XFiles: What about the New Testament?

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

So far, Geisler and Turek have spent chapter 14 trying to prove that Jesus thought the Old Testament was infallible and inerrant (even though it doesn’t quite match the facts of history and even though Christians themselves have largely abandoned the moral standards set by Moses and friends). But what about the New Testament? Can G&T show, from the Bible, that Jesus believed the authority of the New Testament was equal to that of the old?

Jesus taught that the Old Testament is inerrant, but what could he say about the New Testament? After all, it was not written until after the end of Christ’s earthly life.

While Jesus confirmed the Old Testament, he promised the New Testament. He said the New Testament would come through his apostles because the Holy Spirit would remind them what Jesus had said and would lead them into “all truth.”

Gotta love the way they tiptoe around the fact that “the end of Christ’s earthly life” pretty much ended his personal teaching and authority. It’s almost like he was, you know, dead or something. Pretty strange behavior for someone who allegedly loved us so much that he was willing to die for us so that we could be together forever (or until the end of 40 days, whichever came first).

But what about Jesus “promising” the New Testament? Does the Bible really say what Geisler and Turek say it says? And why would God send a Holy Spirit instead of a loving Savior, to be our leader and teacher?

Let’s look at the two passages that Geisler and Turek offer as documentation for their claim that Jesus promised us a New Testament canon, in John 14 and John 16:

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

You might notice, from these two passages, that there is nothing whatsoever in what Jesus actually said that expresses the idea “You guys will write the New Testament, and it will be the ultimate and only infallible authority for Christian faith and practice.” That particular idea was expressed, retroactively, by Martin Luther a millennium and a half later.

What Geisler and Turek are trying to pull here is the old Bible teacher’s trick of attaching extrabiblical doctrines to specific texts by the handy expedient of simply reading a passage of Scripture, then saying, “in other words, the Bible tells us that…” and then insert whatever dogma you want people to think of as scriptural. It’s a remarkably effective approach, because it’s easier for your followers to simply take your word for it than to actually parse out what the text is really saying.

Don’t believe me? Watch it in action. Here is what Geisler and Turek say, after quoting the above two passages.

In other words, Jesus is promising his apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them to author what we now know as the New Testament. Paul would later echo this teaching of Jesus by asserting that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph.2:20). The early church recognized this as well because they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).

The reason Geisler and Turek have to use “other words” is because the Lutheran doctrines they are attaching to these passages are not actually written in the passages themselves. That is, these sola scriptura dogmas are not a mere paraphrase of the original NT text, they are literally other words—ideas that John did not record Jesus as having expressed. We can see this by comparing Geisler and Turek’s Protestantized interpretation of John 14 and 16 with the interpretation these passages had before the Reformation.

The traditional/historical interpretation of these passages was that Jesus was indicating that special inspiration and authority would pass on to living people, i.e. the apostles themselves. There is nothing in this passage about writing anything down, or about collecting various apostolic (or nearly apostolic) documents, and winnowing through them to discover, hundreds of years later, which had genuine apostolic authority, thus leading a gathering of non-apostles to officially declare, as sacred Church canon, that there was now a New Testament. That’s the connection between apostolic authority and the New Testament, but Jesus makes no mention of any of it (nor does Paul, for that matter).

If you ask Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox Christians, or any of the other non-Protestant branches of the Christian faith, they will tell you that Jesus’ words were fulfilled exactly as he spoke them: the authority passed on to living, mortal men, who then passed it on to their successors, just as Paul taught in 2 Tim. 2:2. The writings of these men also possessed authority, as mentioned in 2 Thess. 1:15, but it was a derived authority, an authority based on the men who wrote it, not on any inherent status as a “New Testament.” It was certainly no more authoritative than the spoken tradition Paul recommended to the Thessalonians.

We’re not going to get into whether the Catholics or Protestants were right (since they’re both wrong), but it’s worth noticing that in this case, Geisler and Turek are rather blatantly inserting Protestant dogmas into a text where no such ideas are actually written down. Jesus, according to the text, is merely declaring that living people will have some kind of extra inspiration. He says nothing at all about the significant, additional steps that need to be taken in order to take that authority away from living, thinking people and restrict it to a fixed document that people can interpret according to whatever seems right in their own eyes.

But there’s a much deeper and more significant issue here, and one that exposes a very fundamental inconsistency in the Christian Gospel. According to post-Nicene Christian theology, the Gospel is referring to the Trinity when it says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. In other words, Jesus is saying that one member of the Trinity, who is fully divine, is going to be taken away and replaced by another member of the Trinity, who is also fully divine.

Does anything about that strike you as odd?

Why would Jesus, being God, need to be taken away from us? Is it because the presence of God would be a problem somehow? But if that’s the case, why replace him with a Person who was just as divine as the Person who had to leave because he was God? Wouldn’t that still cause the same problem? And if it does not cause the same problems, is that not because this other God Person failed to show up in the sense that He was intended to appear?

What we have here is a fundamental and somewhat subtle issue that arises from the fact that Christianity originally evolved as a psychological denial of Jesus’ death. Common post-traumatic hallucinations can only go so far in convincing people that “he’s not really dead.” Some excuse must be made for the fact that he no longer shows up in real life, an excuse that takes the form of assuming that there must be some deep and inscrutable reason why he has to go away.

In other words, we don’t start with some solid, reasonable, verifiable fact that leads logically to the necessity of Jesus going away. We start with the solid, verifiable fact of Jesus’ consistent and universal absence, which creates the psychological necessity for some kind of reason for his absence. Hence we have John reporting that Jesus “revealed” that the Holy Spirit could not come unless the Son departed.

Logically it doesn’t make any sense at all. What, did they have a fight and they’re not speaking to each other now? There’s no reason we couldn’t have the Son and the Spirit, as many Christians today claim to have. But psychologically there’s a need to say the Son has to leave before the Spirit can arrive, because that “explains” why Jesus can’t show up any more. Or should I say, it explains his absence without the uncomfortable acknowledgment of the fact of his death.

Deep down, the first century Christians knew that Jesus was really dead. Their denial was so strong that they convinced even themselves, but their suppressed awareness leaks out in a number of subtle betrayals like this one. If you start from the facts and work your way forward, there’s really no rational and self-consistent reason for Jesus to go away at all, and in fact there’s an overwhelming number of cogent and compelling reasons for him to stay, not the least of which is his own alleged desire and ability to do so. But the undeniable fact that Jesus is gone compels believers to grasp for any rationalization they can to explain it without admitting the truth.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “XFiles: What about the New Testament?”

  1. Ash Bowie Says:

    Good essay.

    There is another benefit to the Jesus/Spirit exchange: the Holy Spirit has no required earthly form. True, it allegedly showed up as a dove to John, but most Christians think of it as a purely immaterial being. Because of this, anyone can say that they are in the presence of or are filled by the Holy Spirit simply because they “feel” it. They can whip themselves up into an emotional frenzy and that sensation is certainly very real, which is all the evidence they require. But even the most devoted Christian knows that people look at you funny if you claim that Jesus is literally talking to you or making physical visits. The exchange allows people to say, essentially, that God is directly interacting with them without needing to provide any proof beyond a strong physiological sensation. It is a marvelous way to help maintain faith in the face of absurdity.

  2. mikespeir Says:

    Ash makes the point that I taught and was taught. The Holy Spirit had to come so that everybody could become a “little Jesus.” On the other hand, that doesn’t explain why “big Jesus” had to go away.

  3. Ben Says:

    Bu-but, Jesus can’t be in more than one place at a time. And he had all those mansions to build. Which would take a long time. Ever tried to build living accommodations for 144,000 people? Ever tried to build them all in such a way that they don’t need fixing up after 10 billion years of eternal life? Think about it.

    [great post, btw]

  4. mikespeir Says:

    I always wondered about those mansions, Ben. How long could it take for a god to build a bunch of houses? Keith Green used to say that God created the world in six days but he’s spent 2000 years on mansions. Green, a Christian, apparently didn’t see the irony in that.