A Great article by one of the foremost experts in biblical manuscripts in the world.
My good friend Charlie Campbell has published a new book, Archeological Evidence for the Bible. This full color paperback is a great addition to any student of apologetics or anyone interested in how the Bible and history line up together. Charlie is the founder of Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry and speaks across the country to churches about apologetic issues and in the defense of Christianity. This new book is a great way to share the truth about how archeology backs up the claims of scripture without going into details that are only for scholars. This is a great resource for high schoolers or college students interested in investigating Christianity. Order the book here.
Recently, the belief that the documents of the New Testament were put together long after the events they portrayed has gotten a lot of air time. Critics like Bart Ehrman and others have proposed that the Bible wasn’t even put together until the fourth century, over three hundred years after the events of the New Testament took place. Is this really the case? If so, it would be right to assume we may not be able to know what really happened in the lives of Jesus and his followers. But what does the historical evidence say about such a belief? Was the New Testament put together only by a select group of later church leaders who conspired to keep the
real story from the populace? Or could it be that New Testament is indeed an inspired record of the life of Jesus and his followers and the early church. Let’s findout.
Our first clue as to when the New Testament was put together comes from the New Testament itself. Simple huh? the New Testament is a compilation of 27 books. All scholars admit that these documents were written between 40 to 125 AD. I personally believe that the last New Testament book would have been written before 95 AD and possibly even not that late, but let’s just for a moment assume a date of writing as late as 125 AD, since the critics do. Since the New Testament is a historical document, it should be admitted as part of the research process itself. And what do we find when we study the New Testament? We find that the New Testament authors actually believed that they were writing scripture, not just another book. Here is an example:
II Peter 3:15-16 -This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— 16 speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture.
Do you see what Peter said about Paul’s writings? He says that non believers twist Paul’s letters, just like they do with the OTHER parts of scripture. Interesting. Peter, one of the chief apostles, would consider Paul’s writings scripture. That would seem to validate about 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament right there. But, there’s more. Take a second and look a a radical verse from Paul, in II Timothy 5:17-19.
II Timothy 5:17-19 -17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!”
This passage of scripture is interesting for a number of reasons. I want you to see something that you might miss if you just gloss over it. Paul is making a point about paying the teachers of the church. In doing so, he quotes the Scriptures to prove his point. The first scripture he uses, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” is from Deuteronomy 25:4. This is obviously a quote from the Old Testament. That’s pretty normal for Paul. But then he does something very interesting. He also says, “And in another place, ‘Those who work, deserve their pay!’” Do you know where this second quote comes from that Paul is quoting as scripture? It comes from Luke 10:7, another New Testament book. WOW. Right there, we have the Apostle Paul quoting from the Old Testament and the New Testament and saying that they are both Scripture. That’s pretty interesting. What the quotes from II Peter and from I Timothy show us is that both Peter and Paul considered other writings from the New Testament to be scripture. So, in the lifetime of the very Apostles of Jesus, we see evidence that there was a group of teachings in writing that they considered to be authoritative Scripture. But how did this happen, and why would they have even considered this important? To answer that question, we need to look into their background.
All of the Apostles were Jewish by nationality. They were steeped in the religious traditions of Judaism. They all went to synagogue as children and were deeply influenced by the Old Testament. The Old Testament constituted not just the religion of ancient Israel, but their covenant contract with God himself. In the ancient middle east, a very common practice when treaties were made was to sacrifice an animal and hold a solemn ceremony and provide each party with a written form of the verbal contract or covenant, that had been made. This written form of the contract would serve as a reminder of what was expected between the parties of the contract. The Old Testament Books of Moses are clearly this type of written contract. So, it is interesting that Jesus, on the night of the celebration of this covenant, the Passover, chose to use these words when he instituted communion:
Luke 22:20 -20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.
Jesus was making a New Covenant with God’s people. Since the written form of the Old Covenant was what we know as the Old Testament, it just makes sense according to their history and culture that the Apostles would expect to have a new written record of what God was doing through Jesus in this new covenant. It makes sense that they would write that covenant record since they were the witnesses of all the events regarding the life and ministry of Jesus. the Gospel accounts record what happened to Jesus and how he instituted this new covenant with God and his people. In essence, the New Testament ended up being the written record of the New Covenant, just like the Old Testament was a written record of the Old Covenant.
Lastly, the historical evidence from the Apostolic and early Church Fathers (the leaders of the church who lived from the time of the apostles until about 150 AD), testifies that they believed the collection of New Testament books formed a special and unique core of faith and teaching for the church. To them, this was canonical. The following is some evidence to that effect: from their own writings:
Polycarp – (c. 110 AD) Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. He quoted over 100 times from the New Testament scriptures as opposed to just 12 times from the Old Testament. This shows that he believed that the New Testament was authoritative. Polycarp is an important witness because it was said about him that as a young man he sat at the feet of the Apostle John.
Ignatius – (c. 110 AD) He quoted voluminously from the New Testament. In his epistles, he uses phrases and allusions from the New Testament. In his Epistle to the Trallians, he writes, “…provided that you are not puffed up with pride and that you cling inseparably to Jesus Christ and to the bishop and to the commandments of the apostles.” -Apostolic Fathers, p. 219.
Clement - (c. 95 AD) In his epistle to the Corinthians, (not the New Testament epistle), Clement tells the Corinthians to “pick up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul”, referring to the scriptural book of I Corinthians that Paul wrote. In calling Paul “blessed” he is according him an authoritative status that he did not give to other writers.
Justin Martyr – (c. 150 AD) Justin wrote about the early gatherings of the Church. In describing the practice of reading the scriptures when the church met together, he said “then we read from the memoirs of the apostles or from the prophets.” Since the early church based the format of their meetings on the Jewish synagogue, it is to be expected that they would read from the Old Testament prophets, but for Justin to say that they read from the “memoirs of the apostles” first is to give them place of priority as Scripture.
The Muratorian Fragment – (c. 200 AD) The Muratorian Fragment is a list of documents which was given so that others might know what books were received by the church as authoritative, which were disputed and which were considered spurious. Although a few of the general epistles of the New Testament, (5 of them in all) are listed as disputed among the Church, the fragment lists 22 of our 27 New Testament books completely authoritative. Other writings of early Christians, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and others, are listed as helpful for private reading, but not to be read in the meetings of the gathered church. Further, later spurious works, such as some of the ones that critics like Bart Ehrman love to espouse like the Apocryphal gospels, are rejected by the author of the Muratorian fragment as not fit to be read.
In summation, I believe it is safe to say that from the historical beginnings of the Christian Church as a Jewish movement, to the writings of the New Testament authors themselves, to the witness of the early Church Fathers, there was, in existence in the late 1st century AD, a collection of authoritative documents which the church looked to as their own covenant canon. In this, it is even conceivable to say that the church did not form the canon of the New Testament, but that the canon of the New Testament formed and shaped the Church. The New Testament was not written and collected hundreds of years after Jesus lived, but written by the very men who knew Jesus themselves and distributed as Scripture among their followers in the very lifetime of the men who knew Jesus.
For those of you interested in Apologetics or Theology or Christian history, I recently came across this 1947 article about C.S. Lewis from TIME magazine. It is an interesting read from a period when he was alive and flourishing as an author. It’s worth your time to read as it gives you more of a feel for what he was like than some modern writings. The article was written during a period of Lewis’ life when he was in great demand as an author and speaker. You can access it here.
Jesus is clearly one of the most awe-inspiring men who ever lived. More has been written about him than any other person on the planet, past or present. But many people today question whether he was really God’s son. Most vary between believing that he was some sort of really special spiritual person, an avatar as the Hindu’s like to put it, or just a good teacher. The facts surrounding his life are evident. Jesus inspired a world changing movement in the form of early Christianity and he claimed radical things about himself in the gospels. To get to the heart of who Jesus was, we must research two aspects about this man who lived 2,000 years ago. The questions that must be addressed are:
1) Who did Jesus think he was? (Traditionally called the self-understanding of Jesus.)
2) Did Jesus really rise again from the dead?
Both of these questions have tremendous importance. If Jesus didn’t believe that he was uniquely God’s son, then the Christian message about him is wrong. Additionally, if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, there is no hope for Christians of life after death. In this article we proceed to answer the first question. A future article will address the subject of Jesus rising again from the dead
Who did Jesus think he was?
In this day and age it is very popular to believe that during the silent years of Jesus, the period of his life between the ages of twelve and thirty, in which nothing is written about him, he traveled to Asia. The theory is that Jesus settled in India and learned the secrets of eastern thought before returning to his homeland in Palestine. Unfortunately, this theory has absolutely no basis in fact. The first record that can be found supporting this view comes from a man named Nicholas Notovitch who published a book in 1894 called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. During his day, there was a movement to try and synthesize the teachings of Buddhism and Christianity, and his work helped to spur that movement on. Notovitch claims that his book was written while he was traveling in Tibet. Through various circumstances, one of the chief Lamas at a Himi Monastery informed him of a secret manuscript about Jesus’ life and travels in the east. The Lama then had it read aloud through a translator. There are numerous problems with Notovitch’s story, but one of the biggest is the manuscript he claims to have gotten his story from has never been found. There are also numerous inconsistencies within his own book that led credible scholars of his day to renounce his book. Nevertheless, his theory has been recapitulated through the years by other authors who use his work as a reference or to claim similar stories about Jesus. It’s interesting that most people are willing to believe the work of one man from 1894 rather than over 25,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts that point to Jesus being the unique son of God. The sad part is that if you were to ask most people on the street which idea is more ancient, the biblical account of Jesus, or the one proposed by Notovitch, some would pick the one by Notovitch. This idea about Jesus has circulated through the mass media in waves over the last hundred years and the result is that a significant portion of our society believes that there may be some truth in it.
As an aside, just notice how each year the major news magazines, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, all do a major cover story on some “new” aspect of Jesus’ life. They all claim that “modern research is re-thinking the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.” The next year they move on to some newer theory of Jesus’ life that contradicts last year’s theory. It is all done to sell magazines. This is not an entirely bad thing. It shows that even in modern society, people love to read about Jesus. However, it’s very important that our information about Jesus be based in credible research and not just a desire to sell magazines or new ideas.
The Jesus Seminar
Since the idea that Jesus traveled to India cannot be considered as a credible option, we must return to the gospel accounts. There has been a movement of liberal scholars in the past twenty years called “The Jesus Seminar” that seeks to re-evaluate the gospels and re-determine what Jesus really said. The Jesus Seminar places the apocryphal gospel of Thomas as a more reliable historical source than the traditional gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Right from the start, the Jesus Seminar desires to downplay the four eyewitness gospel testimonies of Jesus in favor of another document. Time does not permit a detailed account of the gospel of Thomas, but needless to say, it was written much later than the four gospels and by a person who was not an eyewitness. The Jesus Seminar teaches that Jesus never stated that he was God. In fact the results of the Jesus Seminar research reported that Jesus only really said about 20% of what the traditional gospel’s claim that he said. The rest is Christian tradition and myth. There are numerous problems with their research and their conclusions, but on an ironic note, evangelical scholar William Lane Craig took the 20% from the gospels the Jesus Seminar said was authentic and he still proved conclusively that Jesus believed that He was God. If you ever get a chance, please look up William Lane Craig’s stuff online. He is a master debater and thinker for the cause of Christianity.
The Evidence from the Bible
Good research regarding the reliability of the New Testament-(NT), discounts much of what the Jesus Seminar has to say, as well as those who believe that Jesus traveled to India. However, we will now study the evidence from the NT itself to see what Jesus believed about himself and what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus.
If we investigate the NT we find numerous examples of who Jesus thought he was. On three separate occasions the Jewish leaders sought to stone Jesus explicitly because he claimed to be God: John 5:16-18, John 8:54-58, John 10:29-33. Even back then, killing someone was a serious offense. In fact, the Romans only allowed Jewish leaders to administer capital punishment in one case, that of blasphemy. For the Jewish leaders to be so upset with Jesus as to try and kill him proves that he was saying things that led them to believe he was claiming to be God. In various other places, Jesus exhibits the qualities of God, such as omnipotence, an eternal nature and other qualities of God.
Omnipotence – All Powerful
John 6:40 – Jesus could raise the dead.
John 10:17-18 – Jesus had the power to lay down his own life and take it up again.
Colossians 1:15-20 – Jesus created all things in the universe.
An Eternal Nature – Existing Forever
John 1:1-2 – The Word always existed.
Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today forever.
Titus 2:13-14 – the glorious appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:28 – the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
II Peter 1:1 – Through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ.
John 20:28 – My Lord and My God.
Matthew 14:32-33 – they worshipped him.
Colossians 2:9 – Jesus is the express image of the invisible God.
John 14:7-9 – anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
The Son of Man
Some claim that Jesus did not believe that he was God because he was constantly referring to himself as “the Son of man.” And in fact, they are right in one sense. Jesus did refer to himself more as the Son of man than anything else. In our culture, if someone were to call themselves the son of man, we would take that as a reference to their humanity. Jesus however, meant something else entirely by his use of the term. Our first clue for this is in Daniel 7:13-14 where a divine being that looked like “a son of man” approaches God’s throne and is given dominion, power and an everlasting kingdom and all the peoples of the earth worship him. In Mark 14:60-65, the account Jesus gives of himself to the Sanhedrin is very similar to the one in Daniel. It’s almost a direct quote from Daniel. This was not lost on the Sanhedrin at all. Based upon Jesus’ words in verse 62, they condemn him to death with the charge of blasphemy.
The Messiah Complex
Another clue is found throughout the gospels, in that Jesus would not publicly be recognized as the Messiah of Israel. John 6:14-15 gives us one of the reasons. The Jews believed that the coming Messiah would be the one to overthrow the Romans and begin Israel’s domination of the earth by a military kingdom. Historically, it is proven that this was their primary interpretation of the ministry of the Messiah at the time Jesus showed up. If Jesus claimed to be the messiah openly, he would have subjected himself to all their wrong ideas about what the messiah would do. In fact, whenever Jesus did tell one of his followers that he was the Messiah, he also tells them not to say anything about it until after he had risen from the dead, Matthew 16:20. What Jesus did instead, is to give himself a divine title without all the excess baggage. Designating himself “The Son of Man” allowed him to still be true to who he was without all the wrong perceptions of the title of Messiah. For he was indeed the figure of Daniel 7, and also the Messiah, but he could not openly recognize himself as the Messiah or it would have been detrimental to his ministry. So, rather than be a claim against Jesus, the title Son of Man turns out to be a claim for Jesus actually being the Son of God.
Many people have claimed that they have finally figured out Jesus and what he stood for during his ministry on earth. Everything from Time and Newsweek during the holidays of Christmas and Easter to more liberal academic works abound on the subject. Yet for all the volume of work that has been produced about Jesus, the clearest and most significant documents are still the four gospels. In these gospels, Jesus clearly shares the message that He is God’s unique son, and that any person who believes in Him may enter into a relationship with God. John 3:16 clearly spells out the purpose of Jesus coming to the earth when it says, “God loved the world so much that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.”
Daniel 5 presents a pretty crazy judgment by God on a guy who just wanted to do what he wanted to do. It was such a famous passage that it elicited a painting by no less than Rembrandt himself.
One of the more interesting facts about the passage is that the main character in the passage, king Belshazzar, was unknown to secular history until fairly recently. In fact, Daniel chapter 5 was often ridiculed by secular historians because they were convinced that Daniel was such a storyteller that he even invented a character. Even as recently as the late 1800′s, King Belshazzar was unknown in the extant records. However, archaeology turned up some amazing finds in the decades to come. It turns out that after King Nebuchadnezzar died, there was some political instability in the Babylonian empire. A series of kings ruled until we get to King Nabonidus, about 20 years after Nebuchadnezzar. However, King Nabonidus was a pretty fervent worshiper of a certain Babylonian god, Sin, the moon god. He was so fervent in his devotion that it appears to have made the ruling Chaldean class in Babylon upset and uneasy about him. A political solution was arranged when he agreed to allow his oldest son, Belshazzar to rule alongside him as co-regent, while he “retired” to another area of his kingdom. From that point on, Belshazzar ruled from Babylon effectively as king. Daniel not only proved to be right about this story, but one of the details in the chapter gives a historical detail of great accuracy when he has the king Belshazzar say, “whoever interprets the dream I will make the THIRD ruler in the kingdom.” This is significant because he himself was only the 2nd in command, under his father. This not only proves that Daniel knew his history, but that the detail was probably
provided by an eyewitness to the events themselves.
Secular historians often laugh at the details of the Bible for a time, and then more evidence is unearthed and the Bible again proves its historical value and truth filled message.
Questions about Christianity -If God planned for Jesus to die for us, why did the Ten Commandments and sacrifice come first?
God used the Ten Commandments to show us our sin. It was necessary to help us understand how bad we really are. Otherwise, we wouldn’t understand our need for a savior in any way. The Ten Commandments constantly point us towards the fact that we do not live consistently under God’s law. We always want to do things our own way. Paul tells us in Romans 7:7-8 that it was only because of the law that he understood how sinful he really was. The law is just one of God’s ways to help us realize our need for a Savior. It shows us that we cannot save ourselves because we cannot properly follow God’s directions.
God gave the Israelites the system of sacrifice in order to point to something greater that was coming, the sacrifice of his own dear son. In the ancient world, anything important in the way of a promise or covenant involved the shedding of blood and the killing of an animal. God used this in order to point to the shedding of blood that would be required for the forgiveness of our sins in Christ. Jesus came and died on a cross in order to show us how greatly God loves us. All the sacrifices that came before Jesus were pointing us to the great sacrifice that Jesus would perform for us. In theological terms, this is called a “foreshadowing”, something that points toward something else in the future. The sacrificial system was pointing toward the coming of Jesus and the once and for all sacrifice that God was giving us in Jesus. This is why, in John 1:29, John the Baptist can look at Jesus and say, “Look, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!” John realized that Jesus was going to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.