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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reviews by Hubie Goode: Historicity of the New Testament Part 2

Historicity of 
the New Testament

Part 2

When something big happens, something that has lasting consequences over a long period of time, through many generations, it must have adequate causes. If one takes a look at the span of almost 2,000 years that the history of Christianity has had its effect on mankind, this itself is proof of some major event that had a big impact on the continuing history of mankind.

It matters little what one thinks of the New Testament itself when you also consider that the history of Christianity itself is intricately linked with it. Its very beginnings are the stuff of the New Testament, and the reality of both the existence of Christians and also Jewish peoples and their origins can only be understood in light of the ancient text. No one alive today has ever seen Jesus or the Apostles, and understanding of their existence must come from the information contained within the ancient writings. The same is also true of ANY other figures of history. Who among us has actually witnessed the presence of Aristotle, Ghengis Kahn or even George Washington?

Once we realize this point, we can now see how incredibly strong the evidence is for persons and events referred to in the ancient writings. The amount of available texts that exist for the seminal existence of scripture far out weighs the writings about any other figures of history, before the invention of printing. No one ever casts any doubt on the past historical reality of Julius Caesar, but the written evidence of his existence is dwarfed by the volume of manuscript evidence of Biblical scripture. 

Before the printing press, manuscripts had to be copied by hand. Those that were used frequently wore out and had to be re-copied again and again. The copies of the New Testament that are still around today from those ancient times, are quite numerous, and conspicuously consistent. Some of these copies are on papyrus fragments that date all the way back to the second century. We have today about 5,000 copies of manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek and around 15,000 more in other languages. Nothing in any other historical writing even compares to this. These writings were also done by those who had a deep respect  for and deep belief in the concept that they were handling the actual Word of God. If we can dump the “aliens from outer space built the pyramids“ idea, and give credit to the  development of the human ability, even in ancient Egypt, why not have the same respect for those who were professional scripture copiers, much like the professional pyramid builders.

Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, Director of the British museum, was one of the greatest New Testament scholars of our generation. He did not believe in the infallibility of scripture and its inspired transmission, but after reviewing the manuscripts over a number of years he was quoted as saying:

“ is reassuring at the end to find the general result of all these discoveries and all this study  is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.”1

1 The Story of the Bible, (Special U. S. Edition, Grand Rapids: Eardmans company, 1967, p. 133)

True enough there are many individual differences in these 20,000 manuscripts, however the very number of them provides a powerful means of checking and tracing the origin of the variant readings and therefore coming to a conclusion as to the original text. Furthermore, any discrepancies, whether the result of careless copying or by direct manipulation, are usually quite trivial and effect no major points of doctrine. Amazingly, the work of Christ has no existing variation in the available texts, and that includes all 20,000 manuscripts collected from the beginning. Not only do we have a store house of historical writings of the biblical text, but we have several times that number of Christian writings by those of the early church who quoted much of the scriptures we know today. These Apostalic Fathers, who wrote from around 90 AD to 160 AD, had an amazing grasp of the New Testament and its content. In fact, had the New Testament been lost completely, it would have been possible to reconstruct the books merely from the writings of these men. 

Since these men lived in the time just following the era of the original Apostles, and some even over lap, having lived during those times, there can be no doubt that the New Testament that we have today is a strong representative of the books that those men had in their own day. The interval then, between original composition, and the earliest extant evidence becomes practically negligible. The origin point of scriptural writing and its preservation for future mankind becomes an unbroken cord of continual existence, by those with respect and honor towards the initial purpose of scripture. Those without that paradigm, would have to be immensely filled with an unusual kind of hate and revenge for God to place as much energy as would be needed into the falsifying of scripture and still get away with it under the nose of the caretaker throng of history. 

But lets say, for the sake of argument, that considerable changes HAVE taken place within the written text since the original writings. This still does not manage to change the person of Christ himself. The Roman world of the first century was one of education, philosophy and modern civilization, heavily influenced by the Greeks and those whom had been absorbed by Alexander’s conquests. This was not a world of cave men types who lived in a stone age. To believe that the acts and words of Christ himself is a tale of collected myths and editorial additions, as is often stated by so called progressive liberals, is actually naive at best.

Believing that scripture is today in essentially the same form it was from the beginning can be backed by research and investigation, not merely by wishing on a star that it was so. As Biblical archaeologist, William F. Albright states: “ ...every book of the New Testament was written by a Baptized Jew between the forties and eighties of the first century.”2 

2 William F. Albright, Christianity Today, January 18, 1963

But, what about indirect confirmations, you might ask. More on this next time in part 3. 

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