Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Watchtower Society's Corrupt New World Translation

                                                        By Ben Rast

Dr. Walter Martin once said that the average Jehovah’s Witness can make a “doctrinal pretzel” out of the average Christian in about 30 seconds. This does not mean Jehovah’s Witnesses are doctrinally correct. There are a couple of reasons this is so. First, the average JW gets exponentially more training in their doctrine than the average Christian gets in orthodox biblical doctrine. This disparity must be corrected by pastors, teachers, and even the individual parishioners, who must take responsibility to educate themselves on sound, biblical doctrine (as well as attacks on that doctrine). One other smaller (but still vitally important) reason is the reliance of Jehovah’s Witnesses on a biased and erroneous translation of the Bible – the New World Translation. If you allow a JW to recite from the NWT without checking the verse in a more accurate translation – such as the NIV, NASB, or KJV – you may be relying on an erroneous translation of a verse. While there are scores of examples of errors in the NWT, this article will focus on some of the primary mistranslations that affect doctrine. We will discuss some issues of Greek and Hebrew grammar, but in a simplified manner.

First, it’s important to look at the issue of translation in the greater context, and the background of the translation of the NWT. The Bible manuscripts exist in three main languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, though portions of Daniel are in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek – the Greek language widely spoken 2000 years ago. This differs from Classical Greek and Modern Greek. Even before the birth of Christ (by two or three hundred years), the Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek. This translation became known as the Septuagint, and is represented by the Roman numerals LXX (seventy). These Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts were copied and distributed widely, with the copying and distribution accelerating in later centuries as new forms of script developed which made copying a faster process. At various times, the manuscripts were compiled into full biblical texts. It is from these manuscripts and compilations that the Bibles we read today were translated (for more information on this process, please see “A Primer on Bible Transmission”). Because of this, it stands to reason that advanced training and knowledge in one or more of these languages would be a prerequisite for those who wished to perform translation work on a Bible translation committee. However, this logic and reason was seemingly unimportant to the Watchtower Society and their translation committee for the NWT.

The Watchtower Society first published the New World Translation of the New Testament in 1950. Their complete Bible was published first in 1961, with subsequent revisions published in 1970 and 1984. The Watchtower was always quite secretive about the composition of their translation committee, claiming that credit should be given to God and the truth, rather than the translators. In the October 22, 1989 issue of Awake!, the Watchtower Society’s magazine publication, the society recited the words of their founder Charles T. Russell, “It is the truth rather than its servant that should be honored…” However, former members of the Society revealed the identities of the translation committee members as Frederick W. Franz, Nathan H. Knorr, George D. Gangas, Albert D. Schroeder, Milton G. Henschel, and Karl Klein. A review of their qualifications is disturbing:

Franz, Frederick
Probably the only person to actually translate. Franz was a liberal arts student at the University of Cincinnati:
21 semester hours of classical Greek, some Latin.
Partially completed a two-hour survey course in Biblical Greek in junior year.

Self-taught in Spanish, biblical Hebrew and Aramaic
Gangas, George 
No training in biblical languages. Gangas was a Turkish national who knew Modern Greek. Translated Watchtower publications into Modern Greek.
Henschel, Milton
No training in biblical languages.
    Klein, Karl 
No training in biblical languages.
Knorr, Nathan 
No training in biblical languages.
Schroeder, Albert 
No training in biblical languages. Schroeder majored in mechanical engineering for three years before dropping out.

I don’t want to seem derogatory to Mr. Franz, but his primary training was in Classical Greek, not biblical Greek. He dropped out of a survey course on that topic. He was self-taught in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which is commendable, but does it qualify him as a Bible translator? I have a very limited knowledge of New Testament Greek attained through private study (no formal training). Any person can take classes on New Testament Greek or do self-study in this area with the help of books and language dictionaries. However, I would not presume to be qualified to serve on a Bible translation committee. Mr. Franz seemed to lack the fluidity he claimed. In a court of law in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1954, Mr. Franz failed a simple test on his Hebrew language skills. On cross-examination, Franz was asked to translate a particular verse from Genesis into Hebrew. He was unable to do so. The person most capable among his peers to translate the Bible failed a simple test. This calls into question the use of the word “translation” in the New World Translation. As we will see, this “translation” is more likely a paraphrase that was heavily edited to introduce Watchtower bias.

Before we continue, let me make one important note. Some legitimate translations (such as the King James Version) make use of brackets or italics to indicate words inserted for proper flow, but which are not found in the original language manuscripts. In legitimate translations, this tool is only used for proper flow in English, or to indicate words that are found in some ancient manuscripts but not in others. However, you will find the NWT goes further. Not only do the NWT brackets show words included for flow, but also words not found in the manuscripts which, when included, result in a material change of meaning in the verse. You’ll see examples of this below. I will sometimes underline the disputed words or phrases, and a discussion will follow.

Genesis 1:1-2

NWT: In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth proved to be formless and waste and there was darkness upon the surface of [the] watery deep; and God's active force was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.

NIV: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

NASB: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

KJV: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

DISCUSSION: The Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity. They believe in a non-triune God named Jehovah, they believe Jesus is “a god” subordinate to Jehovah, and they reject the notion that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity. They believe that the Holy Spirit is an extension of Jehovah – an “active force” He sends out. The Hebrew words here are ruwach elohim, which are accurately translated as “Spirit of God.” Ruwach can be translated as “wind” also, but when joined in context with God, it is a reference to the Spirit of God (as Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon states, “Spirit of God, the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son”). This is the first example of the NWT forcing its doctrinal bias into the text of Scripture.

Zechariah 12:10

NWT: And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of favor and entreaties, and they will certainly look to the Onewhom they pierced through, and they will certainly wail over Him as in the wailing over an only [son]; and there will be a bitter lamentation over him as when there is bitter lamentation over the firstborn [son].

NIV: And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

NASB: I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

KJV: And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

DISCUSSION: This passage is one of the most phenomenal Messianic prophecies, because God (Yahweh/Jehovah) is speaking in the first person about Him being the one who will be pierced through. Obviously, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize this as well. The implications are clear. Since this was God’s prophecy about what would happen to Him, and Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, then Jesus MUST be God. In fact, in the NWT Zechariah 12:1 indicates these are the “words of Jehovah.”[1] The NWT translators apparently missed the inclusion in this verse of the Hebrew ayth, which Strong’s indicates it is a contraction of a word that gives the meaning of “self.”

Mathew 14:33 (among others)

NWT: Then those in the boat did obeisance to him, saying: “You are really God’s Son.”

NIV: Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

NASB: And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"

KJV: Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

DISCUSSION: Throughout the New Testament we find people who worshiped Jesus. Since worship is an action that should be reserved for God, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the NWT had to rectify these verses. The Greek word here is proskuneo. While this word can be translated as doing obeisance (which is defined as giving reverence or homage), the giveaway is the Watchtower’s inconsistency in translating this word. In every instance in the New Testament were proskuneo is given to Jesus Christ, it is translated as doing “obeisance.” Where proskuneo is directed to the Father (“Jehovah” in the NWT), they rightly translate it as “worship” (as in John 4:20).

John 1:1

NWT: In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

NIV: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

NASB: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
KJV: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Here, every legitimate translation of the Bible reads the same – the Word (logos) was God (theos). The NWT stands alone in its contention that the Word was a god. This is to reinforce the JW doctrine that Jesus is not Jehovah, but is simply a subordinate god. The last Greek phrase in its entirety is theos en ho logos, where ho is a definite article (the). The Watchtower says that when theos is preceded by the definite article ho, it implies identity or personality. Since the first use of theos in this verse is preceded by ho, it refers to God. The second use of theos is not preceded by ho, making it an indefinite description or quality. This is simply wrong thinking. It’s an important point to make that theos without the definite article ho is used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to Jehovah God, and is translated appropriately in the NWT (such as in Luke 20:38). They are inconsistent with this argument, positing the “indefinite quality” assertion only in reference to Jesus.

John 8:58

NWT: Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”

NIV: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

NASB: Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

KJV: Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

DISCUSSION: There are deep doctrinal implications in the words of Jesus here. “I am” speaks to his eternality. It is also a name of God that He divulged to Moses. Exodus 3:14 says, God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " The Greek in John 8:58 is ego eimi, where ego means “I” and eimi is a first person singular present indicative, to “exist”. The Septuagint provides ego eimi as the Greek words in Exodus 3:14. The Hebrew word is hayah, which is derived from the same root as Yahweh. The NWT seeks to distance Jesus’ claims to eternality or deity. Thus, it stands alone in its gross mistranslation of this verse.

Acts 20:28

NWT: Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed YOU overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own [Son].

NIV: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

NASB: Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

KJV: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

DISCUSSION: Some more grammatical games and bracket inclusions combine to once again pervert Holy Scripture in order to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Going through my collection of legitimate Bible translations (and some not-so good translations), I find the NWT stands alone in their mistranslation of this verse. The verse speaks of God purchasing the church “with His own blood”. This is obviously a reference to God the Son, Jesus Christ. What a powerful biblical testimony to the deity of Christ, and what an anathema to the neo-Arian doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses! In order to overcome this, a little mistranslation is made to completely change the meaning and deceive their followers. Not a single extant Greek manuscript contains the word “son”.

Colossians 1:16-17

NWT: because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,

NIV: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

NASB: For by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

KJV: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

DISCUSSION: This is one of those passages that speak clearly toward the deity of Jesus Christ and His role as the Creator of all things. It’s also one of those passages where the Watchtower Society is powerless to form an argument from the Greek, so they play the brackets game. In order to deny the deity of Jesus Christ and to buttress their argument that Jesus was simply the first of God’s creations, they insert the word “other”. The NWT reads that Jesus, as the first created being, created all “other” things. Since the Greek word for “other” is not found in the Greek manuscripts, they bracket the word to indicate that they’re inserting a word that does not belong. This additional word does not help the flow or clarity of the text, but is instead designed to attack the explicit biblical teaching of Christ’s deity and role as Creator. Greek scholar and theologian Robert Reymond referred to the addition of “other” as “sheer theological perversity…”[2] As an example of the deceptive practices of the Watchtower Society, the 1950 version of the NWT did not bracket the word “other,” making it appear that it was part of the Greek Text. Only since 1961, when pressured to do so by Bible scholars, did they add the brackets.

Titus 2:13

NWT: while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus

NIV: while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

NASB: looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus

KJV: Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

DISCUSSION: This verse identifies our great God and our Savior Jesus Christ as being one and the same. While an argument can be made that the KJV separates the two much like the NWT (by placing the Greek pronoun hemon, meaning “our,” in an improper location), the wording of the NWT and the additional bracketed definite article go beyond a disputed positioning of the Greek, and presents an inferior and erroneous translation that once again separates Jesus Christ from His deity.

Legitimate scholars in the Biblical languages and manuscripts don’t think much of the NWT. Dr. Bruce Metzger is a well-known scholar whose works are seminary standards. He used the following adjectives when describing the NWT: “a frightful mistranslation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible.”[3] British Bible scholar H.H. Rowley stated that the NWT is “a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.”[4] He also referred to the NWT as “an insult to the Word of God.”[5] While this list could go on, let me conclude with the words of Dr. William Barclay who stated, “It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”[6]

It is clear that many are unaware of the dangerous differences found in the New World Translation. We’ve received several emails from people who were confused by a verse shown to them by a Jehovah’s Witness. Often the confusion results from the fact that the verse was like one of those in this article, and when we directed the person to a legitimate translation of that verse, their confusion lifted. When conversing with a Jehovah’s Witness, never let them read a verse from the NWT without verifying the wording in a legitimate translation. As Christians, our faith is supported by the God-breathed Scriptures. We must be on guard against translations that attack our faith through corruption of God’s Word.


1. The Hebrew name for God is YHWH – four consonants only. Because of a nearly superstitious fear of taking the Lord’s name in vain, the Jews avoided using this name, and often used the name Adonai. Eventually, the vowels from Adonai were included in YHWH to form Yahowah. Today, this name is often spelled in English, Yahweh. As a human contrivance, Yahowah mutated to Jehovah in some manuscripts. Yahweh and Jehovah are considered synonymous, and mean “The LORD.” Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that Jehovah is the correct name for God, and He must be referred to as such.

2. Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), p. 248.

3. Bruce Metzger; cited in Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), p. 97.

4. H.H. Rowley, “How Not to Translate the Bible,” The Expository Times, No. 1953, pp.41-42.

5. Ibid.

6. William Barclay; cited in Rhodes, p. 97.

Is Sola Scriptura Based On Circular Reasoning?

  • Introduction:
          -Opponents of Sola Scriptura, which is simply the Latin abbreviation for the Protestant doctrine of the ultimate authority of the Bible, sometimes charge that this teaching is constructed on circular logic. But this objection would hold water only if we who uphold this position based our belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture solely on the basis that Scripture makes such claims.
  • Sola Scriptura Is Not Circular Reasoning Because Outside Sources Attest To The Inspiration Of Scripture. It Has Also "Proven Itself" To Be True:
          -Historical evidence backing up the existence of various cities, countries, prominent individuals, customs, and even major events mentioned in the Bible. The evidence for the Bible is summarized as follows:

           *Geological accuracy
           *Excellent moral teaching
           *Great internal consistency in the biblical texts
           *Incredible manuscript evidence for the authenticity of New Testament Scriptures
           *Consistency with world history/archaeological discoveries
           *Scripture's fulfillment of prophecy points to its supernatural origin
           *The life transforming power of Scripture
  • Circular Reasoning To A Degree Is Somewhat Inevitable In Our Lives:
          -Some degree of circularity will always exist in the operational processes of any system that functions on a final stopping point or ultimate source of authority, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, or Secular. Infinite regress is logically impossible.
  • Accepting The Inspiration Of Scripture:
          -If we can prove the infallibility of an authoritative source (the Bible), then it follows from the premise of that statement that everything set forth by that particular guide (the Bible) must also be true.
          -The charge of Sola Scriptura being circular reasoning would be valid if, and only if, we asserted that the Bible was true because it told us so. But that is not the case at all. Scripture has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be the Word of God.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Rebuttal To Catholic Nick On Bearing Sin

  • Discussion:
          -A blogger who goes by the name of Catholic Nick published an article where he explains his understanding of the phrase "bearing sin" in sacrificial contexts (as opposed to a penal substitutionary atonement reading). Following are his comments alongside with a critique:

          "The first thing to understand is the role of the priesthood in the Old Testament. Whenever an Israelite sinned and had to make atonement they didn't make atonement themselves, but instead had to give their offering (e.g. sacrificial goat) to the priest, and "the priest would make atonement for them" (see Lev 4:20; 4:26; 4:31; 4:35; 5:6; 5:10; 5:13; 5:16; 5:18; 6:7). In other word, God uses holy mediators between Himself and sinners, in this case priests. Some might mistakenly think that the person's guilt was transferred to the sacrificial animal during this process, but that's simply not in the text, and it's erroneous because it would negate the whole purpose of the Priesthood. The lamb was not taking the punishment of the individual because it was only after the Priest had gone through the rituals of the sacrifice after the animal was dead that atonement was made. See Leviticus 4:22-35, where the duties of the sinner (bringing and killing the animal) and the duties of the priest (making atonement) are distinct."

          The fact that there is a process here does not negate the fact that there was a transfer of guilt on to the animal that is killed. See Leviticus 16:21. The work of the priest is continued on behalf of the person who is substituted. Christ is both our unblemished Lamb and High Priest.

          "These texts [Exodus 28:36; Leviticus 10:17; Numbers 18:1] are fascinating because it directly links the priest's act of "making atonement for them" with that of "bearing their iniquity." In other words, when a priest is said to "bear iniquity" of a sinner, it means the priest takes on the responsibility to "make atonement" for the sinner. It does not mean the guilt is imputed to the priest so that now the priest himself becomes guilty."

          This reasoning is biblically sound, but the Old Testament sacrificial system is multi-faceted. Matters cannot be simplified to the point where we begin to miss details regarding the nature of the atonement. The Book of Hebrews explains that Jesus Christ is both our priest and sacrifice. Consider this excerpt from Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

          "The iniquity of the sanctuary - i. e. the guilt of the offences which an erring people would be continually committing against the majesty of God, when brought into contact, through the ordinances, with the manifestations of His presence. Compare the marginal reference. The iniquity of your priesthood - As the priests themselves were but men, they were strengthened to bear the iniquity of their own unintentional offences, by being entrusted with the ceremonial means of taking it away (compare Leviticus 16). The word "bear" has, in the Old Testament, this double sense of "enduring" and "removing;" but in the person of Christ, who atoned by His own endurance, the two axe in effect one."

          "Once one realizes the role of the priest in "bearing the iniquity of the people," carrying this over to the New Testament we see Jesus' role as High Priest in a more mature light. Clearly, when texts like Isaiah 53:11 and 1 Peter 2:24 speak of Jesus "bearing our iniquity," it refers to His role as High Priest taking on the burden of making atonement for other people. Thus, in "bearing sin" Jesus was not "guilty" in our place. This can be seen even in the contexts of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2:24, which I'll briefly turn to.In Isaiah 53:6, it says "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." It turns out, this same Hebrew word for "laid" is used a few verses down, in verse 12, "he makes intercession for the transgressors." That same Hebrew word is translated to mean "make intercession," showing clearly that "make intercession," and "make atonement for" are synonymous with "bearing sin,"

           The laying of sins on Christ does pertain to Him making intercession on our behalf. Him bearing our sin refers to making atonement. Making atonement is being guilty in another person’s place. Nick seems to make a leap of logic in his argument here. Whenever people bore their own sins, that means they were punished for them (Numbers 14:33; Ezekiel 18:20). Jesus was "guilty" because our guilt was imputed to Him, in the same sense that sins were placed on the innocent scapegoat in Old Testament sacrifices.

           "When Peter says Jesus "bore our sins" (1 Peter 2:24), the Greek word used here does not so much mean "carrying" something as it means to "go upward." Interestingly, of the 9 times that this word is used in the New Testament, it is never used to mean "carry" something, but rather to "go up a mountain" (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2), or "ascended up into heaven" (Lk 24:51), or even "offer up a sacrifice" (Heb 7:27; 9:28; 13:15; James 2:21; 1 Pet 2:5). Given that it's used to mean "offer up" a sacrifice most of the time, especially in the context of 1 Peter 2:5, then it can easily be said that's what it refers to in 1 Peter 2:24. (One cool detail I found in the Greek Old Testament was that of over 150 occurrences of this Greek word for "offer up," it referred to a sacrifice about 70% of the time it was used, e.g. Gen 8:20; 22:2; 22:3; Ex 24:5; 29:18; 29:25; Lev 4:31, so this detail would not be lost on the original audience reading Peter's First Epistle.)"

           This is only an evasive ploy, introducing random doubts about possible meanings of words. 1 Peter 2:24 is clearly talking about propitiation and substitution taking place at the cross.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Biblical Refutation Of Purgatory

  • Introduction:
          -Purgatory: the place of punishment where the souls of Christians suffer a temporary period of punishment in flames if they die in an imperfect state of grace (spiritually impure).
          -Indulgences: the "key" used to help people shorten their "sentence" to time in purgatory through charitable deeds and having Masses said.
          -Roman Catholics believe that they can pray certain prayers and get mass ceremonies done for loved ones so as to shorten the duration of the punishment.
  • Purgatory Denies The Sufficiency Of Christ's Sacrifice:
          -Jesus' death is sufficient to pay for all sins (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:10-18). Christ paid the infinite price by dying for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). He made the once-for-all atonement sacrifice (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). We are clothed in His righteousness. Thus, we do not need purification in purgatory. If we must in any way pay for, suffer, or atone for our own sins, then Jesus Christ did not make the perfect and complete sacrifice necessary for our redemption. 
          -The idea that we are able to atone for our sins undermines the message of the gospel. If we can make amends for our own sin, then the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ becomes unnecessary and redundant. He made a sacrifice to save those who are unable to make amends for sin themselves, for the Scripture has concluded that all are under sin (Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:22). We cannot offer any atonement sacrifice for sins by suffering in purgatory or by offering indulgences because that debt has already been paid off completely by Christ Himself on the cross.
          -Scripture is abundantly clear that justification is by faith apart from the merit of works (Luke 18:9-14; John 5:24; Romans 3:20-28; Galatians 2:16-21). We have all have fallen short of God's perfect standard of morality. So He sent His Son into the world to remedy our problem. He died to pay our sin debt. Sin requires an atonement of infinite value because an infinite moral standard has been violated. There has to be an unblemished substitute (Hebrews 7:25-28). According to Scripture, there are no punishments for genuine Christians in the afterlife (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). Christ is our propitiation (1 John 2:2). But if we are forgiven for a sin and there is still some sort of punishment that we must endure, then we are not really forgiven. We cannot pay a debt (sin) that has already been paid by somebody else (Christ on the cross). In essence, the idea of purgatory is an insult to the gospel.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:15:
          -This text is not about punishment for sins. It talks about eternal rewards (or lack thereof). In other words, the context is about testing the quality of each believer's work which determines his or her heavenly rewards (v. 10-14). It is not about any kind of punishment.
  • Matthew 12:31-32:
          -The parallel passage makes this one crystal clear (Mark 3:28-29). It simply means that a person who commits the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will NEVER receive forgiveness from God.
  • Matthew 5:25-26:
          -The context is about anger and settling disputes in relationships (v. 21-24).
          -Nobody can deny that this passage is speaking about hell because it is mentioned in the context (v. 22). A person in hell would be there "until he had paid the last cent," meaning that his or her stay there would be eternal, as he or she could never give a ransom for it.
  • Job 1:5:
          -Job's sons were alive during this time. Moreover, this sacrifice is completely different than praying for souls in Purgatory. All biblical sacrifices ere offered for the living. The concept of purgatory is never mentioned.
  • 2 Maccabees 12:39-46:
          -These dead soldiers were struck down by God because of their idolatry (v. 40). According to the Catholic Church, idolatry is a mortal sin (CCC 1857; 1858). Mortal sins send someone to hell (not Purgatory). Purgatory is for "venial" sins. Thus, we have no evidence for Purgatory in 2 Maccabees.

Proof Texts For Purgatory Bite The Dust

"There is not much in Scripture on Purgatory except that in Second Maccabees 12:45, Judas sends a collection to the Temple for those fallen in battle, found with amulets on, "that they might be freed from this sin." Luther saw so clearly that this referred to Purgatory--which he rejected--that he rejected this book too, declaring it not part of Scripture. Some have tried to see an implication of Purgatory in Matthew 12:32. There Jesus speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit that will be forgiven "neither in this world nor in the next." But the expression quoted is known in Rabbinic literature, where it means merely "never." Still less could we deduce purgatory from First Corinthians 3:11-15. Paul means if the work of some Christian worker has been of such low quality that it burns down, he himself will be saved "as through fire." But the fire seems to mean the apocalyptic fire of the last day, not a fire of purgatory."

Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART FOUR: The Apostle's Creed VI-VIII
Seventh Article: "From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead"

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Woe To Joel Olsteen And People Like Himself

"...there was an event here at Dodger Stadium with Joel Osteen, thirty-five thousand people at Dodger Stadium, something like that. He is now the largest, quote/unquote church...I’m using the word America down in Houston. You need to understand that he is a pagan religionist in every sense.He’s a quasi-pantheist. Jesus is a footnote that satisfies his critics and deceives his followers. The idea of this whole thing is that men have the power in themselves to change their lives. In his definitive book, Your Best Life Now, he says...and that ought to be a dead giveaway since the only way this could be your best life is if you’re going to hell. He says that anyone can create by faith and words the dreams he, wealth, happiness, success...the list is always the same.

Here’s some quotes from his book Your Best Life Now. “If you develop an image of success, health, abundance, joy, peace, happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you,” end quote. See, that’s....that’s the law of attraction that’s a part of this kind of system.

Here’s another quote, “All of us are born for earthly greatness. You were born to win.” Win what? “God wants you to live in abundance, you were born to be a champion. He wants to give you the desires of your heart.” “Before we were formed, He prepared us to live abundant lives, to be happy, healthy and whole. But when our thinking becomes contaminated, it’s no longer in line with God’s Word,” end quote. By the way, “God’s Word is not the Bible, God’s Word is that Word that comes to us mystically, spiritually, that tells us what we should want.”

Here’s another quote, “Get your thinking positive and He will bring your desires to pass. He regards you as a strong, courageous, successful person. You’re on your way to a new level of glory.” do you get there? “Believe...he says...visualize, and speak out loud.” Same exact approach. Words release your power. Words give life to your dreams.

Here’s another quote. “Friend, there’s a miracle in your mouth.” I think Isaiah might object to that. He said, “I’m a man of unclean lips and I dwell amidst a people of unclean lips.”

Here’s Joel Osteen’s prayer. “I thank You, Father, that I have Your favor.” Wow! Did he meet the Pharisee in Luke 18, or what? “I thank You that I’m not like other people.”

Here’s another quote. “I know these principles are true because they work, for me and my wife.” Oh, so that’s the test of truth. Are you kidding? I know these things are true because they work for me and my wife? Sure, you’re at the top of the Ponzi scheme.

And then he said, “Even finding a perfect parking spot at the mall.” And I ask, “What about the little old lady you cut off to get into that parking? What about her dreams?” Maybe she was born to lose. I mean, it’s so silly, so bizarre.

He says, “God has already done everything He’s going to do, the ball’s in your court.” You have to take that part of God which exists in you and create your own reality.

What is the source of this? Where does this come from? Answer: Satan, this is satanic. This is satanic. This is not just off-centered, this is satanic.

Why do I say that? Because health, wealth, prosperity, the fulfillment of all your dreams and your desires,that’s what Satan always offers. That’s called temptation, based on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,and the pride of life. That’s exactly what corrupt fallen unregenerate people want. That’s why it works so well, right? You can go right into Satan’s system, make everybody feel religious and turn their desires, their temptations into somehow honorable desires. I mean, what did Satan say to Jesus? Grab some satisfaction,why are You hungry? You need to eat. You need to be healthy, whole. Why would You let Yourself be unpopular? Dive off the temple corner, whew, everybody will be wowed. You’ll be the winner, You’ll be the champion. You’ll be the Messiah. They’ll hail You. And by the way, if You just look over the kingdoms of the world, I’ll give those to You, too.

That’s satanic. So the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, 1 John 2:15 to 17, it’s all a part of the world and it’s all passing away. And why are these false teachers so successful at what they do?Because they’re in cahoots with the devil. Why is Satan successful? Because his temptations, although they might appear noble on the outside, are in perfect accord with all the fallen, corrupt, selfish, proud, evil desires of sinners. This is a false kind of Christianity and a false view of God. God is the one who reserves the right to make you well. “Have not I made the blind and the lame and the halt, He says? Or to allow you to be sick? God has the right to make you prosperous or to give you little. God reserves the right to control the circumstances and events and experiences of your life for His own ends and His own purpose.”

False religion is the most heinous of all sins because it’s a violation of the great commandment, “Love the Lord your God, the true one, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and false religion that borrows His name but creates a false God and borrows the name of Christ but creates a false Christ is the worst kind of blasphemy.

And by the way, I’ve said these things in a letter to the people at TBN because I know that they would hear this and I put it in a letter. They weren’t too happy about it. But I need to say that. Do you understand that this is a burden for me? And I think preachers like this who preach this stuff, hate the true God. I really believe that. I believe they hate the true God and they’re afraid to death that somebody might find out who He is..."

John F. Macarthur, A True Knowledge of the True God, Part 1

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Refuting The Use Of Objects In Worship

  • Introduction:
          -The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and even some Protestant churches use statues and icons that are part of their worship and services. People who occupy objects for such purposes believe that they help them to remember God, Jesus, Mary, or other important figures in Christianity.
          -Advocates of using images in worship regularly bow down to statues, icons, and images of Christian figures, kissing at the feet of the statues, and praying to them. Some professing Christians will even be rolling in front of them, putting flowers on them, lighting candles before them, carrying statues in procession, and changing the clothing on the statues daily. In  Roman Catholic religious institutions, there are several paintings of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and a myriad of canonized "saints." In short, there is an abundance of religious iconography.
    • Why The Above Actions Are Considered Idolatry:
              -Actions such as kneeling (in religious contexts) and prayer are defined as worship according to Scripture (Exodus 20:5; Isaiah 44:17; 45:20; Matthew 4:9-10; 6:6-14; Acts 10:25-26; 14:13-15; Philippians 2:10; Revelation 4:10; 19:10; 22:8-9). Thus, directing such honor to beings other than God is idolatry. It also seems rather strange that Roman Catholics sing worship psalms to various saints and wear amulets with pictures of Mary on them.  
    • The Case Against The Use Of Statues, Images, And Relics In Worship:
              -God clearly condemned making figures for the purpose of giving religious devotion or honor to beings other than Him (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-24; 2 Chronicles 33:6-7). In fact, the Apostle Paul specifically said that God neither dwells in places by hands nor is served with physical objects (Acts 17:23-25). God said that He would not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
    • A Valid Practice In Christianity?:
              -In the New Testament, we are never commanded to use statues in worship and have no examples of such activity being permitted by God. As noted previously, the Apostle Paul clearly affirmed the Old Testament prohibitions on using objects in worship. Idols are a direct threat to our relationship with God and will lead the unrepentant to eternal condemnation in hell (1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 21:8). There are also different forms of idolatry (Ephesians 5:5-7). So Beware! The only time we see people bowing before statues in Scripture are the unfaithful and unbelieving.
    • Veneration Verses Worship:
              -When Catholics are accused of worshiping Mary and the saints, they usually respond by saying that they merely "venerate" (honor) them (not "worship"). This claim is elaborated on by dividing this veneration into three distinct categories (using Latin): latria (God alone), hyperdulia (Mary alone), and dulia (saints and angels).
              -First of all, occupying separate labels does not change the essence of what is being done. Moreover, the Bible makes no distinction between "veneration" and "worship." It does not provide any justification for three different "classes" of honor for three separate "heavenly ranks." All religious veneration that we find in Scripture is rightfully directed to God alone. Remember also that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Nahum 1:2)
    • So What Is Permissible?:
              -It is okay to give honor to whom honor is due (Mark 12:17; Hebrews 13:7). Bowing can also be a custom of respect toward authority (although God has never ordained a statue to be in such a position). It is also not wrong to have pieces of art for decoration and pictures that we cherish. God can indeed use images to communicate divine truths. Furthermore, it is even acceptable to honor Christians from the past by acknowledging their faith and following their moral example (Hebrews 11). But actions such as building statues with the intent of bowing before them and offering prayer or adoration to entities other than God Himself transcends honor. It is idolatry.
    • "It is just an art form like music...":
              -This argument is simply comparing apples to oranges and is deprived of biblical justification. While we are encouraged to worship God by singing psalms of praise (2 Chronicles 5:13; Psalms 150:1-5; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 14:3-4), using images of saints as an aid in worship or parading them in the streets is idolatry.
    • "Don't we keep the photos of people that we love...":
              -It is true that we tend to keep images of people we love and art for enjoyment or ornamentation. But the comparison of an image to Christ to a picture of a friend or relative is deceptive. The statues and painted pictures of Jesus or the apostles are only the imagination of an artist. They are not accurate representations of the actual people who lived. Moreover, a wife would become very frustrated if her husband decided to keep a picture of another woman, kiss it, and call it his spouse! The above objection is irrelevant and fails to address the issue at hand. We are to obey God's commandments regardless of consequences or our emotions.
    • On The Creation Of The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:6-9):
              -God commanded Moses to make the Bronze Serpent for a one time purpose (John 3:14-16). However, the Israelites converted it into an object of worship. It ended up getting destroyed by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3-4). There is no scriptural evidence that the Bronze Serpent was ever supposed to be used as an aid in worship.
    • On The Creation Of The Two Cherubs (Exodus 25:18):
              -God commanded the making of two golden cherubs, but the Jews were not called to bow down before them or serve them.
    • On The Creation Of The Ark of the Covenant (Joshua 7:6-7):
              -God ordered the Israelites to make the ark so that He could dwell in their presence and meet with the leaders (Exodus 25:8; 22). But why does the ark have two images of angels (Exodus 25:18-21)? It has them because it is a replica of God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-2). This is further evidenced by the fact that the ark of the covenant also served as a footstool for the feet of the Lord (1 Chronicles 28:2). Unlike the ark, the images used in Roman Catholic "veneration" supposedly represent saints.

    Monday, February 20, 2017

    Are Protestants Their Own Popes?

    • Introduction:
              -Roman Catholics tend to ask Protestants who adhere to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura the following question, "By what authority do you guys interpret the Bible?" In other words, Catholics ask non-Catholics for the divinely appointed authority which they use in opposition to the authority of their Church. Conservative Catholics believe that if you deny the authority of the Bishop of Rome and decide to read the Bible for yourself to examine what it says about a particular doctrine, then you automatically establish yourself as being your own infallible guide who determines what God wills for the entire church. But how does one come to the conclusion that the Church of Rome is the one, true church that was indeed established by Jesus Christ in the first century? How do Roman Catholics know that their Church's interpretation of Scripture is correct?
    • Setting Up A Straw-Man Argument:
              -The "Protestant Pope" objection is a straw-man argument because it misrepresents what Sola Scriptura means regarding biblical interpretation. In other words, it presents an overly-simplified version of how advocates of the "Bible only theory" interpret Scripture and how authoritative they view their interpretations of the Bible when compared to potentially differing views.
              -We cannot simply interpret Scripture in any way that we desire. In other words, we have been called to act reasonably by interpreting Scripture in its proper context, by comparing our interpretations of an individual passage of the Bible to what others passages say on that same topic, use our common sense or reasoning to the best of our ability, and by obeying the wisdom of the godly church leaders or instructors who give us the necessary tools (concordances, lexicons, commentaries) for properly understanding the written Word of God. There are certainly right and wrong ways to get things done, which includes church function.
              -It is wrong to assume that Protestants presume themselves to be their own "infallible Popes" when they neither claim infallibility to their interpretations of Scripture nor anathematize other people who have slightly different points of view. Our reasoning abilities are liable to error. Some non-Catholics do act in such a manner, but that is not the fault of Sola Scriptura because that is not what it teaches. However, we can indeed have great certainty behind the meaning of Scripture. There is a significant difference between choosing an ultimate authority and being an ultimate authority.
              -We who believe in the principle of Sola Scriptura do not view ourselves as the ultimate authority in doctrinal matters. Rather, all spiritual standards of the church are subject to the one infallible and supreme authority, Scripture. A correct understanding and application of Scripture is necessary in order for it to operate as the ultimate spiritual standard for the church. This knowledge is enhanced in our minds by the continuous study and mediation of Scripture. A person who reads the Bible simply consumes the inspired message of God's written revelation. This is not a matter of spiritual authority. The precepts of the Lord are embedded into the minds of those who hunger and thirst for His righteousness.
    • The Logical Necessity Of "Private Interpretation:"
              -In every aspect of life, we are obligated to use the fallible judgment of our fallible minds to correctly execute decisions. We have to use our fallible reasoning capacities to make any sort of move in our daily lives. Our fallible reason is what we use to make sense of the world around us. Reason is what keeps this world turning, yet God has appointed no "infallible" ruler to preside over each elemental category of our lives. We therefore must be, at least in some sense, our own "decider." Decision making is a mandatory, constant, and inevitable procedure which literally runs through the course of every second in our lifespan. There may be guides to help us make the correct decisions in difficult situations, but we have no evidence proving the existence of or the necessity of these means of occasional support being infallible. Yet, things seem to work in an orderly manner. Why would the church need to be infallible in order for it to function correctly and thus maintain the purity of the gospel? God is perfectly capable of preserving His faithful remnant.
    • The "Protestant Pope" Argument Against Sola Scriptura Is A Double Standard:
              -If a Protestant who embraces the concept of Sola Scriptura automatically becomes his or her own pope when he or she decides to interpret Scripture for himself or herself to support a theological position, then it follows from this premise that any Roman Catholic who defends the Church of Rome becomes his or her own pope because he or she also fallibly interprets Scripture and official church teaching. Both sides are resorting to private interpretation in defending theological positions which are believed to be true.
    • By Who's Authority?:
              -When Roman Catholics ask us by what authority we interpret the Scriptures, we should retort by asking them by what authority they keep the commandments of God? The point is that we do not do such things because of any alleged authority on our part. Rather, we do these things because God expects us to do them. We have the moral obligation to seek out truth. One does not need any special "authority" to interpret Scripture. If one must have some special authority in order to give grounds for his or her beliefs, then how does he or she become a Catholic? One cannot argue for an authority by appealing to that same authority. On what basis does one establish the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?

    Sunday, February 19, 2017

    How Prayer Should Be Done (Commentary On Matthew 6:6-14)

                1.) Find some place and bow down before our God. Our principal focus must be on Him. God will answer one's prayer based on sincerity and faithfulness (v. 6).
                2.) We are not to pray in the same manner that the pagans do. The purpose of prayer is not based on factors such as how well it sounds, its length, how many times in a row it is done, or how noisy it is. God will not accept prayer tainted with self-righteousness (v. 7). We must approach God in humility and reverence.
                3.) God knows everything, which includes our prayer requests, even before you go to Him (v. 8).
                4.) We acknowledge that God is the Creator and Lord of all. It follows from that premise we are to give Him rightful honor and worship (v. 9).
                5.) We pray for (with knowledge beforehand that His will be done) God's kingdom conquering the evils of this world when Jesus Christ for the second time. We are living in a world that overflows with tragedies (poverty, wars, slavery, diseases, etc.). Only goodness can exist in the kingdom of God. Our wills should be one in the same with God's, functioning in perfect harmony together (v. 10).
                 6.) In prayer, we should give thanks for the things which God (even the smallest things which we tend to overlook because of our sinful nature) has provided for us and know that He will continue to provide according to His will (v. 11).
                 7.) In prayer, we must humbly ask God for the forgiveness of our sins. We have repeatedly violated His perfect standard of morality, the Law. We must pray for sins committed even after conversion. 
                 8.) We must follow the example of God forgiving our trespasses against Him (v. 14). We must forgive the sins of other people because that is what God has done for us (v. 12).
                 9.) We pray to God that He places the "protective shield" of His grace on us so that the gnats of worldly temptation will not be attracted to us. God shall eternally prevail over the forces of evil. He is therefore entitled to perpetual glory (v. 13). Jesus Christ was giving to His disciples a proper model for prayer in contrast with the empty prayers of the scribes and Pharisees of the Law.

    An Investigation of Hindu Scripture

                                                      By Alden Bass Of Apologetics Press

    The amorphous collection of texts that might be labeled “Hindu scripture” consists of millions of lines of text written over thousands of years in several languages. Known as the Vedas, the holy writings of India are central to contemporary religion, though their authority is in no way analogous to that of the Bible or the Qur’an in Christian and Islamic communities. Hindu scripture includes nearly every genre of literature, some hardly religious at all, and some incredibly irreligious, at least from a Christian perspective. Philosophical treatises, folk medicine, erotic poetry, and grammar tomes, as well as devotional hymns, liturgical manuals, and ethical instructions all find a niche in the immense and labyrinthine world of Hindu scripture. Most of the scripture was written by poets, priests, and philosophers, though some of the later traditional texts were composed by low-caste devotees. The oldest text, the Rig Veda, dates back to c. 1400 B.C., while the most recent authoritative works hail from the sixteenth century A.D. (though some accept as scripture the writings of gurus up to the present century). Vedic scripture includes the longest single literary work in the world, the Mahābhārata, which weighs in at 110,000 couplets (seven times the length of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined), as well as the sūtra literature, collections of aphorisms so brief that it is said that the author of such a text would sell his grandson to save a syllable.

    Hindu scripture often is referred to collectively as the Vedas, a Sanskrit word meaning “knowledge” (from the root vid- “to know”; cognate to wit, wisdom). In one sense, Veda refers only to the most ancient writings of the Indo-Aryan community. This includes the four Vedic collections (samhitās): Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, and the Atharva Veda. The samhitās consist primarily of odes to the gods; most resemble biblical psalms. On the foundation of these four venerable collections rests the remainder of vedic literature. To each samhitā are attached inspired commentaries: the Brāhmanas, Āranyakas, and the Upanishads. Thus, there are four traditions (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, Atharva) and four categories of text (Samhitās, Brāhmanas, Āranyakas, Upanishads) in the Veda proper.

    The historical origin of the Vedas is unknown. Internal evidence suggests that they were written by Brahmin priests sometime between 1500 and 1200 B.C., though the ethnic persuasion of those priests and the ideas they recorded remain a mystery. Similarities between rituals and deities in the religion of Vedic Hinduism and that of Persia and ancient Europe have led some scholars to attribute the composition of the Vedas to Aryan migrants from central Asia. Other scholars acknowledge the Aryan influence, but credit indigenous North Indians with the production of the Vedas. Theories abound, and the issue has been politicized and is hotly debated, but insufficient linguistic and archeological evidence prevents satisfactory conclusions at the present.

    The hymns themselves hint at their historical source. It seems that many were composed by mercenary poet-priests for wealthy patrons: several Vedic hymns describe transactions between composers and clients. “With wisdom I present these lively praises of Bhavya dweller on the bank of Indus; For he, unconquered King, desiring glory, has furnished me a thousand sacrifices” (Rig Veda 1.126.1). There are also prayers recorded for the well-being of the priests’ source of income: “O Agni, God, preserve our wealthy patrons with your succors” (Rig Veda 1.31.12). These hymns produced for individual patrons were probably then collected and edited by the Brahmin priests for use in the ritual sacrifice (Mitchell, 1897, p. 17). Over time, Vedas were assigned to different Brahminical families for preservation through memorization. The texts were transmitted orally for at least a thousand years before they were written down. Several methods of memorization were used so that the words and sounds would be preserved exactly; rote memorization was supplemented with complex mnemonic devices, such as ghanapātha (“dense text”), in which the order of words is ab, ba, abc, cba, abc, bc, cb, bcd, and so forth (Goodall, 1996, p. x). By this method, Genesis 1:1 would be memorized: in the, the in, in the beginning, beginning in the, in the beginning, the beginning, beginning the, the beginning God.

    The Rig Veda is the most authoritative of all Hindu scripture, if not for its content, then for its great antiquity. The Rig Veda (“Veda of Hymns”) is among the world’s oldest literature—some scholars date its composition to 3000 B.C., though most estimate the final recension to have occurred in 1000 B.C. (Basham, et al., 1997, p. 522). Arranged in ten books, or mandalas, the Rig Veda contains 10,028 verses, and is about one and a half times the size of the New Testament. The six oldest mandalas are linked to six priestly families who composed, memorized, and handed down the hymns; books one, and eight through ten, are anthologies of hymns by various independent poet-priests, and were written later.

    The Rig Veda resembles a hymnal more than a Bible. If pressed to compare the Rig Veda to Christian scripture, it would most closely parallel the Psalms, though without the historical and moralistic tenor. The Rig Veda assumes a common knowledge on the part of the reader as to the origin of the Universe and the identity of the gods (devas, cognate to divine and devotion), and, like our own church hymnals, contains no introduction or narrative framework to orient the reader. One could not pick up a copy of the Rig Veda and understand modern Hinduism or even the Vedic rituals without significant explanation.

    The bulk of the songs in the Rig Veda are addressed to the chief gods Indra, Agni, and Soma as petitions for success in battle, protection, and material prosperity. This hymn addressed to the entire pantheon is typical of a vedic chant:

    Not one of you, ye Gods, is small, none of you is a feeble child: all of you, verily, are great. Thus be ye lauded, you destroyers of the foe, you thirty-three Deities, the Gods of man, the Holy Ones. As such defend and succor us, with benedictions speak to us: lead us not from our fathers’ and from Manu’s path into the distance far away. You Deities who stay with us, and all you Gods of all mankind, give us your wide protection, give shelter for cattle and for steed (Rig Veda 8.30).

    Though many gods are recognized (according to this passage, there are 33, but the number of names mentioned throughout the Veda exceeds that figure), each one is lauded as if it were the highest god, a phenomenon Max Müller called henotheism, and that some modern scholars call “serial monogamy” (Sarma, 2003b). These superlative descriptions inevitably overlapped, and in later passages the gods are identified with one another or with all. In time, the confusion led to the belief that the many gods and goddess were but manifestations of one indivisible transcendental Ultimate Reality. The pantheism of later texts is foreshadowed in a late Vedic passage: “To what is One, sages give many names—they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan” (Rig Veda 1.164.46).

    At the heart of the Veda Samhitās lay the ritual sacrifice (yajñā). Like the Rig Veda, the Sāma Veda (“Veda of chants”) and the Yajur Veda (“Veda of sacrificial prayers”) served as liturgical manuals for the sacrifice; each of the three was used by one of the orders of Brahminic priesthood, a sacerdotal system similar in structure to the Mosaic system described in Numbers 4. The primary purpose of the collections of hymns was to “propitiate the gods by praises accompanying the offering of malted butter poured on the fire and of the juice of the Soma plant placed on the sacrificial grass” (Macdonell, 1917). The songs and chants and prayers of the Samhitās were read over the sacrifice as part of the ritual. Incidentally, the sacrifice was not performed for the atonement of sin, as was the Mosaic sacrifice, but to obtain magically the favor of the gods, and ultimately, salvation in heaven (svarga). The fourth Veda, the Atharva Veda (“Veda of the Fire Priests”), differs in content from the other three, and was not used in the sacrifice. Drawing on ancient folk material, the fourth Veda consists of spells against sickness, sorcery, snakebite, and bad dreams, as well as incantations to bring about love, good luck, rain, fertility, and a multitude of other things. It also includes instructions for wedding and funeral rites.

    To each of the four Samhitās was appended a body of inspired commentary. The Brāhmanas (“exposition on the meaning of the sacred word”), the first layer of commentary composed about 900 B.C., are prose descriptions and explanations of various sacrificial rites. Named for the Brahmin priests who wrote them, the Brāhmanas wax philosophical—evidence that the priests wanted not only to enact, but to understand, the rituals they performed. Unfortunately, any profundity in the Brāhmanas is undercut by rambling mythology and asinine digressions. In the introduction to his translation of the Brāhmanas, Oxford Sanskritist Max Müller railed:

    No one would have supposed that at so early a period, and in so primitive a state of society, there could have risen up a literature which for pedantry and downright absurdity can hardly be matched anywhere...These works deserve to be studied as the physician studies the twaddle of idiots and the raving of madmen. They will disclose to a thoughtful eye the ruins of faded grandeur, the memories of noble aspirations. But let us only try to translate these works into our own language, and we shall feel astonished that human language and human thought should ever have been used for such purposes. (as quoted in Robson, 1905, pp. 23-24)

    The Āranyakas (“forest teachings”) followed the Brāhmanas without introducing much new material. Their name derives from the esoteric nature of the texts—the mystic teachings were handed down from teacher to disciple in the seclusion of the forests. The Āranyakas reflect an increasingly abstract conception of the sacrifice—the literal fire of the sacrifice began to be internalized and symbolically represented as the “fire” of digestion and the “fire” of sexual intercourse (for the fully developed doctrine, see Chāndogya Upanishad 5.18.2 and Brhadāranyaka Upanishad 6.2.13). The Āranyakas transition almost seamlessly into the final layer of Vedic commentary, the Upanishads, between 800-600 B.C. These books are seen as the fulfillment of the Vedas, and consequently are known as the Vedānta, the “end of the Vedas.” The Upanishads are the culmination of hundreds of years of reflection, and are much more rationalistic than the Vedas and Brāhmanas. Their influence is felt even to the present.

    The Upanishads supply the basis of later Hindu philosophy; they alone of the Vedic corpus are widely known and quoted by most well-educated Hindus, and their central ideas have also become a part of the spiritual arsenal of rank-and-file Hindus, while the earlier Vedic texts remain largely the special reserve stock of priests and scholars (O’Flaherty, 1988, p. 2).

    Upanishads (“sitting close to a teacher”) are, like the Āranyakas, secret teachings transmitted from guru to student. Unlike the Sāmhitas (the function of which was essentially restricted to sacrificial rites) and the other two commentaries (which expounded on those rites), the Upanishads expanded speculation to the entire Universe, especially the absolute basis of reality (brahman) and the self or soul (ātman). The most famous teaching of the Upanishads is “that you are” (tat tvam asi), which means that the essence of the self is the absolute. An early Hindu sage illustrated this by pointing to a hive of bees collecting nectar. As nectar is collected from many different plants and reduced by the bees to honey, he explained, so all souls are part of the larger, indivisible essence of being (Chāndogya Upanishad 6.9). The Universe is within the self, and the self is the Universe. Those who know this essential truth possessed great cosmic power. The Upanishadic sages realized that this power of knowledge far excelled the power of the sacrifice: if the soul is identified with the Universe, then whoever controls their own soul controls the cosmos. Sacrifice affected the gods only indirectly, but esoteric knowledge was the key to omnipotence (Edgerton, 1965, p. 29). These books also contain the seeds of the doctrine of transmigration of souls (samsāra), the laws of karma that govern the transmigration process, mental training associated with Yoga, and ascetic renunciation (Olivelle, 1996, p. xxiii).

    Together these sixteen branches of literature are known as śruti, meaning “what is heard” (from the root sru-, “to hear”). It was “heard” by inspired sages who received this primary revelation from Brahma, the Supreme Lord. As divine revelation, śruti literature is considered to be “eternal, intrinsically powerful, and supremely authoritative” (Coburn, 1989, p. 119).

    Despite the aura of holiness ascribed to the Vedas, the majority of Hindus have little access to these writings; they are massive, technical, and written in an archaic tongue. Much more familiar to the average Hindu are the colloquial smrti writings, a secondary set of scriptures considered to be of human authorship and subordinate to divinely delivered śruti. “While the śruti texts have retained their authority as holy sources for Brahmanic ritual, philosophical speculation, and recitative mantras, the functional scriptures of the masses in India have been other texts, most of which are categorized as smrti rather than śruti” (Graham, 1989, p. 139). Smrti (“what is remembered”) explains and elaborates the śruti, making them more understandable and meaningful to the general population—it is an “easier” form of truth. A mythological story of the origin of the theatrical art describes the role of smrti:

    [The gods asked:] “Since it is not proper that the Vedas be heard by those of low birth, you should create a fifth Veda for all classes of people.”

    [Brahmā replied:] “I shall compose a fifth Veda, called the Theatrical Art, based on history, which will convey the meaning of all the Scriptures and give an impulse to the arts. It will give good advice and moral lessons, rich in meaning, that lead to good conduct, prosperity, and fame. It will show the line of proper conduct to the future world” (Nātya Śāstra 1.4.13-15).

    Smrti texts were intended to simplify the Vedas for the masses, and to elucidate Vedic teachings in a practical way. Smrti was written for the people’s admonition, to illustrate dramatically through the lives of gods, sages, and kings the proper path of good conduct (dharma).

    The Samhitās speak of salvation through ritual sacrifice, a ceremony only the wealthiest patrons could afford; the Upanishads refer to salvation through knowledge, an avenue inaccessible to all but the most educated men. Smrti offered scriptures and a means of salvation through devotion (bhakti) to people of all castes and both genders. In this category of scripture, Hinduism attained its most mature stage. Most prominent among the smrtitexts are the Purānas, the Epics, the Dharma literature, and the Agamas, as well as other miscellaneous works.

    Purānas (“ancient lore”) are narrative works in the itihāsa (“thus verily happened”) tradition, a mythistorical genre describing the creation of the Universe, the origin of evil, and a history of Indian civilization focusing on legendary kings, sages, and gods. Woven into the central narrative are various religious instructions concerning caste laws, customs, ceremonies, pilgrimage, and temple construction. If the Vedic samhitās are like the Psalms, then the Purānas resemble the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The Bhāgavata-Purāna is one of the most popular of the eighteen principle Purānas, describing in an entertaining and endearing fashion the childhood of Krishna, who would later become one of the most worshiped gods in the pantheon. The mythological stories of young Krishna stir feelings of adoration within the devotee, the pursuit of which can lead to salvation. There also exist eighteen lesser Purānas of basically the same narrative structure, called Upapurānas, and numerous other books called sthāla Purānas, which record legends of particular locations and temples. The eighteen most prominent Purānas alone contain about 375,000 verses—approximately the size of two World Book encyclopedias.

    Also part of the itihāsa are the great epic poems, the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata, written between 400 B.C. and A.D. 200. Together containing about 124,000 verses, the epics comprise some of the longest literary works in human history—five times as long as the Bible. The Rāmāyana tells the story of Rama, a god-king who rescues his kidnapped wife Sita with the help of the monkey king. The Mahābhārata relates a civil war between two groups of cousins that occurred in the mythical age before the present. Characters in both epics exemplify proper conduct for kings, soldiers, and persons wishing to attain rebirth. Many Hindus consider these epics to be the Veda of the masses, the books that “in all of history...have influenced the largest number of people for the longest time” (Krishnamurthy, 1999).

    Book six of the Mahābhārata contains the Bhagavad Gītā, the “Song of the Lord.” This short text (about the size of John’s gospel), though technically part of the smrti literature, is popularly considered to be among the holiest revelation (Coburn, 1989, p. 116). Many compare it to the New Testament as the definitive piece of Hindu scripture. Ghandi read it once daily. Written by an unknown sage, the Gītā tells the story of Arjuna, a general in the civil war on the eve of battle, and his chariot driver, Krishna, who is actually an incarnate form of God. Arjuna expresses his reservations about fighting his cousins to Krishna, who encourages him by explaining the principles of dharma and revealing himself as the celestial lord.

    About the same period as the sages Vyāsa and Valmiki were composing the Epics to provide concrete examples of the dharmic code of conduct, the more formal dharma shāstras were being assembled. A shāstra is simply a systematic treatise, though dharma is more difficult to translate: the word “subsumes the English concepts of ‘religion’, ‘duty’, ‘law’, ‘right’, ‘justice’, ‘practice’, and ‘principle’ ” (Doniger and Smith, 1991, p. xvii). Dharma shāstras are thus books of law and duty. In this category, the Laws of Manu have been very influential, as have the more concise Laws of Yājñavalkya. The Laws of Manu alone is as long as the four gospel accounts, yet it is just one treatise among about 5,000. In many respects these books resemble the Levitical code, minus the consistency and ethicality. The agamas, also known as the Tantras, are sectarian manuals for the worship of particular gods. They cover the three major traditions—Śaivism, Vaishnavism, and Śaktism—and are usually associated with heterodox rites involving sexual intercourse and the consumption of alcohol and meat.

    These are only the most influential parts of the smrti category: there are many more. According to Coburn, “the very concept of smrti is that of an authoritative, but open-ended Word” (1989, p. 120). The size and difficulty of the current body of Hindu scripture is compounded by the fact that authoritative works are added to the canon on a regular basis. “[T]o see Hinduism in proper perspective we must remember that from the time of the Buddha till now, the composition of religious literature in India has been almost uninterrupted and that almost every century has produced works accepted by some sect as infallible scripture” (Eliot, 1968, 1:lxxiv). Surveying this vast, ever-expanding collection of Hindu sacred writings, it is no wonder that Sir William Jones remarked: “Wherever we direct our attention to Hindu literature, the notion of infinity presents itself ” (as quoted in Londhe, 2001).


    While recognizing the role that sages have had in the preservation and transmission of the Vedas, Hindus generally reject the notion that the Vedas are the production of human ingenuity. Swami Vivekananda, the man credited with introducing Hinduism to the West, explained the Hindu outlook on revelation to the 1893 World Parliament of Religions:

    The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous, that a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons at different times. Just as the law of gravitation acted before its discovery by humanity, and would continue to act if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honor them as perfected beings (as quoted in Londhe, 2001).

    Vivekananda summarily stated the orthodox Hindu view of scripture: scripture is eternal, it is impersonal, and it is much more than letters written on a page. These qualities apply primarily to śruti scripture, but depending on one’s definition of veda, they may also qualify other scripture.

    The Mīmāmsā school, a sect devoted to Vedic exegesis, established these principles over two thousand years ago in the Pūrva Mīmāmsā Sūtras (c. 200 B.C.). There they affirmed the Vedas to be eternal (nitya) and impersonal (apauruseya). To understand these two propositions, insight must be gained into the Hindu conception of Veda. As Vivekananda pointed out, the Vedas are more than a mere book—they are eternal knowledge, without author, beginning, or end. The Pūrva Mīmāmsā Sūtra likewise asserts that “the sacred Sanskrit-language Scripture known as the Veda is not a ‘book’ to be read, nor a source of information about a world exterior to itself ” (Clooney, 1987, p. 660). One 18th-century pundit characterized Veda as “that which pertains to religion; books are not Veda” (Vedam est, quidquid ad religionem pertinet, vedam non sunt libri) [Graham, 1989, p. 139]. These increate truths have occasionally been perceived by humans and recorded in books, but the Vedas are much more than what is written. Vedic knowledge hangs in the atmosphere as a sort of ether exuded by the gods; the truth needs only to be grasped by enlightened disciples whose heightened senses allow them to perceive it. This is why the most sacred Vedas are called śruti—they have been heard by holy men. Hence the description of Vedas as sound vibration in the air:

    I [Krishna] personally establish the Vedic sound vibration in the form of omkarawithin all living entities. It is thus perceived subtly, just like a single strand of fiber on a lotus stalk. Just as a spider brings forth from its heart its web and emits it through its mouth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself as the reverberating primeval vital air, comprising all sacred Vedic meters and full of transcendental pleasure (Bhāgavata-Purāna 11.21.38-39).

    Krishna (a primary Hindu god, conceived as a manifestation of Vishnu) declares that the Vedas are within. They are the “reverberating primeval vital air” that must be heard. Many seek the truth in the hope that they might grope for it and find it, though, according to this passage, it is not far from each one of us. Though Christians believe scripture to be the complete, written record of specific truths revealed by God, Hindus consider scripture to be the whole of universal truth that may be discovered. Only fragments of this everlasting knowledge are revealed in the written Vedas (Daniélou, 1991, p. 280).

    Vivekananda also stated that the Vedas are eternal, even preexisting the gods. This means something significantly different to a Hindu than it would to a Western Christian with his linear notions of time and space. To the Hindu, time and space exist only in relation to perception; when perception is altered (through religious rites such as meditation) and the Cosmos is seen as it really is, distinctions in time and space melt away into the Absolute. “Absolute time is an ever-present eternity” (Daniélou, p. 15). Thus, the Vedas and the gods both were created, but they both have also always existed. It is not inconsistent in the Hindu mind to hold that the Vedas are uncreated—that they were delivered to brahman at the dawn of creation by the “source of all beings” (Śvetāśvatara Upanishad 6.18)—and to believe that they were created from fire, wind, and Sun by the god Prajāpati (Chāndogya Upanishad4.17.2). These sophisticated beliefs developed over time, however, and some of the most ancient hymns attribute revelation to the highest god. “The Rig, Sāma, Yajur and Atharva, became manifest from the Lord, along with the Purānas and all the Devas [gods] residing in the heavens” (Atharva Veda 11.7.24). The scripture and the gods sprang from the “Lord,” Brahma, who is the manifestation of the Absolute principle of the Universe. Later passages elaborate this same theme. The influential Bhagavad Gītā grounds all things, including the Vedas, in Brahma: “From food are born (all) creatures; from rain is the production of food; rain is produced by sacrifices; sacrifices are the result of action; know that action has its source in the Vedas; the Vedas come from the Indestructible [the Supreme Being]” (3.15). Likewise, the Brahmānda Purāna depicts a four-headed Brahma emitting the four Vedic books from his four mouths (1.2.8). Ultimately, the Vedas derive from the Absolute Being, the Immense One. This Absolute god-principle did not create the scriptures, but as eternal truth they are part of his essence. They are thought to have co-existed with the Absolute, and pre-existed in the Absolute. He created the gods and manifested the truth of his presence to them; they in turn created the written books of the Veda for the humanity they also made. The eternal Vedas were thus received by the gods, who entrusted them to humans.

    According to the Brhadāranyaka Upanishad, the method of transmitting the Vedas from heaven to Earth is similar to the biblical conception described in 2 Timothy 3:16, wherein Scripture is described as being “god-breathed.”

    As clouds of smoke billow from a fire lit with damp fuel, so indeed this Immense Being has exhaled all this: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, the Atharva-Āngirasa, histories, ancient tales, sciences, hidden teachings (Upanishads), verses, aphorisms, explanations, and glosses – it is that Immense Being who has exhaled all this (2.4.10).

    God, known here as the Immense Being, breathed out the Vedas, not into specific men, but into the Universe. There the scripture remains, as smoke lingering from an extinguished fire, waiting to be perceived by humans. Seven men served as interlocutors between the Supreme and humanity—men of extraordinary perspicacity who distinguished themselves by their asceticism and acts of renunciation (see Mitchiner, 2000). These men were not chosen to be inspired; they were gifted sages with keen insight into spiritual matters. Their sensitivity allowed them to perceive those eternal truths that permeate the fabric of space and time. The revelation they perceived was not confined to a particular time or place, and if it were to be forgotten, other sages would comprehend those truths again. The seven, called rsis, or “seers,” perceived the śruti vibrating in the Universe and recorded what they heard/saw. Coburn notes that the use of two metaphors—hearing and seeing—is intentional; it represents an attempt to “convey the holistic and supremely compelling nature of that experience” (1989, p. 109). According to Hindu tradition, the rsis recorded their experience because of the coming Age of Kali, a dispensation when men would be hardened against spiritual matters. The seven rsis, along with Vyasa, the compiler of the scripture, are generally considered to be perfected beings, greater than humans but less than divine.

    The eternal Vedas came from the impersonal Absolute. They were not personally delivered from God to man, but impersonally manifested. The Veda was not received by humans, as was the Bible, but perceived by sages. Though impersonal, the Hindu philosophy of the word is not unlike that of the Bible. One of the Brahmanas states: “[In the beginning] was the only Lord of the Universe. His Word was with him. This Word was his second. He contemplated. He said, ‘I will deliver this Word so that she will produce and bring into being all this world’ ” (Tandya Maha Brahmana 20.14.2). Though written centuries before, this passage sounds remarkably like John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Just as Christ, the Word, is the ground of all that exists, so Hindus believe that the impersonal Veda is the source of the Universe. The Atharva Veda reads: “From the bosom of the sacred Word he brought forth the world” (4.1.3). A paraphrase of a modern Hindu prayer states: “Those who are versed in the Vedas know that the universe is the transformation of speech. It was out of the Vedas that this universe was first evolved” (Eickler, p. 24). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (of transcendental mediation and Beatles fame) explained this process in more detail:

    Ātmā, the Self, is the ground from where the steps of evolution begin. The first step is Śruti, the speech value of expression, Veda. The second step of evolution is from the speech level to the material level where the frequencies of sound, frequencies of speech in the Language of Natural Law, evolve into frequencies of matter which construct the whole physiology of the ever-evolving material universe, Viśva (Eichler, p.1).

    The material Universe did not come into being by omnipotent fiat, or the intentional will of a purposeful Deity, but by spontaneous evolution from the eternal Veda. The sounds of the Veda (the Veda is sound) became the fabric of the Cosmos. This view is not foreign to Christianity; by the Word, “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1.16). Yet in contrast to the impersonal Hindu word, the Christian Word is a living and personal Being, Who willed the Universe into existence for His own purposes, Who delivered a temporal revelation to humanity for the express purpose of imparting saving knowledge, and Who revealed Himself to man as the ultimate divine knowledge.


    It is important to remember that the majority of India’s population has been illiterate for the greater part of its history (as has been most of the world). As a result, Hindus typically have relied on the spoken word to a greater degree than any written text. “The Veda was not primarily a written text, but the powerful speech that came forth from the mouths of Brahmans” (Carpenter, p. 63). Words and sounds were very important in the Vedic tradition, and even in the earliest Vedas the smallest syllables and intonations were thought to be of divine origin. “In the actual sounded syllables of the Veda lie the points of contact with transcendent reality” (Graham, p. 138). Vāc is the female personification of speech, and might be compared to the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 4 (also perceived as feminine). The relationship between Vāc and Dame Wisdom is interesting, though perhaps a more accurate comparison from the Hindu perspective is the Word of John 1:1. Just as that passage equates the Word with God, several vedic passages divinize the Veda in the form of Vāc. Depicting Vāc as both a personification of the Vedas and as their progenitor, the Aitareya Āranyaka states: “She ‘enters into the seers.’ She gives power and intelligence to those she loves. She is the ‘mother of the Vedas,’ the consort of the lord-of-heaven (Indra), containing all the worlds within herself. ‘Hence Vāc is everything’ ” (3.1.6). Alain Daniélou defined speech (Vāc) as the ground and being of the Universe:

    Speech has the power to evoke images and ideas. The process through which a thought, at first indistinct, gradually becomes definite and exteriorizes itself is similar to the process through which the divine thought becomes the universe. The difference is only one of degree. If our power of thought, our power of expression, was greater, things we speak of would actually appear. With our limited powers only their image is evoked. Speech can therefore be represented as the origin of all things. The cosmos is but the expression of an idea, a manifested utterance. Supreme Divinity can be represented as the causal word (sabda-brahman) [1991, p. 38].

    The words of the Veda are intrinsically powerful. Every syllable is sacred, and the repetition of the scripture is auspicious in and of itself. Eliot notes that it “is sacred sound not a sacred book which is venerated” (1968, 1:lxxi). The books of the Veda are cherished not for their great wisdom or moral instruction, but for the holy sounds contained within. Understanding the text is unnecessary; scriptures’ value lies in its oral repetition. The Veda’s “sanctity often appears to be inversely related to comprehensibility” (Coburn, p. 112). Peculiarly, it is not the message of the Vedas that transcends time, but the words themselves, even “the particular sounds and their precise verbal order in the corpus (including the variants)” (Lipner, 1994, p. 46).

    Christians may be skeptical of this oral approach to scripture, but they would do well to remember the supremacy of the spoken word in their own religion. The spoken word indicates presence, while the written word implies absence. Christ, as the Word, was present among us, and he represents the highest form of revelation. His ascension to the right hand of the Father necessitated the written words of the New Testament so that the disciples might be “guided into all truth” (John 16:13). Those written words are “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12), and reflect the continuing presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is not the immediacy of the Word that sets Christianity apart from Hindu scripture, however, nor the respect for the spoken word, but the content.

    The Bible contains clear statements that must be affirmed prerequisite to salvation. Some are of a historical nature, such as “Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem.” Others are ethical: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There are also what might be characterized as theological or doctrinal truths, which include “Jesus is Lord” and “There will be a day of judgment.” The power of these statements of scripture derives from a comprehension of, and conformation to, those truths—not from their repetition. For instance, Jesus gave the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) to His disciples as an example of prayer that was pleasing to God. To repeatedly recite the exact words of that prayer today would be of little use because the effectiveness of the prayer is linked to a comprehension of the words uttered as well as compliance with certain moral requisites (such as forgiving others their trespasses, Matthew 6:14-15).


    Though the Hindu scriptures are immensely significant to the tradition, they exert surprisingly little influence in the religious life of the average Hindu devotee. Deepak Sarma stated in an introductory lecture on Hinduism that “all Hindus orient themselves in relation to the Vedas” (2003). This is not to say that all Hindus accept the scriptures. It might accurately be said that atheists orient themselves in relation to the Bible, yet their position is opposite that of a Christian. Similarly, Hindus are defined by the degree to which they accept or reject the Vedic scriptures. Some renounce the holy books on principle: most notable among these is Gautama Buddha, an Indian prince who abandoned the Vedas because they reinforced the caste system. Many reject them for more pragmatic reasons; Lipner observed that “in practice most Hindus have had no direct access to the Vedas, either in written form or aurally” (p. 26). The mammoth size and obsolete script of traditional Sanskrit scriptures renders them inaccessible to the majority, and even vernacular translations are unintelligible to a predominately illiterate population. This is true among the clergy as much as the laity—some of the greatest Hindu practioners of the past centuries, such as Sri Rāmakrishna, spoke not a word of Sanskrit. “Even in the most orthodox domains, reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple ‘tip of the hat’ made in passing to an idol with which one intends no longer to be encumbered” (Renou, as quoted in Carpenter, 1992, p. 57). Gupta lamented: “In the present age we take pride in the mere mention of the Vedas without caring to know about their contents” (1979).


    Nonetheless, the majority’s abandonment of the Vedic scriptures does not diminish the significance of the Vedas to the religion. In the Laws of Manu, the Veda is held in highest regard:

    The root of religion is the entire Veda, and (then) the tradition and customs of those who know (the Veda), and the conduct of virtuous people, and what is satisfactory to oneself. Whatever duty Manu proclaimed for whatever person, all of that was declared in the Veda, for it contains all knowledge. So when a learned man has looked thoroughly at all of this with the eye of knowledge, he should devote himself to his own duty in accordance with the authority of the revealed canon. For the human being who fulfils the duty declared in the revealed canon and in tradition wins renown here on earth and unsurpassable happiness after death. The Veda should be known as the revealed canon and the teachings of religion as the tradition. These two are indisputable matters, for religion arose out of the two of them. Any twice-born man who disregards these two roots (of religion) because he relies on the teachings of logic should be excommunicated by virtuous people as an atheist and a reviler of the Veda (Manusmrti 2.6-11, emp. added).

    The sage Manu elaborates the hierarchy of authority in this passage: Vedas or śrutiliterature, secondary or smrti literature, and one’s own preferences. The Vedas are the most authoritative texts, and ought to be called the “revealed canon.”

    Contemporary Western and Indian scholars also acknowledge the centrality of the Vedas to Hindu religion. Brian Smith emphasized the role of scripture when he defined Hinduism as “the religion of those humans who create, perpetuate, and transform traditions with legitimizing reference to the authority of the Veda” (as quoted in Flood, 1996, p. 226, n. 26). Lipner points out that “in theory at least, the Vedas are the source of saving knowledge” (1994, p. 26, italics in orig.). Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Hindu philosopher and first president of India, identified the Vedas as “the standard of thought and feeling for Indians” (as quoted in Sawhney, 1999). One might expect something as important as the “source of saving knowledge,” the “standard of thought and feeling,” and the “legitimizing reference” of a world religion to be well defined, yet, in the words of Wendy O’Flaherty, a revealed canon as mentioned in the Laws of Manu “is a concept with little meaning for a religion as pluralistic as Hinduism” (1988, p. xi). Lipner added that “the boundaries of the Vedic scriptures as they have come down to us are not particularly neat” (1994, p. 42). Jayaram, a Hindu scholar, admitted that Hinduism “does not rely exclusively upon any particular source” (2000), and Princeton professor Donald Lopez noted that it has “no single text that can serve as a doctrinal point of reference” (1995, p. 5).

    As noted above, Hindus do not unanimously accept any single text, or group of texts, as the authoritative body of eternal truth. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each cherish a holy book containing everything that pertains to life and godliness, but Hindus have no analogous monolithic text. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Hinduism does not rest on the authority of one book or one prophet, nor does it possess a common creed” (1991, p. 120). As frustrating as this may be from a comparative religions standpoint, the lack of a definitive text is a source of pride for many Hindus who feel that tolerance and pluralism are the primary themes of the twenty-first century incarnation of the religion. Absolute scriptures lead to dogmatic beliefs, they reason, and dogmatic beliefs lead to strife and violence.

    Nonetheless, it already has been shown that most Hindus have a high regard of the śrutitexts, most broadly referred to as the Vedas. If any canonical scripture exists, it is the Vedas, which have been considered a gauge of orthodoxy (see Manusmrti 2.6-11, quoted above). During the Indian renaissance of the 19th century, various reform movements such as the Brāhmo Samāj and the Ārya Samāj sought to return to the Vedas as the ground of Hindu spirituality. Nolini Gupta, a Hindu scholar, summed up the view of one such school of Hinduism: “He who defies Veda is an atheist, a non-Hindu, an untouchable and a non-Aryan. All the various religious systems and scriptures of the Hindus look upon the Veda as the sole authority. What is inconsistent with the Veda is false and unacceptable” (1979). Veda here is used in the sense of a canon, yet that canon is left undefined.

    Traditionally, the Vedas includes either the four Samhitās or all sixteen branches of texts (Sarma, 2003a). The texts themselves, however, list only the Rig Veda, Sāma Veda, and the Yajur Veda as canonical; originally, the priests rejected the Atharva Veda from the trayi vidya, or “triple veda” (Bhagavad Gītā 9.20; Manusmrti 1.23; 4.125). Limiting scripture to a few books tends to be the exception, not the rule; books are more often added to the Veda and deemed sacred. In the Chāndogya Upanishad (a text within the śruti collection), the Purānas and Itihāsa are described as the “fifth veda” (7.1.2). Vallabha, a 15th-century theologian, proposed a fourfold canon embodying Veda, Brahma Sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā, and Bhāgavata Purāna (Lipner p. 60). The Law Book of Yājñavalkya established the Vedas, the Pūranas, the philosophical system called Nyāya, the exegetical school of Mīmāmsā, treatises on moral duty (dharmaśāstras), and the six classes of work that are auxiliaries to the Veda (pronunciation, prosody, grammar, word-derivation, astronomy, and ritual) as “the fourteen bases of knowledge and moral duty” (1.3). A more contemporary interpretation of Veda comes from the International Gita Society, which considers not only Hindu texts, but also the Bible and the Qur’an as scriptures from the Supreme Being. Coburn points out that “śrutimust be seen as ongoing and experientially based feature of the Hindu religious tradition” (1989, p. 112). Many other passages could be noted, each having a different opinion on what texts are sacred and should thus be listed under the name “Veda.” How does the average Hindu view this dilemma? “The average man – even the average priest—regards all these as sacred works without troubling himself with distinctions as to śruti and smriti, and the Vedas and Upanishads are hardly within his horizon” (Eliot, 1968, 1:lxxv).

    Coburn, in his essay “ ‘Scripture’ in India,” expands further on the Hindu conception of scripture. He argues that Indian scripture exceeds written texts—the written word is only one revelatory medium. “[T]he holy words that are śruti must be seen alongside other transforming, sacramental activities, such as philosophical argumentation, the worship of the divine image form, and the highly nuanced moods (bhavas) of Krishna devotees” (p. 112). He also cites Diana Eck’s book, Darśan, in which she elaborates the thesis that Hindu images (which some would refer to as idols) are actually “visual scriptures” (1998). David Carpenter suggests further that the conduct and judgment of those Brahmin priests who have memorized the Vedas is considered Vedic, “even when they went beyond the known Vedic teachings” (1992, p. 62).


    The corpus of Hindu scripture is enormous. A person could spend a lifetime sorting through the millions of pages of sacred and semi-sacred texts. Even the most orthodox sections of scripture are many times larger than the Bible. Clarke, in an essay on Hindu scripture, defended his limited treatment of the Vedas with this description of his subject: “How large, how difficult to understand! So vast, so complicated, so full of contradictions, so various and changeable, that its very immensity is our refuge!” (1875, p. 81). Recall that the four Veda Samhitās are about the size of the Old Testament, and the Upanishads number over 100. Among the smrti literature, the Epics are five times the length of the entire Bible, each of the 18 principle Puranās is about the size of the Old Testament, and over 5,000 texts of varying length belong to the dharmaśāstra tradition. The Bible seems concise in comparison, containing only 23,314 verses in the Old Testament and 7,959 verses in the New. An average Western library or bookstore stocks some abridged compilation of the Vedic Samhitās, the 13 principle Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gītā, but only the most specialized libraries carry full versions of even the major scriptures. A Hindu equivalent of the Gideon missionary society would have to donate an entire library of books to hotels rather than a single volume to each room. Of course, Hindus have little interest in proselytizing, so it is not really a problem.

    If the size were insufficient to deter an honest seeker of truth, the incomprehensibility of the scripture certainly would. The Bible was written originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Though Bible students rarely master the original languages, sufficient lexical aids exists so that the original meaning can be understood with relatively little difficulty. Hindu students are not so fortunate. Since the Vedas were delivered from an impersonal source (the “Absolute”) there can be no original meaning. “[T]he Veda has no author, no meaning beyond the words and the sacrificial actions themselves; one cannot appeal to a pre-verbal intention to get beyond the words” (Clooney, 1987, p. 660). Incidentally, as Clooney points out in his essay, postmodernists find this approach to understanding texts refreshingly in line with their own views.

    English translations are available for the primary scriptures, yet even the most careful translations are difficult to understand. Most English translations of the Bible are on the reading level of a 6-12th grader, yet the same cannot be said of the Vedas. “Many [of the Vedas] are written in a style which even educated men find very difficult to understand; and, if they have to be studied in the original, only a very small part of them can possibly be mastered by one man” (Mitchell, 1897, p. 247). Archaic Sanskrit (also called Vedic), the language of the Rig Veda, is a dead language, and inaccessible to most Hindus. Other scriptures are written in classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil, and other regional dialects. The possibility of interpretation is further hampered by the belief that the Vedas consist of sacred sound, not written text.

    Were the language difficulties to be sorted out, the problem of incomprehensibility would remain. Hindu scripture contradicts itself time and time again. One might expect works separated by thousands of years to disagree (and they do), but these contradictions are found even within individual texts. There are logical contradictions, conceptual contradictions, and even factual contradictions. This may be explained partially by the Hindu conception of scripture, as explained by Eliot: “The Hindu approaches his sacred literature somewhat in the spirit in which we approach Milton and Dante. The beauty and value of such poems is clear. The question of whether they are accurate reports of facts seems irrelevant” (1968, 1:lxxi). Apparently, contradiction is not regarded as evidence against the Vedas’ divine origin. Hindu scripture confirms this suspicion, and actually embraces the contradictions. The Laws of Manu recommends that both sides of a contradiction in the Veda be accepted as authoritative: “But where the revealed canon is divided, both (views) are traditionally regarded as law; for wise men say that both of them are valid laws” (Manusmrti2.14). Regarding the contradictions inherent in the Upanishads, the collection of texts considered by Olivelle to be the “vedic scripture par excellence of Hinduism” (1996, p. xxiii), Robson remarked: “It is hard to say what philosophical opinion might not be supported from the Upanishads, for the most contradictory statements find a place in them” (1905, p. 28). Likewise the Puranās, so holy as to be called “the fifth veda” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.1.4), are “for the most part intensely sectarian; one denounces beliefs and rites which another enjoins” (Mitchell, p. 260). Coburn stated that, when it comes to Hindu scripture, “sanctity often appears to be inversely related to comprehensibility” (p. 112).

    Hindu scripture is for all practical purposes useless to the average Hindu for these and other reasons. This, of course, assumes that all Hindus have access to the scripture. Traditionally, Hindu society is divided into four castes, the Brahmin (priestly class), Kshatriya (ruling class), Vaiśya (merchant class), and Śūdra (outcastes). The first three classes are known as the twice-born, and only the males of those classes are allowed to read the Vedas. All women and males of the Śūdra class are excluded because of their “impurity” (Manusmrti 2.164-172). These restricted groups do have access to the smrti writings and devotional literature, but the most sacred śruti texts are forbidden. The religion itself restricts to a select few the scripture that purportedly contains saving knowledge.

    There is much morally reprehensible material within the Vedic literature. One 19th-century writer, speaking specifically of the Puranās, underlined the true nature of the Hindu scripture: “The instructions which it professes to give are useless, where they are not scandalous and criminal. The only things clearly to be understood, are the profane songs, the obscene ceremonies, and the other indecencies connected with the prescribed festivals” (as quoted by Goodall, 1996, p. xxxviii). The immoralities endorsed by Hindu scripture range from racial prejudices and rigid social hierarchies to rape and murder.

    For instance, the earliest Vedic texts, which are traced back to the Aryan invasion of the Indian subcontinent, reflect the racial biases of the invaders. It seems that the Aryans were a fairer-skinned people of Persian descent, whereas the indigenous peoples (Dāsas) whom they subjugated were of a darker skin color and Negro-Australoid features. One prayer directed to the warrior god Indra petitioned him to “give protection to the Aryan color” (Rig Veda 3.34.9). Another passage lauds Indra’s victory over the dark-skinned natives: “He, much invoked, has slain Dāsas and Simūs [dark-skinned natives], according to his will, and laid them low with arrows. The mighty Thunderer [Indra] with his fair-complexioned friends won the land, the sunlight, and the waters” (Rig Veda 1.100.18). According to Mitchell, the “language in which the Vedic poets speak of these enemies is uniformly that of unmingled, vehement hatred” (1897, p. 19). Critics might observe that the Old Testament is also guilty of ethnic cleansing; however, the Israelite battles were drawn over moral lines, not ethnic or racial (see Bass, 2003). Though the historical picture is unclear, it seems that the Dāsas were incorporated into the Aryan social hierarchy as the lowest class (Rig Veda 10.90.12). Evidence for this comes from the Sanskrit word for class, varna, which means “color” (cognate to the English varnish).

    More disturbing than the Vedic treatment of race are the pervasive references to sex, and the its role in the religious ritual. The Kāma Sūtra of Vatsāyayana is one of the most infamous Hindu texts. Known as the “Aphorisms on Love,” or more popularly as the “Sex Manual,” the Kāma Sūtra celebrates sexual love (Kāma is the god of love, in many ways similar to Cupid). In addition to explicit information for use between husbands and wives, there are also sections entitled “Concerning the Wives of Other People” and “Concerning Prostitutes,” both providing advice on how to procure such forbidden fruit. The Kāma Sūtrais but one text among many. One entire category of smrti literature known as Tantras is dedicated to the worship of the goddess principle, Śakti. The esoteric teachings within that body of texts describe various sexual rites that represent the spiritual union of the worshipper’s soul with the goddess. Violence and sexual perversion penetrates even the most orthodox scripture. The Brhadārankyaka Upanishad, for instance, condones rape:

    Surely, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women. When she has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period, therefore, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists and overpower her, saying: “I take away the splendor from you with my virility and splendor” (6.4.9,21).

    Bestiality is likewise advocated. A particularly solemn rite for the early Vedic religion was the horse sacrifice. Though it probably was performed rarely, it is mentioned frequently in the Vedic commentaries. Note one section from the Śatapatha Brāhmana: “Then they draw out the penis of the horse and place it in the vagina of the chief queen, while she says, ‘May the vigorous virile male, the layer of seed, lay the seed’; this she says for sexual intercourse...” ( Examples such as this could be multiplied. To the list of atrocities in the Vedic scripture may be added human sacrifice (Aitaraya Brahmana 7.13-18), as if pornography, bestiality, rape, racism, inequalities were not enough.

    The Bible is the authentic, authoritative, and final revelation of the true God. Though written over a period of 1,400 years by forty very diverse men on two continents, The Book is completely unified and free from error. A single theme is expanded upon throughout—the redemption of man through the Messiah. The Bible was confirmed by predictive prophecies and the miracles of the inspired men who wrote it. The moral laws contained within are more reasonable and consistent than that of any other religious or naturalistic system. By contrast, the Hindu scriptures have no final, objective authority; according to one Hindu, “all scriptural knowledge is lower knowledge” (Jayrama, 2000). Subjective religious experiences are generally preferable to written texts. Hindu scripture contains little that is noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy. Allegedly a progressive revelation, Hindu scripture contradicts itself both within particular texts and as a body of literature. The Bible, also a progressive revelation, never corrects itself, but only compliments and fulfils that which has been written. Different Hindu scriptures present completely different paths to salvation (liberation)—karma-yoga (the path of action), jāña-yoga (path of knowledge), and bhakti-yoga (path of devotion). The Vedas contain no predictive prophecy and offer no miracles to confirm the revelation supposedly sent from God. Thus the Hindus have no accessible ground of truth, no normative written word, and no objective moral or religious instruction.


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