Lesson 01.05

Defending the Bible


 

     In the previous lessons you learned that the Bible has been transmitted to us reliably and that there are thousands of supporting copies of the original documents which are approximately 98.5% textually pure.  You also have learned that you need to ask critics to prove what they are saying and to demonstrate problems with the Bible.  Then, you are to look at the context and apply basic logic to the issue.  Nevertheless, challenges are often made to the Bible and it is good for you to have some ready answers.   Therefore, let's look at some basic objections with responses.

1.  Wasn't the Bible copied so many times that it can't be trusted?

         This is a common misconception. Some people think that the Bible was written in one language, translated to another language, then translated into yet another and so on until it was finally translated into English (or whatever contemporary language it is being read in). The complaint is that since it was rewritten so many times in different languages throughout history, it must have become corrupted . The "telephone" analogy is often used as an illustration. It goes like this. One person tells another person a sentence who then tells another person, who tells yet another, and so on and so on until the last person hears a sentence that has little or nothing to do with the original one.  The only problem with this analogy is that it doesn't fit the Bible at all.
     The fact is that the Bible has not been rewritten. Take the New Testament, for example. The disciples of Jesus wrote the New Testament in Greek and though we do not have the original documents, we do have around 6,000 copies of the Greek manuscripts that were made very close to the time of the originals. These various manuscripts, or copies, agree with each other to almost 100 percent accuracy.  Statistically, the New Testament is 99.5% textually pure.  That means that there is only 1/2 of 1% of of all the copies that do not agree with each other perfectly.  But, if you take that 1/2 of 1% and examine it, you find that the majority of the "problems" are nothing more than spelling errors and very minor word alterations.  For example, instead of saying Jesus, a variation might be "Jesus Christ."  So the actual amount of textual variation of any concern is extremely low.  Therefore, we can say that we have a remarkably accurate compilation of the original documents.
     So when that we translate the Bible, we do not translate from a translation of a translation of a translation. We translate from the original language into our language. It is a one step process and not a series of steps that can lead to corruption.  It is one translation step from the original to the English or to whatever language a person needs to read it in.  So we translate into Spanish from the same Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  Likewise we translate into the German from those same Greek and Hebrew manuscripts as well.  This is how it is done for each and every language we translate the Bible into.  We do not translate from the original languages to the English, to the Spanish, and then to the German.  It is from the original languages to the English, or into the Spanish, or into the German.  Therefore, the translations are very accurate and trustworthy in regards to what the Bible originally said.

2.  Wasn't the New Testament written hundreds of years after Christ?

     Though some say that the New Testament was written 100-300 years after Christ died, the truth is that it was written before the close of the first century by those who either knew Christ personally, had encountered him, or were under the direction of those who were His disciples.
     In the article When were the gospels written and by whom?, I demonstrated that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written before 70 A.D.  The book of Acts was written by Luke.  But in Acts, Luke fails to mention the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. A.D., nor does he mention the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).  Since Acts is a historical document dealing with the church, we would naturally expect such important events to be recorded if Acts was written after the fact.  Since Acts 1:1-2 mentions that it is the second writing of Luke, then the gospel of Luke was written even earlier than the book of Acts.  If we give it say five years earlier (a guess) then that would mean that the gospel of Luke was written at least by 55 A.D. some 22 years after the death of Jesus.  Also, Mark was written before Luke, so that would mean that the gospel accounts were written very early and that there were people around who could verify the historical accuracy of the gospels. 
     Let me reiterate.  Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in the gospels:  "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down," (Luke 21:5, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1).  Undoubtedly, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after the destruction of the Temple, they would have included the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy in them.  Since they don't, it is very strong indication that they were written before 70 A.D.
     The gospel of John is supposed to have been written by John the apostle.  It is written from the perspective of an eyewitness of the events of Christ's life. The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John's gospel dated in the year 135 contains portions of John 18:31-33, 37-38.  This fragment was found in Egypt and a considerable amount of time is needed for the circulation of the gospel before it reached Egypt.  It is the last of the gospels and appears to have been written in the 80's to 90's.
     Of important note is the lack of mention of the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D.  But this is understandable since John does not mention Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple.  He was not focusing on historical events.  Instead, he focused on the theological aspect of the person of Christ and listed His miracles and words that affirmed Christ's deity.  This makes perfect sense since he already knew of the previously written gospels.

Paul's Writings:
Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 7 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon

     Paul the Apostle was a convert to Christianity.  The book of Acts speaks of his conversion in Acts 9.  Since Acts was written before 70 A.D. and Paul wrote the Pauline Epistles and we know that Paul died in 64 A.D., the Pauline Epistles were all written before that date.  Furthermore, in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 is an early creed of the Christian church where Paul mentions that Jesus had died and risen.  "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Notice that he says he received this information.  From whom did he receive it?  Most probably the apostles since he had a lot of interaction with them.  This means that Paul received the gospel account from the eyewitnesses.  They were, of course contemporaries and since they all died before the turn of the century.  Therefore, their writings were completed within the lifetime of the apostles of Jesus.

Hebrews

     It is not known for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews.  Authorship has been proposed for Paul, Barnabas (Acts 4:36), Apollos (Acts 18:24), etc.  The only geographical area mentioned is Italy (Heb. 13:24).  The latest possible date for the writing of Hebrews is A.D. 95 but could have been written as early as A.D. 67.  The book of Hebrews speaks of the sacrifice by the High Priest in the present tense (Heb. 5:1-3; Heb. 7:27) possibly signifying that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. had not yet happened.

James

    This epistles claims to have been written by James, "James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings," (James 1:1).  The question is, "Which James?"  Is it James, the son of Zebedee (Matt. 10:2-3); James, the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:2-3), or the most commonly and accepted James who was the brother of Jesus?  "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And His sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matt. 13:55).  Notice the context of the verses suggests immediate family since it mentions Jesus' Mother, brothers, and sisters.  It is probable that James didn't believe in Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection as is mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:7, "then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles." James was martyred by the order of the high priest Ananus after the death of the "procurator Festus in A.D. 61 (Josephus, Ant. 20. 9)."  Therefore, the epistle of James was written before A.D. 61.1

1 and 2 Peter

     Both epistles clearly state that they were authored by Peter, an eyewitness of Jesus' life and post resurrection appearances.  Though there has been some who have doubted the authorship of these two epistles, the clear opening statements of each epistle tell us Peter was the author.  "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus...", (1 Pet. 1:1) and "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours..." (2 Pet. 2:1).  It certainly seems most logical that Peter is indeed the author of the letters that bear his name. Peter died at Rome during Nero's persecution of Christians around 64 AD so the epistles were obviously written before that time.

1, 2, 3 John

     The writer of 1 John does not identify himself in the letter.  The writer of 2 and 3 John refers to himself as "the elder," (2 John 1; 3 John 1).  Regarding the first epistle, authorship can reasonably be determined to be that of John the Apostle. The opening of John is written from the perspective of someone who was there with Jesus (John 1:1-4).  Also, "Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 3.39) says of Papias, a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, 'He used testimonies from the First Epistle of John.  Irenaeus, according to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 5.8), often quoted this Epistle. So in his work Against Heresies (3.15; 5, 8) he quotes from John by name, 1 John 2:18...Clement of Alexandria (Miscellanies, 2.66, p. 464) refers to 1 Jn 5:16, as in John’s larger Epistle.'"2  "In the earliest canonical lists, dating from the end of the second century, 1 John already appears. Indeed, 1 John is quoted as authoritative by Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna [a disciple of John the apostle] before the middle of the second century. The attestation of 2 John is almost as good. There is no second-century reference to 3 John, but that is not surprising, since it deals with a specific, local issue."3  Furthermore, the style of the three epistles is very similar to that of the gospel of John.   1 John mentions the "word of life" (1 John 1:1) as does the gospel of John 1:1, etc.  It appears that the epistles were written after the Gospel of John since the epistles seem to assume a knowledge of the gospel facts.  Date of writing varies from A.D. 60 to the early 90's.4

Jude

     Jude identifies himself as the brother of James (Jude 1).  It is most likely that Jude, in true Christian humility, does not want to equate himself as the brother of Jesus as he is traditionally held to be and seems to be supported by scripture:  "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?" (Matt. 13:55).5  Instead, he mentions himself as a servant of Jesus, as James has also done.  The date of writing seems to be anywhere from A.D. 68 to the early 90's.  Remember that if Judas was a brother of Jesus, he was born around after Jesus which would mean the later the writing date, the older was Judas. There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem which could have been naturally included in the writing considering that Jude mentions judgments from God upon believers and unbelievers alike (Jude 5-12).  Nevertheless, it appears that Jude may have quoted from James. 

Revelation

     The author of the Book of Revelation is John.  "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John," (Rev. 1:1). "Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, p. 308) (A.D.. 139–161) quotes from the Apocalypse, as John the apostle’s work."6
   
  Revelation was probably written at the end of John the Apostle's life.  Some hold to the 90's and it is the last book written in the New Testament.

3.  Isn't the Bible scientifically inaccurate?

     The Bible is not a book about science, but when it does speak scientifically, it is accurate. In fact, it was far ahead of any other writing of its time. Please consider the following.

  1. The Shape of the Earth
    1. "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in" (Isaiah 40:22, NIV).
      1. This may or may not be construed to support the spherical shape of the earth.  The horizon is a circle and a circle is flat. 
  2. The Earth is suspended in nothing
    1. "He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing" (Job. 26:7, NIV).
      1. This is particularly interesting considering that the cosmology of other cultures at that time did not have the earth suspended in nothing, but rather upon pillars, or people, or animals.
  3. The Stars are Innumerable
    1. "He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars -- if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be," (Gen. 15:5, NIV).
  4. The Existence of Valleys in the Seas
    1. "The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils," (2 Sam. 22:16, NIV).
  5. The Existence of Springs and Fountains in the Seas  
    1. "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month -- on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened," (Gen. 7:11, NIV). See also Gen. 8:2; Prov. 8:28.
  6. The Existence of Water Paths (Ocean Currents) in the Seas
    1. "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!...When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,...You made him [man] ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet...the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas" (Psalm 8:1,3,6,8, NIV).
  7. The Hydrologic Cycle
    1. "He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight" (Job. 26:8, NIV).
    2. "He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind," (Job. 36:27-28, NIV)
    3. "The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again," (Ecclesiastes 1:6-7, NIV).
  8. The Concept of Entropy
    1. "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded," (Psalm 102:22-26, NIV).
  9. The Nature of Health, Sanitation, and Sickness
    1. The listing for this section is too large for this page. But the scriptural references are Leviticus 12-14.

       

4.  Since the New Testament writers were biased, can we trust their testimony?

     Yes, we can trust their testimony.  Being biased about something does not mean that you cannot tell the truth.  Take for example the case of a robbery of a small store.  The robber shoots and the wounds two employees, escapes, but is later apprehended.  At the trial the employees who have recovered from their injuries are brought in to testify.  Both of these witnesses are biased in that they want to see the perpetrator properly punished.  But, under oath their testimony is accepted as perfectly valid -- providing there aren't obvious problems.  So, being biased does not automatically mean that the testimony they give is not true.
     The New Testament writers were certainly biased, but their bias was towards honesty and truth, not deceit.  Their intention was to accurately record and testify to the events that they had seen.  Remember, the disciples were followers of Jesus who taught them to love, to be kind, faithful, and honest.  And this wasn't all.  Jesus warned against hypocrisy (Matt. 6:1, and against bearing false witness (Matt. 19:18).  The whole life of Jesus was based on integrity, character, faithfulness, truthfulness, love, and sacrifice.  This is what the disciples learned from Jesus and this is what they taught in their writings.  So, if they learned anything from Jesus it was to live in truth for this is exactly what Jesus said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. 18"As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19"And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth," (John 17:17-19).
     Furthermore, the fact is that there were plenty of people around who could have discounted what the apostles had written if what they wrote was inaccurate.  Yet, we find no evidence of any such thing in any writings of the time.  Yes, the disciple were biased.  But to what?  To lying?  To exaggerating?  Or were they biased towards the truth of who Jesus is and what He had done? 
    Of course, just because eyewitnesses wrote about Jesus rising from the dead does not mean it actually happened. This is true, but why would the disciples lie about this? Why would they risk the lives, their families, their cultural ties, and even end up dying for it all if they knew it was all a lie developed out of their "bias"?  It doesn't make sense.  But what does make sense is that the disciples were telling the truth.

Further Reading

     If you are interested in reading more detailed articles regarding the Bible, then please see the following links.  They are quite helpful.

  1. What is the canon of Scripture?
  2. Can we trust the New Testament as a historical document?
  3. What is the gospel of Q and does it prove the Gospels are false?
  4. Why isn't there other evidence of the massacre of the babies?
  5. Why isn't there any record of millions of Jews wandering in the desert?
  6. Do the lost books of the Bible prove that the Bible has been altered?
  7. Is there non-biblical evidence of a day of darkness at the crucifixion?
  8. Non-biblical accounts of New Testament events and/or people
  9. Archaeological Evidence verifying biblical cities
  10. The writings of Josephus mention many biblical people and places

------------------------ Focus Points ------------------------

  1. The Bible has not been rewritten.  We translate from the original language into our language. It is a one step process and not a series of steps that can lead to corruption.
  2. The New Testament was written before the close of the first century by those who either knew Christ personally, had encountered Him, or were under the direction of those who were His disciples.
  3. The Bible is not a book about science, but when it does speak scientifically, it is accurate. In fact, it was far ahead of any other writing of its time.
  4. The New Testament writers were certainly biased, but their bias was towards honesty and truth, not deceit.  Their intention was to accurately record and testify to the events that they had seen.  Remember, the disciples were followers of Jesus who taught them to love, to be kind, faithful, and honest.

______________
1The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
2. Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1998.
3. Achtemeier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985.
4. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985. 
5.  This is not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus   -  "Judas (not Iscariot) *said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?" (John 14:22).  Also, Clement of Alexandria [Adumbrations, in Epistle of Jude, p. 1007] says, "Jude, through reverential awe, did not call himself brother, but servant, of Jesus Christ, and brother of James." Jamieson, Robert; Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.
6. Jamieson, Robert; Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.


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