Thursday, February 24, 2011

Challenge: "You can't trust the Bible, it's been translated so many times."

Today, a lot of people are not sure Jesus was anything like what the Christian Scriptures describe, and some wonder whether this guy ever even put his feet on our planet at all.  The kicker is, it's not just general doubt - there's a whole breed of skeptical New Testament scholars fueling big questions about the truth of the Christian story, and their Jesus Seminars and the like make good news stories.  Popular media makes much of the radical theories certain academics postulate about Jesus, but seldom do you hear a story challenging the new wave of Jesus-story-making.

How can we trust the Bible?  How can we believe the New Testament Jesus story?  I've been looking into this, and if you'll humor me, I'd enjoy sharing a bit of what I've uncovered.  Maybe you're a skeptic - if so, thanks for your time, and I hope here you find some good food for thought, and I'd sincerely like to know how you feel about what I've written.  If you're a believer, I think this will bolster your faith.  It has been so refreshing to me to study these questions and make the observation that it is 1) not only reasonable to accept these words by faith because God is a living, present, faithful God who I have experienced over and over, but also 2) the Biblical Jesus story is shockingly skoocum from an intellectual standpoint.... see what you think.

Over the next few blogs I will post a few of my favorite discoveries.

For today, a few notes on the text of the New Testament, which was first written in Greek.  One of the things I hear people say a lot is, "The Bible has been translated so many times - how can we know we even have the original words?"  

The fact is, there is no other ancient book on our good planet that is better attested than the Bible.  Shocker, I know, but go ahead and check it out for yourself.

  • When held up against other ancient documents, the NT is more or less light years ahead in the 
    • quantity of manuscripts (5600+ in Greek)... did you know there are only 7 copies of Plato's writings?
    • and the age of manuscripts (earliest is gospel of John from early 2nd century  - possibly 30 years after original document)... most copies of ancient documents are 1000+ years older than original document... the earliest copy of Plato is 1300 years older than the original
  • Translations of the NT into Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and other languages in early centuries, rather than muddying the waters, provide further confirmation of the text of the NT
  • Even if we had no NT at all, all of it apart from about 12 verses could be drawn from quotations in the writings of the Early Church Fathers
  • long before any big church councils occurred - the canon of the NT (which books were recognized as having divine authority) was recognized among the early church, as evidenced in the Early Church Fathers
  • the craft of textual criticism (where you compare one copy with another) demonstrates that the text of the New Testament is more reliable than that of any ancient text - 99.5% according to top NT scholar Bruce Metzger
  • in all of those 5600 texts, most of the differences are the equivalent of typos, and none of the differences affect any major doctrine of Scripture
  • while thousands of archaeological finds have confirmed the Bible, none have firmly contradicted it
    • for example - Scholar William Mitchell Ramsay was convinced the book of Acts (a history of the early church from 30-60 AD) was a mid-second century creation (as per the liberal theology of his 19th century world).  When he did on-site research of Asia Minor, the places and person names he uncovered convinced him Acts was "an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor" specifically for first century history, and as such, it could only have been written in the first century.  He ended up experiencing a complete reversal of his beliefs about Acts.
If you've read this far, you probably are, like me, interested in the details and the facts... if you want to learn more, this article goes a bit more in depth - Greg Koukl on "Is the New Testament Text Reliable?"

In my next blog I'll share mind-blowing reasons that I find compelling for believe the stories we have about Jesus himself are reliable.

Got a thought?  Post your comments.

There's your glimpse of my bedtime reading for now...


1 comment:

  1. I heard some amazing chats by Wayne Grudem on the authority of the bible, the fact is most people write it off because if its true there is a whole lot of accountability / responsibility being missed; not to mention an amazing story of an incredible God who did for us what we could never do for ourselves by doing it on our behalf. Once my mac is fixed I would even entertain throwing them on a cd for anyone interested. Did that sound a little bias :)