Tuesday, June 2, 2009

the reliability of the new testament_part one

I will post my comments about the accuracy of the NT in four posts. The first is on the transmission of the texts. The second is on the reliability of the NT; the third will be on the formation of the NT cannon; and the fourth will be on the topic of the Gnostic gospels and why we don't have them in the NT as many are suggesting that we ought.Here are some quotes to get us started.
Teabing cleared his throat and declared, “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven.”“I beg your pardon?”"Bible is a product of man, my dear, Not of God. The Bible did not magically fall from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.Conversation between Sophia and Teabing in chapter 55 of The Da Vinci Code, 250.
…the earliest period of textual transmission was also the least controlled. This is when nonprofessional scribes, for the most part, were copying our text—and making lots of mistakes in their copies.
My contention is that Christian scribes who opposed adoptionistic views of Jesus modified their texts in places in order to stress their view that Jesus was not human but also divine." Quotes from Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why,129 and 155.
These quotes represent what is becoming the popular belief about the Bible. However, they have no more basis in fact than the belief that there is a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence [perhaps if you believed what you saw in National Treasure, you will also believe the Da Vinci Code]. There are two questions I hope to answer in this post. First, how did we get the Bible? Second, can we trust it?
We begin the story of the N.T with the life of Christ coming to an end around 30 A.D. Following Christ's death the text went through a period of oral transmission. The first and most obvious objection would be on the question of if we can trust these accounts. After all, we have all heard a pseudo-intellectual attempt to make the case that the stories in the Bible were expounded around the campfire much like fishing stories and thus one can explain away anything miraculous. This sort of arm-chair critique of the Bible only betrays the ignorance of those peddling this rubbish. That person knows nothing of the concept of oral traditions or of cultures that use this method as their primary means of preserving history.
First, one must know that oral accounts would have taken on fixed forms. This is what happens in cultures today when still bound by oral means of communications. There are fixed forms of the stories that are memorized by all. Once everyone knows of them there can be no changing them. This is a strategy currently being used by missionaries in non literate societies to do evangelism. They will take several of the leaders and will teach them all the same stories. As these men begin to learn the stories of the Bible it is time for them to demonstrate their command of the material. They each take turns stepping in a circle and telling the stories. If they make a mistake, then one of the other men will push him out of the circle, and tell the story correctly. In this way, messages can be accurately transmitted orally. Furthermore, cultures that are not accustomed to the many technological reminders that we have--ranging from PDA's computers,tape recorders to even things that we often over look such as a written language [as opposed to tribal languages which are not normally written down] not to mention the means with which to write our thoughts--do not have the same struggles in remembering details. Have you ever been around a blind person? One thing you will inevitably notice is that they have great ability remember things. The reason we doubt oral tradition is because of our own memories which are accustomed to the crutch of technology.
Second, one must realize that the disciples couldn't falsify their accounts during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. If they would lie, particularly in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, then they would certainly be corrected. Third, according to traditional writings all of the disciples, with the exception of John, were persecuted severely and finally murdered for what they believed. Sane persons don't die for a lie Fourth, extra biblical records support biblical account it a majority of their details. Here is a list of the details. These come from about a dozen different sources; most of these are not sympathetic to the cause of Christ:
  • Jesus’ Brother was James
  • He was a wise man had large following
  • Reported to have appeared three days after his crucifixion
  • Falsely accused
  • Suffered excruciating punishment
  • Christians were hated
  • Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
  • Christianity broke out again in both Judea and Rome
  • There was darkness at the time of crucifixion
  • Jesus was killed at Passover time
  • That he was accused of being a sorcerer (CF Mark 3:22; John 8:41)
Finally, there is the Principle of embarrassment. That is to say that if someone writes something embarrassing about themselves, then it is probably true. Consider a few of the disciples dumb moments:
  • Thomas doubted that Christ had risen from the grave
  • Peter sank after going out on the water with Christ
  • Peter was called Satan by Christ Peter denied Christ three times
  • The women were the first to discover the resurrected Christ The women were the first to really "get it" when it came to who Christ was and what he was there to do.
  • No one was smart enough to know that Judas was the betrayer even though Jesus told them the betrayer was at the table.
If they were lying then why would they leave these foolish and embarrassing details intact?
Oral tradition carried the burden of the gospel for quite a few years. Written accounts begin to surface around 50-70 A.D. Why so long till written accounts? First hand witnesses were still alive prior to this. Eyewitnesses were beginning to grow old and near death. Prior to this oral tradition was sufficient. Why written accounts? Impending death of eyewitnesses (due to age and persecution). They would not live forever. As the church spread, oral tradition was insufficient. To supply the spread of the church then, there must be written accounts that the missionaries can take with them. Furthermore, heresy was beginning to crop up. Written accounts would give official and accurate accounts of the events. As a part of this writing process distribution is a natural side effect. Even the scriptures themselves indicate that the writings of the apostles were to be distributed:
I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 1 Thes 5:27
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 1 Tim 4:13
And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. Col 4:16
To supply distribution, transmission was necessary. Contrary to Bart Ehrman [see 2nd and 3rd opening quote], there were in fact professional scribes during this time period and, by implication, in the early church . The Masoretic text was being copied in its earlier forms by professional scribes as early as AD 20. These men were Jews. Who were the first converts to Christianity? Jews! Is it possible that some of these scribes were among these early converts? His premise that there were no professional scribes is completely untenable and irresponsible for a man of his academic stature to assert. One must also understand that the Jews have historically been an educated people. Even in Nazi Germany, when they were pushed from their homes into the shanty towns, one of the first things they did was start schools. Illiterate? I think not. One thing that does happen when anything is copied by hand is that differences creep into the texts. There is in fact a 10% difference between all of the texts--from best to worst, mind you. While folks like Ehrman and Dan Brown would like to expose a grand conspiracy the vast majority of differences can be explained by the following [in order from most occurrences to fewest]:
  1. Variant spellings
  2. Varied word orders: Christ Jesus –Jesus Christ; The Good man –the man, the good one [both of these take the legitimate translation of "the good man" in English]
  3. Slips of the pen [this example isn't obvious in English, but fruit and speck are very similar words in Greek] Luke 6:41 “Why do you look at the fruit in your brother’s eye.” [error] “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye.” [correct]
These differences are, for the most part, somewhat easy to sort through--although there are some that require a great deal more effort. Here is an example of how one can sort through differences to find the original meaning:
Christ Jesus is the saviour of the whole world
Jesus Christ s the savior savior of the whole world
Jesus Christ is th savior of the whole world
Jesus Christ is the savor of the whole world
Which one is right? Can you tell. Is it too hard to realize that the original sentence looked like this? Jesus Christ is the savior of the whole world
These differences began to be copied to the point that there are actual "Families of Texts" These families are as follows: Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, Byzantine . If you really want to know the differences between those families of texts then you will have to read a book on textual criticism.
Was There a Conspiracy then to corrupt the texts? Consider these facts:
  1. The Writers left difficult passages intact. Rather than harmonizing their accounts, they left the differences intact. They can be corroborated , mind you, in much the same way that one can take eye witness accounts in a court of law to establish facts.
  2. The writers did a poor job of covering Jesus humanity. if they were trying to make him out to be god, they sure forgot a lot of stuff that makes Jesus look human as well as divine.
  3. The writers left in incriminating evidence. This is the same as the principle of embarrassment In conclusion, if this was a conspiracy, then it was worst execution of a conspiracy in all history!
Is the number of texts and the differences therein a strength or a liability? Let us consider the Quran in answering. The Quran was delivered directly to Muhammad. All of the writings of his scribes were complied into the book. As it began to be translated differences crept in. Later, one man decided to fix the problem. He collected all of the texts and compiled an official version, the current one. He then burned the rest of the texts. This, in my opinion, presents a big problem. We are left trusting this one man! At best the Quran is this man's opinion of what the Quran ought to be. Without any other text, there is nothing for comparison. By analogy, if the Catholics were the ones who had the only biblical text, then we would be forced to trust that what they said the bible said it did in fact say. Fortunately there are thousands of Greek manuscripts for comparison. Consider also the Book of Mormon. It was translated by Joseph Smith off of Gold plates delivered by the angel Moroni. Later the plates were taken back and once again there is nothing whereby to check the work of young Joseph. What is the problem with this? There are four thousand differences from the first edition to the current edition! Which Book of Mormon is right? We don't know and can't even check.Since there are many Greek NT texts, we can go back and verify things and do not succumb to blind trust in a human mediator.
Continue on and read about the Reliability of the NT in the next post.

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