5. Christianity Intro Versions Timing Sources 3. A thru C
Christianity in America is all around us and many of its tenants are part of the culture. As such its difficult to briefly enumerate its chief characteristics because we take many for granted as already part of our general knowledge. The environment is similar to Paul's in the New Testament who critics claim spoke little of the actual life of Christ while defenders of the faith say much was common knowledge of the times and didn't have to be spelled out. Most of my life there has been a cultural pull towards conversion towards Christianity. The gentleman who influenced me from a detached presence to a more personal version of god was a Jewish man who accepted Christianity.
Although I understood Christianity pretty well, something always held me back from embracing it. My emphasis focuses on the point of time when local religions merge with the Judeo Christian traditions through Judaism. I see Judaism as representing the height of the relationship between humans and God. It also stands at the convergence point between the earthy cyclical religions and the abstracted ones, such as Christianity. The new religion which I am introducing has roots in Judaism while enlarging certain key relationships within it. Christianity transformed the grounding of Judaism into an abstraction and in a sense of form of Greek idealism
In this section we will attempt to understand Christianity on its own terms and defend their credulity. However, this defense won't be extensive. There is more than enough information on Christian apologetics I do not claim this is a totally objective presentation. My emphasis is to reacquaint people with Judaism, both non Jews and Jews, and to simplify its essence towards what I feel is needed in these days. Hence, a new religion. Still, it is important to examine Christianity, for its tentacles run deep and wide. It is a definite part of the landscape and arguments for its historicity are merited.
3. A. Different versions of Christianity
Today there are over 2000 sects of Christianity so it's very varied. There are also many versions of the New Testament. I'll divide these divisions into three groups, Catholicism, it's offshoots, and evangelical Christianity. Catholicism claims there is an apostolic lineage dating back to the disciple Peter, who Jesus called the rock, upon which Jesus was to build a church upon. This lineage of a Pope's leadership continues with much influence until this day. There are certain creeds to follow which are basically summaries of the Bible with varied emphasis, They are the Athanasian, Nicene and Apostles creeds. You have the Bible, the Tradition, and the already mentioned creeds, and the Sacraments, which are stated as 'God giving grace.' Examples are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, the Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony. Additionally, the Pope can at times speak in an inspired way.
The offshoots of Catholicism, that being Protestantism, Presbyterianism, the Episcopal church, and others reject the popery lineage. They keep some of the traditions but not all. For instance they have no tradition of confession. Growing up in New York my direct exposure was mostly with Catholics. The Protestants, Presbyterians and Episcopalians I saw in New England and on Madison Avenue.
(Please note some of the information I'm presenting is from research, some is what I already know and remember, some is anecdotal as this last example, and some comes from my own reasoning such as the the division of Christianity into three categories. I try to be accurate, but some facts I might recall incorrectly. The environment I'm writing from does not permit totally precise research. This is not being done in an ivory tower. More important is getting basic ideas out there even if risking an inaccuracy here and there.)
Evangelical Fundamentalism has been mostly what I have run across and been confronted by since 1985 and since I've lived in the Southeast. Often the goal has been to convert me which is part of the motivation for time spent in this writing on Christianity. After being open to whatever truths Christianity had to offer, I arrived at a simpler solution, albeit to go to God directly with no go betweens, such as a Jesus Christ. Much of my time was spent considering all things as to the credibility of such a person existing. Whether I agree or not, it is good to consider the arguments for Christianity and what the gospels claimed to have happened.
Fundamentalists emerged in America about 250 years ago. These believers had a born again experience with Jesus Christ in their maturity and hence learned to reconnect with him in a closer way. They believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, although some are more flexible on this. Most claim the King James Bible is the version sanctified by God. They accept the Trinity, that is the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Perhaps some of their roots came from the small congregations of people where the local preacher was very involved with the community and leadership and the 'word.' A few, as with some Protestants and some Catholics, see Christ as the son of God but not God himself. He does say as much as 84 times that he is the 'son.' They see the world as either 6,000 or 14,000 years old and many think Armageddon as not far away. Some talk in tongues (mysterious languages) and some believe in the the rapture at some point (believers will be lifted up as destruction comes to the world.) Evangelicals do believe in hell and heaven. Some take the Bible quite literally and believe only a 'remnant' will be saved. This varies from congregation to congregation.
A fourth group that I haven't mentioned because it is not at all mainstream are those who believe Jesus Christ was a wise teacher on earth without being the son or God himself. He was inspired but not supernatural. Some scholars claim his original followers believed this before the gospels enlarged his role and scope. Today some new age religions see him as such, a wise teacher, an avatar. I was at a Quaker meeting years ago that had a Buddhist speak in this vein about Jesus Christ.
3. B. When were the gospels written?
Fundamentalists often believe the gospels were written by Christ's disciples in the 70's and 80's AD. Some in the other groups discussed believe the same. In all groups there are those who believe from various evidence the gospels were written in the following century, even as late as 200 AD and obviously not by the original disciples.
There is also the view some of writings were derivative from other unknown sources. This does not automatically imply they are not infallible and inerrant, for it is possible the later writers obtained their material from earlier witnesses or by word of mouth and it could be said this was still inspired by God. Most who have studied and accepted source material however would date the writings as later. Many, particularly in Catholicism and the mainstream denominations do not see the writings as the literal word of God. They also accept that the writings have been edited and reeditied in different languages and by different writers and therefore have been changed. Still, one can still believe in the authenticity of Christianity without believing the gospels were the pure word of God.
3. C.. Sources
Scholars claim Mark was the first book written and from which Mathew and Luke derive much of their material. However, other material from different sources is suspected for both. This is a theory because the original source material has not been found. For Matthew the original source is document M and for Luke it is L. Both also use source Q. Some scholars doubt the credibility for these sources, one reason being they wonder why such important documents would be lost without any copies. Others accept these sources as a reasonable explanation for what took place.
Q source consists of material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. M source is specific to Matthew as L source is specific to Luke. An example of source material would be the two parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son attributed to the L source. Examples of Q source would be the Devil's temptations for Jesus and the Beatitudes found both in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.
Samples of M source would be various parables, as with the parable of the pearl, of the net, and of the ten virgins.