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Limitations of scriptures

The scriptures of various religions guide their adherents on religious and temporal matters. They prescribe codes of conduct for leading a virtuous life and instruct the faithful on how they should pray and perform various rituals.

The scriptures of the major religions were written after the passing away of the founders. They were written or compiled by companions of the founders or their followers. While some of the scriptures contain the teachings of the founder of the religion, others are collections of teachings of several holy men.

The Quran is said to have been verbally revealed by God to Prophet Mohammed through angel Jibril (Gabriel) gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning in 610 AD, when Mohammed was 40, and concluding in 632, the year of his death.

Shortly after Mohammed’s death, the Quran was compiled into a single book on the orders of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, and at the suggestion of his future successor, Umar.

Hafsa, Mohammed’s widow and Caliph Umar’s daughter, was entrusted with that Quranic text after Umar died. When the third caliph, Uthman, began noticing slight differences in pronunciation of the Quranic Arabic, he sought Hafsa’s permission to use her text and commissioned a committee to produce a standard copy of the text of Quran, to which added diacritical marks ensured correct pronunciation.

Following this, variations to the standardised text were invalidated and ordered to be destroyed. All versions of the Quran copied by scribes subsequently were from this codex. The present form of the Quran text is accepted by most scholars as the original version compiled by Abu Bakr.

“Scriptures may not be what they are believed to be–the direct word of God. If all the scriptures were messages from one God, the question arises as to why the messages are different.”


The New Testament is made up of 27 books attributed to eight authors, six of whom are counted among the Apostles (Matthew, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude) and two among their immediate disciples (Mark and Luke). The books were written in the first and perhaps the second centuries in different countries and addressed to particular Churches. The Christian canons of scripture underwent several changes as collections of related texts were joined to other collections and single works in different combinations to form various canons. Over time, some disputed books were introduced into canons in which they were originally absent, and other works earlier held to be scripture were excluded.

Similarly, the religious text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Granth, was compiled and composed over several centuries, during the period of Sikh gurus, from 1469 to 1708. The collection of hymns, which describe the qualities of God and why one should meditate on God’s name, contains the writings of numerous holy men other than the Sikh gurus, including Hindus and Muslims, cobblers and untouchables. Sikhs believe that the text is divine revelation.

The Bhagavad Gita–as also the epic Mahabharata, of which the Gita is a part–is ascribed to the sage Vyas. But there is no certainty about the date of its composition, with scholars citing dates from the fifth century BC to the second century BC as the probable range.

The Mahabharata and Gita are believed to have been altered later, with many episodes added to the original text. One example is the episode of the attempted disrobing of Draupadi, which was added to the epic in the eighth century. Similarly, Buddhists say that Gautam Buddha was the first to use the word nirvana, and it was later added to the Gita.

“Because of differences over the origins, authenticity and meaning of the scriptures, these holy books lack the authority that one would expect the word of God to have.”


From all of the above, it becomes clear that the scriptures may not be what they are believed to be–the direct word of God. If all the scriptures were messages from one God, the question arises as to why the messages are different.

Nor can these holy books possibly contain in entirety the teachings of the founders of the respective religions exactly as they were imparted, as lapses in the memory or understanding of those who first composed the books would have resulted in omissions and alterations.

Moreover, many of the teachings in scriptures are given in language that is open to a wide range of interpretations which, in turn, are the cause of discord among adherents of the same faith holding different views.

Because of differences over the origins, authenticity and meaning of the scriptures, these holy books lack the authority that one would expect the word of God to have.

The scriptures surely give guidance on religion, morality and the conduct of life, and thus for centuries have served the purpose of instilling in people some noble values and shielding them from evil.

But today, reading scriptures has been mostly reduced to a ritual. People see reading scriptures as an end in itself, and make no effort to practice the teachings of the holy books in their lives. As religious practices become increasingly superficial and the spiritual essence of religion gets forgotten, dogma begins to assert itself, fuelling inter-religious and sectarian conflicts.

This has only served to accelerate the erosion of people’s faith in religion and scriptures, and given rise to cynicism about all things religious. The resulting spread of immorality and materialism is there for all to see.

This trend cannot be reversed by human efforts. Only God Himself, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, can salvage the world when unrighteousness becomes pervasive . The portents of divine intervention mentioned in the Gita are now apparent, and God is now performing the task of liberating humans from suffering by giving them true spiritual knowledge

By Dadi Janki

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