As you travel through life, you can sometimes change your ideas about various subjects. This simply happens because you learn more and have more experiences that cause you to re-evaluate past beliefs.
From the time I was about eight years old, I grew up in a very active, but small Southern Baptist Church in middle Tennessee in the heart of the Bible belt, so the information I was exposed to was the Baptist Faith and Message which was the doctrine of beliefs. Not knowing any different, I just accepted these as fact. I later went on to attend a Bible Baptist College where the beliefs they ascribed to were pretty much in line with that doctrine of beliefs. All the instruction was given with that particular bias. It is not that it is necessarily wrong, but as I grew older, I began to question some of those ideas and beliefs.
Today, I don't believe I fit into a system of beliefs held by any particular denomination or church body. There may be one or more out there, but as of yet, I have not come across it. I also still find myself under the basic religion we think of as Christianity. I am not Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or any number of other major religions. Not that they don't have value and some very good ideas and beliefs. I just happen to believe in the one God that the Israelites referred to as YHWH. Now that may change sometime as I gather information, but as of now that is where I am as a person.
Since I fall under that heading of Christianity, there are a number of things I do believe:
There is one true God
The Bible is a source of information that we have and much of the information contained in the Bible is ascribed as being of / from God. It is not necessarily without error, but can still be relied on for a basic understanding of God and what he is like.
Christ is the son of God and is actually representative of what God is like.
This list may grow in time, but I can't say I hold on to much more than this for the time being. I am not going to go into any particular reason why I believe these three things, so I will just say I accept them on faith and believe they are true because of experiences I have had in my life, not because of any particular thing I have read or been taught.
When I say I believe in the God referred to by the Israelites as YHWH. If you follow the story of Israel, you will eventually get to an event we refer to as the birth of Jesus around the time of 7 to 4 BC. Jesus grew up and around the time he would have been about 30 years old, he began a movement. He had several followers we refer to has his disciples or students or followers. Jesus is referred to as the Messiah (in Hebrew) or Christ (in Greek) basically meaning the anointed one. Then we have the death of Jesus. Then the first time we actually hear the word Christian is in Acts 11:26 (Χριστιανός (christianos) 'Christian' ) when referring to the followers or disciples of Christ.
So, I would refer to myself as a follower of Christ, hence, Christian as described in the book of Acts of the Apostles found in the Bible. (I will get into more of what I believe this to mean a little later.)
You may disagree with me, call it short sighted, call it narrow, call it whatever you like, but that is where I am. Anything beyond that, we can discuss going forward. You may say the Bible is a made up story book, that Jesus never existed, or whatever you like, but I have yet to see any proof that any of the things I have previously mentioned are not true.
So in item 2 above, I state the Bible is a source of information, much of which I believe is of or from God, but I would not say it is necessarily 100% accurate in the form we have today. Here is a basic summary of how we have the bible we have today.
Summary of the origins of the Bible
This is information I have picked up about the origins of the Bible. I can't say it is 100% accurate, but it is my understanding of how the Bible we have today came to be. It is also not meant to be an exhaustive study, but it just provided so you understand why I say that I could never guarantee that it is all 100% from God, but I do believe much of it was inspired by God in the lives of people.
The 66 books of the Bible were written over 1,500 years by more than 40 authors.
The last book of the Old Testament (Malachi), was finished about 330 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Torah (Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch)
Neviʾim (Prophets) -
The Neviʾim comprise eight books subdivided into the the four historical works Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; and the Latter Prophets, the oracular discourses of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.) The Twelve were all formerly written on a single scroll and thus reckoned as one book.
Ketuvim (Writings) -
The Ketuvim consist of religious poetry and wisdom literature—Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, a collection known as the “Five Megillot” (“scrolls”; i.e., Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, which have been grouped together according to the annual cycle of their public reading in the synagogue)—and the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
(NOTE: For centuries the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament still in existence were copies dating from the 9th century AD. Then in 1947 hundreds of ancient leather manuscripts were discovered in jars in a cave at Qumran north of the Dead Sea. These were far older – dating back to the 1st century BC. The collection included complete copies of Old Testament books. Scholars noted there was virtually no difference between them and later scripts, which suggests the copying process had been accurate and reliable.)
According to tradition, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (the Greek Pharaoh of Egypt 285-246 BC) sent seventy-two Jewish translators—six from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel—from Jerusalem to Alexandria to translate the Tanakh from Biblical Hebrew into Koine Greek, for inclusion in his library. This was known as the SEPTUAGINT. (The significance of the Septuagint translation can hardly be overestimated. Following the conquests of Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), Greek became the official language of Egypt, Syria and the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Septuagint translation made the Hebrew scriptures available both to the Jews who no longer spoke their ancestral language and to the entire Greek-speaking world. The Septuagint was later to become the Bible of the Greek-speaking early Church, and is frequently quoted in the New Testament.)
The last 27 books of the Bible, known as the New Testament, focuses on Jesus’ life and the early Christian Church and were written over a much shorter period by fewer people. The first was begun around 50AD; the last finished around 90AD.
Consensus was quickly reached that the four Gospels that we have now should be the only official ones. By the 2nd century, the Gospels, the book of Acts and Paul’s 13 letters were being circulated around Christian churches. Gradually other writings were considered for inclusion in the list of scriptures.
By around 200 AD there was consensus about the list and it was finalized at church conferences around 400 AD (The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.
By now scrolls had been replaced by books. But adding the 27 books to the agreed Old Testament was only giving official approval to what Christians had believed for some time.
Thousands of New Testament manuscripts still exist. The oldest fragments date back to 130 AD; the oldest complete scripts are from 350 AD.
The Vulgate. St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin between A.D. 383 and 404. He originally translated it all from Greek, but as he went on he corrected the Old Testament against the Hebrew original.This was the finalized structure. These were all written in latin for over 1000 years on scrolls
Protestant Reformation began in 1517 with Martin Luther. The Reformation generally is recognized to have begun in 1517, when Martin Luther (1483–1546), a German monk and university professor, posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Luther argued that the church had to be reformed.
1522–1535. Tyndale's Bible is credited with being the first Bible translation in the English language to work directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, although it relied heavily upon the Latin Vulgate. William Tyndale was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake on 6 October 1536 on the orders of Henry VIII.
In 1611 we have the King James version. After completion in 1971, the NASB was updated in 1977, 1995, and most recently in 2020. The purposes of the updates have been to increase accuracy, clarity, and readability. Every aspect of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and meaning was carefully reviewed during each update. The result is an accurate translation that clearly communicates the Word of God in contemporary English.
I personally like the NASB if I am just reading, but constantly referring back to the Greek or Hebrew to get a clearer and better understanding on various verses. I still have to refer to people who have a greater amount of understanding of the history, culture and meaning of the original texts to gain a better understanding. Sometimes, even that is not enough.
But as you can see from this brief summary, there are plenty of places for things to be different than what we currently believe. There are many times I just have to say, I don't know.
Mysteries of the Bible
Throughout my life, I have run into passages in the Bible or topics the Bible that seem to be mysteries. They are unclear and sometimes just don't seem to fit. Sometimes they appear to contradict other passages which leaves even more questions. In many of these cases, it usually comes down to understanding the original text.
Throughout your life, can you think of words that have changed meaning or have taken on new meanings? One word that comes to my mind is the word gay. It has multiple meanings today that it just didn't have thirty years ago. Different cultures which use the same language can cause words to be misunderstood. For example the word boot or lift in Britain have different meanings than they do in the United States and there are hundreds of other examples. None of these are wrong, but they can lead to confusion if you do not understand the culture on context in which they are used.
Is it so hard to believe that a book written in different cultures over hundreds of years using different languages would not have phrases or sentences that could be interpreted many different ways? My degree is in Biblical Studies which just means that I would study passages trying to understand their original meaning based on the language, the culture and the context in which it was being used. Many times, people like to pull a verse out of context to prove their point without considering the context and the culture. To make this challenge even more difficult, the Biblical Greek and Hebrew used words for which we just do not have an English equivalent. So to explain the meaning of a single word, you may have to use a sentence or even a short paragraph.
All I am saying is that sometimes Biblical texts are not as clear cut as they may appear to be on the surface which can make them mysterious to us. This can be really confounding when apparent scholars disagree on the meaning and context of a Biblical text.
Over time, I have tried to find scholars who are reputable that have a much better understanding of the original texts than I do and try to develop an understanding of the Bible that can help explain difficult texts. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.
What does it mean to me to be a Christian?
You may have other ideas of what it means to be a Christian and that is fine. This is my description and my understanding based on my studies.
As I said earlier, at its basic level a Christian is a follower of Christ. When Christ ran into Peter, James, John and the others, he said follow me! They were his students. They were not perfect people and they didn't fully understand everything he had to say, but they grew in understanding over the three or so years that they followed him and continue to grow in understanding as the Holy Spirit led them through the rest of their life. They took the things they had learned from Christ and they taught others and over time, the movement continued to spread. As with any movement, beliefs and ideas, over time can become out of alignment with the original intention and people can go off course. It has been roughly 2000 years since Christ walked on this earth, so it is quite possible that some of the things we believe and do today, may not be exactly what Christ intended when this movement began.
I prefer to take myself back to those early days and follow what I believe Christ intended his followers to be. Understanding of course, that the culture and times in which we live have changed, but the basic precepts I don't believe have.