Tuesday, 4 February 2014

To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ

I write this article towards the fundamentalist evangelical Christians, which is the majority of the Church today. This article is to question your belief in the gospels not as the word of God, but that it is without contradictions, discrepancies and your definition of inspiration.

1. We do not know what was originally written by the authors of the New Testament from Paul to the authors of the gospels. Now I am not saying we do know anything, we know about 99% of what the earliest form of the text said. Scholars agree that scribes sometimes changed the text for theological purposes .e.g. Mark 19 9:20, 1 John 5:7 etc etc and sometimes the text was changed by accident .e.g.car to bar. Now this causes concern for the textual critic to know what was the original, now we can make a pretty good guess with high plausibility by using the tools of textual criticism and I am not going to dive into that, as it could confusion if you do not know about it. However, I am going to be writing a lengthy article on the transmission and corruption of the New Testament text in the near future.
This 1% of major variants is hard to know what is the correct reading for a few reasons:-

1. We do not have the autographs of any New Testament book, like every other book in ancient history.
2. It is hard to determine the nature of a variant especially if it happens early in transmission of the text.
3. sometimes hard to determine the nature of a manuscript.

However, some of these major variants can be recovered .e.g. The baptism of Jesus in Luke 3 did it say you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased or this is my beloved son, today I have begotten you. Now even though the second reading of the text could go back to the original and it does change the meaning of the text, it is more likely that the first reading goes back to the earliest form of the text.
What do I mean by these major variants? these variants are meaningful and viable variants; which means could go back to the original and also changes the meaning of the text.

2. Most Fundamentalists (I have even seen this being said at the Alpha course) will tell you the New Testament is the best attested book of antiquity, which is correct it is, but 94% of the manuscripts come after the 9th century which is 800 years after the original. The first completed manuscript we have of all four gospels is not until the 4th century. Only a handful of manuscripts come from the second century and only about 30-40 in the 3rd century.And some of these are just mere fragments of a certain verse .e.g. are earliest manuscript is P52, P meaning papyrus and 52 meaning the 52nd manuscript to be found and cataloged. This manuscript is no bigger than a credit card and has parts of John 18 on the front and back of the fragment.

Now I am not saying we have a poor tradition, as it is incredibly rich, but to use the best attested argument is such a weak argument when that does not prove much. Its like saying the dad is stronger than then son but it does not mean the Dad can now lift the car. However, if we cannot trust the form of the gospels then we cannot trust anything in ancient history.

Now remember I am not saying we do not know what the earliest form may have said we just do not know what everything was said, which is why I said we know about 99% and maybe a little bit more.

3. The term 'original'; Now you may be wondering well original is what NT writes wrote and sent out to churches and people to copy for themselves. However, it is not as easy as that; lets look at Paul who used scribes like a lot of people in history to write his letter form him. Paul would dictate to the scribe what to write, these scribes were known as secretaries. Now we all know that when you write something you make spelling mistakes or you miss hear what someone was saying or you day dream and therefore make mistakes. Now the scribe would of made mistakes and authors did sometimes check the work after to make sure it was correct, but what was the original? the word by the scribe or the corrected word that Paul/the scribe noticed? you may say Paul, but it has just been changed so that does not mean it is original.

A lot of authors would make copies of the work they have just wrote and they would be kept for themselves and their official, first work would be sent out or they would send the copies out and people would come copy the autograph form its place of residence. Problem is how do we know the drafts are the same as the autographs? Now they could of checked for mistakes in the drafts but they may still of missed mistakes. If this is the case we already have variants in the transmission of the text and therefore which is original the autograph wording or the authors drafts?

Now the term original has many meanings. It can mean the first ever copy all the way to the earliest form of a text. so, what is it? how do w prove that?. scholars have abandoned this terms for this reason and the difficulties to understand what mistakes authors may have themselves made. Now I am not saying Paul would of added new theology to his own gospel, as that makes no sense, seeing as though it would not be new it would just be his theology. Scholars now look to other avenues and two of these are used by scholars;
1. the authorial text, which is the text the author intended to publish
2. The initial text, which is the earliest form of the text that was published by the author to be copied.

Now the authorial text is very hard to also recover, as how can we know what the author intended to write? we cannot access the authors mind to assess that. However, we can recover the initial text. Kurt and Barbara Aland argue that the initial text would be relatively close to the original. I would agree with this, as the author is not trying to change things to suit his own theology, as he can just input his own theology, as it is their book they are writing, they are not a scribe copying his work who does not like the look of something he reads, so decides to change it. We can therefore say the initial text is what we can be recovered. 

4. Discrepancies/contradictions in the gospels are real, the bible is not the inerrant word of God and it never claims to be, it claims to be the inspired word of God. Now before I define what that means I will show you a discrepancy in the gospels that to me is one of the biggest discrepancies in the gospels.
Most Christians will know the account(s) of Jairus daughter, so now lets look at the gospel accounts:

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. (Mark 5:22-26, ESV

for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. (Luke 8:42-43, ESV)

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in andknelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, (Matthew 9:18-20, ESV)

As we can see Luke and Marks account is consistent with each other but notice Matthews gospel shows us that Jairus daughter had died when Jairus first met Jesus where as in Mark and Luke she was still alive when Jairus got to Jesus. Now we can clear see the contradiction here and it cannot be harmonized. Fundamentalists have tried to figure out an answer that is not compelling and is mere speculation. Some have tried to solve it by saying Matthew is telescoping the story. This is a scholar who I admire and agree greatly with but disagree with him on this point. Dr. White’s answer to this, ignoring the further development in Luke and John, was that Matthew did nothing wrong in summarizing the story. He referred to Matthew’s action as ‘telescoping’, by which he obviously means that Matthew has drawn in the ends of the story to make it shorter. He correctly pointed out that Matthew achieved this by omitting the later part about someone else coming to say Jairus daughter died and put it and the begining when Jairus came to jesus, which Dr. White calls this telescoping. To Dr. White, Matthew did not change the broad facts of the story in having Jairus declare the girl dead from the start, since we still get the same basic information from both Matthew and Mark.
even though this could be the case that Matthew shortens the story and therefore just tells us she died, as it is known in history that authors would adapt the story, paraphrase the story; this is not a bad thing it is to just to tell the story differently but also the same. This can mean putting the words into peoples mouths. People do this all the time .e.g. if your teacher gave a lecture about banks and you went up to him at the end you wouldn't repeat the exact lecture he just said or the exact point he made, you will adapt it in a way that tells the remarks differently but the punch line is the same. However, even though this , may be true about Matthew here for the telescoping theory it is still a discrepancy as the accounts contradict, but the punch line is the same that Christ has the power to heal and raise the dead, which is the whole point of the story.

Secondly, it is hard to say Matthew telescoped this, as we cannot go into Matthews brain therefore it has to be looked at as a discrepancy.

The Problem is fundamentalists will admit that the main part of the story in what is truth her and know there is a problem here with the contradicting passage, even Calvin understands this and argues the main point of the story is Jesus can raise people from the dead and heal the sick. But they themselves will still call the gospels the inerrant word of God when they can see there are discrepancies. Discrepancies are not a bad thing it is just how ancient authors wrote and even how we talk today. Authors also sometimes never wrote in chronological order.even though this to me is not the case here with Jairus we have to look at what history tells us.

6. What does it mean to say the New testament is inspired? William Lane Craig puts it this way, you have to understand that inspiration does not mean God somehow controlled the pen of the authors. he goes further and argues that you can be inspired to write something because someone has give you a reason to write something .e.g. Bob was inspired to write a book about his life, because so many people encouraged him to do it. however with the gospels god inspired them and inspired every word written, but how he inspires them has to be put into the culture of the time and how historical Biographies were written.
We can extend the point by considering the proposal that the Gospels should be understood as different performances, as it were, of orally transmitted tradition.  The prominent New Testament scholar Jimmy Dunn, prompted by the work of Ken Bailey on the transmission of oral tradition in Middle Eastern cultures, has sharply criticized what he calls the “stratigraphic model” of the Gospels, which views them as composed of different layers laid one upon another on top of a primitive tradition.  (See James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered [Grand Rapids, Mich.:  William B. Eerdmans, 2003].) On the stratigraphic model each tiny deviation from the previous layer occasions speculations about the reasons for the change, sometimes leading to quite fanciful hypotheses about the theology of some redactor.  But Dunn insists that oral tradition works quite differently.  What matters is that the central idea is conveyed, often in some key words and climaxing in some saying which is repeated verbatim; but the surrounding details are fluid and incidental to the story. 
Probably the closest example to this in our non-oral, Western culture is the telling of a joke.  It’s important that you get the structure and punch line right, but the rest is incidental.  For example, many years ago I heard the following joke: 
“What did the Calvinist say when he fell down the elevator shaft?”
“I don’t know.”
“He got up, dusted himself off, and said, ‘Whew! I’m glad that’s over!’”
Now just recently someone else told me what was clearly the same joke.  Only she told it as follows:
“Do you know what the Calvinist said when he fell down the stairs?”
“‘Whew! I’m glad that’s over!’”
Notice the differences in the telling of this joke;  but observe how the central idea and especially the punch line are the same.  Well, when you compare many of the stories told about Jesus in the Gospels and identify the words they have in common, you find a pattern like this.  There is variation in the secondary details, but very often the central saying is almost verbatim the same.  And remember, this is in a culture where they didn't even have the device of quotation marks!  (Those are added in translation to indicate direct speech; to get an idea of how difficult it can be to determine exactly where direct speech ends, just read Paul’s account of his argument with Peter in Galatians 2 or of Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus in John 3.)  So the stories in the Gospels should not be understood as evolutions of some prior primitive tradition but as different performances of the same oral story.
Now I wrote this to help Christians understand the gospels and to understand them in the context they were written and to have some education in early Christianity and the text of the new testament. I am not some sceptic, but I am not a fundamentalist and I hold a mixture of liberal and conservative views. I have devoted a lot of my adult life to this to know the truth and I hold to the conservative doctrine of Christ and I truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that scripture is the inspired word of God. But we must understand the truth and knowing the truth of the gospels actually strengthens me in Christ not the other way around. Yes we don't know what every word was in the initial form of the text (but it is not lost we are just tinkering with the text), yes we have discrepancies, but when you understand historical biographies and there transmission you understand how God worked with scriptures and it makes you glorify him more. This is not to bring you down, it is encourage you to look further and build your faith in Christ. 

If you have any questions please ask, if you have found this difficult and has made you question (which is not a bad thing) then please contact me and we can talk about. May God bless you all.

by Adam hardie. He blogs at http://adam-defendingjesus.blogspot.co.uk/

Original post can be found on this link. http://adam-defendingjesus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/to-my-brothers-and-sisters-in-christ.html

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