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On Facebook, I recently made reference to a new textual-critical edition of the New Testament put out by the Society for Biblical Literature (the SBLGNT). What appealed to me is that it is made freely available, with a generous end-user license. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a Creative Commons License with the work still under a copyright.

I should have checked it out more carefully. James White pans this edition on a recent Dividing Line podcast. White uses two examples, Mark 1:41 and Hebrews 2:9, where the SBLGNT uses minority readings that literally have no manuscript support.

A leper approaches Jesus and tells Jesus that Jesus could heal him if Jesus so chose. In the ESV, Mark 1:41 reads “Moved with pity, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.'”

However, the SBLGNT uses a variant reading that originates in Codex D, which is dated to 1500s. Only MSS that bear relation to Codex D actually have that reading. No scholar gives Codex D any weight. It has too many readings unique to it, even whole passages and stories that are found nowhere else.

The variant reading that the SBLGNT uses for Mark 1:41 is: “Moved with anger, he [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.'”

Hebrews 2:9 is rendered “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” in the ESV.

The SBLGNT renders it “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that apart from God he might taste death for everyone.”

There’s more support for that reading than for the Mark 1:41 variant, but it still isn’t widely supported. It is more of a theological curiosity, and may have been changed because many believe that Jesus became wholly separated from God upon his death.

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Jumping to Unwarranted Conclusions

The Big Bang

I’ve read enough atheistic material to make the (I hope) accurate generalization that atheists are impressed by evidence and that they refuse to leap to any unwarranted conclusions.

For example, Hemnant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist) asked, “If a miracle came, would it convince you [that God exists]?” In the comments section, the virtually unanimous answer was an emphatic NO. A commenter named Drew even said this:

So, as much as I feel like a humbug, it would take quite a bit. And, if something like this rearrangement of stars happened, without some personal contact with God, I’d be wary that it is an illusion– after all, how many people have said the same prayer as I and not been answered? God would have to show me why he preferred to answer my prayer to millions of others.

MorseCode, who comments on this blog as well, said this:

Moving stars is certainly impressive. Unfortunately, it only serves as evidence for something that can move stars.

So, for all practical purposes, most agree with this fellow:

At this point in my life, I honestly can’t think of anything that would make me believe in God, expecially the God of a particular religion. I don’t think I’m closed minded, but after 47 years of searching and exploring these issues, I think it’s fair to have come to a pretty solid conclusion.

So, based on this information, it is fair to say that atheists do not leap to unwarranted conclusions, nor would they be convinced by material that does.

Unless the unwarranted conclusions are in their favor. Read the rest of this entry

YouTube Skeptics: 6 Questions for All Christians, part II

In my last post, I answered three of the six questions posed by Carlos, a YouTube skeptic who goes by the alias “otherwisesaid.” We saw that the questions were nothing but rhetoric, designed to throw Christians off their game. And, sadly, it probably has worked in the past.

Now, I will answer the remaining three questions.

Are you in sync with Mark 16: 17-18? I’m not. Mark 16:9-18 isn’t found in the earliest MSS, which means that these verses are not inerrant because they are not meant to be in the Bible in the first place. Therefore, if you handle a poisonous snake, you’ll get bit and die. No surprise there.

Why are you Christian, and not Muslim? Do you think you’d be a Muslim instead of a Christian if you were born in Pakistan? The Bible actually predicts this sort of thing. Proverbs 22:6 reads “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The reason that few people “jump ship” into another religion or even atheism is because they have been taught to believe these things from a young age, and that means that they will not let it go easily.

Combine that with the fact that Islam is a theocracy that forbids evangelizing its adherents (and punishes infractions with death), and you have a near-impossible task in trying to convert the average Muslim to Christianity. The Great Commission commands us, however, to bring the gospel message to all nations, and the sad truth is we’re just not fulfilling Christ’s command very well in this case.

I am a Christian because I’ve studied the issues and have concluded that Christianity is truth. Objections to it melt when the Bible is properly understood. Most people are in the religion that they’re in because they’ve been taught not to look at it, to give it a pass on critical analysis (YES, I just agreed with the skeptics here). I believe if they critically analyzed their religion, comparing it to Christianity, there would be more Christians.

Can things be added or removed from the Bible? Considering how the Bible was compiled, Revelations 22:18 becomes irrelevant to this question. First off, dude, the book of the Bible is Revelation, not “Revelations.” That is one of my biggest pet peeves coming from critics of the Bible. Get the stinkin’ name of the book right, or you shoot your credibility with heavier firepower than favoriting the Mr. Deity videos!

Second, I agree with the interpretation that Revelation 22:18 is meant only to apply to the book of Revelation. Trying to apply it to the entire Bible is a real stretch.

That said, the canon of Scripture would be a fallible collection of infallible works. The canon was decided upon by the bishops of the universal church in council, and these men are fallible. I do believe that they have correctly recognized God speaking through the words of the New Testament writers. I don’t think there is reason to suppose that anything in the Bible is wrongly placed there. But, some of the other works not in the Bible, such as the Shepherd of Hermas or Paul’s letter to the Laodicians, may be inspired and should have been included.

I don’t see a reason why the church would need to add to Scripture. Scripture contains the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, the full and final revelation of God to mankind.

Rhetorical questions designed to challenge one’s faith. Typical skeptic. Surely he hasn’t sorted through the issues himself. He probably got inspired by Why Won’t God Heal Amputees and decided to make his own video. Nothing here is earth-shattering to a believer with a firm foundation of faith.

YouTube Skeptics: 6 Questions for All Christians

YouTube appears to be an untapped resource of materials that I can blog about. The whole site seems to be filled with critics of Christianity, and they aren’t shy about keeping vlogs about their doubts. I should have looked more seriously at YouTube months ago, when Caleb started deconverting due to materials that he saw via YouTube.

So I searched a bit and found some interesting materials. I thought that I’d answer a video every now and then. I’m going to try for ones that really make a person think, but I might take on a capitally stupid one just for amusement purposes every now and again.

This video caught my eye first, because I like to think deeply about my faith. Videos that ask questions, though usually rhetorical, make me think more deeply and I believe actually strengthen my faith in God, though they’re intended to do the opposite. Read the rest of this entry

A Brief Clarification

In my last post, I stated unequivocably that we Christians can rest easy that the words of the Bible we possess today are the same words that the authors wrote. But I never really explained how that would be the case. I aim to correct that today.

So, how much witness do we have for the Bible and how old is it? Well, we have almost 6,000 manuscripts (MSS) that are copies of the originals. It is true that no two are the same, but the variations that we see are corrected by looking at the corpus of MSS as a whole and then it becomes clear where the mistakes were. With almost 6,000 MSS to choose from, what are the odds that two different copyists would make the same mistake in the same place?

By looking at all of these direct witnesses, it is possible to divide them into familes of texts based on the textual variants. In so doing, patterns emerge. The main pattern is that the newer the MS, the “fuller” it is. In other words, those pesky “missing verses” that the NIV is accused of redacting don’t appear in the earlier witnesses. They were added by later copyists. The leanest and oldest are the Alexandrian MSS. The more robust and newest are the Byzantine MSS. There are other categories, but those are the most famous.

Our modern vesions are essentailly constructed out of the Alexandrian family of MSS. The older versions, such as the venerable King James (still the most beautiful translation in English), are essentailly Byzantine. This makes sense, since the Byzantine family didn’t emerge until after Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire under Constantine. This means that we have many more Byzantine MSS than we do the earlier (and ostensibly more reliable) Alexandrian MSS. The Alexandrian MSS were more likely to be destroyed because they were holy texts of a religion that was illegal and had been persecuted since the time of Nero.

The surviving copies that we do have are excellent witness to the fact that the text we have in our modern Bibles is the text that the earliest Christians read and memorized and read aloud during services. As I stated before, we have nearly 6,000 surviving copies of NT MSS, some of which are dated to 50 to 100 years after the originals. How does that compare to other ancient works?

The best attested work of antiquity, aside from the NT, is the Illiad by Homer. This document was composed around 800 b.c. The earliest fragments date from 400 b.c.–400 years after the date of composition. There are only 643 MSS in existence. Compare that to the NT, with almost 6,000 MSS, with the earliest fragments dating from 50 to 100 years after the originals were written. There is no comparison.

It would be a historian’s wildest dream to encounter an MS as well-attested as the NT, but for some reason the reliability of it is called into question, even by Christians. My prayer is that by explaining some of these finer points I have shown why we can trust our copies of the NT. There is no reason to question that the NT of today is the NT of the earliest Christians, since we have mountains of evidence attesting to that fact.

This means that when I quote a text from the NT, I’m quoting directly what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians: “For in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). The implications are simple. No matter what you hear from skeptics and atheists, the earliest Christians worshipped Jesus Christ as God. Even in the earliest fragments of MSS we can find dozens of references like Collosians 2:9. That means that it was not a decision of the Council of Nicea to start worshipping Jesus as God; that had always been present in the Christian tradition.

Conversation Piece

Image via CafePress.com

Image via CafePress.com

Alpha & Omega Ministires, the apologetics ministry of James White, is promoting a very cute T-shirt. It contains pictures of all of the second century papyri that witness the New Testament. It would surely be a conversation starter and a witness tool.

Pick one up over at Reflections, Carla Rolfe’s shop on CafePress.

Though fragmentary, the second century papyri show that very little evolution of NT Scripture has occurred. The witness of the second century MSS, dated only 50 to 100 years after the originals, is that the text we have today is the text that was written. Get it? The NT is in tact! It did not evolve or change over the years to create a new Jesus that no one from the first century a.d. believed in! The earliest Christians believed that Jesus was the Son of God, that he shared the same ontology as God and therefore was God! This belief did not evolve over time and become solidified at Nicea, as the atheists will have you believe.

That Jesus was God was something that the earliest Christians bore witness to. So sleep soundly tonight, Christians, your faith is secure in these second century MSS.