Republican Party

Piers Morgan Says Flawed Bible Must be Amended

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 01:04 pm

Piers Morgan, already being attacked for his stance on guns (so much so that 75,000 people have signed a White House petition to have him deported), has truly thrown caution to the wind by proclaiming that the Bible is flawed and must be amended.

And not only the Bible. The British star of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” said on Monday that “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it,”

He was addressing anti-gay bigot Rick Warren, and Warren was having none of it:

“There is still an element of the bible that is flawed,” Morgan told Warren on his program, Piers Morgan Tonight.

“I do not believe the bible is flawed,” Warren replied.

“My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”

“Uh, no,” Warren told Morgan. “Not a chance. What I believe is flawed is human opinion, because it constantly changes.”

Watch courtesy of Mediaite:

“You should compile a new bible,” Morgan said with a laugh.

“I willingly admit that I base my worldview on the bible, which I believe is true,” Warren maintained. “Opinion changes, but truth doesn’t.”

“We’re going to have to disagree on that,” Morgan told him.

What Warren ignores is that the Bible constantly changed as well, for many centuries, before it was put into the condition it is now. Many flawed human votes went into deciding which makes make up the Christian scripture.

What most conservative Christians do not seem to understand is that neither the Old nor New Testament sprang fully grown from God’s mouth. They are the products of centuries of development and revision. Warren says they should not be changed, but they have been changed many times before.

Many Christians might be surprised to learn that there was in fact no “Old Testament” during the so-called Old Testament period. It simply did not exist. The term itself is, like “Judeo-Christian” a Christian ideological construct necessitated by a Christian reliance upon Jewish scripture; it is meant to show a continuity between the two bodies of texts that does not in fact exist.

The first to use the term was the Christian apologist Tertullian, writing in the second century. In his Against Marcion he refers to two testaments (3.14), named later (4.6) as the “Old” (Vetus Testamentum) and the “New” (Novum Testamentum).

That is not to say that religious texts did not exist in Old Testament times; they did – and not only in Israel but among all Late Bronze and Early Iron Age societies. But what there was existed in various forms. There was no single version enshrined as canon, as the finds at Qumram have shown. Frank M. Cross has observed that the Dead Sea Scrolls date from “an era when local texts prevailed.”[1]

This “local” era extends far into Israel’s past, and it was not until the second century of this era that it came to an end and there came to be an authoritative recension of the Hebrew Bible, a development that coincided with the establishment also of a Christian canon.

Athanasius (298-373) is the first Christian to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today (Festal Letter 39). This was in 367 C.E. Damasus, Bishop of Rome, wrote a list identical to that of Athanasius in 382 and when the Third Synod of Carthage in 397 repeated both lists it was only ratifying the canon accepted previously at the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa, 393.

By contrast, when Christianity began, it had only the Septuagint and an oral tradition of the teachings of Jesus. Clement, the third or fourth pope (the Vatican assigns him the years 92-99 C.E.) knew nothing of any “Gospels.” For Clement, the Bible was the Old Testament and though he refers to some sayings of Jesus and to the letters of Paul, he does not refer to them as “Scripture” (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians c. 96 C.E.).

The first Christian “canon” does not appear until c. 100 in the Bryennios manuscript, a 27-book Old Testament which is written in Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew.  Irenaeus, (130-202 CE) added 1 Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas but makes no references to Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John or Jude. Even Eusebius, writing c. 300 did not have a complete “Scripture” (Ecclesiastical History 3.3 and 3.25). Yet all the while we are supposed to believe that the New Testament has absolute veracity as the word of God. How is it that if God knew what was true and what was not, it took him almost 400 years to decide?

Helmut Koester, in examining the early works of Christian authors, finds no mention of written gospels anywhere. Of 1 Clement he says, “the author did not know or use a written gospel.” For Clement, ‘gospel’ “means preaching in general” (as in 1 Clement 47.2).

The Epistle of Barnabas, dating from the same period, also uses the word “gospel” as an oral, not written, proclamation. The Didache, Koester finds, is more problematic but the only use as written gospel (Did 1.3-5) is, he says, “an interpolation that must have been made after the middle of the 2d century.” If we move onto the second epistle of Clement, dating from c. 150, it may reveal use of “gospel” as referring to a written source by “the evidence is somewhat ambiguous.”

Finally, the Shepherd of Hermas, early taken as scripture and part of some later canons, uses “gospel” as neither verb nor noun. Though some passages “seem to allude to phrases and stories of the Synoptic Gospels…actual quotations…never occur.” In Polycarp (d. c. 155-167) he finds “the absence of the term ‘gospel’…equally noteworthy.”[2] Certainly if there was not only a fourfold canonical gospel but also an entire New Testament in circulation by the middle of the second century, we should expect these authors to be aware of it. Their silence speaks volumes.

New Testament scholar Francois Bovon, who argues that “we must learn to consider the gospels of the New Testament canon, in the form in which they existed before 180 CE, in the same light in which we consider the apocrypha. At this earlier time, the gospels were what the apocrypha never ceased to be.”[3]

If you want to talk about the change Warren abhors, look at the development of the Christian canon: it is a story of change.

The Muratorian canon shows a state of flux. It is generally dated to the second century (though the copy we have dates from the eighth and is in what Bart Ehrman describes as “truly awful” Latin) and gives as canonical works (in order): [Matthew], [Mark], Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Epistles of Paul (all 13), Jude, 1 and 2 John, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Apocalypse of John, and the Apocalypse of Peter. The document ends in midsentence but gives us a canon of 22 books (out of the 27 we now have) and leaves out Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter and one of the Johannine Epistles (it does not indicate which two of our three it accepts as canon).[4]

Bart Ehrman dismisses the suggestion made by some scholars that the 367 CE letter (Festal Letter 39) of Athanasius represents the closing of the canon. Didymus the Blind, a contemporary of Athanasius, felt that 2 Peter (also missing from the Muratorian canon) was a forgery and so dismissed it from the canon, while added the Shepherd of Hermas (which the Muratorian canon said should be read but not as Scripture) and the Epistle of Barnabas.

The Syrian Church authorized a 22-book canon as late as the early fifth century which excludes the familiar 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation, and the church in Ethiopia added four books to Athanasius’ 27.[5] It is difficult to imagine that if a whole New Testament had been circulating as early as the mid-second century that people like Didymus and Athanasius, among others would have been arguing about it as late as the latter half of the fourth century (200 years later!).

Warren maintains that the Bible is the “truth” and sure, 2 Tim 3:16, agrees, saying, “Every scripture passage is inspired of God,” but scholars do not believe Paul wrote Timothy. Somebody lying about being Paul wrote that what he wrote was the inspired word of God when it wasn’t even the inspired word of Paul.[6]

As Bart Ehrman explains, “The early Christian gospels…were never intended to be disinterested descriptions of historical data. They are, after all, called ‘Gospels,’ which means something like ‘the proclamation of good news.’ Whoever wrote these books meant to show that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation – that is – they had a theological agenda. These books aren’t ‘objective’ descriptions of what Jesus said and did.”[7] In this regard we should do well to remember, as Helmut Koester reminds us, that “both Luke and Justin Martyr confirm that authors were at liberty to change the text of the older writings as it was required by their arguments.”[8]

So Morgan is right: the Bible is flawed. The Old Testament is the outdated and ethnocentric perspective of Bronze and Iron Age Jews over a period of many centuries of history (and concomitant changes to their religion and society) and the New Testament did not exist until centuries after Jesus’ death and then as a result of many debates and votes over the breadth of the Roman empire. Christianity itself has changed a great deal since Paul’s day and will continue to change, just as attitudes will continue to develop and evolve.

In the end, the Bible is no citadel; there is no timeless, eternal freedom from change to be found there because it is itself a record of change. And most ironic of all, even the idea that the Bible is the perfect, inerrant word of God, is a recent development, the result of the change Warren so decries.[9]


[1] Frank M. Cross, Jr. “The History of the Biblical Text in the Light of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert,” HTR 57 (1964), 286.

[2] Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), 15-19.

[3] Francois Bovon, “The Synoptic Gospels and the Noncanonical Acts of the Apostles,” HTR 81 (1988), 20. Bovon  who holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Basel, taught at the University of Geneva Divinity School from 1967-1993, an institution founded by John Calvin in 1559. He is currently Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion at the HarvardDivinitySchool.

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 241-242.

[5] Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 230-231.

[6] Ehrman, The New Testament, 287, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, 93-94. Michael Grant agrees: “Such writing has evidently been the fate to an even larger extent, of the ‘Pastoral Epistles’, purporting to be written by Paul…in their present form these letters seem to be of early second century date.” Grant, Saint Paul, 4. But Ben Witherington feels that the Pastoral Epistles may have been written by Luke “for” Paul towards the end of his life and that in any event, they do not “present us with a Paul that is at odds with the image of Paul that is at odds with the image of Paul found in the earlier Paulines.” See Witherington, The Paul Quest, 10.

[7] Bart Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, 10.

[8] Helmut Koester, “Written Gospel or Oral Traditions?” JBL 113 (1994), 295.

[9] For a discussion from an Evangelical perspective, see Millard J. Erickson, “Biblical Inerrancy: The Last Twenty-Five Years,” JETS 25/4 (1982), 387-394. Retrieved from Even ideas about inerrancy have evolved.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen's Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.

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