Monthly Archives: February 2009
In my last post, I stated unequivocably that we Christians can rest easy that the words of the Bible we possess today are the same words that the authors wrote. But I never really explained how that would be the case. I aim to correct that today.
So, how much witness do we have for the Bible and how old is it? Well, we have almost 6,000 manuscripts (MSS) that are copies of the originals. It is true that no two are the same, but the variations that we see are corrected by looking at the corpus of MSS as a whole and then it becomes clear where the mistakes were. With almost 6,000 MSS to choose from, what are the odds that two different copyists would make the same mistake in the same place?
By looking at all of these direct witnesses, it is possible to divide them into familes of texts based on the textual variants. In so doing, patterns emerge. The main pattern is that the newer the MS, the “fuller” it is. In other words, those pesky “missing verses” that the NIV is accused of redacting don’t appear in the earlier witnesses. They were added by later copyists. The leanest and oldest are the Alexandrian MSS. The more robust and newest are the Byzantine MSS. There are other categories, but those are the most famous.
Our modern vesions are essentailly constructed out of the Alexandrian family of MSS. The older versions, such as the venerable King James (still the most beautiful translation in English), are essentailly Byzantine. This makes sense, since the Byzantine family didn’t emerge until after Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire under Constantine. This means that we have many more Byzantine MSS than we do the earlier (and ostensibly more reliable) Alexandrian MSS. The Alexandrian MSS were more likely to be destroyed because they were holy texts of a religion that was illegal and had been persecuted since the time of Nero.
The surviving copies that we do have are excellent witness to the fact that the text we have in our modern Bibles is the text that the earliest Christians read and memorized and read aloud during services. As I stated before, we have nearly 6,000 surviving copies of NT MSS, some of which are dated to 50 to 100 years after the originals. How does that compare to other ancient works?
The best attested work of antiquity, aside from the NT, is the Illiad by Homer. This document was composed around 800 b.c. The earliest fragments date from 400 b.c.–400 years after the date of composition. There are only 643 MSS in existence. Compare that to the NT, with almost 6,000 MSS, with the earliest fragments dating from 50 to 100 years after the originals were written. There is no comparison.
It would be a historian’s wildest dream to encounter an MS as well-attested as the NT, but for some reason the reliability of it is called into question, even by Christians. My prayer is that by explaining some of these finer points I have shown why we can trust our copies of the NT. There is no reason to question that the NT of today is the NT of the earliest Christians, since we have mountains of evidence attesting to that fact.
This means that when I quote a text from the NT, I’m quoting directly what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians: “For in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). The implications are simple. No matter what you hear from skeptics and atheists, the earliest Christians worshipped Jesus Christ as God. Even in the earliest fragments of MSS we can find dozens of references like Collosians 2:9. That means that it was not a decision of the Council of Nicea to start worshipping Jesus as God; that had always been present in the Christian tradition.
Alpha & Omega Ministires, the apologetics ministry of James White, is promoting a very cute T-shirt. It contains pictures of all of the second century papyri that witness the New Testament. It would surely be a conversation starter and a witness tool.
Pick one up over at Reflections, Carla Rolfe’s shop on CafePress.
Though fragmentary, the second century papyri show that very little evolution of NT Scripture has occurred. The witness of the second century MSS, dated only 50 to 100 years after the originals, is that the text we have today is the text that was written. Get it? The NT is in tact! It did not evolve or change over the years to create a new Jesus that no one from the first century a.d. believed in! The earliest Christians believed that Jesus was the Son of God, that he shared the same ontology as God and therefore was God! This belief did not evolve over time and become solidified at Nicea, as the atheists will have you believe.
That Jesus was God was something that the earliest Christians bore witness to. So sleep soundly tonight, Christians, your faith is secure in these second century MSS.
Tomorrow, February 25, I will begin classes at Kaplan University for a bachelor’s degree in business management. This means that the post frequency will decline sharply as I get acclaimated to the assigned coursework. Hopefully, I will still be able to do two to three posts per week.
This degree is in preparation to go to seminary to get my Masters of Divinity in pastoral counseling, after which I hope to be either a hospital/hospice or corporate chaplain. While I’m doing that, I will return to seminary once again to obtain my Masters of Theology in apologetics, where I will add teaching to my already growing list of careers.
My ultimate vision: Cory Tucholski, M.Div, Th.M. Seeing it in print for the first time is very motivating.
After that I should be done with school for a while.
I have no intention of quitting the blog. In fact, I hope that my degrees will advance the content of the blog, as well as giving me the credibility to write and publish a book or two. So stay with me; that way you can say that you followed me before I was famous.
If you would like to help, consider an item off of my Amazon Wish List.
The Christian faith has a long and convoluted history of anti-Semitism. This has always been strange to me, since our faith was born from Judaism. I have, in more recent months, tried to understand the Jewish approach to God (which has started to lead me out of Calvinist theology and into a more Arminian perspective). I think that Judaism has a lot to teach us about the roots of our faith, and we should shed the anti-Semitism that too often accompanies our faith.
As for Bishop John Shelby Spong, in his book The Sins of Scripture, he relates a very similar point of view. The biggest difference between us is that he doubts the historicity of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Spong’s point of contention is that the earliest Christian writings, Paul’s epistles, bear no reference to a betrayal. The gospels, in Spong’s view, came much later (a.d. 75 or later) and therefore are not accurate representations of history.
Paul alludes to the night that Jesus was betrayed in 1 Corinthians 11:23, but Spong says that the Greek is “handed over,” which carries no connotation of betrayal. This isn’t correct according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary. That aside, Spong apparently doesn’t think that people read carefully nowadays. Later, he refers to the story of Joseph and his brothers, and tells us that the exact same phrase is used when describing what Joseph’s brother Judah did to Joseph! That phrase has the connotation of betrayal.
Because of the connection between Judah and Judas, as well as numerous other connections to Old Testament stories, Spong has concluded that the Judas Iscariot story is not real history. The early Christians made it up based on several stories of Scripture. I suppose Spong has never heard of “fulfilled prophecy.”
Although based on the dates he gives for authorship of the New Testament, I would suppose not. Liberal dating of the New Testament is based on the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70. The assumption is that since Jesus accurately predicts things that take place in a.d. 70, the gospels must have been written after a.d. 70. This is nonsense; the gospels date from the a.d. 50s, with Mark perhaps even earlier than that. Conservative scholars, ones that I doubt Spong would consider consulting, put the dates of every NT document as prior to a.d. 70, although that might be stretching it. The gospel of John and Revelation almost certainly came in the a.d. 90s.
Spong and I, while we see eye-to-eye on the issue of anti-Semitism in Christianity, do not meet each other anywhere else in this issue. Anti-Semitism must surely be dealt with, and I believe the way to do that is to realize that the Jewish people did God’s will in putting Jesus to death. His death and subsequent resurrection means victory over death for all who believe in him. That was God’s will all along. Now the Jewish people have only to accept Jesus as their Messiah and they, too, can enjoy eternal life with the Father in heaven.
Even though the next section of his book is about child abuse, there is very little argument in the next section of The Sins of Scripture that actually has to do with child abuse. Instead, Spong focuses on what he calls the ultimate act of divine child abuse: the Atonement. Of the Atonement, Bishop John Shelby Spong says the following:
Let me state this boldly and succinctly: Jesus did not die for your sins or my sins. That proclamation is theological nonsense. It only breeds more violence as we seek to justify the negativity that religious people dump on others because we can no longer carry its load. We must rid ourselves of it. One can hardly refrain from exhorting parents not to spare the rod lest they spoil their child if the portrait of God at the heart of the Christian story is that of an angry parent who punishes the divined Son because he can take it and we cannot. (173)
In this, Spong stands apart from every great thinker of Christian past, as well as from Scripture itself. There is much evidence from Scripture that the Atonement is how God intended us to interpret Christ’s death. But Spong uses those very same reasons to deny the vicarious Atonement. The Jewish feast of the Atonement prefigured Christ’s death; Spong simply asserts that this feast is where the imagery of Christ’s death is drawn from. Not that the feast prefigured the sacrifice on Calvary, rather the followers of Christ found meaning in his death by the feast of the Atonement.
No divine inspiration played a part in this, says Spong. This was grieved followers searching for a meaning in a tragedy. This would also be a veiled denial of the Resurrection, since the death of Christ was only temporary according to both the Bible and Christian tradition.
The assertion that the feast of the Atonement doesn’t prefigure Christ’s death directly contradicts the main thesis of the letter to the Hebrews. Since, however, Spong denies that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, it is no surprise that he completely re-thinks entire portions of Christian theology, no matter how essential to salvation that portion may be. And one’s Christology is central to Christianity, as the Bible teaches:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn 3:16-18)
I guess they both see prayer as a magic gumball machine where the person pops in a quarter and gets a supernatural answer to his or her wish. But that’s not what prayer is at all. Prayer is a vehicle to offer yourself into God’s service, a two-way communication tool between you and God. It is a way to help yourself accept God’s will.
Make no mistake–prayer is powerful if used properly and understood properly. I’ve addressed the topic at some lengthe here and J.P. Holding has addressed the same topic here. Both of us conclude that prayer is not a magical thing that will automatically grant you anything that you wish for.
When are atheists going to stop assuming that the Bible teaches that you can get everything taht you want through prayer? And more than that, when are they going to think that they’ve proven something that no Christian knows when they point out that you can’t get everything you want in prayer?
What do you get out of prayer? Nothing that you want, but everything that you need.
I should note that I’ve also addressed the charges of why Christians have health insurance and visit the doctor here.
The wizards of WordPress have done it again! They have updated the software to allow comment threading. This should make conversations easier to track within comments. All you have to do is hit “REPLY” to a comment and you will automatically reply just to that comment. You can already see it in action in the comment section here.
I hope that this will facilitate some more detailed discussions here. Perhaps it will encourage commenters to hang around longer instead of just doing some hit and runs.
Former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong (or is it bishop emeritus?) writes next about the treatment of gays in his book The Sins of Scripture. I agree that the church has treated gays and lesbians unfairly. But I disagree with Spong that homosexuality is no sin. Clearly condemned in multiple places, the sin of homosexuality has become some sort of “super-sin” to evangelicals.
The only “super-sin” is blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Homosexuality, therefore, should be treated as any other sin. The sinner should be confronted about it, and walked through the Scriptures that condemn the practice. If he or she refuses to repent, I don’t think that ostracizing the poor chap is the answer–although a case could certainly be made for it. I think that prayer is the answer, like we would do for any other sin. Of course such a person would be excluded from church leadership, again, the same as with any sin.
Bishop Spong, however, believes that homosexuality is an inborn characteristic and as such is perfectly acceptable. What Spong fails to deal with, however, is that rage and alcoholism are also inborn characteristics. But no one would ever seriously argue that those two things are good, so why is homosexuality any different?
I also happen to believe that we are born with our sexual orientation. It fits perfectly with Jesus’ teaching to deny ourselves in order to follow him. Everyone has sin in their lives that they must deal with. The homosexual person has an orientation that is offensive to God, and he or she must deal with that sin just as the rest of us deal with ours. They shouldn’t get a free pass just because society is coming around to accept homosexuality for the first time in 10,000 years of human history.
Spong deals with three texts of the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality: the holiness code of Leviticus, the story of Sodom, and Paul’s letters. Throughout his treatment, Spong uses emotionally loaded terms like “bigotry” and “homophobia” to describe people that hold to the Bible’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin. He often states that Bible-defenders get angry or upset when confronted with arguments in favor of homosexuality. What he never does is present an argument, or even a concise summary of his opponents’ views.
From the “This is just plain sad” department:
The $15 candles show the president’s haloed head pasted over the body of St. Martin de Porres, the Peruvian-born friar who is one of the first black saints in the Americas. On the candle, the saint is holding a crucifix.
Fr. La Torre said the candle “mocks Jesus” and “depicts our beloved saints in a not so saintly way.” (source)
Next, we have an example of “freedom of speech so long as you don’t offend me.” A college professor called a student a “fascist b*****d” for giving a speech in class in favor of upholding traditional marriage between a man and a woman. College is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but it is clear that, at least at this school, only the left-wing ideas will do. Anyone who stands for biblical truth is fit only to be silenced. The student is suing the college for violating his First Amendment rights. We’ll see how that turns out.
In his book The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong echoes almost every sentiment of detractors of Christianity in his own beliefs, and gives them credence by declaring himself to be a committed Christian. He believes that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife according to Scripture, and that her place at Jesus’ side is his model for the new place that women should occupy in church leadership. I believe that women have been mistreated not by a literal reading of Scripture (as Spong believes), but by a misreading of Scripture.
Women share with men the distinction of being made in the image of God (according to Gen 1:27), despite Spong’s claim that the Bible subordinates women to men. This was never the original intent. That came after the Fall, which distorts the original intent of God’s creation. Women are now functionally subordinate to men, but they are still made of the same stuff and therefore ontologically equal to men.
Women were not the source of sin, as Spong proclaims. The Bible teaches that it was man who was that source: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12, emphasis added). It was no sin for Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, it was only a sin when Adam ate the fruit, since God gave the command not to Eve but to Adam.
I am not going to dispute Spong that there is a history of sexism in the church, nor am I going to dispute him that some of the Mosaic laws make no sense in regard to women. But we are not bound to the law anymore; we are free in Christ. Spong hits on the one verse that is very important for this discussion–Galatians 3:28. This verse means that the arguments over gender and sex roles are worthless, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
It isn’t necessary to cast Scripture aside in order to arrive at these conclusions; instead one only has to read the Scriptures for what they say. Spong isn’t doing that. But one wonders why Spong attempts to recast Scripture at all since he is on record as believing that it is not the Word of God.