I read that the Vatican plans to put online some of the early documents it has stored over the years. It will take a long time to implement, of course, because most of them are hand-written and, no doubt, difficult to decipher. They will have their own ideas about which batch to make available first. The interest in the Dead Sea scrolls and other sources of alternative gospels will no doubt have historians clamouring for the release of any information supporting or rubbishing these documents.
I think it would be more important for the ordinary Christian if they published all the hidden verses from the authorised version of the bible. At the moment we can only accept the word of the princes of the church or draw our own inferences from the rules that these princes have imposed over the millennia on themselves and us. It is not only missing verses, of course: there are some that appear in my copy of the bible that are clearly not in the version available to the clergy.
The Gospel of St Matthew, chapter six has advice about praying; verses five to eight are clearly omitted from seminary bibles:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to pray in the synagogues and at street corners, that they may be seen by men. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
That pretty well rules out praying in churches and at revivalist meetings, I would have thought. Getting dressed up, standing in front of a group of people and inviting them to pray ignores the advice of Jesus. Going on about the things you want for your friends and yourself is a waste of time: God already knows what is best for you.
Petty and trivial, of course, but some of the verses missing from the bibles of religious professionals have caused great misery over the centuries. Matthew chapter nineteen is about a visit to Judea where Jesus is given a hard time by the Pharisees. The disciples try to save Him from the crowds; verses thirteen and fourteen give His response when children approach:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Verse fourteen, subsection ‘a’ is not in my bible, but must read something like this:
“Exclude those children who have not been baptised for in the many rooms in my Father’s house there is no space for them.”
For centuries the Christian church refused to bury unbaptized children in hallowed ground, adding enormous suffering to parents already grieving for the loss of their baby.
In chapter nine of the Gospel of St Luke, Jesus again uses a child to make a point to His disciples; verses forty-six to forty-eight:
And an argument rose amongst (the disciples) as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought in their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, “Whosoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whosoever receives me receives Him who sent me; for he who is the least among you all is great.”
Not verses available to theology students, apparently.
These thoughts drifted into my mind when I watched on television a church service just before Christmas. A procession of clerics dressed in costly clothes carrying magnificent representations of shepherds’ crooks had to divert around a sanitised representation of the birthplace of Jesus. God is omnipotent so he could have sent his son into the world of men at any level of society but he chose for him a manger at the back of a crowded inn.
Jesus could have been born to the chief priest of the temple in Jerusalem, or in the palace of King Herod; he could have been the heir to Caesar Augustus. Instead he was born in a stable to the wife of a tradesman; growing up in the home of a carpenter was, to be fair, a lot less hazardous than surviving to adulthood in a palace! Poverty and disease are a lot less dangerous than intrigue and poison.
As it says in chapter thirteen of the Gospel of St John, verse sixteen:
“Truly I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”
So how can it be that the servants of Jesus wear costly clothes and live in palaces? There must be a few verses missing from my bible. Perhaps the Vatican papers will make everything clear. While we wait I have added a verse to chapter two of the Gospel of St Luke.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.”
When the angels went away from them into the heavens, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds had told them.
But Mary kept all these things pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
It only remains to add:
As soon as the shepherds left, Mary took the child and went with Joseph through a door at the back of the stable into a magnificent palace where they were dressed in costly garments made of gold and silver thread.
Quotations from the Common Bible (Collins 1973)