Posts Tagged ‘new’

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When you think about the Bible’s history as being passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, it’s very reasonable to assume that there has been intentional alteration of the text over the years. That is, intentional alteration by kings or other authority figures, who wanted to use religion as their leverage over the people. This was a conspiracy theory I personally believed in the past, and books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion and Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief  build a case to support this theory of corruption. Christians like to think the massive copying of NT manuscripts was done via a motivation to preserve Christ’s divine message, but what if instead the motivation lie with men wanting to preserve their own power?

In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown presents a story that asserts the early Church was power hungry. That they literally stole Jesus from His original followers, and modified the message to expand their own power and solidify their own political agenda. In the Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels writes of the Gnostic Gospels and other lost gospels that she learned in Harvard were “suppressed” by the early church.  Pagels concluded that the early Christians wanted to centralize power to one overseer (a bishop), so they preserved gospels that mentioned only one God, but suppressed all other gospels that spoke of multiple Gods.[1] Pagels also believed that early church leaders wanted power expanded in particular cities so that power would be given to overseers in those cities in which Jesus had once lived, so gospels that spoke of spiritual resurrections of Jesus were suppressed while other gospels that spoke of a bodily resurrection was preserved.[2] She also ascribed to church leaders wanting to exclude female leadership in Church, so manuscripts that referred to God as the Mother were suppressed while those that referred to God as the Father were preserved.[3] And when people tried to speak out against Gospels being suppressed, Pagels refers to text from the church leader Clement that says that they must receive the “death penalty.”[4] Let’s be honest, no conspiracy theory seems legit unless lives are being threatened[5]… This tactic was used in the pseudo-documentary Bloodline as well.

The one thing almost all these critics agree on is that the NT manuscripts were hand picked with bias among a multitude of manuscripts to incorporate into a Bible.[6] Some critics believe that no one in the first and second century considered the NT manuscripts sacred until a late second-century pastor named Irenaeus of Lyons declared Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the authentic author’s of Jesus’ life. Many others, like Dan Brown and the members of the Jesus Seminar, believe that what was considered scripture was in fact determined by Emperor Constantine during the Council of Nicea in the 4th century. Dan Brown goes further to suggest that the concept of Jesus being the Son of God wasn’t established until the Council of Nicea.[7] W.H.C. Frend writes in The Rise of Christianity, that the first time the 27 books of the NT are even mentioned together is in a letter written by a pastor named Athanasius of Alexandria in A.D. 367 years after the council of Nicea.[8] Since there is no prior mention of all 27 being deemed authoritative prior to the Council of Nicea, Rend concludes that it was the council itself that gave the scriptures authority. This would of course mean the Council could have corruptly chosen particular manuscripts out of the long list of available manuscripts, to decide which to give authority to, thus tying into Pagels’ earlier mentioned theories.

In other words, the motivation to create the Bible was not to safeguard and preserve the truths of Jesus, but to safeguard and preserve political agendas and the Church’s power. Anyone who tried to say otherwise was violently suppressed. Any manuscripts that said otherwise were suppressed. Corruption at it’s finest… If this isn’t a conspiracy I don’t know what is.

Conspiracy Theory vs. History

Ok, so you’ve heard all the conspiracies, now let us actually study history to get to the truth of the matter. The first thing we need to establish is what kind of corruption we are talking of. You’ll notice the critics above never suggest the manuscripts were rewritten to suit an agenda, but instead particular manuscripts were accepted and others rejected to suit an agenda. Yet, the average layman conspirer tends to think that the manuscripts were rewritten down the line to fit a personal agenda. This is actually the one case where I can say; that is impossible! The manuscripts weren’t a few copies you could locate and rewrite. Gospel manuscripts were all over Europe, the Middle East andNorth Africa being written and copied in massive numbers. There is a reason we have thousands of copies in existence today. It would be impossible during this time in history for anyone to track down every manuscript and rewrite them. The only possible way to corruptly alter God’s message would be to pick particular manuscripts to give authority too and suppress the rest. And that is the conspiracy the critics above prescribe to and accuse the Church of doing. So is that what happened?

Yes, the Church authorities did pick particular manuscripts as divine scripture and denounce the rest. But here is what everyone needs to understand: The manuscripts were not chosen based off of corrupted agendas, but instead based on their authenticity and accuracy, something that had already been established hundreds of years earlier by church leaders. After the NT manuscripts were written and spreading, Christianity was becoming popular in the Roman Empire. Understandably, cults and Christian spin-offs began to emerge and produced their own “gospels.” These other gospels, mostly from the Gnostics[9], strongly contradicted the original gospels. As time went on in the second and third centuries, more and more manuscripts started to appear in circulation. This of course became a great concern for the Christian Church.

So of course the Church eventually was forced to decide which manuscripts were the true testimony of Christ and which were false, to settle the matter once and for all. This would be the Council of Nicea in A.D. 327, the purpose behind which being to arrive at a consensus regarding what scriptures possessed the most accurate portrayal of Jesus.[10] The council was able to determine which manuscripts were accurate based on how closely the manuscripts were written to the lifetime of Jesus. Unlike the Gnostic gospels, the NT manuscripts were found in much larger numbers written much closer to the lifetime of Jesus. If you’re deciding which ones are the most accurate portrayal of Jesus, it’s a no brainer; go with the manuscripts written by eyewitnesses closer to the lifetime of Jesus. As you read on though, you’ll see that the NT manuscripts were actually decided long before the Council of Nicea.

Some other claims critics make about the Council of Nicea are straight up false. Brown claims the council was divided between Christians and Pagans. This is incorrect, the council was divided between two different sects of Christians, one believing Jesus was a creation of God (known as the “Arians”) the other believing Jesus was God incarnate. He also states that the final vote at the Council was a very close vote which decided whether Jesus was the Son of God. This is not true. Out of the more than 300 church leaders at the council, only two did not sign the Creed of Nicea which proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God.[11]

Based off that though, critics run with it to say that these beliefs were concocted at the council and finalized there. This is just not the case though. Take for example Pagels’ earlier claim that the bodily resurrection was used to expand the church’s power in particular cities. History tells us this is just not the case. In A.D. 155 Bishops Anicetus and Victor of the Roman church demanded that all Christians observe Easter, the holiday celebrating the bodily resurrection of Christ.[12] Ignatius of Antioch wrote of the bodily resurrection of Jesus in a letter to the church in Smyrna in the end of the first century.[13] This is important to know because the contrary text Pagels references that insists the resurrection was spiritual not bodily, she read from the Gospel of Mary (a rejected text), of which the authorship is still questioned to this day. But we do know it was written in the mid to late second century. In other words, she is siding with one gospel with questionable authorship written long after the four original gospels, which themselves testify to a bodily resurrection. Furthermore, other manuscripts from the NT written earlier than the Gospel of Mary also testify to a bodily resurrection. Acts 2:31, Galatians 1:1, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, 14 all testify to a bodily resurrection and were written during the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus in the mid to late first century. This breaks down Pagels’ theory because history tells us that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was solidified with Christians long before the false Gospel of Mary and long before any council established the New Testament.

“The flaw in Pagels’ logic is [that] she uses an effect produced by an orthodox belief to explain the origin of the belief itself. She might as well argue that Elvis fans made up his existence because they like his music so much… Pagels declares in her conclusion that ‘it is the winners who write history- their way.’ Ironically she seems to miss the fact completely that orthodoxy ‘won’ because history was on its side.”

-Sophia De Morgan, Theologian.[14]

 

“When arguments over power began to plague the Roman church in the second century, Christians had already recognized the physical resurrection of Jesus as a crucial element to their confession of faith for several decades.”

-Timothy Paul Jones, Theologian[15]

Let us also recall that Pagels’ claim that the Church preserved gospels claiming there to be only one God, suppressing others that testified multiple Gods, in an effort to centralize power. Anyone who knows basic history, or has even read the Old Testament for that matter, can testify that the Jewish faith established their God to be one and only one God, thousands of years prior to Christ. Just flip back to Deut. 4:35-39, 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; or Isaiah 45:5, 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9 and you’ll see that the Jews were pretty dead set on there being only one God. Obviously as Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, non-Jewish converts that once believed in multiple Greek Gods would begin to later draw up their own manuscripts that were heavily influenced by the polytheism inRomeprior to Christianity. Naturally any manuscripts that declared there to be many Gods would be found contradictory to thousands of years of Jewish religion as well as contradicting the other NT manuscripts dated much closer to the lifetime of Christ, and therefore suppressed for good reason.

Even more damaging to the conspiracy theory of these critics has been the discovery of actual lists of divine manuscripts. Early church leaders, worried about the new Gnostic manuscripts floating around, compiled a list of what they considered divine authoritative texts. The deciding factor was based off authorship. Only texts written by eyewitnesses or apostles that consulted eyewitnesses were considered genuine. By the mid-second century, no more eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life were alive. This was known as the Apostolic Era. So a finalized list of authoritative books could then be recorded by Church leaders to be sent out to churches to prevent the infiltration of other false gospels written after the Apostolic Era. There is the Muratorian Fragment from the mid-second century in Rome; the Eusebius of Caesarea’s Church History from the fourth century Palestine and Asia Minor; and the Athanasius of Alexandria’s Easter letter from fourth century Alexandria, all of which contain a list of manuscripts they considered to be the authoritative texts. Surprisingly, they all contain the same books in the list found in our NT today[16], except for Eusebius of Caesarea’s Church History which questioned the authenticity of James, Jude, 2nd Peter, and  2nd and 3rd John.[17] Yet their overall uniformity testifies to the overall standard of agreement among early church leaders as to which manuscripts were indeed the true portrayals of Jesus.[18]

Here is something many people also aren’t aware of either. Church leaders of the 2nd and 3rd century quoted the New Testament extensively in their own personal writings. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quoted the NT 330 times, Irenaeus (AD 120-202) quoted the NT 1,819 times. Clement (AD 150-216) did the same 2,406 times. Origen (AD 185-253) 17,922 times. Tertullian (AD 155-220) 7,258 times. Lastly, Hippolytus (AD 170-236) quoted the NT 1,378 times. In fact, you could destroy ever New Testament manuscript in the world, and re-create it from the quotes of these men alone! That’s how many times they quoted the NT.[19] This provides great evidence that what is in the NT today was already determined as authoritative long before the council of Nicea in that all these early church fathers quoted the scripture so often!

All and all, to believe that the power struggles in the past corrupted the true story of Christ today is to deny the historical facts that are out there. The NT manuscripts were always deemed authoritative divine texts long before the council of Nicea. As Timothy Paul Jones concludes, “The New Testament Documents were inspired, written, and recognized as authoritative over several centuries, yet a definite standard governed the entire process, and this standard wasn’t the word of a powerful emperor or bishop. It was a dogged determination to make certain that every authoritative text had its source in someone who witnessed the actual events.”[20]


[1] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 47

[2] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 27

[3] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 66

[4] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, (New York, NY: Random House, 1979) Pg. 34

[5] Pagels is guilty of misquoting Clement by taking his text out of context. Clement wasn’t stating that heretics need to receive the “death penalty,” he was describing what happened in the ancient Jewish temple when sacrifices were made improperly and not properly offered to God. From 1 Clement 41:1-3, The Apostolic Fathers I, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

[6] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Orlando,FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) Pg 95

[7] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York,NY: Doubleday Publishing 2003) Pg. 231

[8] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperOne, 2005) Pg. 36

[9] Before the time of Christ there was a movement known as the “Gnosis” which is Greek for “knowledge.” The Gnosis, which would be later named the Gnostics, lay claim to the story of Christ to be their own shortly after its initial expansion into the Roman world. They began to spread their own view about who Jesus was and what the bible really meant. Eventually they began to write their own doctrine and propagate it to people claiming it to be the true word of God.

[10] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 52

[11] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 52

[12] R. Cantalamessa, Easter in the Early Church: An Anthology of Jewish and Early Christian Texts (Collegeville, MN: Liturigal Press, 1993) Pg 34-37.

[13] Ignatius, Pros Smynaious, Pg. 186-187

[14] Sophia De Morgan, “Gnostic Gnonsense: A Critical Review of The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels,” Answering Infidels, www.answeringinfidels.com  Nov 2007.

[15] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 55

[16] These lists contained over 20 of the 27 NT books we have today. Clearly the texts had recognized authority long before any councils gave them authority.

[17] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 61

[18] It should also be noted that there were also lists written by early church leaders from the mid-second century with a list of manuscripts that were rejected. This all long before the council of Nicea.

[19] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura,CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[20] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 67

The four Gospels of the New Testament go by the name Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which tradition holds are the authors of these stories. But how do we know who really wrote them? Couldn’t anyone have written them and claimed to be Matthew, or John? How do we really know the Gospels are actual accounts of Jesus and not accounts far removed of the people and events described? The conspiracy theories on this subject are vast. There is a group called the Jesus Seminar, and books like Bart Ehrman’s, Misquoting Jesus and Timothy Freke’s, The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom, all of which testify to the NT Gospels not being authentic firsthand accounts from the people from which the names are ascribed. So how can we know for sure just who wrote the Gospels?

Today when you want to know who wrote a book you might flip to the copyright and publishing info in the first couple pages, or maybe even flip to the referenced sources to see how old they are to give you and idea of when the book was written. At the very least the author’s name will be printed largely under the title about 20 times in the pages preceding the actual text. But in Biblical times this was not the case. The earliest Gospel manuscripts didn’t have the author’s names printed up top like we find in our Bibles today. In fact, the first manuscripts to actually list the author’s names were from the 2nd century. And this is one of the many reasons conspiracies have evolved as to who wrote the gospels.

Skeptics claim early Christians didn’t know who wrote the Gospels and that even if they did, the information was long lost.[1] For example, Ehrman references the fact that the gospels are not written in first person narrative, but in third person narrative, which is evidence they are not firsthand accounts. He also points out that neither author claimed to be a direct eye witness.[2] Freke claims that the gospel’s authors weren’t even determined until AD 180 by Irenaeus who attributed them to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.[3]

But these claims aside there is something that should be addressed. Even if the four Gospels weren’t written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, would that make them any less true? It is entirely possible for the story of Jesus as written in these accounts to be word for word true to history despite not being written by any of the now recognized authors.

Regardless, in response to Freke’s claim, the book of John does in fact make a claim it is an eye witness account; John 19:35. The book of Luke does as well at Luke 1:2. But skeptics say they just as easily could have been lying. How do we know they’re telling the truth? The Gospel of Thomas claims to be telling the truth as well, yet Christian scholars discount it as a genuine source.

It is possible to determine the appropriate authors by understanding three issues; when the Gospels were written, witness accounts outside the Bible, and internal components of the Gospels.

Timeline: When the Gospels were written.

History has taught us that different eras in time present differences in style of writing, type of ink and type of paper used by writers and scribes. Historians have particular ancient texts that give exact dates as to when they were written, so by matching up ink, paper, and writing style to those dated texts we begin to see just how old the manuscripts in question are. Papyrus 52 is a manuscript fragment containing John 18:31-33, with the reverse side containing John 18:37-38. And based on its composition it is known to have originated sometime in the late first century or early second century. Furthermore the fragment was determined to have originated in Egypt[4], meaning that by the end of the first century (or early second century), the gospel accounts were already circulating inEgypt. This would necessitate Jesus’ life story being compiled prior during the latter half of the first century while the witnesses to Jesus would have still been alive.

Papyrus 52

There are also other manuscripts such as Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 90, both copied in the late second century. Papyrus 64, 103 and 104 contains fragments of the Book of Matthew, copied in the second century. Papyrus 4 and 75[5] contain fragments of the book of Luke copied in second century.[6] Again, if these Gospels were circulating around theRoman Empire by the second century, then they had to have been written originally in the early 100s. Now, you may be thinking, what about the Gospel of Mark? Well, the book of Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and Matthew and Luke have many similarities to Mark. It is suggested that Matthew and Luke referred to Mark, which suggests Mark was in existence before Matthew and Luke. You might be shocked by the fact that a gospel author would refer or borrow information from another gospel, but there really is no issue considering Luke opens up in the first chapter in his book by claiming that his account is a collection of accounts from eye witnesses and others who have already taken it upon themselves to write an account of Jesus: “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you…” Luke 1:1-3 (NLT).

Another interesting theme found among the Gospel authors is that none of them spoke of the temple being destroyed. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, yet none of the authors wrote of its destruction, but instead of Jesus visiting the temple multiple times and going inside to teach. If the gospels were written much later, surely the temple being destroyed would have been mentioned, but it is not, testifying to the gospel authors recording eye witness testimony prior to AD 70.

Also, Luke wrote the book of Acts after he wrote his gospel account. Acts was written to document the history of the early church. Yet the book of Acts also doesn’t reference the destruction of the temple. It also doesn’t mention Nero’s persecution of the Christians in AD 64, the death of James in AD 62, the death of Paul in AD 64 and the death of Peter in AD 65.[7] This would lead one to conclude Acts was written prior to these events, so possibly prior to AD 62. And since the book of Luke was written prior to Acts, it was surely written even earlier.

When we historically study the manuscripts that weren’t titled with the ones that were titled with an author, there is no name variance. In other words, as soon as we’ve found one Gospel titled Matthew, all subsequent Gospels (of the same Gospel of Matthew) were named Matthew.[8] We’ve never found a Gospel of Matthew named Philip or Andrew. This goes the same for Mark, Luke, and John. Thus further confirming the authorship of the Gospels was well known.

So by studying the oldest manuscripts we have, we can conclude that all four Gospels were well in circulation throughout theRoman Empireby the second century. Which would mean the Gospels were written originally prior in the first century while the witnesses to Jesus’ life were still well alive, just as Luke claims. Such close proximity to the events recorded would prevent any legends from developing. Considering how long it normally took historical accounts during this time to be constructed, the fact that the Gospels were written so soon after the events occurred is incredible. Relatively speaking they were like a news flash.

Witness accounts outside the Bible.

There is testimony from men in the second century that confirm the origin of the Gospels. Papias of Hierapolis was a pastor of Hierapolisin the area now known as Turkeyduring the late first to early second century. As recorded by Papias, “The elder said this: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately as much as he remembered- though not in ordered form- of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For [Mark] neither heard the Lord not followed after him, but later he followed after Peter, who was giving his teachings in short anecdotes and thus did not bring forth an ordered arrangement of the Lord’s sayings; so, Mark did not miss the point when he wrote in this way, as he remembered. For he had one purpose: To omit nothing of what he had heard and present no false testimony in these matters… And Matthew, in Hebrew dialect, placed the saying in orderly arrangement.”[9] Thus confirming Mark and Matthew each as an author of a Gospel account. Papias may have even written about Luke and John, but unfortunately what we have of Papias’ writings is only small fragments. We do know that he wrote the text quoted here around AD 110.[10]

Another pastor named Polycarp of Smyrna, was born around AD 70, and was a student of John, one of Jesus’ disciples and a direct eye witness. He wrote, “Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Romeand building up the church there. After their deaths, Mark- Peter’s follower and interpreter- handed down to us Peter’s proclamation in written form. Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote in a book the Gospel proclaimed by Paul. Finally, John- the Lord’s own follower, the one who leaned against His very chest- composed the Gospel while living in Ephesus, in Asia.”[11] As you can see, both Polycarp and Papias both wrote of the authorship of the four Gospels in extremely close proximity to the time when the gospels were first circulating around the Roman Empire, thus concluding that the authorship was not falsely determined hundreds of years later, or was lost over time.

Eusebius, a bishop from Casesarea from the 3rd century, wrote that Matthew first wrote his Gospel account while in Palestine, and left Palestine 12 years after Christ died.[12] If Eusebius is correct, that means Matthew wrote his gospel as early as AD 40 to AD 45. And if Matthew was indeed based off of Mark[13], then that pushes the origin of Mark back even further.

Those skeptics who maintain the conspiracy that the authorship wasn’t determined until hundreds of years later (believing Polycarp and Papias to be liars or their writings falsified) fail to acknowledge the number of manuscripts widely circulating in the Roman Empire. There wasn’t a central authoritative church until the 4th century. So the first, second and third centuries were ones of widely dispersed small churches. How could it be possible to assign authorship so long after the mass circulation of the gospels? It would be impossible to track down every manuscript at every church and assign authorship. Yet we can see from testimony above it was already well understood who authored each Gospel, right from the beginning.

Internal Content of the Gospels

In addition, the internal components of the Gospels should not be over looked as well. Take the book of Matthew for example, which described Matthew as a “tax collector.” First, tax collectors were despised in the Roman Empire, and any new religion looking to make up divine story to convert people wouldn’t dare used a despised tax collector as a disciple. But more importantly, what needs to be understood is that during the first century, those who could read and write were not common. However, tax collectors did in fact know how to read and write. In fact, tax collectors usually carried pinakes (sheets of wood covered in wax) and styli (metal or bone used to write in the wax) which they used to make notes, which they could later transfer onto papyrus to give back receipts to the tax payers.[14] So Matthew being a tax collector could read and write well thereby making it likely that we would in fact be one of the disciples to write an account of Jesus’ life. Just as Luke being a physician would make him a likely person to be able to write a Gospel account himself. Peter being a humble fisherman on the other hand would have Mark record his account.

Some other great examples that the Gospels were indeed direct accounts or collected accounts from eyewitnesses: The description of home construction in the book of Mark is consistent and accurate with historical first-century housing is that area. The Gospels record highly accurate knowledge of how the Jewish communities were organized during this time: Pharisees, Sedducess, etc. The torture and punishment of Jesus by the Roman authority concurs with methods of documented by the Romans. The book of Luke refers to many locations and geographical features that are accurate to the point that only someone who physically traveled to these locations could have written of them.

Based on the available evidence we can see that the Gospel of Mark was testimony of Simon Peter recorded by John Mark. The Gospel of Luke is a collection of accounts as recorded by Paul’s physician Luke. The Gospel of Matthew came from Matthew’s own testimony of Jesus, as did the Gospel of John come from John, or perhaps one of John’s students that recorded his teaching.

Other conspiracies

There is the conspiracy of “the Gospel.” Prior to the 2nd century, no one referred to multiple gospels, but just one gospel. This bred the conspiracy that there was only one true gospel (usually believed to be Mark) and the other three are fraudulent copies. That’s a lot of speculation… Skeptics are missing the obvious. The authors of the gospels were not hanging out together, they were spread out all over the Roman Empire, their writings being copied and spread around. Of course early church fathers would only refer to “the Gospel” because they only had or knew of one. By the 2nd century, they would of course have received other Gospel accounts and from that point on did of course refer to them as “the Gospels.”

The Jesus Seminar is another major adversary to the Gospel accounts being genuine accounts of Jesus. Started in the 1970’s by Robert Funk, their goal was to “rediscover” the Jesus of 2000 years ago that they believed has been misrepresented by 2000 years of myths, legends and traditions. The scholars of the seminar go through the four Gospels and determine whether or not Jesus actually said the phrases recorded in the Gospels. There are two problems with this: First, despite the insurmountable proof that the Gospel accounts have been copied accurately since their origin, these scholars feel they’re educated enough to determine what Jesus actually said 2,000 years later… over the four eye witness accounts written down less than 100 years from the lifetime of Jesus. Second, all these scholars up front admit they do not believe Jesus was the Son of God and savior of mankind nor did He have supernatural powers, etc. So what conclusions do you think such biased scholars are going to come to? I consider their findings to be that of conspiracy because their claims are based not on hard evidence but instead based purely on speculation which is driven by their presuppositions against Jesus to begin with. In the end, their Jesus was one striped of any divinity, left as nothing more than a wise man.

There is a gap conspiracy theory also. How come the gospels were written years after Jesus and not immediately after his death? Some suggest foul play. That the gap between when Jesus died and the gospels were written is suspicious, and there is often speculation that the truth has been skewed in that time gap. However, the reason for the time gap is because of the usage of oral tradition. In between this time the apostles were spreading the message of Christ via oral tradition.[15] Towards the end of their lives they decided to record the events they had witnessed as they would no longer be able to verbally compel it to any one once they had died. This is also confirmed by Polycarp’s quote earlier.

In conclusion, when we study the timeline of when the gospel accounts were written, the recorded testimony of men outside the Bible, and the internal components of the gospel narratives, it becomes evident that the gospel accounts were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were not written hundreds of years later by a Church authority to substantiate the claims of their mythical Jesus. To claim such, is to ignore the available and rational evidence.


[1] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 14

[2] Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) Pg. 44 and 46

[3] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom (New York: Three Rivers, 2006) Pg. 69.

[4] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 19

[5] Papyrus 75 contains both fragments of the book of Luke and John.

[6] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 19

[7] Matt Slick, “When were the gospels written and by whom?” http://www.carm.org

[8] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross (Lake Mary,Florida: FrontLine, 2008) Pg. 25

[9] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History Vol. I, Loeb Classical Library, ed. K.Lake (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980) 3:39.

[10] Eusebius writes of Papias during Trajan’s reign prior to AD 107.

[11] Irenaeus, Contra haereses, 3:1:1

[12] “When were the gospels written?” http://www.gotquestions.org

[13] Matthew and Luke being based off Mark is a speculation.

[14] A. R. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. (New York:New York, University Press, 2000) Pg. 31, 170.

[15] In ancient times, the only way to communicate history most of the time was through oral tradition. They did not have laptops, typewriters or a pen and paper available (those who could read and write were few), so a speaker would announce his story to a community of people publicly. In turn, the community would correct the speaker or speak up if they disagreed or knew that what the speaker was saying was indeed false. Through this method, communities and civilizations would carry on historical events accurately through generations. In fact, archeology scholars know through their discoveries that oral tradition contained very little to no errors through hundreds of years of transcendence. Through this method ancient civilizations did pass down to their later generations, accurate safe guarded information.

Have you ever heard of Paul’s letters from the New Testament referred to as epistles? An epistle is actually like a letter. But unlike a letter which is meant to be sent to and read by another individual, an epistle is written for a large audience, and is to be read by and circulated by a large number of recipients.[1] Though Paul does often speak to particular individuals in certain epistles they are mostly addressed to a larger audience.

So when someone refers to Paul’s letter to the Romans, you can now arrogantly inform them Paul wrote an epistle, not a letter. Just kidding 🙂


[1] J. Stephen Lang, 1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible.  (New York:NY Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2010) Pg 457.

Part 1: The New Testament

When I first began going to Church and reading out of the Bible, the first doubt that crept into my mind was a concern for authenticity. How could such ancient text be kept accurate for so long. With so many men copying it year after year after year, surely at some point there were errors made which now affect every other copy made after it. Or even worse, surely the text was altered by corrupt church leaders to advance their political powers and agendas! Conspiracy theories like these weren’t mine alone though. Books like, Dr. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story About Who Changed the Bible and Why, Christopher Hitchen’s God Is Not Great, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code make claims and provide evidence for this theory. However, all the claims made by these books can be refuted by observing 4 major principles on how the New Testament went from it’s original manuscript form to the printed book form which we read today: 1) The vast majority of errors are insignificant. 2) Textual Criticism. 3) The concern and motivation of early Chrisitans. 4) Quoting Early Church Fathers.

Principle 1: The vast majority of errors are insignificant.

In Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman claims there are over four-hundred thousand copying errors among the New Testament manuscripts alone! And guess what? He’s more right then wrong. But Ehrman left out one little important detail; the vast majority of these errors are completely insignificant. And when I say insignificant, I’m talking about spelling, word order, and relationships between nouns. In other words, a copyist simply swapped two words around, misheard a word, or skipped a line of text. All these errors are easily identifiable, and could even go unnoticed because of how insignificant they are. Here is an example: One ancient manuscript says, “Answered, the Jesus and said to him.” The mistake being “the.” The best part is that most of these errors don’t even make it into our translated Bibles because these insignificant errors don’t get translated in from one language to another. This is what the vast majority of the claimed errors are; simple mistakes that do not alter the meaning of the text at all. How big is this vast majority you ask, try 99 percent. 99 percent of all those four-hundred thousand or so errors found in manuscripts are completely insignificant. Scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix say it is closer to 99.5 percent.

As for the other 1 percent (or 0.5 percent), the errors made slightly alter the verse they’re in, but nothing that corrupts the overall message. Let me explain with an example; early in the gospel of Mark (1:41-42), Jesus heals a man with a skin disease. In some Greek transcripts Jesus says, “I want to,” and heals the man. Other manuscripts start off by saying, “Becoming angry and stretching out His hand.” Most skeptics point out this completely alters the message and portrayal of Jesus being compassionate. Although I do agree this does change how we understand what Jesus felt during this particular moment of healing the sick, it does not alter or corrupt the message of Jesus. At times Jesus became angry or annoyed as written in Mark 3:5 and 9:23, yet at the same time we also see He had compassion for sick people as written in Mark 6:34, 8:2, and 9:22-23. So whether he healed the man, or angrily healed the man, it doesn’t change the fact that he healed the man.

Another example of the 1 percent of significant mistakes can be found in the gospel of John, verses 1:18. Some texts say “the one and only Son.” Other texts say “the one and only God.” But let’s be honest, what does this really change? The Gospel of John numerously says that Jesus was the Son of God over and over, see John 3:16 or John 20:28. No matter which text you read of John 1:18, the message doesn’t change. As renowned theologian and professor Timothy Paul Jones concluded, “… as I carefully examine the differences between the ancient New Testament manuscripts: no textual variant affects any central element of the Christian faith…”

You may be asking youself, if this text was inspired by God, shouldn’t it have no errors what so ever? Well, Adam was created perfect, but became corrupted. And since then, nothing created by man has been perfect because man is not perfect. Even when God handed down His wisdom to us to record and guard, it would never be perfect because we who recorded it and handled it are imperfect. One also has to imagine that if the scriptures were absolutely perfect in content, people would put more emphasize on the scripture than God Himself. People would more than likely worship the bible and lose sight of God, for people like to worship what they can see, more than what they cannot, we often prefer the creation over the creator.

Principal 2: Textual Criticism

Textual criticism is the critical analysis of text. A textual critic closely examines copies of ancient documents to determine which copy is closest to the original document. Here is what ALL textual critics of the New Testament agree on: It is impossible for all copyists to make the same mistake at the same time! Most people tend to think that the Bible manuscripts were one single file line of copy after copy. If the fist copy is bad, all subsequent copies will be bad. What people need to understand is that the New Testament manuscripts were being copied all over the Roman Empire in different countries at different times!

We have unearthed 5,700 NT manuscripts in Greek, 8,000 in Latin, and 9,000 more in Armenian, Slavic, Ethiopian and other languages. A common misconception is that if a corrupt Church leader wanted to alter the text he would just have a few manuscripts modified and the rest copied after it would contain the modifications forever altering all the NT manuscripts and subsequently how our Bible reads today. For this to be true, this Church leader would have to track down every manuscript circulating around the Roman Empire that was being copied every day. Impossible.

Here is another important factor: Even though there may be 1 percent of copying errors that might be considered significant, they don’t make into our translated Bibles today, because textual critics can track copied manuscripts to find their source manuscript.

The figure above (courtesy of http://www.carm.org) represents how errors are traced back to their source. Manuscripts are categorized in tree-like diagrams as the figure shows, based on; the location found, jars they were found in, type of papyri written on, type of ink used, style of writing, etc. Therefore, if we know when and where these manuscripts were made, we can trace back the manuscripts to find their original “father” manuscript from which they were copied. Even Ehrman himself admits this is possible. This helps discover which manuscripts contain flaws and which do not, ensuring that the books you read in the bible today are as accurate as the original manuscripts.

Principal 3: The Concern and Motivation of Early Christians

 This is something many skeptics overlook. The reason the NT manuscripts were copied so extensively was due to four reasons: One, it was the Word of God, so it had to be preserved of course. Two, Churches began sending out missionaries, which required the Gospel to be in hand for the missionaries to present to people. Third, Christians were heavily persecuted in the first three hundred years and manuscripts were being destroyed by the Romans. Lastly, many corrupt churches began to spring up and spread false “gospels,” like the Gnostics. So to ensure these other “gospels,” did not become confused with the authentic gospels of Jesus Christ, great care was taken into ensuring their accuracy. Don’t forget, these early Christians believed they had the Word of God in their possession, and therefore great care was taken in their copying.

A great example of this can be found from Origen of Alexandria of the 3rd century, who angrily wrote, “The differences between these manuscripts have become great.” Here’s the good part: We have a collection of all the original manuscripts Origen kept, and under critical analysis it was determined his manuscripts had only 1 percent error in them. The same errors mentioned earlier I might add. This clearly demonstrates the concern over copying these texts accurately, as Origen was very upset over the smallest of errors.

Another great example can be found in the Codex Vaticanus of the 4th century which was copied incorrectly having one word missing. A copyist found this error later while copying the Codex Vaticanus and wrote in the margin, “Fool and knave! Leave the old reading, don’t change it!”

For those who still believe that the early Church leaders were corrupt and purposefully altered the text there is something else to consider: why would anyone want to modify the Bible in ancient times to what it currently reads as? The teachings of the bible, were at the time, very controversial; don’t worship worldly kings, worship God. Give your money to the poor and live a life of love and forgiveness. These teachings were not popular among the masses at the time as they did not benefit anyone person. No one would purposely alter manuscripts to teach love and peace because there is no motive. The teachings of the bible are from God and are not intended for any one man’s benefit (other than salvation). There is a reason people were tortured and killed for being Christians. In fact, the first 300 years of Christianity was one of intense persecution from the Roman Empire, not one of power. There is a reason Kings and Emperors would burn Bibles in piles. There is a reason Christians were massively killed and tortured in the Roman Coliseum. Knowing this, you must ask yourself why anyone would have bothered altering the bible’s content to be what it is?

“It [Bible] condemns much which men in the flesh highly prize, and commends much which they despise. Its thought is not the thoughts of men.”

-B.C. Goodpastor

Principle 4: Quoting Early Church Fathers.

Here is something many people also aren’t aware of either. Church leaders of the 2nd and 3rd century quoted the New Testament extensively in their own personal writings. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quoted the NT 330 times, Irenaeus (AD 120-202) quoted the NT 1,819 times. Clement (AD 150-216) did the same 2,406 times. Origen (AD 185-253) 17,922 times. Tertullian (AD 155-220) 7,258 times. Lastly, Hippolytus (AD 170-236) quoted the NT 1,378 times. In fact, you could destroy ever New Testament manuscript in the world, and re-create it from the quotes of these men alone! That’s how many times they quoted the NT.

So think about it. There are all these claims from skeptics that the NT was mis-copied and mis-quoted to be in-accurate today, yet we have writings from the 2nd century of men who quoted the entire NT. If the bible had such damaging copy and translation errors then later manuscripts shouldn’t match the writings of these men… but they do. Case closed.

If you want to be sure you’re reading a Bible that has the most accurate text possible, purchase a Bible with extensive textual notes. These Bibles have footnotes that give the reader an idea of what the original manuscripts said. One verse might have a footnote that reads, “The oldest manuscripts omit this verse,” or “Other Greek manuscripts read as _____,” for example. Reading one of these Bibles will guarantee you’re getting the Bible in its most original form possible. And let me tell you from personally owning one of these Bibles that in reading the footnotes, I too can agree with Timothy Jones in that the differences do not alter the message or meaning of the text. Besides, no one verse can change the New Testament as a whole, there are too many other verses that provide parallel similarity not to mention too many other manuscripts without error available to refute anyone’s opinion that the New Testament has been altered in such a fashion to mislead all of its readers and followers.

References:

[1] Typically I would not even mention the Da Vinci Code with these other books on the simple premise that it is a book of fiction, with no real legit sources to back it’s claims. However, due to the book’s popularity and cult following, I felt it should be addressed here as well.

[2] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross. (Lake Mary, FL FrontLine: A Strang Company 2008) P. 74

[3]  D. Wallace, “The Gospel according to Bart,” Journal of Evangelical Theology Society 49 (June 2006) P. 330

[4] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[5] Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies and the Cross. (Lake Mary, FL FrontLine: A Strang Company 2008) P. 76

[6] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)

[7] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 208 and 211

[8] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 52

[9] Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. P. 56

[10] These 300 years of persecution are recorded by various anti-Christian Roman  historians. Pliny the Younger, Gaius Suetonius, Cornelius Tactius, etc.

[11] Goodpasture, B.C., “Inspiration of the Bible,” The Church Faces Liberalism, ed. T.B. Warren (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College 1970).

[12] Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007)