Monthly Archives: March 2012

Can’t Touch This – Part 8

Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus

Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ family thought He was crazy

Jesus had a biological mom, a human dad, and at least 6 brothers and sisters.[1] Many believe His human dad, Joseph, died before He started His ministry because he’s not mentioned after the birth accounts. However, whoever was still alive in Jesus’ family while He started His ministry did not believe He was God in the flesh. In fact, they thought He was crazy, including His own mother[2] who prompted Him to perform His first miracle.[3] Once, while speaking to a crowd, Jesus implied that His family did not listen to and follow God’s word.[4]

Two of Jesus’ brothers, James[5] and Jude,[6] went on to write scripture. James was one of the most influential leaders in the early church. He was probably the senior leader of the church in Jerusalem, which was the first and largest church in the known world for a long time.[7] James could have easily covered up or had those descriptions of him taken out of the Bible if he wanted, but he didn’t. There’s no evidence that he ever argued about having his earlier failures recorded, asked anyone not to write about them, or influence any writings that put him in a poor light at all. If the Bible was edited or changed after it was written, the instances of James thinking Jesus was crazy probably would not have been included.

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Can’t Touch This – Part 7

Sacro Monte di Crea; The finding of the empty ...

Sacro Monte di Crea; The finding of the empty tomb of Christ, statues by Antonio Brilla, 1889 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Women as witnesses

In 1st century Rome, the era in which the New Testament was written, a woman’s’ testimony was not widely trusted. In fact, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in court. However, all four gospel accounts unapologetically credit women as the first witnesses to the resurrection.[1] Mark and Luke even give women credit for being the eyewitnesses of his burial, probably so that they could authenticate where His body was laid.[2] If all four canonical (authorized and accepted) Gospel accounts were edited to make them look more credible, men would have been written in as the original eye witnesses, but they weren’t. The only reason Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would have given women credit (and that they maintained the credit throughout church history) is that they really were the first eyewitnesses. No one would have gambled on the doctrine (teaching) of Jesus’ resurrection by attributing women as the first witnesses if they weren’t. The doctrine of the resurrection is too important. In fact, Paul said it is the most important doctrine of all.[3]

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Can’t Touch This – Part 6

The Arrest of Christ with the kiss of Judas an...

The Arrest of Christ with the kiss of Judas and Apostle Peter cutting the ear of Malchus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ Followers Look Bad

Aside from history and archaeology, there are other reasons the Bible’s manuscripts are worth trusting. One of the most obvious is the way that the Bible is written. Early church leaders, who could have edited or destroyed the originals, left glaring accounts of their weaknesses untouched. The writings also use witnesses and proofs that the culture at large would not have accepted. The only reason for any of those to have been written, and remained intact, is that they are exactly what happened.

The apostles, especially Peter, are frequently portrayed in a poor light in the Gospel accounts. None of the disciples seemed to understand who Jesus was or what He was about.[1] They tried doing things on their own and failed because of a lack of faith and poor spiritual discipline,[2] they got into an argument on which one of them was the greatest,[3] had hard hearts,[4] tried to stop people from doing good works,[5] ran children off for trying to see Jesus,[6] abandoned Jesus at His time of greatest need,[7] and doubted that He came back from death.[8] Some of them even doubted His resurrection as they looked at His resurrected body and listened to Him talk.[9]

It didn’t matter how close they were to Jesus, they still didn’t understand Him. His top three disciples once tried to set up camp on a hilltop, instead of going on the mission He was about to send them on[10] and two of them asked for a promotion they didn’t deserve.[11] Even when Jesus was under tremendous duress and needed some friends to pray for Him, they fell asleep instead.[12] Peter, one of the three, rebuked Jesus to His face. He told Jesus that He was wrong when He said He was going to die,[13] was violent when Jesus was peaceful,[14] complained about the way Jesus said he would die,[15] and pretended like He didn’t know Him when strangers asked – simply because he was afraid.[16]

Jesus’ 12 disciples weren’t the only ones with less than exemplary records. For example, Mark, who wrote the gospel of Mark, got an early opportunity to be a missionary with Paul and Barnabus.[17] For some reason, he bailed out on Paul and Barnabus. Later on, he wanted to rejoin their mission. Barnabus wanted to let him back in and Paul didn’t. The argument got so heated that Paul and Barnabus stopped working together.[18]Mark, a biblical author, could have influenced the record of himself in Acts. He could have complained that Luke wrote about his flaws – but he didn’t.

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Can’t Touch This – Part 5

Portrait of a Scribe

Portrait of a Scribe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reliability of Old Testament Texts

The reliability of the Old Testament (OT) Texts is a quicker study. The OT texts are considered to be historically trustworthy for opposite reasons of the New Testament manuscripts. Instead of trusting the OT manuscripts because of how many there are, the OT manuscripts are trusted because of how few there are. There are fewer ancient manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Old Testament in existence today than there are New Testament manuscripts. We don’t need to be concerned that they are inaccurate; instead, we can be encouraged of the accuracy because of scribal tradition.

Ancient Hebrew people who wrote, read, and preserved the OT, were very particular about how books of the OT were copied. Obviously they did not have electronic copying machines or the ability to save anything digitally and then print it. They had to copy the books by hand. This was an arduous process that had to be carried out by highly trained and disciplined scribes called Talmudists. Samuel Davidson, who was the chair of biblical criticism, literature, and oriental languages at the Lancashire Independent College at Manchester, wrote about the process in detail:

[1] A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, [2] prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew. [3] These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals. [4] Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. [5] The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist of thirty letters. [6] The whole copy must be first-lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless. [7] The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other color, and be prepared according to a definite recipe. [8] An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least deviate. [9] No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him … [10] Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene; [11] between every new parashah, or section, the breadth of nine consonants; [12] between every book, three lines [13] The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so. [14] Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, [15] wash his whole body, [16] not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink, [17] and should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him.[1]

The fact that Old Testament manuscripts were handled so meticulously shows why there are so few. The Jewish scribal tradition kept them from preserving a manuscript that they thought could be flawed or tampered with. A large number of manuscripts would cause scholars to question the care with which they were copied.

[1] Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict (San Bernardino, 1972), 56-57.

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Can’t Touch This – Part 4

Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini,...

Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relative Age of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments

The second bibliographic test is the age of the manuscripts relative to when it was originally written. The New Testament wins here again. Not only are there more manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the New Testament than any other ancient document, the manuscripts and manuscript fragments we have are older than any other ancient manuscript. Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, said “In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century – say from 250-300 years later.”[1]

250 years later sounds like a long time until you compare it to contemporary sources. No other ancient document has extant ancient manuscripts dating 250 years after it was written – and certainly not hundreds of them. The New Testament is in 1st place with extant manuscripts that old. Caesar’s account of the Gallic War is in 2nd place. According to F.F. Bruce, who was the head of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield in the mid-1900’s, our manuscripts of Caesar’s writing are much younger. “For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant [manuscripts], but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.”[2]

Ancient manuscript fragments of New Testament books are continuing to be found, some of which are very old. For instance, according to one of the world’s leading paleographers, a fragment of Mark was recently discovered that is from the first century AD. The dating is awaiting final confirmation, but if this is proven, it will be the oldest New Testament manuscript fragment ever found. In fact, it will be 100-150 years older than the next oldest fragment of Mark in existence.[3]

[1] Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict (San Bernardino, 1972), 47.

[2] McDowell, 47.

[3] “Dr. Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?,” Dallas Theological Seminary, (access February 10, 2012).

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Can’t Touch This – Part 3

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tests for the Reliability of New Testament Texts

There are two primary ways to measure how reliable an ancient manuscript is, these are called bibliographic tests. The first test is the quantity of ancient manuscripts and manuscript fragments in existence. The second is their age relative to the original date of authorship. The New Testament is in a class of its own in both of these tests. There are far more, and far older, manuscripts of the New Testament than any other ancient document. To put it another way, the New Testament is the most bibliographically reliable ancient book in existence.

Manuscript and Manuscript Fragment Quantity

The first test is manuscript quantity. There are thousands of ancient copies of the New Testament. A.T. Robertson, who taught at The Southern Baptist Seminary in the 19th century, wrote that “there are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate and at least 1,000 for the other early versions. Add over 4,000 Greek manuscripts and we have 13,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament.”[1] Bruce Metzger, who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote that there are more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts.[2] This puts the New Testament manuscript and manuscript fragment count at 14,000+. This puts the New Testament in first place. In second place is the Iliad by Homer with 643 ancient manuscripts and manuscript fragments.[3]

There is also a difference in how well the New Testament has been preserved as compared to the Iliad. There are occasional discrepancies, called textual variants, from one manuscript to the next. This means that some manuscripts may have slightly different wording from others, or add or omit small portions of books. However, once they are all added up, the textual variants account for one half of 1 percent of all ancient New Testament manuscripts. All ancient documents have textual variants and the New Testament has the fewest.  For example, 5 percent of the text of the Iliad is in question.[4]

Even the textual variants in New Testament manuscripts do not concern most scholars. There is no question that over 99 percent of the words of the Bible have remained unchanged. In dealing with textual variants, usually the oldest or most common wording among them is correct.  In the more difficult to determine cases, the context usually makes it clear. In any case, textual variants have caused scholars to study the manuscripts very carefully. This has given them more confidence in the reliability of the Bible than before.[5] Finally, according to Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary, “no Christian doctrine or ethic depends solely on one of the doubted texts.”[6]

[1] Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict (San Bernardino, 1972), 46.

[2] McDowell, 47.

[3] McDowell, 51.

[4] McDowell, 51.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1994), 96.

[6] “A Closer Look: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Ed Stetzer – A LifeWay Research blog, (accessed February 15, 2012).

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Can’t Touch This – Part 2

Bible Persian Manuscript (14th century)

Bible Persian Manuscript (14th century) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lost Originals

While it’s true that the original manuscripts of all the books of the Bible have been lost, this is normal for ancient documents. We no longer have the original manuscripts for anything written by Homer, Suetonius, Josephus, or any other author who wrote during the Biblical era. In fact, the manuscripts we do have were copied hundreds of years after their death. For example, scholars believe they have accurate manuscripts of all 7 of Sophocles plays. However, the oldest substantial manuscript in existence was written 1,400 years after he died.[1] These documents would have been read heavily and are very old. Even the finest quality paper would not last under those conditions.

Many people believe that God intentionally prevented the manuscripts from surviving. If they were still around people would flock to museums to see them. There would be a growing number of people who worship pieces of paper instead of the God who inspired the words written on them. To this day Jews from all over the world visit Jerusalem so that they can touch, pray beside, and even leave prayer requests in the western wall of the destroyed temple. They believe the wall brings them closer to God. Imagine a similar reaction surrounding the piece of parchment Paul penned his letter to the Ephesians on.

[1]Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict (San Bernardino, 1972), 47.

Stay tuned for part 3

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