Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm
Should God’s existence be proven? /Apologeticshtml/Should the Bible and God Be Proven Fideism vs WCG.htm
Does the Bible teach blind faith? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Gospel of John Theory of Knowledge.htm
How Do We Know That the Right Books Are in the Bible and that the Bible Is Historically Reliable?
Is the Bible from God or just from men? Many skeptics have long questioned the historical reliability of the Bible. They also have questioned which books are included in it. Let’s briefly survey why the Bible is historically reliable, including why conservative Christians regard the Bible as infallible, why the right books were chosen to be in the Bible, and why it’s logical to believe that the Bible doesn’t have historical errors in it.
Is the whole Bible, in the original manuscripts, the inerrant, infallible word of God? What does the Bible itself say? When debating His fellow Jews about His identity, He cited one text, and justified the conclusion He drew by noting, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). If the text (Psalm 82:6) Jesus cited might have been wrong (say) 1% of the time a priori, His generalization would have been wrong. Likewise, Paul told Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). Although the church historian Samuele Bacchiocchi argues that no Biblical writer affirms all of Scripture is inerrant, this reasoning is like asking a fish in the ocean to be conscious about its water supply: It’s so utterly taken for granted, so axiomatic, it need not ever be explained. By definition, by the nature of His character and attributes, an almighty, all-knowing God who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) doesn’t inspire errors. Nor would He allow shoddy research or sloppy writing by His prophets to garble His revelation to mankind.
The Christians who believe the Bible is partially wrong think illogically theologically. After all, the cause (i.e., a perfect God) wouldn’t produce a defective product (i.e., written revelation) as a direct effect. As Gleason Archer comments: “The sovereign Lord who could use the wooden staff of Moses to bring down the ten plagues upon Egypt and part the waters of the Red Sea can surely use a fallible human prophet to communicate His will and His truth without blundering or confusion of any kind” (“Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties,” p. 28). Now Dr. Bacchiocchi, a church historian, objects to such reasoning: “The nature of the Bible must be defined inductively [Says who?—EVS]—that is, by considering all the data provided by the Bible itself—rather than deductively—that is, by drawing conclusions from subjective premises” (p. 45). Is it a “subjective premise” that if God is almighty, all knowing, and all-loving, the revelation this God gives humanity can be transmitted through otherwise fallible human instruments perfectly? It’s sound deductive theology for Archer to conclude: “The inerrancy of God’s written Word as it was originally inspired is a necessary corollary to the inerrancy of God Himself” (“Encyclopedia,” p. 28).
Dr. Bacchiocchi, who thinks the Bible is partially incorrect, sets up and knocks down a straw man when arguing: “This absolute view of inspiration . . . results in a ‘dictation’ view of inspiration that minimizes the human factor. . . . We believe that Bible writers were God’s penmen, not the pen of the Holy Spirit” (pp. 43, 45). But inspired authors having different writing styles is perfectly compatible with inerrancy since factual accuracy in matters of doctrine, morality, history, and science can be preserved through varying vocabulary and syntax choices in a written document. Using one of Dr. Bacchiocchi’s own (bogus) examples of a “contradiction” in parallel Old Testament passages (II Sam. 24:25; I Chron. 21:25), the style of either (or both!) Biblical writers wouldn’t have been cramped had the Holy Spirit whispered “the correct figure in the ears of the two writers” (p. 44).
Is the Bible historically reliable? By the two parts of the bibliographical test for judging whether a document is historically reliable, the New Testament is the best attested ancient historical writing. Some 24,633 known copies (including fragments, lectionaries, etc.) exist, of which 5309 are in Greek. The Hebrew Old Testament has over 1700 copies (A more recent estimate is 6,000 copies, including fragments). By contrast, the document with the next highest number of copies is Homer's Iliad, with 643. Other writings by prominent ancient historians have far fewer copies: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 8; Herodotus, The Histories, 8; Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, 10; Livy, History from the Founding of the City, 20; Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, 8. Tacitus was perhaps the best Roman historian. His Annals has at the most 20 surviving manuscript copies, and only 1 (!) copy endured of his minor works.
The large number of manuscripts is a reason for belief in the New Testament, not disbelief. Now, a skeptic could cite the 1908-12 Catholic Encyclopedia, which says "the greatest difficulty confronting the editor of the New Testament is the endless variety of the documents at his disposal." Are these differences good reason for disbelief? After all, scholars (ideally) would have to sift through all of its ancient manuscripts to figure out what words were originally inspired to be there. In order to decide what to put into a printed version of the New Testament, they have to reconstruct a single text out of hundreds of manuscript witnesses. Actually, the higher manuscript evidence mounts, the easier it becomes to catch any errors that occurred by comparing them with one another. As F.F. Bruce observes:
By the two parts of the bibliographical test, the New Testament is the best attested ancient historical writing. Some 24,633 known copies (including fragments, lectionaries, etc.) exist, of which 5309 are in Greek. The Hebrew Old Testament has over 1700 copies (A more recent estimate is 6,000 copies, including fragments). By contrast, the document with the next highest number of copies is Homer's Iliad, with 643. Other writings by prominent ancient historians have far fewer copies: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 8; Herodotus, The Histories, 8; Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, 10; Livy, History from the Founding of the City, 20; Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, 8. Tacitus was perhaps the best Roman historian. His Annals has at the most 20 surviving manuscript copies, and only 1 (!) copy endured of his minor works.
The large number of manuscripts is a reason for belief in the New Testament, not disbelief. Now, a skeptic could cite the 1908-12 Catholic Encyclopedia, which says "the greatest difficulty confronting the editor of the New Testament is the endless variety of the documents at his disposal." Are these differences good reason for disbelief? After all, scholars (ideally) would have to sift through all of its ancient manuscripts to figure out what words were originally inspired to be there. In order to decide what to put into a printed version of the New Testament, they have to reconstruct a single text out of hundreds of manuscript witnesses. Actually, the higher manuscript evidence mounts, the easier it becomes to catch any errors that occurred by comparing them with one another. As F.F. Bruce observes: “Fortunately, if the great number of mss [manuscripts] increases the number of scribal errors, it increases proportionately the means of correcting such errors, so that the margin of doubt left in the process of recovering the exact original wording is not so large as might be feared. The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice.”
Having over 5300 Greek manuscripts to work with, detecting scribal errors in the New Testament is more certain when comparing between its manuscripts than for the Caesar's Gallic Wars with its mere 10 copies, long a standard work of Latin teachers to use with beginning students. The science and art of textual criticism has an embarrassment‑‑of riches‑‑for the New Testament.
Is there any evidence for the New Testament being written in the first century? After all, liberal scholars, atheists, and agnostics normally have said the New Testament was written long after the time Jesus and his disciples (students) lived. And if the New Testament was written around (say) the year A.D. 150, how could you trust what was in it? Since Jesus died in the year A.D. 31, a gap of a hundred or more years would mean that all the eyewitnesses would have died by then. You would be left with believing in stories passed down over three or more generations. This creates major obstacles to believing in it, as the game "whispering lane" implies. If you played this game in elementary school, you might remember how the first kid would be told a message by the teacher. Then the rest of the class would pass the message along from one kid to another. The final kid to hear it rarely, if ever, correctly got the full, original message. Does a similar problem confront believers in the New Testament when judging whether it is an accurate record for the life and ministry of Jesus and his disciples?
Recently among scholars a move away from a second-century composition date for the New Testament has developed. For example, Biblical archeologist William Foxwell Albright remarks: "In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew [Luke presumably would be an exception‑‑EVS] between the forties and eighties of the first century A.D. (very probably sometime between about A.D. 50 and 75)." Elsewhere he states: "Thanks to the Qumran discoveries [meaning, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which first were uncovered in 1947 in the West Bank of Jordan], the New Testament proves to be in fact what it was formerly believed to be: the teaching of Christ and his immediate followers between cir. 25 and cir. 80 A.D." Scholar John A.T. Robertson (in Redating the New Testament) maintains that every New Testament book was written before 70 A.D., including even the Gospel of John and Revelation. He argues that no New Testament book mentions the actual destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Rome, it must have been all written before that date. If the New Testament is a product of the first century, composed within one or two generations of Jesus' crucifixion, worries about the possible inaccuracies of oral transmission (people telling each other stories about Jesus between generations) are unjustified. As scholar Simon Kistemaker writes:
“Normally, the accumulation of folklore among people of primitive culture takes many generations: it is a gradual process spread over centuries of time. But in conformity with the thinking of the form critic [a school of higher criticism that studies how oral transmission shaped the present organization of the New Testament], we must conclude that the Gospel stories were produced and collected within little more than one generation.”
In cultures where the written word and literacy are scarce commodities, where very few people able to read or afford to own any books, they develop much better memories about what they are told, unlike people in America and other Western countries today. For example, Alex Haley (the author of Roots) was able to travel to Africa, and hear a man in his ancestors' African tribe, whose job was to memorize his people's past, mention his ancestor Kunta Kinte's disappearance. In the Jewish culture in which Jesus and His disciples moved, the students of a rabbi had to memorize his words. Hence, Mishna, Aboth, ii, 8 reads: "A good pupil was like a plastered cistern that loses not a drop." The present-day Uppsala school of Harald Riesenfeld and Birger Gerhardsson analyzes Jesus' relationship with His disciples in the context of Jewish rabbinical practices of c. 200 A.D. Jesus, in the role of the authoritative teacher or rabbi, trained his disciples to believe in and remember His teachings. Because their culture was so strongly oriented towards oral transmission of knowledge, they could memorize amazing amounts of material by today's standards. This culture's values emphasized the need of disciples to remember their teacher's teachings and deeds accurately, then to pass on this (now) tradition faithfully and as unaltered as possible to new disciples they make in the future. Paul's language in I Cor. 15:3-8 reflects this ethos, especially in verse 3: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . ."
Correspondingly, the apostles were seen as having authority due to being eyewitness guardians of the tradition since they knew their Teacher well (cf. the criterion for choosing an apostle listed in Acts 1:21-22; cf. I Cor. 9:1). Furthermore, the words of Jesus were recorded within a few decades of His death while eyewitnesses, both friendly and hostile, still lived. These could easily publicly challenge any inaccuracies in circulation. As scholar Laurence McGinley writes: "The fact that the whole process took less than thirty years, and that its essential part was accomplished in a decade and a half, finds no parallel in any [oral] tradition to which the Synoptic Gospels [Mark, Luke, and Matthew] have been compared."
Scholars have in recent decades increasingly discredited dates that make the New Testament a second-century document. As Albright comments: "We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date[s] between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today." This development makes the time gap between the oldest surviving copies and the first manuscript much smaller for the New Testament than the pagan historical works cited earlier. The gap between its original copy (autograph) and the oldest still-preserved manuscript is 90 years or less, since most of the New Testament was first written before 70 A.D. and first-century fragments of it have been found. One fragment of John, dated to 125 A.D., was in the past cited as the earliest copy known of any part of the New Testament. But in 1972, nine possible fragments of the New Testament were found in a cave by the Dead Sea. Among these pieces, part of Mark was dated to around 50 A.D., Luke 57 A.D., and Acts from 66 A.D. Although this continues to be a source of dispute, there's no question the Dead Sea Scrolls document first century Judaism had ideas like early Christianity's. The earliest major manuscripts‑‑Vaticanus and Sinaiticus‑‑are dated to 325-50 A.D. and 350 A.D. respectively. By contrast, the time gap is much larger for the pagan works mentioned above. For Homer, the gap is 500 years (900 b.c. for the original writing, 400 b.c. for the oldest existing copy), Caesar, it's 900-1000 years (c. 100-44 b.c. to 900 A.D.), Herodotus, 1300 years (c. 480-425 b.c. to 900 A.D.) and Thucydides, 1300 years (c. 400 b.c. to 900 A.D.). Hence, the New Testament can be objectively judged more reliable than these pagan historical works both by having a much smaller time gap between its first writing and the oldest preserved copies, and in the number of ancient handwritten copies. While the earliest manuscripts have a different text type from the bulk of later ones that have been preserved, their witness still powerfully testified for the New Testament's accurate preservation since these variations compose only a relatively small part of its text.
For the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries have shrunk the gap for the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) at a stroke by a thousand years, though a gap of 1300 years or more remains. These discoveries still demonstrate faith in its accurate transmission is rational, since few mistakes crept in between about 100 b.c. and c. 900 A.D. for the book of Isaiah. For example, as Geisler and Nix explain, for the 166 words found in Isaiah 53, only 17 letters are in question when comparing the Masoretic (standard Hebrew) text of 916 A.D. and the Dead Sea Scrolls' main copy of Isaiah, copied about 125 b.c. Ten of these letters concern different spellings, so they don't affect meaning. Four more concern small stylistic changes like conjunctions. The last three letters add the word "light" to verse 11, which doesn't affect the verse's meaning much. The Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) also has this word. Thus, only one word in a chapter of 166 words can be questioned after a thousand years of transmission, of generations of scribes copying the work of previous scribes. Gleason Archer said the Dead Sea Scrolls' copies of Isaiah agree with the standard printed Masoretic Hebrew text "in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling." Their discovery further justifies William Green's conclusion written nearly 50 years earlier: "It may safely be said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted." If it was so well preserved for this period of time (c. 100 b.c. to 900 A.D.) that previously wasn't checkable, it's hardly foolhardy to have faith that it was for an earlier period that still can't be checked.
What books should be in the New Testament? This subject raises the issue of the canon, which concerns which books should and shouldn't be in it. After all, up to 200 various "Gospels" floated around in the ancient Roman Empire. These apocryphal (so-called "missing") books boasted such titles as "The Shepherd of Hermas," "The Gospel of Peter," "The Gospel of Thomas," “The Gospel of Barnabas,” etc. For example, it appears that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, evidently got many of his stories second and third hand orally, but ultimately often from apocryphal sources such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Barnabas, not from the Bible itself. It results in some clear historical errors in the Koran of Islam. Now, why should Christians believe only four Gospels were inspired by God? Since apocryphal books' quality is much lower and/or their teachings so greatly vary from the canonical books, they can be easily dismissed from serious consideration. The Christian community followed implicitly (at least) the procedure of Deuteronomy 13:1-5. This Old Testament text says that later revelations‑‑here specifically ones about following false gods‑‑which contradict previous ones are automatically invalid, even when the false prophet made some accurate predictions. Some of the apocryphal gospels supported the Gnostic cause. Claiming the Old Testament's God was evil and totally different from the New Testment's God, the Gnostics also denied Jesus had a body of flesh and blood before His crucifixion. Since their teachings totally contradict the Gospels and Letters (epistles) of the New Testament, not to mention the Old Testament, their writings could automatically be stamped heretical and rejected as fraudulent. As F.F. Bruce explains: “The gnostic schools lost because they deserved to lose. A comparison of the New Testament writings with the contents of The Nag Hammadi Library [a collection of ancient Gnostic books discovered in 1945 in Egypt] should be instructive, once the novelty of the latter is not allowed to weigh in its favour against the familiarity of the former.”
Similarly, James comments: "There is no question of any one's having excluded them from the New Testament: They have done that for themselves." Scholar Milligan remarks: "We have only to compare our New Testament books as a whole with other literature of the kind to realise how wide is the gulf which separates them from it. The uncanonical gospels, it is often said, are in reality the best evidence for the canonical." And Aland maintains: "It cannot be said of a single writing preserved to us from the early period of the church outside the New Testament that it could properly be added today to the Canon." For these reasons it's absurd to claim that the Gospel of Peter's account of Jesus being resurrected on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread (which is a historical inaccuracy) proves the other four Gospels are wrong. Instead, the Gospel of Peter is simply false: It is just one document written later than the earlier four canonical Gospels. It also contains the false Gnostic/docetic teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh. Even judging by secular criteria, the four Gospels are far more likely to be historically reliable. Furthermore, archeological discoveries have repeatedly sustained Luke's reliability as a historian. Their collective witness against this historical mistake found in "The Gospel of Peter" should be seen as decisive.
In evident reaction against the heretic (and Gnostic) Marcion's (c. 140 A.D.) attempt to edit the canon, lists of the canonical books were made from the late second century onwards. These lists, even from the beginning, contain most of the books found in the New Testament today. The author of the Muratorian fragment (c. 170 A.D.), Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.), Clement (c. 190 A.D.), Tertullian (c. 200 A.D.), Origen (c. 230 A.D.), Eusebius (c. 310 A.D.), and Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 348 A.D.) all compiled lists of canonical books. Furthermore, a fundamentally false skeptical assumption must be avoided: The Gospels are not canonical because the church decreed them to be authoritative, but because they are inspired, the church accepted them as having authority. A leading criterion for the church to accept a book as scripture was whether the church believed an apostle (Paul, John, Matthew, James) or someone associated with an apostle (traditionally, Mark was seen as associated with Peter, and Luke with Paul) wrote it. Nothing written after c. 100 A.D. made it into the canon. Only the books written within a generation or two of Jesus' death were deemed proper to include in the canon. What mattered was apostolic authority, not just authorship. Thus, N.B. Stonehouse says: "In the Epistles [Letters, such as by Paul] there is consistent recognition that in the church there is only one absolute authority, the authority of the Lord himself. Wherever the apostles speak with authority, they do so as exercising the Lord's authority." High levels of skepticism about the New Testament's canon simply aren't justified.
Did the Roman Catholic Church chose the canon? It claims this, but this wasn't true. First of all, it is quite problematic to label "Roman Catholic" the persecuted Sunday-keeping church that survived before the time the Roman Emperor Constantine granted toleration through the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313). The increasing union of church and state in the fourth century and afterwards inevitably caused Rome to corrupt doctrinally and spiritually the church. Second, the Roman Catholic Church's leadership (which is the crucial issue) did not choose the canon, and then impose it from the top down. Instead, the Greek-speaking eastern churches showed their independence of the Bishop of Rome. Many of them, at least in Asia Minor (now Turkey), held onto seventh-day Sabbatarianism (Saturday observance) and a Passover (not Easter) communion for many years after 100 A.D., showing they were corrupted at a later date. Furthermore, this claim ignores how God can move men who are not true believers to make the right decisions. Would God be so careless to let those with false doctrines ultimately pervert His holy word? Similarly, the Old Testament was preserved and had the right books placed in it despite Israel often fell into idolatry and later rejected the Messiah as a nation. For secular historians of ancient history to even be able to do their jobs, they have to assume the texts they analyze have a certain amount of reliability themselves, so both Christians and unbelievers share this kind of faith some. Finally, the Sunday-observing Church before the time of Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan was hardly a tightly controlled, highly organized, monolithic group. It had suffered terrible persecution during the rule of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) and earlier emperors.
Consider this statement by Jerome (c. 374-419 A.D.) who translated the Latin Vulgate Bible (at least for the Gospels and Old Testament). Even in the year 414 A.D., as he wrote to Dardanus, the prefect of Gaul (modern France), it shows the lack of top-down uniformity in the Catholic Church on the canon, long after the pro-Trinitarian Council of Nicea (325 A.D.):
This must be said to our people, that the epistle which is entitled 'To the Hebrews' is accepted as the apostle Paul's not only by the churches of the east but by all church writers in the Greek language of earlier times [note that he doesn't consider papal authority or synods of bishops as determining the canon's contents!‑‑EVS], although many judge it to be by Barnabas. It is of no great moment who the author is, since it is the work of a churchman and received recognition day by day in the churches' public reading [again, this clearly denies a top-down approach‑‑EVS]. If the custom of the Latins does not receive it among the canonical scriptures, neither, by the same liberty, do the churches of the Greeks accept John's Apocalypse [the Book of Revelation]. Yet we accept them both, not following the custom of the present time [which denies as binding the authority of recent council decisions, such as that of Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397, or the papal decree of 405--EVS] but the precedent of early writers [notice!], who generally make free use of testimonies from both works.
This statement shows the canon came from the traditional practices of laymembers, elders, and writers--from the bottom up. As scholar Kurt Aland remarks: "It goes without saying that the Church, understood as the entire body of believers, created the canon . . . it was not the reverse; it was not imposed from the top, be it by bishops or synods."
Persecution was a major factor in forming the canon, especially the campaign lasting 10 years (cf. Rev. 2:10) unleashed by the Roman emperor Diocletian starting in 303 A.D. During those years the Roman government for the first time specifically targeted for destruction all copies of the New Testament. Believers in the scattered congregations throughout the empire had to know which religious documents they had they could hand over and which ones they should resist surrendering, even if that cost them their lives. As Bruce notes, handing over "a copy of the Shepherd of Hermas or a manual of church order" might be permissible if that would satisfy the Roman police for a time, but sacred Scripture never would be O.K. to give up voluntarily. "But for Christians who were ordered to hand over books it must have become important to know which books must on no account be surrendered and those which might reasonably be regarded as 'not worth dying for.'" Decentralized decision-making for each congregation, or a group of congregations under one bishop, was the order of the day after local Roman officials launched their attacks. They show papal decrees or synods of bishops did not create the canon when they proclaimed its contents in the mid to late fourth century and early fifth centuries. Instead, the bishops or the Pope merely ratified pre-existing practice over the centuries and decades by multitudes of laymembers, elders, and church writers scattered within the confines of a vast empire.
Therefore, among most serious conservative Christians, there are few disputes about the canon of Scripture except for the old debate about certain books of the Old Testament (“the apocrypha”) that the Catholic Church includes but which Protestants and Jews exclude. There aren’t that many disputes about who wrote which book of the Bible, especially in the New Testament, among conservative Christians. True, the Letter to the Hebrews isn’t clearly a letter written by Paul, so its authorship has been commonly argued about. But many ancient traditional Christian writings bear witness to who wrote which New Testament book
It’s clearly reasonable to have faith in the Bible. For more evidence on this subject, it’s recommended to read some basic books by C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Henry Morris, and others who defend belief in God and/or the Bible from a rational viewpoint.
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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm
May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm
Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm
Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm
Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html
Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm
Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm
Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm
Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm