Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

Is the text vastly different than it was? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was recently brought to my attention that Business Insider decided to celebrate Christmas with a video on why the Bible isn’t trustworthy. Normally, I prefer to celebrate with presents and time with friends and family, but to each his own I suppose. So do we really have anything new here?

Of course not.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed. After all, a lot of people will never bother to study what it is they believe and why. (You know how it is, we live in a society where people will learn about their favorite sports team, TV show, video game, etc. but won’t dare to really consider maybe they should think about the belief that they base their entire life on.) Sadly, this will also apply to many skeptics who will take a faith that makes strong claims and decides ipso facto that since those claims involve miracles they must be nonsense and never examine the claims seriously.

So let’s dive into this video. The speaker starts with talking about the Bible being the most sold book of all and that many think it contains the actual words of God. What many people don’t realize according to him is that the Bible has been changed, A LOT. So what are these evidences?

To begin with, no first edition exists. All we have are copies of copies.

This sounds scary if you’re someone who doesn’t know about manuscripts in the ancient world, until you realize that we don’t have the first writing of ANY ancient work that I know of. If there is one, I will be quite surprised. We have copies in every case. How much we can trust the account depends on a number of factors.

How soon is the earliest copy to the date of the original writing?
How many copies do we have?
Can we check these copies back and forth?

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

As you can see, Homer comes closest and it’s not even a contest really. Now if the speaker wants to make a big deal out of this, we ask that he be consistent. Please be extremely skeptical of all the other books on the list as well.

The speaker then says that this all took place many years after the events supposedly took place. It would be good to know how much skepticism he has. Would he go all the way to being a mythicist? Inquiring minds want to know! He also points out that many of these copies weren’t made by professionals but were made by laymen.

Naturally, we can’t expect someone busy enough to make a video for Business Insider to go out and read some of the scholarship on this issue and actually inform himself. While he cites a couple of scholars, there’s no in-depth looking at what they say and providing context for the issue. He could do what I did and interview Charles Hill on the Early Text of the New Testament and issues of canonicity or interview Daniel Wallace. (And if he can’t interview at least listen to what they have to say.)

The speaker goes on to talk about how this lead to many errors and omissions.

No. It’s not a typo on my part. He’s the one who said “This lead to many,” Who knows? Maybe he differed from the original script at one point.

If he wants to talk about these kinds of omissions and errors, he’s free to examine the texts. We will have a little bit more on this, but we have so many texts in so many languages that it’s easy to cross-check. When we do, we find that in fact the Bible does hold up, but again, a little bit more on this later.

We go to the three biggest changes. The first is the woman caught in adultery. It’s a shame that this is news to so many Christians, but such it is. We live in a time of great Biblical ignorance.

The next is the Gospel of Mark. (It’s amazing how predictable these are.) This change is the ending of the Gospel and how it has no narrative of Jesus rising and appearing. The speaker then tells us that in original manuscripts, this story is nowhere to be found.

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

Our speaker has gone on and on about how there are no original manuscripts and now is saying this is not to be found in the original? In what way does he know? Could it be that we can tell because we can actually check the texts back and forth and see what they say and compare them? Has our speaker undermined his own case?

The third is that in Luke, Jesus makes a dying plea to forgive the executioners, but it was not intended to refer to the Romans but to the Jews. This was taken out and then added centuries later to appear to be about the Romans. This is one many haven’t heard of, but notice something.

Apparently, we don’t have a clue what the text said, but we can tell what the originals somehow said, that a change was made, and that said change was later corrected. We can discuss why it happened and how, but that doesn’t change what the original said. Even his source on this, Bart Ehrman, says it is likely to be found in the originals.

While we’re at it, what else does Bart Ehrman, this non-Christian New Testament scholar say about the New Testament?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Sadly, too many Christians won’t be prepared for something like this because, well, all those sermons on how to be a good person and how much God loves you won’t really matter when the text that all that is based on is called into question. Even worse, these kinds of objections are not the crisis that many people think that they are. With some serious study, instead of focusing only on one’s personal hobbies, it’s amazing what one can learn.

Hopefully Business Insider from now on will stick to business instead of going to Biblical studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Would Matthew Use Mark?

Why would an eyewitness use a non-eyewitness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My in-laws got me an Amazon Tap for Christmas. As I speak, we are listening to the local Christian radio station on it. I also use it to listen to the Unbelievable? podcast, which I had been missing out on. (And during that, I utilize another gift I’ve been given, Final Fantasy XV from my parents.) On the show I heard yesterday, it involved a Christian and a Muslim debating if Jesus was seen as God and the Muslim presented a few times the claim “Why would Matthew use Mark when Matthew was an eyewitness and Mark wasn’t? It doesn’t make sense.”

The sad thing is I see this objection from so many people, even many that should know better, and it leaves me wondering. If these people would spend a few moments thinking about this, then I think the answer would be clear. Just in case it isn’t for some, I figured I’d write a little something about that.

Now some of you will want to contest traditional authorship. Making a case for the authorship of the Gospels is another post, but this objection assumes the traditional authorship for the sake of the argument. Therefore, I will be doing the same so please no replies such as “Well Matthew didn’t really write Matthew!” or something like that. For the time being, let’s accept the claims of attribution to the Gospels made by the early church.

Once we do that, we are reminded that Mark isn’t just Mark writing without a source really. Mark is the testimony of Peter. (Interestingly, the church never called this the Gospel of Peter. They could have skipped the middleman, but they didn’t. This was the work of Mark.) Why would this matter?

It’s because despite Matthew being an apostle, Matthew was not part of the inner circle. Many times in the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus takes with Him Peter, James, and John. These three then directly saw things that Matthew himself did not see. By going to Mark, Matthew could ascertain his information on these events that he did not see.

On top of that, Matthew could get another perspective on events. Why not avail himself of that? Ancients did have good memories to be sure, but this was often a good memory in community. Some scholars will have you thinking that someone like Mark just suddenly wrote these stories thirty or forty years after the events and the rest of the time he was just sitting on them and not sharing them, talking about them, being a part of conversations with them, etc.

So contrary to the Muslim guest, yes, it does make sense. The explanation I think is simple and is consistent with the idea of traditional authorship. This isn’t a proof of the traditional authorship to be sure, but I would hope that it is at least a refutation of what is a bad argument against traditional authorship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 6

What do I think of chapter 6 of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 6 further brings us home just how uninformed McCormick is in Biblical scholarship. This is amusing since he talks about other people holding an emotional commitment to a worldview and thus finding it hard to really examine it properly. One wonders if McCormick is not somehow talking about himself. After all, while one can have a deep emotional investment to Christianity, one can have the same to atheism.

He has a story where someone comes up to you who is a stranger and calls himself Matthew. Matthew wants you to believe a story, but he didn’t see any of it and it’s not clear whether he met or spoke with anyone involved in the story. It was something that took place long ago and passed through a long list of people. He’s still sure they’re all honest and trustworthy.

Matthew then tells you that it actually happened 100 years ago but it wasn’t written until decades later and we don’t have originals of the writing but copies of copies. These original writings were all based on tellings and retellings of the story. Still, he’s convinced everyone involved was trustworthy.

Matthew’s story is about a man named Jones and Jones was abducted off of the face of the Earth. There are many people who sincerely believe the story. It’s not hard to see what the parallel is.

It’s also not hard to see that McCormick doesn’t know for a moment what he’s talking about.

McCormick has cited no references on Biblical scholarship. He has no references on oral tradition and he has no idea how textual criticism works. Instead, he’s gone with a lot of atheist pet slogans and hasn’t bothered to research or questioned them. You can’t help but wonder if he has an investment in these kinds of slogans since they agree so well with what he already believes.

Of course, McCormick says this could change if some crucial differences were shown. Perhaps McCormick should have looked to see if there were any differences. McCormick strikes me as someone who has only really read what agrees with him and disavowed the rest. He does not interact with the best critics of his position at all in these chapters.

It’s also worth noting that Paul is added to the mix and we are told that Paul could be someone who learned about this because he heard a voice when he had a powerful seizure and vision while going to work and before that, he was a famous skeptic with a TV show debunking alien-abduction stories. One can’t help but be impressed with the creativity of certain skeptics. It is apparent they will believe in anything before the resurrection.

So let’s start. First off, McCormick has as we have shown earlier not bothered to understand oral tradition. He also has a problem with written tradition as he assumes a true account would be written down immediately. Does McCormick see this happening with any other book in the ancient world? Or is it rather that McCormick will treat the Jesus story differently? Keep in mind if he does this, he is being hypocritical since he is accusing Christians of treating the Jesus story different from every other claim such as Salem, Islam, alien abductions, etc. If McCormick is going to talk about equal standards, he needs to apply them himself.

Second, we are talking about different cultures. The world of the Bible was an honor-shame culture. In this world, you would not want to share a story that would put you on the outs with society, but that is exactly what happened. The resurrection was a story that would be seen as deviant in nature.

Third, McCormick doesn’t really bother to interact with arguments about authorship or date of writing. Are these not important? Is it the case that obviously Bart Ehrman is right and everyone else is wrong because Bart Ehrman is the skeptic? All of these are important issues. All of them are ignored.

McCormick also says the martyrdom argument won’t work. After all, that people died for a belief doesn’t mean it’s true. If we apply it consistently, we have to conclude that the dedication of Heaven’s Gate proves that there was a spaceship at the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This is such a hideous twisting of the claim that it should be embarrassing to McCormick to have it in print.

No. What it is is an indicator that the person is convinced it’s true. If some of the apostles willingly died for their conviction, we can’t be sure that Jesus rose, but we can be sure that those apostles believed he rose. With the Heaven’s Gate cult, we can deny there was a spaceship on the tail of a comet, but we can be convinced that the people sure thought there was one.

All of this thinking is lost on McCormick.

At 1945, McCormick tells us that he thinks the hypothesis that there are other material beings with physical powers unlike our own and in another part of the universe fits more readily with what we know of the rest of the world than magica,l transcendent, supernatural beings. Of course, no doubt, this we refers to materialistic atheists who also share his view. We won’t say anything on God yet, but there is a later chapter looking at the concept of God and yes, McCormick handles it just as abysmally as he handles this.

McCormick has an even worse scenario. Imagine being on trial for a murder committed decades ago that you did not commit. The prosecution rests on the testimony of Mike, Monty, Larry, and Jacob. None of them saw you commit the crime and have never met you, but they heard stories from others that say they saw you commit the murder. This murder happened 30 years ago.

Also, Mike and Larry got a lot of their story from Monty. Not only that, another man shows up named Perry who says you did it, but he didn’t witness it and just had a powerful vision saying you did it. Does this sound like fair grounds to convict you?

Of course not, and it also doesn’t sound like a fair treatment of the NT. We could get into some wonderful discussions on how Paul got his information and who he was and how reliable he was and we could talk about the synoptic problem and archaeological evidence for the NT. Well, we could talk about these things, but they might have the sad consequence of increasing the reliability of the New Testament. It’s best to not touch them.

In the end, McCormick gives yet another weak performance. Only those thoroughly unfamiliar with scholarship will think he has said anything remotely convincing. This is quite amusing since our next chapter will be about counter-evidence, something McCormick regularly avoids.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Chapter 2 can be found here.

Chapter 3 can be found here.

Chapter 4 can be found here.

Chapter 5 can be found here.

Chapter 7 can be found here.

Chapter 8 can be found here.

Chapter 9 can be found here.

Chapter 10 can be found here.

Chapter 11 can be found here.

Chapter 12 can be found here.

Chapter 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/30/2016: Robert Stein

What’s coming up Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Mark your calendars because this Saturday, we’re going to be talking about, well, Mark. The Gospel of Mark is usually seen as the first one written and yet is surrounded by questions. Who wrote it? If Mark, why do Matthew and Luke borrow so much from a non-eyewitness. Why does it leave out events like the virgin birth (Which I do affirm)? When was it written? Why does it seem to leave out the resurrection at the end and what is going on with the end? What happened to the end of Mark?

These are good questions and to discuss them, I wanted to get a scholar who has a high view of Mark. This would be a scholar who even says Mark is his favorite Gospel. For that, I chose Robert Stein. Who is he?

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I found Robert Stein largely through the work of IVP who I do reviews for. According to them, his bio is as follows:

Robert H. Stein is senior professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

He is the author of An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction.

I’ll also add that he has B.A. in biology from Rutgers, a B.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary, an S.T.M. in NT from Andover Newton Theological School, and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Mark is a fast-paced Gospel but there is plenty in there to mine out and it is one worth discussing since most discussions about the Gospels usually begin with Mark. That could be one reason why there are so many questions about it. It is also often claimed that since he supposedly doesn’t give an account of the resurrection that it could be that the resurrection is a later development and lo and behold, the other Gospels just seem to make the story grander and grander.

When we discuss its origin, we also have to look at what someone like Papias said. Mark was said to be written in an orderly manner and nothing that he heard from Peter was left out. Is this the case? Is it also accepted in NT scholarship that the Gospel is in fact by Mark or is this more of a fringe position?

I’m looking forward to this discussion. Mark is usually a Gospel that is neglected and even was so by the church fathers because so much of it can be found in Matthew and Luke, but as Christians, we need to realize God wanted us to have this Gospel for a reason and we should seek to give it just as much diligent study as we give the other Gospels. I hope you’ll be listening in to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast when we discuss this with Robert Stein and I hope you’ll go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

What do I think of Dennis MacDonald’s book by Yale University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s hard to really know how to describe a book like this. Reading MacDonald’s book is like reading a prime example of parallelomania. Of course, we can’t doubt that mimesis was used in ancient literature. This is the process of imitating another work in your own writing. We still use this today when we do imitation as well to an extent.

MacDonald’s thesis is that in reading the Gospel of Mark, one can see traces of the Homeric classics being copied. Unfortunately, this is done with a lot of hopscotch as you will take this one part here and then jump over to this other part way over here and then jump back to this other part long long before that. My thinking is if someone did this consistently, they could show that this happens with any ancient work. In fact, I would be quite interested in knowing if anyone has done this.

Something that should give us pause about this is that for nearly two thousand years, no one noticed this but MacDonald. Now that doesn’t mean it’s false of course, but it does mean view with suspicion. After all, these people were even more seeped in the ancient classics than we are. Some of them wrote commentaries on these classics and yet none of them saw any mimesis taking place.

We could also ask what difference it would make. Suppose Mark told his story in the style of Homer. Okay. And? Does that make it false? Could not Mark have taken a true story and used language that he thought was reminiscent of the Homeric Epics? This kind of idea never seems to occur to MacDonald.

Unfortunately, MacDonald often forgets that if there was any place where imitation would take place, Mark already had a ready one. It was the Old Testament. In fact, not only did it happen, we should expect that. If Jesus is showing that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant YHWH made with His people, then we should expect He will not only imitate the older prophets, but He will essentially one-up them. This He does repeatedly.

Moses gave the Law in the Old Testament. Jesus gives it in the Sermon on the Mount. Elisha feeds 100 with a small amount of food. Jesus feeds 4,000 and 5,000 with a small amount of food. Jonah calms the storm by having himself thrown into it. Jesus calms it by word alone. This is why Jesus can make statements like “One greater than David is here.”

Still, as I said earlier, we could grant MacDonald his thesis and say this is no problem. It’s not as if imitation demonstrates that there is falsity. That needs to take place on other grounds. Those who are too quick to jump to MacDonald don’t seem to realize this.

Despite that, the similarities are often very much strained. Some of them are so commonplace (Jesus getting into a boat with His disciples) that they are really nothing. Others are such a stretch you wonder how MacDonald got to them. Jesus cleaning out the temple in the Gospels is to mirror Odysseus clearing the suitors out of his house?

MacDonald also writes about the Sons of Thunder and how James and John are pictures of the divine twins. Why not call them the Sons of the Thunderer then instead of Thunder? MacDonald sees this even in Acts when a ship is said to have the sign of Castor and Pollux and that this is the only time such a thing is mentioned of a ship. This sounds interesting until you realize that ships aren’t mentioned that much in the account. Are we to think Luke was trying to make a far distant tie to this pagan theme?

MacDonald also has themes in there like clothes that are incredibly white are meant to be a mirror to the Transfiguration or that the healing of Legion is meant to be a mirror to the defeat of a Cyclops. One of the best ways to see how bad the arguments are overall is simply to read the book for yourself. Many times you’ll be left scratching your head wondering what on Earth MacDonald is seeing that is such a clear parallel. If Jesus does something that Odysseus did that’s really similar, it’s a parallel. If Jesus does the exact opposite, it’s a parallel. What doesn’t count then?

It’s a wonder to me that people like Carrier and others place so much stock in this. Where there are parallels, they are not really remarkable but are commonplace and don’t require borrowing from Homer. Where there aren’t, MacDonald will strain and strain at anything to get this to work. Overall, it’s entirely unconvincing because of this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters