Check out this interesting post on what the first Christmas was probably like, contrary to some of the myths that have grown up around Jesus’ birth.
Many people misunderstand the doctrine of inerrancy, so I thought I would try to clear up some of the confusion.
The doctrine of inerrancy teaches that whatever the Bible affirms to be true, is true. Put another way, nothing that the Bible affirms is false. Inerrancy basically means “without error.” If the Bible teaches that Jesus was an actual historical figure who came back from the dead three days after he was killed, then we believe that really happened. If the Bible teaches that the nation of Israel escaped Egypt through a series of miracles of God performed through a man named Moses, then we believe that really happened.
God, in essence, made sure that the truths He wanted to be communicated by the various human authors of the Bible were successfully and truthfully communicated. Nothing the human authors wrote was false or mistaken. Inerrancy affirms that God does not make mistakes. Here is a simple syllogism:
- God does not err.
- The Bible is the Word of God.
- Therefore the Bible does not err.
If you deny inerrancy, then you admit either that God errs or that the Bible is not the Word of God. Take your pick.
When we refer to the Bible in any discussion of inerrancy, we are always referring to the original writings in the original languages, or the autographa. We are not referring to any copies made of the original writings.
What about errors in the copies of the Bible manuscripts? It is true that there are copyist errors that accumulated over 1,300 years of New Testament copying and 2,700 years of Old Testament copying. These errors amount to an approximate 99% accuracy for today’s Greek New Testament and an approximate 95% accuracy for the Hebrew Old Testament.
However, Christians who believe in inerrancy don’t use these errors as an escape hatch. We believe that the teachings of the Bible are mostly intact in our present-day translations, and the verses where scholars are unsure of the original writing are clearly marked in footnotes.
A person can learn everything they need to know about God’s revelation by reading a good modern translation. The doctrine of inerrancy gives us the assurance that God’s Word in the Bible can be counted on.
As a continuation to Post 1, I would like to discuss another principle that is used in the Bibliographical Test. This principle involves looking at the time span between the original manuscript in question and the oldest surviving copy. The principle behind this is, obviously, the shorter the time span, the more reliable the copy is deemed to be. How does The New Testament compare to other literature of antiquity? Let’s look at a few notable works…
- Caesar – Gallic Wars – 1000 year gap
- Pliny Secundas – Natural History – 750 year gap
- Tacitus – Annals – 1000 year gap
- Plato – 1300 year gap
- Herodotus – History – 1350 year gap
Notice how LONG the time frame is!! But wait… let’s look at one more. Historians and scholars consider Thucydides to be one of the most accurate historians of antiquity. How many copies do we have of his works and what is the time span? We only have 8 surviving manuscripts and a 1300 year gap!!! Yet, despite this he is considered by many to be THE MOST ACCURATE IN ALL OF ANTIQUITY!! WOW!!
How does this compare to The New Testament? Remember from my previous post that we have 24,970 surviving manuscripts… compared to only 8 for the most accurate historian from all of antiquity. Here is where it gets even more amazing. We have portions of books of The New Testament that go back to within 100 YEARS of the original!!! This is compared to a 1300 YEAR GAP for the most accurate historian of all of antiquity!! Not only this… we have an entire copy of The New Testament that goes back to within only 225 YEARS… again, compared to 1300 years for one scholars and historians consider to be one of the most accurate in all of antiquity!! Wow!! God is good.
What all this adds up to is this… we can hold The New Testament in our hands and have an intelligent faith in it because we have the evidence!! We can rest assured based on evidence that what it says is what was originally written down. As scholars Norman Geisler, William Nix and Bruce Metzger have concluded, we have a text that evidence shows is 99.5% pure!
For the Mormons who are reading this, how does this compare to The Book Of Mormon? Your church teaches you that it is the most correct book on the face of the earth and that The Bible is filled with errors. Yet, how many changes has your church made to The Book Of Mormon since it was first published? What proof do we have of it’s historicity? I will deal with these issues in future posts. In the meantime, I would encourage you to research this to find out for yourself if The Book of Mormon is really what your church claims it to be.
In addition, in some upcoming posts I will also address the historical reliability of The Old Testament.
Every year during December, someone says to me “Happy Holidays” and I cringe inside, knowing that this person has bought into a climate of fear.
We know that 80% of Americans are Christian and we know an even higher 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. If the dominant American holiday during the month of December is Christmas, and the traditional way to wish someone well during this time of year is to say “Merry Christmas,” then why not say that? What are we afraid of? Worst case, 1 out of 20 people will take offense. It’s actually a much smaller number than that because the vast majority of the remaining 5% will not mind someone saying “Merry Christmas” if they know the person is just ignorant of their particular beliefs.
We’re wishing each other well, after all. We’re not hurling insults at someone by saying “Merry Christmas” but that’s the way many of us act. In a meeting the other day, I suggested that we adorn our company website with pictures of outdoor Christmas trees and snow for the month of December, and you would have thought I was advocating genocide! Three people almost immediately jumped on the idea as offensive to some employees. This is a climate of fear and hypersensitivity.
If you know someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, then wish them well in the way they prefer, but please stop cowering in fear by wishing everyone “Happy Holidays.” It degrades everyone’s beliefs.
The 8th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints states “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God”. Notice the caveat for the Bible of “so far as it is translated correctly”. I remember many times as a Mormon I would tell people about this article of faith and explain to them how many “plain and precious truths” have been removed from the Bible… how the Bible has been mistranslated throughout history, does not contain the fullness of the Gospel, and cannot be trusted. I would tell them how we need The Book Of Mormon and modern day prophecy to clear up the confusion caused by the mistranslations in the Bible. However, when I started questioning the truthfulness of the LDS church, I began to research the history of the Bible, how we got it and how it has been transmitted to us throughout history. I wanted to find out for myself whether or not the Mormon claim that the Bible is “mistranslated” is true. What I found out amazed me.
Historiography is the the study of ancient documents. It is used to determine the authenticity and validity of documents of antiquity. One of the tests used in Historiography is called the Bibliographical test. One principle of the Bibliographical test is to look at the number of surviving manuscripts of any document of antiquity. Obviously, the more copies we have the easier it is to determine errors in copying and determine what the original text said. So, the question is, how many copies do we have of the New Testament?
For the New Testament alone we currently have 24,970 surviving manuscripts! This makes The New Testament the #1 document in all of antiquity in manuscript authority! Despite being Number 1 in manuscript authority it’s accuracy is questioned more than any other document of antiquity. You don’t hear many college professors questioning the reliability of Caesar’s Gallic Wars… yet we only have 10 surviving manuscripts for it!!
What is really amazing is the gap between The New Testament and the #2 document in manuscript authority, Homer’s Iliad. There are only 643 surviving manuscripts for it!!. The New Testament has 24,970 and # 2 HAS ONLY 643. What a gap!! God is good!!
In part 2 I will discuss the 2nd principle used in the Bibliographical Test and how these principles lead one to a reasoned conclusion that the New Testament we hold in our hands today is an accurate transmission of what was originally written down.
There is an interesting post detailing historical evidence for an early belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Why is this important? Critical scholars have often held that belief in Jesus’ resurrection was a later development after legends grew about Jesus’ life decades and even centuries later. Evidence of early belief helps defeat this claim and show that the resurrection was a real historical event.
My young friend, Tyler, asked me recently about Molinism. Molinism is a doctrine developed by a 16th century theologian, Luis de Molina, that attempted to reconcile the sovereignty of God with man’s free will.
Molina posited the idea that God possesses a special kind of knowledge, known as middle knowledge (scientia media), that effectively lets him know what free creatures would do given different circumstances. In effect, God’s middle knowledge allowed him to “try out” many possible worlds to see what his free creatures would do. He then picked one world based on this knowledge. That is the world we are living in today.
Molinism is an orthodox Christian doctrine (not heretical) and, indeed, still has adherents today. Some evangelical Christians, such as William Lane Craig, are proponents of this doctrine, or a form of it.
The Southern Baptist Convention, of which I am a member, takes no position on Molinism. The Baptist Faith and Message states that
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
It also states:
God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.
In other words, Baptists are OK with any doctrine that affirms both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. This encompasses a wide range of doctrines from Calvinism to Arminianism and everything in between (including Molinism).
I hear some Christians complain that God hasn’t blessed them even though they are praying and reading the Bible every day. By blessing, they mean good health, financial success, job success, good relationships, and so forth. However, when you read the entire Bible, it does not promise that your life is going to be easy if you will just do what God says. In fact, there are numerous counter-examples.
What about Job? He was righteous and yet God allowed Satan to virtually destroy his life.
What about Paul? Are you more dedicated to God than Paul? He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and ultimately beheaded for his obedience to God.
Virtually all the Old Testament prophets were mocked and ridiculed, and many of them killed for following God’s lead. Just read Jeremiah to see if he was living the easy life.
The truth is that God only guarantees that we will live with Him in paradise after this life. This world is riddled with sin and evil, and God is not going to place a protective bubble around you for your whole life. You will face hardship.
Now, if we are obedient to God in this life, then generally speaking, our lives will be better. No doubt about that. God keeps us from sin and sin will make our lives miserable. So if you don’t sin, then you will generally avoid many of life’s pitfalls. And many of us will be materially blessed, but not all of us.
There is not a direct correlation between your material blessings and your obedience to God. I saw a TV special the other day about one high-ranking Nazi officer at Auschwitz who lived to a ripe old age before dying peacefully in the year 2000.
Good people sometimes suffer and bad people sometimes prosper. That is not going to change until we are in heaven.
What we are called to do in this life is to trust God and obey Him in every situation. That is the essence of loving God in this life.
I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis because he had a way of explaining complex issues in simple ways. This quote from Mere Christianity below is probably my favorite because it really addresses people who want to re-define the historical Jesus of the Bible. Enjoy!
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
There have been many good apologetics books written, but there are a few that I find myself going back to over and over to do additional research. You can’t go wrong consulting these volumes:
Again, I realize that there are many other good ones, but you will be well-served by these.