JOURNEY TO FAITH – PART XVI

The Verdict of Reason

When it comes to the Bible, serious Christians have a bit of a problem. In order to use the revealed-Scriptures as a source of authority, we must establish its accuracy. Put another way: If we are to claim that Scripture is inerrant: It must be accurate…in all its details. That’s quite a tall order. So let’s begin the test.

TESTING THE SCRIPTURES

We’ll begin to test the veracity of the Scriptures by looking at the documents themselves. How do we know that what we are reading is the ‘Word of God’? Almost unanimously the early church accepted the Old Testament scriptures of the Judaic tradition. As to the New Testament, the 27 Books were finally officially established by the ratification of Church Councils held during the 4th century. Both the Eastern and Western forms of the Church adopted the books now widely held as being worthy of the designation of Holy Scripture. This was in many ways an approval of the already held practices of the Church at large. It must be understood that this was not imposed from on high. This was instead a clarifying process. Through the first few centuries of the new faith, the various centers of the Church had gone through a process of testing the possible choices of New Testament literature. The books that survived this process are those that were best suited to the purpose. They are those that best reflected the true nature of Christ’s teaching. Many works were accepted, first, by the Church-at-large, and finally by the formal councils of the faith. There were several other ‘Gospels’ that were rejected. But it was not a result of some internal political struggle or attempt to hide some ‘truth’ that would in some way compromise the power or position of the Church. The books that made it into the canon did so because of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, reflected by adherence to 3 specific criteria. These included; first the direct authorship or sanction of an Apostle, secondly wide recognition and usage by the churches, and finally a test of its content. Did that particular work reflect the standards and teachings of the Christian message? The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were found to have met these tests. For many reasons, many of the ‘gospels’ extant at the time did not. These were to begin with, later works, written between the 2nd and 5th centuries, and it therefore follows that they had no connection with an Apostle. [Even liberal scholarship admits that the canon of the Bible was complete by the end of the first century – and most serious researchers believe it was penned before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; just thirty-some years after Christ’s death and resurrection.] Perhaps the most famous of these is the Gospel of Thomas. Even a quick read of just some of its verses reveals a fatal variance with the norms of Christian teaching. Thomas is a gospel of an almost eastern philosophy, with a marked pantheistic theme. God is found in the very matter of creation. This is in no way a Christian idea, and the Church-at-large and in council recognized this. In addition there is an inferiority of women inherent in its teachings. So when these other books were rejected, it was because they did not ‘jive’ with the teachings of Jesus. They did not conform to the Christian understanding of the world.[i] [ii]

In addition we can be more than reasonably certain that the Bible we read today is, in all of its essentials, and over 99% of its details an accurate representation of the original work. By the standard objective tests applied by historians, the New Testament is by far the most reliable of any ancient historical writing. There are over 5000 copies just in the original Greek, over 24,600 copies or fragments of copies overall. More than 1700 copies of the Old Testament in Hebrew are in existence. Homer’s Iliad is the next most documented work, with about 640 copies. Only 10 copies of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars can be found. The accuracy of these ancient secular works is never questioned. Furthermore the gap between the copies that we have and the original writings is not very large at all. This means a more accurate rendering of the text, as there is less time for copying errors to have seeped in. For the Homeric writings a gap of around 500 years exists, for Julius Caesar it is about 900 years. In contrast for the New Testament, the gap between the copies and the originals is less than 90 years, one fragment dated to 125 AD. This is less than 60 years after the New Testament is believed to have been completed.[iii] This accuracy has been confirmed by the fact that many of the copies have come from wide ranging geographical areas without displaying significant variation in the text. In addition the entire New Testament could be reproduced just by relying on quotes found in sermons and other documents of the early church leadership.[iv]

Probably the most significant piece of evidence came to light in 1947 with the discovery by a Bedouin shepherd boy of what came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls, consisting of over a thousand fragments of manuscripts, had been preserved intact in the caves around the Dead Sea, since right around the time of Christ. Examination of the texts has shown no significant variation between those manuscripts and the Hebrew version of the Old Testament from which the King James Version of the Bible was translated. What this means is that through the centuries before the invention of the printing press, when copies were able to be made only by hand, the textual integrity of the Scripture has remained intact. The Bible we have today remains overwhelmingly the Bible that was in existence twenty centuries ago.[v] Now while copies have remained extremely pure and accurate this is not to say that there has been no variation in the copies we have of the existent scripture. For instance the versions of the New Testament we do have, did come through the hands of countless copyists from many different locations in the region. Some variance can be expected. Critics have stated that there are as many as 200,000 mistakes found in the copies we have. The implication of course is that the Bible as we know is an unreliable document. If there is no consistency in the Scripture itself, it cannot possibly represent some form of absolute truth. The critics’ claims however do not hold up to scrutiny. The same word misspelled in each of a thousand different manuscripts was counted as a thousand errors. Other ‘errors’, may include inadvertently copying the same word twice, or the insertion of a word that does not alter the meaning of the passage. Another example of an inconsequential variation would be a change in the order of words in the original Greek. The Greek grammar being what it is, means that a re-arrangement in the order of words would not affect the translation. Now there are probably a few hundred variations that may cast doubt on the meaning of a particular line of text. But even in these cases, scholars have found that no article of faith or doctrine of the church was put into question. Passing through thousands of hands over thousands of years, the Bible has maintained its textual purity, to a greater degree in fact than any other ancient book.[vi] [vii]

[i] Don Closson, The Christian Canon, Probe Ministries International, 1996

[ii] Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Zondervan, 1998, pgs 86-90

[iii] How Do We Know Christianity Is True, Biblestudy.org

[iv] Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Zondervan, 1998, pg 76

[v] Grant R Jeffrey, Jesus: The Great Debate, Frontier Research Publications, 1999, pgs 59-60

[vi] How Do We Know Christianity Is True, Biblestudy.org

[vii] Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Zondervan, 1998, pgs 83-85

Speak Your Mind

*