel is to try to integrate tradition with modern scholarship and one’s own insights. Don’t be bullied by words like heresy — look to your own connection with God for answers.
Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Byzantinischer_Maler_des_10._Jahrhunderts_001.jpg