Statesboro, GA, USA
Stephanos -- As for references, read the Gospel of Mary, which you can find on the internet if you do a search.
The "Gospel of Mary" holds little historical weight, other than a glimpse into 3nd Century Gnosticism. Unlike the first/ second century writings of the Gospels (Matthew Mark Luke John), this book was written later, and pretty much places Jesus in a "gnostic" context, which was pretty common for gnostic texts to do. Christianity had such a popularity at the beginning, that it was emulated with many later writings and teachings pseudonymously attached to the names of apostles or friends of Jesus.
TGOM wasn't discovered until 1896, when the Akhmim Codex was discovered (a Gnostic collection with several other gnostic texts). And only one manuscript was ever discovered, in contrast to the literally hundreds of manuscripts of the Canonical Gospels.
I will not dispute that the Bible was divinely inspired....what I do question is how reliable translations were and how the picking and choosing and discarding of sacred texts during the Nicean Councils (and after) were. Here is a link for you which gives some pretty good detail.
Well if you'll notice ... that wiki-page about the Nicean Council, doesn't say anything about "picking and choosing" sacred texts. The issues at hand at the Nicean Council, were mainly centered around the question of Arianism, and the celebration of Easter. They already recognized a corpus of divinely inspired scripture.
The first formal statement of such a complete list was by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in 367 A.D. However, there is also earlier evidence that the Church generally recognized what was only later called "Canon" ... such as in the writing of Iraneus Bishop of Lyons (180 A.D.) where Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are recognized as "divine origin" and given equal weight with Old Testament Scripture. Other earlier writers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian also make mention of the canonical gospels as "orthodox".
There is also no evidence for political interference by Constantine, as suggested by Dan Brown. There is much more evidence that certain criteria was used (The Threefold question of Authorship, doctrinal harmony with what was known to be genuine, and universal recognition among the churches.) Or as I like to call them: apostolicity, orthodoxy,and catholicity. (the word catholic meaning "universal") And such criteria may be still applied in the examination of ancient texts ... the very reason why "The Gospel of Mary" is feeble in regards to representing the original history of Christianity.
So to summarize, here is why I think such claims about "Canonical doubt" are themselves doubtful:
1) There is evidence for a much earlier, more widespread and organic acceptance of canonical scripture, before any "councils" ever came along.
2) During the "official" canonization process, finalized in the Council of Carthage, textual criteria was used rather than an arbitrary selection of texts.
3) There is very little evidence of mistranslation, since there is a wealth of manuscripts available, where differences stand out "like a sore thumb".
There are no textual differences which affect any major doctrine of the Christian Faith, only negligable differences common to the translation process for ANY ancient text. So what you read in a Wal-Mart purchased NIV, or NKJV is a pretty good representation of what was originally written, believe it or not. (despite my distaste of wal-mart!)
Of course, I'd be glad to discuss any particular translation issues you might have. In general, I find that misgivings about "translation" are too general. What I mean is, it's always a feeling that "something must be wrong in translation, since it was so long ago". But you don't answer the question of accuracy of translation with a "hunch" or a "feeling". Especially with the kind of mansucript attestation we have with the New Testament.
As to the historic manifestation of Christ -- Christ is not limited. Who is to say that he didn't visit other cutures at other times with other names?
I never said he was "limited", only limited by what did or did not actually happen. If Christ appeared in "other cultures" with "other names" what is the evidence for this?
Remember that most of the cultures / religious expressions you refer to, probably themselves would not say that it is "Christ". This is the same thing as the New Age/Hindu tendency to make the historical Jesus, just another "avatar" of pantheism. When we read the texts, propositionally, they can't be transformed, either way, without ignoring the propositional nature of the texts entirely.
We have a tendency to limit Christ to the historic Jesus...how can we do that?
Because we have historical texts, which define Jesus as "historical". Though I would not call this a limitation, as much as a focus of who he really as, as opposed to an esoteric creation of our own minds. But yes, I do believe in the Holy Spirit's power to create "New divine History", but I don't think it will involve any fundamental disagreement with what has already been established. Even when Jesus came, he said more than anyone "it is written ...".
Or perhaps, there is a better way to approach this, even if Jesus only came once, how can we say the Holy Spirit did not speak and teach through other historic figures, like the Budha...or Khrisna...or for that matter, Bahá’u’lláh?
I can believe that such men have taught some things which are true. God has been liberal with truth, and great moral truth has been given abroad. In that sense, I can learn from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or virtually any belief-system. However, such generalities lie in the area of natural religion, in moral truth that may be percieved naturally by the "wise". But there is also an area of revealed truth, where truth must come by revelation. And it is in that area, where other religions are deficient.
If you study religions comparatively, you'll see that they are really fundamentally different, and superficially the same. But it's popular to believe that it's the other way around ... superficially different, and fundamentally the same.
And it really has to do with the underlying systems of belief. Christianity and Hinduism, for example, offer not only different views of Christ, but different Universes altogether. Metaphysical monism / pantheism, is a kind of universe where Christ would not be Christ in the Biblical sense at all. Much of what he said makes no sense in that kind of universe. That's why Hinduistic religions will not be bound to a text, because they must explain everything in terms of pantheism ... where propositional truth becomes too problematic. It's much easier to ignore what the historical Jesus said about being the only way to the Father, and make him a "mystical Jesus" who transcends his own statements. But that is another kind of "Gospel" altogether. It's actually another kind of world.
Most devotees to religions understand the essential incompatibility of their worldviews with other religions. It's a western, typically American tendency, to try and say they're not that different after all. No offense, but I think that's our pragmatism coming in. We're not as much concerned with truth, as much as "what works for me".
James Sire's "The Universe Next Door" is a good place to start analyzing the fundamental differences between basic worldviews:
Also C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" provides a good explanation of the uniqueness of Christianity as well. He's also quite a joy to read:
I believe as you do, that Christ did in fact visit other cultures...why wouldn't it have been an agenda? Certainly, how could we be so arrogant to actually believe he didn't. The American Indian, believes he visited theirs?
Lee, I could argue that it's arrogant for a culture to "claim" that Christ came couldn't I?
My point is, the accusation of arrogance, either way, does nothing to argue that Christ came or did not come.
The question is, DID he actually come? Any particular claim should be addressed in that way.
And about the Mormon claim ... No American Indian group claims that Christ came to visit them. Leave that claim to an 18th century Euro-American ... Joseph Smith, and his followers.
Actually Lee, there is no history as dubious as the one portrayed in the Book of Mormon. There is no archaeolgical evidence that the Nephites or Lamanites ever existed. Joseph Smith is the only one ever to have seen the "Golden Plates" with "Reformed Egyptian" Hieroglyphics that he supposedly translated. Also the Book of Mormon, plagairizes the 1611 King James Version of the Bible in many places, hardly a thing that could happen if the Book of Mormon is really a translation of Golden Plates from an ancient civilization.
Believe me Lee, I could go for quite a while on why the Book of Mormon should not be accepted as historical (and in great detail). I think you would find it convincing.
I'm just curious, are you seriously considering Mormonism, or is this another example of how you like to embrace many many religions?
The discussion broadens, and mushrooms-out even more. sigh ...