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is the bible reliable

  1. 1. Is the Bible Reliable?Week 3Key Term:(1) Inerrancy – “The doctrine that the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings.”(2) Inerrancy – “Scripture, in the original manuscripts, does not affirm anything that iscontrary to fact.”Key Text:“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting andtraining in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for everygood work.” – 2 Tim. 3:16-17Special Revelation Texts: Heb. 1:1-4 John 1:1-18 Exo. 24; 31:18; 32:16; 33:11 Deut. 28:1, 14, 58; 30:10-16 Josh. 1:8, Psa. 1 Ezra 1:1 Psa. 19; 119 Matt. 4:4; 5:17-20 John 5:39-47; 16:13-14; 17:17 1 Cor. 14:37; 15:34 Gal. 1:11-12 2 Tim. 3:13-17 Heb. 4:12Inspiration Texts: 2 Tim. 3:10-16 2 Pet. 1:19-21Inerrant Texts: Matt. 5:18 John 10:35 Titus 1:2 Heb. 6:18 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 Page 2Article #1The Historical Reliability of the GospelsBy Craig L. BlombergCan the major contours of the portraits of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels be trusted? Manycritics would argue not. The Jesus Seminar became the best-known collection of such criticsduring the 1990s as they alleged that only 18 percent of the sayings ascribed to Jesus and 16percent of his deeds as found in the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
  2. 2. plus the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, bore any close relationship to what he actually said anddid. At the same time, a much more representative cross-section of scholars from about 1980 tothe present has inaugurated what has come to be called the Third Quest of the Historical Jesus, inwhich a greater optimism is emerging about how much we can know, from the Gospels, read inlight of other historical cultural developments of the day. This article rapidly surveys 12 lines ofevidence that, cumulatively, support the historical reliability of the Gospels, particularly theSynoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). None of these arguments presupposes Christian faith; allproceed following standard historical approaches of evaluating the credibility of a wide varietyof ancient documents.(1) More so than with any other literary work of antiquity, we can have enormous confidence inreconstructing what the original texts of the Gospels most likely said. While none of theautographs remains, the sheer volume of manuscripts (from tiny fragments to complete NewTestaments)-5,000 in ancient Greek alone-far outstrips what we have for any other Jewish, Greekor Roman literature, where historians often consider themselves fortunate to have manuscriptsnumbering in double figures! The art and science of textual criticism enables scholars to date,classify, compare and contrast these documents where they differ and determine, with 97 to 99percent accuracy, what the originals most probably contained. With the oldest known fragmentof any of the Gospels, a few verses from John 18 dating to around A.D. 125, we are within onegeneration of that documents original composition. For most other ancient works, at leastseveral centuries elapse between the originals and the oldest existing copies. None of this makesanything in the Gospels true, but it does mean we know what their writers claimed, somethingwhich we are often not at all sure of about other ancient writers.(2) The authors were in a position to write accurate history if they so chose. TraditionalChristian claims affirm that the Gospels were written by two of Jesus twelve closest followers(Matthew and John), a third man (Mark) who closely followed the memoirs of Peter, the leaderof the Twelve, and a fourth (Luke) who carefully interviewed eyewitnesses of Jesus life as wellas consulting previously written sources (Luke 1:1-4). More skeptical scholars have oftensuggested that we should think of anonymous first-century Christians instead, perhaps disciplesof the four men mentioned here. But either way, we are at most two removes away fromeyewitness information.(3) Conservative scholars typically date Matthew, Mark and Luke to the 60s and John to the 90s;liberal scholars tend to favor a date for Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s and Johnin the 90s. But either way, we are still talking about first-century testimony. Again, compare Page 3these last two points with the typical situation for other ancient histories and biographies. Thedetailed life of Alexander the Great, however, which most historians believe can bereconstructed with a fair amount of accuracy, depends on Arrian and Plutarchs late first andearly second-century biographies of a man who died in 323 B.C.(4) But were the first two generations of Christians (ca. A.D. 30-100) even interested inpreserving historical information? This has often been doubted, primarily for two reasons. First,some argue that the perception of the possibility of Jesus quick return to Earth to bring an end tothis age as we know it would have precluded any interest in functioning as historians. Whobothers to record history, even of that believed to be sacred, if they think the world might end atany time? Well, Jews, for one, at least since the eighth century B.C! Their prophets had beenpromising that the "Day of the Lord" was at hand for centuries at yet Gods people alsorecognized that a day with the Lord was as a thousand years (Psalm. 90:4), so the ordinarycourse of human events continued. Second, some allege that the ideological (i.e., theological)bias of the Gospels writers would have necessarily distorted the historical facts. There is nodoubt that a passionate commitment to a certain ideology can lead some writers to play fast and
  3. 3. loose with history, but certain kinds of ideologies actually require greater loyalty to the facts.Jews after World War II, for example, for precisely the reason that they were passionatelycommitted to preventing a Holocaust such as they had experienced under the Nazis from everhappening again, objectively chronicled in detail the atrocities they had suffered. It was lesscommitted people who produced the appalling revisionism that substantially minimized theextent of the Holocaust or even denied it altogether. Because Christian faith depended on Jesushaving lived, died and been resurrected according to the biblical claims (1 Cor. 15), the Gospelsauthors would have good reason to tell the story straight.(5) But could they pull it off? Even just thirty years after historical events, memories can growdim and distorted. But first-century Judaism was an oral culture, steeped in the educationalpractice of memorization. Some rabbis had the entire Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian OldTestament) committed to memory. Memorizing and preserving intact the amount of informationcontained in one Gospel would not have been hard for someone raised in this kind of culture whovalued the memories of Jesus life and teaching as sacred.(6) Why then are the Gospels not word-for-word alike? Why was more than one needed in thefirst place? Moreover, the verbatim similarities among the Synoptics are usually taken as a signof literary dependence of one Gospel on another or two together on a common source. There area whole host of reasons for these differences. Many have to do with what each author selected toinclude or leave out from a much larger body of information of which he was aware (John21:25). Distinctive theological emphases, unique geographical outlines, and larger questions ofliterary subgenre account for many of these selections and omissions. But even where theGospels include versions of the same event, verbatim parallelism usually remains interspersedwith considerable freedom to paraphrase, abridge, expand, explain and stylize other portions ofthe accounts. All this was considered perfectly acceptable by the historiographical standards ofthe day and would not have been viewed in any as errant. But recent scholarship is also pointingout how the flexibility and patterns in oral storytelling would have accounted for many of themore incidental differences as Christian tradition initially passed these stories on by word ofmouth. Page 4(7) Can we even assume, then, that the Gospel writers were trying to write something akin to anancient history or biography rather than, say, a novel or a tragedy in drama form? Yes, for theclosest parallels to Lukes prologue come in the comparatively accurate writers of history such asJosephus in the Jewish world and Herodotus and Thucydides in the Greek world.(8) Another pair of arguments pushes the case even further. The so-called "hard sayings" ofJesus suggest that the Gospel writers felt considerable constraint on what they could or could notinclude. Even though Lukes version of Jesus command to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26)can be explained by its parallel in Matthew (Matt. 10:37), it would have been far easier for Lukesimply to omit it altogether and avoid the apparent contradiction with the Mosaic command tohonor ones parents if he had felt free to do so. The same thing can be said of Jesus claim not toknow the day or hour of his return (Mark 13:32). Numerous embarrassments in the Gospelscould have been avoided if their writers had anywhere close to the freedom to tamper with thetradition in the ways that the Jesus Seminar and like-minded writers have alleged they had.(9) Conversely, the topics that Jesus never addresses in the canonical Gospels further supporttheir accuracy. The debate over whether Gentile adult males in a world without anesthesia-hadto be circumcised as a sign that they were keeping the whole Jewish Law en route to becomingChristians threatened to tear the first generation of Christianity wide apart (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts15). The easiest thing in the world for one of the Gospel writers to have done would have beento quote Jesus teaching on the topic-or invent some if they felt free to do so. But no verseanywhere in the canonical Gospels expresses Jesus opinion on the role of circumcision among
  4. 4. his followers. The same can be said of speaking in tongues, an issue which threatened to blowthe Corinthian church sky high (see 1 Cor. 12-14) 25 years after Jesus death.(10) A dozen or so non-Christian writers or texts confirm a remarkable number of details in theGospels about Jesus life-that he was a Jew living in the first third of the first century, born out ofwedlock, a self-styled teacher who became very popular, selected certain men as his inner coreof disciples, disregarded Jewish dietary laws and ate with the despised, enraged certain Jewishleaders, even though believed to be the Messiah by others, was crucified by Pontius Pilate butbelieved to have been raised from the dead by some of his followers who began a fledglingreligion that never died out. Some might argue that this does not seem like a lot of detail but in aworld in which almost all historical and biographical writing focused on kings, emperors,military generals, people in institutional positions of religious power, famous philosopherswhose "schools" had long outlived them, and, more generally, the well-to-do and influential, it isremarkable that Jesus gets mentioned at all by first-through-third century non-Christian writers.Before the legalization of Christianity in the fourth century, who would have expected thisobscure, crucified rabbi to produce a following that would one day become the religion adoptedby the greatest percentage of people on earth?(11) Archaeology confirms a whole raft of details susceptible to artifactual or epigraphiccorroboration-the existence of the pools of Siloam and Bethesda in Jerusalem, the latter with fiveporticoes just as John 5:2 describes, Pontius Pilate as prefect of Judea, Roman crucifixion bydriving nails through the ankle bones, fishing boats large enough to hold 13 people (like Jesusand his 12 disciples), the tomb of Caiaphas, the probable ossuary (bone-box) of James, brother of Page 5Jesus, and so on. And all of these details in the Gospels were once doubted before thearchaeological confirmation came forth.(12) Finally, other Christian testimony confirms a whole host of details in the Gospels. Second-century Christian writers refer back to and even quote a considerable portion of the Gospelaccounts with approval. More significantly, the letter of James, Peter and Paul, all concurrentwith but primarily prior to the written form of the Gospels, contain numerous allusions to andoccasional quotations of Jesus sayings which show that they must have been circulating by wordof mouth in carefully preserved form. Perhaps most telling of all, testimony to Christs bodilyresurrection was phrased in catechetical language as that which would be received and passed onby oral tradition and thus probably formed part of what Paul was taught at his conversion, a scanttwo years after the death of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-3). These are no late Hellenistic legends thatevolved long after the life of Jesus, the simple Jewish rabbi.. These were the revolutionaryclaims being made by his followers from the very beginning! Page 6Article #2Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written?By Andreas J. KöstenbergerThe Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic (the Old Testament [OT]), and Greek (theNew Testament [NT]). The Bibles we use today are translations from the original languages intoEnglish (or other languages). Jesus most likely taught in Aramaic (though he probably also knewHebrew and Greek), so that the Greek NT itself represents a translation of Jesus teaching fromthe Aramaic into Greek.The question, "Is the Bible today what was originally written?" involves two importantquestions: (1) Are the available manuscripts (mss.) of the Bible accurate representations of theoriginal mss. of the respective books of the Bible (the autographs of Scripture)? This is an issueof textual transmission. (2) Are the available translations faithful renderings of the Bible in the
  5. 5. original languages? This is an issue of translation.With regard to the first question, no original autographs exist of any biblical text; only copies areavailable. The word "manuscript" is used to denote anything written by hand, rather than copiesproduced from the printing press. Textual evidence constitutes anything written on clay tablets,stone, bone, wood, various metals, potsherds (ostraca), but most notably papyrus and parchment(vellum).Most ancient books were compiled and then rolled into a scroll. Since a papyrus roll rarelyexceeded 35 feet in length, ancient authors divided a long literary work into several "books"(e.g., the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles consisted of a two-volume set composedby Luke).Later, sometime during the first or second century A.D., the codex came into use. The codexconsisted of bound sheets of papyrus and constitutes the prototype for the modern book format.Thus early Christians began to collect and collate individual books into what is now thecanonical NT. The term "Bible" derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use ofta biblia (the books) in the sense of "Bible" is found in 2 Clement 2:14 (c. A.D. 150).Even though the original autographs are lost, the extant ms. evidence allows a high degree ofconfidence in the text of the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments are attested by a largenumber of mss. in a variety of forms spanning many centuries.The primary witnesses to the OT come from the Masoretic texts (the Masoretes were Jewishscribes) including the Cairo Geniza (A.D. 895), the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 916), the CodexBabylonicus Petropalitanus (A.D. 1008), the Aleppo Codex (c. A.D. 900), the British MuseumCodex (A.D. 950), and the Reuchlin Codex (A.D. 1105). The Leningrad Codex remains theoldest complete ms. and serves as the main source for the Hebrew text. However, since theearliest of these mss. date from the ninth century A.D., they are removed from the originalautographs by a considerable period of time. Page 7Other witnesses include the Talmud (Aramaic translations and commentaries), the Septuagint(LXX; the Greek translation of the OT), the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Dead Sea Scrolls(DSS). The latter, discovered during the 1940s and 50s, provide scholars with witnesses to theOT text that can be dated between 250-100 B.C. Cave four (4Q), e.g., has yielded about 40,000fragments of 400 different mss., 100 of which are biblical, representing every OT book exceptEsther. Remarkably, a comparison of the DSS and the Masoretic text reveals a fairly smallnumber of discrepancies.Thus the ms. evidence for the OT firmly demonstrates that the original OT texts were carefullypreserved and are accurately represented in our modern Bible.The NT text remains the best attested document in the ancient world. The witnesses to the NTfall into three broad categories: the Greek mss.; ancient translations (versions) into otherlanguages; and quotations from the NT found in early ecclesiastical writers (the ChurchFathers). The Greek mss., over 6,000 in number, include papyrus fragments, uncials (written inall capitals without spaces and punctuation), and minuscules (small cursive-like script).The papyri form the most significant group due to the fact that their early date implies that theyare chronologically the closest to the original autographs. For example, both p52 (containing afew verses of John 18) and p46 (containing all of Pauls epistles except the Pastorals) are mostlikely dated within 30 years of the original writings.The uncials follow the papyri in chronological importance. Codex Sinaiticus, an uncial writtenabout A.D. 350, is the earliest extant copy of the entire NT. Other uncials, such as the CodexVaticanus, Alexandrinus, Ephraemi, and Bezae, constitute significant witnesses as well.The minuscules compose the largest group of Greek mss., but they are dated considerably later.Finally, the versions and Church Fathers provide helpful early attestation that can aid scholars in
  6. 6. reconstructing the most plausible original readings. The total tally of more than 6,000 Greekmss., more than 10,000 Latin Vulgate mss., and more than 9,300 early versions results in over25,000 witnesses to the text of the NT.This sheer multiplicity of mss. does not, however, result in absolute uniformity of the texts.Thousands of variant readings (most of them minor) exist between the mss. While scribesexhibited great care in their effort to reproduce an exact copy, they were not immune fromhuman error. Scribal errors can take on the form of unintentional and intentional errors.Unintentional errors are the cause of the majority of textual variants. These typically includeerrors of the eyes (e.g., skipping words or losing ones place); hands (slips of the pen or writingnotes in the margins); and ears (confusing similar sounding words or misunderstanding a word).Intentional errors resulted when scribes attempted to correct a perceived error in the text oraltered the text in the interest of doctrine and harmonization. These errors often becamestandardized through subsequent copies made from the defective copy.All Greek mss. exhibit traits that enable scholars to classifying them into text families(Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine) based on geographic origin, Greek style, and date. Through Page 8comparative analysis performed by the practitioners of a science called "textual criticism,"scholars sift through all the mss. in order to reproduce the most plausible reading of the originalautographs in each individual case.Textual critics adjudicate between readings through exacting criteria such as dating, text type,attested readings (i.e., how many mss. have a certain reading), and possible reasons for variants(e.g., smoothing out a theologically difficult reading). In addition to examining the Greek mss.textual critics also consider all other relevant witnesses (i.e., versions and the Church Fathers).Although textual criticism is a very complex and at times controversial science, it has providedus with at least two assured results. First, none of the variant readings (including omissions)affect the central message or theological content of the Scriptures. Second, it can confidently beasserted that the text of the Bible today is an accurate and faithful representation of the originalautographs.The second issue, namely that of translation, follows as a natural corollary once the question ofthe textual transmission is settled. To assess the fidelity and accuracy of the Bible todaycompared to the original texts one must investigate the issues of translation theory and thehistory of the English Bible. The task of translating the Bible from its source languages (Hebrew,Aramaic, and Greek) into a receptor language (English) involves a plethora of issues related tothe nature of language and communication. Is word meaning found in some fixed form ofinherent meaning, or is meaning determined by contextual usage? Is meaning located in theformal features of the original grammar, or in the function of words within the grammar? Theseare just a few of the questions pertaining to translation theory.Some translators maintain that accurate translation requires a word-for-word approach of formalequivalence (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV). Others contend that construing a straightforward one-to-one correlation between two languages actually distorts meaning. These translators employ aphrase-for-phrase approach of dynamic or functional equivalence (NRSV, NIV, CEV, NLT,TNIV). In light of linguistic, exegetical, and stylistic considerations translations produced inaccord with dynamic or functional equivalency tend to reflect the original meaning moreclosely. The goal of all translators, no matter what translation theory they employ, is theproduction of an English version that is an accurate rendering of the text written in such a waythat the Bible retains its literary beauty, theological grandeur, and, most importantly, itsmessage.The history of the English Bible satisfactorily demonstrates that the Bible of today does indeedfaithfully represent the Scriptures in their original languages. For centuries the only Bible
  7. 7. available to Western people was the Latin Vulgate prepared by Jerome, who was commissionedby Pope Damasus toward the end of the fourth century A.D. The Vulgate served as the officialversion of the Bible throughout Medieval Europe and was restricted to the clergy, monasticorders, and scholars.A British priest and Oxford scholar, John Wycliffe (1330-1384), was the first to make the entireBible accessible to the common English-speaking people. His translation, however, was basedon the Vulgate and not on the Hebrew and Greek. William Tyndale published the first English Page 9NT based on the Greek text in 1526. Two close associates of Tyndale, Miles Coverdale andJohn Rogers, finished his work by publishing their own respective translations of the entireBible: the Coverdale Bible (1535) and Matthews Bible (1537). The Geneva Bible of 1560provided a translation of the Bible entirely from the original languages. This paved the way forKing James I to issue a translation that would correct the partisan nature of the Geneva Bible.Thus in 1611, the much-celebrated Authorized Version (AV or KJV), largely based on Tyndaleswork, became the unrivaled English translation for 270 years.The twentieth century has given rise to a number of new translations. The updating andproduction of new translations were necessitated by new ms. discoveries, changes in the Englishlanguage, and the advancement of linguistics. Today, when someone opens any English Bible(NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, TNIV, HCSB), he or she may know that generations of faithfulscholarship have managed to preserve and protect that Bible as it was originally given.