Undermining the foundation of the Bible: a review of ‘A New New Testament’

newnewtestament1Book review by Carmen Fowler LaBerge (corrected on 8/26/13)

Have you always wished that the Bible said something other than it says? A self-elected group of 19 have done just that. Led by a member of the Jesus Seminar, ordained members of Christian denominations including Episcopal (TEC), Presbyterian (PCUSA), Roman Catholic, United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Lutheran (ELCA) along with two Jewish rabbis and a yogi, have added 10 additional texts to the New Testament canon of the Scriptures.

The primary orchestrator of the project is Hal Taussig, a visiting professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary. He also serves as professor of early Christianity at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and co-pastor at Chestnut Hill United Church in Philadelphia. He successfully rebutted two charges of heresy in the United Methodist Church for earlier publications.

Having sought to strip Jesus of His divinity through The Jesus Seminar, Taussig’s latest project seeks to strip the Bible of its authority. He does this by putting together a so-called council of Biblical scholars and denominational leaders, including the past PCUSA General Assembly Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow.  He says of the work in a recent blog post on the subject, “Personally, while I understand that there will be continued backlash about this project, it was a privilege to be a part of it. I only hope that even in the midst of the deepest disagreement, we may all see one another as created and complex children of God.”

The other Presbyterian involved was Margaret Aymer, associate professor of New Testament and area chair of Biblical studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga., and a person who is well-known for pursuing her own agenda even at the cost of fundamental fairness.

The 10 texts that were added to the New Testament to comprise a new New Testament are:

  1. The Prayer of Thanksgiving
  2. The Gospel of Thomas
  3. The Acts of the Apostles (alternate to the version written by Luke)
  4. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Book of the Odes of Solomon
  5. The Thunder: Perfect Mind
  6. The Gospel of Mary
  7. The Gospel of Truth
  8. The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
  9. The Acts of Paul and Thecla
  10. The Secret Revelation of John

The publicist for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simmi Aujla, says that the “Key ingredients of this overhaul are 10 forgotten, overlooked, or lost until now” texts and acknowledges that they were selected with an agenda in mind.

The added texts advance the feminist agenda and female sexuality. One text in particular, The Thunder: The Perfect Mind, is a poem in the voice of the divine female, also known as the sacred feminine or the goddess Sophia.  Taussig says of this document, it “reframes what it means to be women and men.”

Aujla says that the added texts were also selected for “the importance of the teachings of Christ, rather than His redemptive death, which has alienated Christians who seek to square their faith with reason.”

In the Preamble, which begins on page 483, Taussig describes the work as a “reimagined early Christian collection.” Notably, there is no mention of God’s inspiration of nor involvement in the formation of the New Testament nor in the process used by the council that produced this new version.

It is no surprise that Taussig does not suggest that people see this book as authoritative. But that’s not the point. It undermines the authority of the New Testament when someone seeks to supplant the Word of God with other words.

He suggests that the book be read with “a spiritual mood and perspective,” taking pains to avoid any reference to the present power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the study of God’s Words by God’s people. There is no sense of divine revelation, just the reorganization of historic manuscripts into a canon that suits the appetites of a 21st century social agenda.

On page 498 in a discussion of what is gained by the addition of the Secret Revelation of John, Taussig says it “strikes a very different tone for God’s final victory. Unlike the world in flames found in the traditional Revelation to John’s vision of God’s final triumph, the Secret Revelation portrays a consummate ending by virtue of Christ’s successful teaching about God’s compassion and goodness. Instead of the traditional Revelation’s final verses cursing anyone who would change any words, the Secret Revelation finished with John proclaiming Christ’s vision and teaching.”

It is not difficult to see why a group of people with enough hubris to add 10 books to the Bible would prefer a version that did not include a prohibition against the very project they undertook. But of equal significance is to note that instead of supporting a redemptive view of history through God’s ultimate intervention, the new New Testament supports a humanistic worldview that says we can all make it progressively better together.

Nowhere is it acknowledged that the Bible is sacred because it is actually the divinely inspired Word of God. So, from the perspective of those who think they are smarter than the Councils that ultimately sealed the New Testament canon, this council regards it all as merely the words of men and women, and therefore open to their personal manipulation.

A New New Testament is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013; 688 pages; $32.


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this review identified Union Theological Seminary in New York as affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is not. The editors apologize for the error.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge