The Trinity on Thursday – Time, Trinity and Text

A common objection from some of my muslim friends is that the doctrine of the Trinity stems solely from one place in the Bible – 1 John 5:7.

John

In the King James version (KJV) of the Bible – there is a piece of text which is super trinitarian in its implications – except it shouldn’t be there. That’s why it is in the KJV as above but not in the New International Version (NIV) or most others for that matter. Many though not all Muslims think that this piece of text, this verse, is the sole reason Christians declare that God is Triune – Three co-eternal and co-equal persons in the one being of God. This is a strong objection.

Let’s think about that argument and it’s implications. It would mean that in the earliest centuries to support the errant teaching of the Trinity idea – someone inserted this bogus text into the Holy Bible. No insertion into the text and there would have been no Trinity and certainly no scriptural warrant for being trinitarian. But  the argument goes, it was inserted and that’s why we have the doctrine of the Trinity.

But this is simply not the case. The verse no where to be seen in any greek text, appeared in the body of the text no earlier than the 15th century and only as a margin note – a schema of understanding, a devotional piece some time before that. No where near the earliest centuries of the church. And the understanding of the divinity of the Son and the Spirt was emerging very early on in the christian community, being described at the end of the second century using the word Trinity. No where near the time of this textual insertion.

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And another thing I am a trinitarian Christian because I seek to read the whole Bible fairly and carefully and I actually can’t say I have ever read this so called ‘only verse that leads to the Trinity understanding’. Go figure. No bogus verse and yet trinitarian.

See Dr. Dan Wallace’s scholarly treatment of this issue below or click here

“5:7 For there are three that testify, 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.”  ‑‑NET Bible

Before τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, the Textus Receptus reads ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι. 5·8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ (“in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that testify on earth”). This reading, the infamous Comma Johanneum, has been known in the English-speaking world through the King James translation. However, the evidence—both external and internal—is decidedly against its authenticity. Our discussion will briefly address the external evidence.1

This longer reading is found only in eight late manuscripts, four of which have the words in a marginal note.  Most of these manuscripts (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest manuscript, codex 221 (10th century), includes the reading in a marginal note which was added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the reading appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either manuscript, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until AD 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant, since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity.2 The reading seems to have arisen in a fourth century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity.  From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Trinitarian formula (known as the Comma Johanneum) made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared (1516), there arose such a furor over the absence of the Comma that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the Comma because he found no Greek manuscripts that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written by one Roy or Froy at Oxford in c. 1520),3 Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this manuscript sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text,4 as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever manuscripts he could for the production of his Greek New Testament. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold.

Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings—even in places where the TR/Byzantine manuscripts lack them. Further, these KJV advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. But this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text. Further, it puts these Protestant proponents in the awkward and self-contradictory position of having to affirm that the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, was just as inspired as the apostles, for on several occasions he invented readings—due either to carelessness or lack of Greek manuscripts (in particular, for the last six verses of Revelation Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin to Greek).

In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the Comma Johanneum must go back to the original text when it did not appear until the 16th century in any Greek manuscripts? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: faith must be rooted in history. To argue that the Comma must be authentic is Bultmannian in its method, for it ignores history at every level.  As such, it has very little to do with biblical Christianity, for a biblical faith is one that is rooted in history.

Significantly, the German translation done by Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and lacked the Comma. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza’s 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus’ third and later editions (and Stephanus’ editions), popularized the Comma for the English-speaking world. Thus, the Comma Johanneum has been a battleground for English-speaking Christians more than for others.

Unfortunately, for many, the Comma and other similar passages have become such emotional baggage that is dragged around whenever the Bible is read that a knee-jerk reaction and ad hominem argumentation becomes the first and only way that they can process this issue. Sadly, neither empirical evidence nor reason can dissuade them from their views. The irony is that their very clinging to tradition at all costs (namely, of an outmoded translation which, though a literary monument in its day, is now like a Model T on the Autobahn) emulates Roman Catholicism in its regard for tradition.5 If the King James translators knew that this would be the result nearly four hundred years after the completion of their work, they’d be writhing in their graves.


11For a detailed discussion, see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 2nd ed., 647-49.

2Not only the ancient orthodox writers, but also modern orthodox scholars would of course be delighted if this reading were the original one. But the fact is that the evidence simply does not support the Trinitarian formula here—and these orthodox scholars just happen to hold to the reasonable position that it is essential to affirm what the Bible affirms where it affirms it, rather than create such affirmations ex nihilo. That KJV advocates have charged modern translations with heresy because they lack the Comma is a house of cards, for the same translators who have worked on the NIV, NASB, or NET (as well as many other translations) have written several articles and books affirming the Trinity.

3This manuscript which contains the entire New Testament is now housed in Dublin. It has been examined so often at this one place that the book now reportedly falls open naturally to 1 John 5.

4That Erasmus made such a protest or that he had explicitly promised to include the Comma is an overstatement of the evidence, though the converse of this can be said to be true: Erasmus refused to put this in his without Greek manuscript support.

5 Thus, TR-KJV advocates subconsciously embrace two diametrically opposed traditions: when it comes to the first 1500 years of church history, they hold to a Bultmannian kind of Christianity (viz., the basis for their belief in the superiority of the Byzantine manuscripts—and in particular, the half dozen that stand behind the TR—has very little empirical substance of historical worth). Once such readings became a part of tradition, however, by way of the TR, the argument shifts to one of tradition rather than non-empirical fideism. Neither basis, of course, resembles Protestantism.

See also a follow up piece of Dr. Wallace’s here.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 5

This will be the last in the Eichenwald Files. All the pieces I have linked to or excerpted say similar things (consistency anyone?) and are all by credible scholars – in the world of scholars. I have posted this series each week to leave a resource trail for Christians and the ‘curious and open-minded other’ to be exposed to careful, thoughtful, rigourous and defendable material. Rarely are ordinary Christians (like me) aware of such voices or exposed to them. That is one of the purposes of the Humble Donkey.

For the last File (5) I am directing you to Dr. Dan Wallace and his response to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece.

Phil

For source click image.

You can find the full Wallace response here as well as other interesting materials by clicking here.

But here is an interesting excerpt from the section entitled:

Error 4: Simplistic Biblical Interpretation When it Suits His Purpose

Second, Eichenwald employs other simplistic interpretations to deny the NT’s affirmation of Christ’s deity. His statement that ‘form of God’ in Philippians 2.6 “could simply mean Jesus was in the image of God” betrays his ignorance about biblical interpretation. The kenosis, the hymn about the self-emptying of Christ (Phil 2.6–11) has received more scholarly interaction than perhaps any other paragraph in Paul’s writings. To claim that Jesus’ being in the form of God may mean nothing more than that he was human is entirely against the context. The hymn begins (vv. 6–7) as follows:

“who [Christ], although he was in the form of God,

he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,

but he emptied himself,

by taking on the form of a slave,

by looking like other men,

and by sharing in human nature.”

Christ’s humanity is mentioned only after he is said to have emptied himself. Thus, ‘form of God’ must mean something more than humanity. Further, the parallel lines—‘he was in the form of God’ and ‘taking on the form of a slave’—are mutually interpreting. Jesus was truly a slave of God; this is how he regarded himself (cf. Mark 10.45; Matt 20.27; 26.39). If ‘form of slave’ means ‘slave’ then ‘form of God’ may well mean ‘God.’ The rest of the hymn confirms this interpretation. Philippians 2.10–11 alludes to Isaiah 45.23, where God says, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (NRSV). Paul quotes this very text in Romans 14.11 in reference to YHWH—a book Paul wrote six or seven years prior to his letter to the Philippians. Yet in Phil 2.10–11 he says,

“at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father” (NRSV).

Now the confession is about Jesus and it is a confession that he is ‘Lord.’ Either Paul is coming perilously close to blasphemy, something that a well-trained rabbi could hardly do, or he is claiming that Jesus is indeed true deity. And to underscore the point, he notes that all those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will make this confession—language that is reminiscent of the second of the Ten Commandments, as found in Exodus 20.4: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (NRSV). The Decalogue—known as well as any Old Testament text to an orthodox Jew—is unmistakably echoed in the kenosis. To use this in reference to Jesus is only appropriate if Jesus is true deity, truly the Lord, YHWH himself.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 4

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Amy Hall from the useful apologetics website and ministry Stand To Reason [Click here to go there] has picked out a piece of Dan Wallace’s critique of the Newsweek/Eichenwald Christmas piece. She has bullet pointed this short section for ease of reading and comprehension.  

I think this is an important point from Wallace as I encounter word game / Chinese Whispers / Telephone Game models being proposed as fact with regard to how the books of the New Testament and particularly the gospels were transmitted.

Click the word response below to get to Dan Wallace’s full treatment.

In his response to the now infamous Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald attacking the Bible, Dan Wallace succinctly explained why the transmission of the Bible was not like a game of Telephone (bullet point formatting added by me for ease of reading):

The title of Eichenwald’s section that deals with manuscript transmission is “Playing Telephone with the Word of God.” The implication is that the transmission of the Bible is very much like the telephone game—a parlor game every American knows. It involves a brief narrative that someone whispers to the next person in line who then whispers this to the next person, and so on for several people. Then, the last person recites out loud what he or she heard and everyone has a good laugh for how garbled the story got. But the transmission of scripture is not at all like the telephone game.

  • First, the goal of the telephone game is to see how badly the story can get misrepresented, while the goal of New Testament copying was by and large to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original.
  • Second, in the telephone game there is only one line of transmission, while with the New Testament there are multiple lines of transmission.
  • Third, one is oral, recited once in another’s ear, while the other is written, copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it.
  • Fourth, in the telephone game only the wording of the last person in the line can be checked, while for the New Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts, some going back very close to the time of the autographs.
  • Fifth, even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor. The average papyrus manuscript would last for a century or more. Thus, even a late second-century scribe could have potentially examined the original document he or she was copying.

If telephone were played the way New Testament transmission occurred, it would make for a ridiculously boring parlor game!

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 3

Two continuations today 1) another careful handling and critique of the now notorious Newsweek article “The Bible So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” by Kurt Eichenwald and 2) the New Zealand connection continued from yesterday.

The resource I am pointing to today was posted at The Gospel Coalition which I highly recommend and written as a guest post by Dr. Darrell L. Bock, a serious New Testament scholar whom I had the priviledge of hearing for 3 hours and chatting with in New Zealand at the Matamata Bible Church in 2012.

Think

Here’s an excerpt from the post at The Gospel Coalition – specifically Justin Taylor’s blog – click at the end of this excerpt to get to the whole post and do consider its reasonableness, it’s content and it’s implications.

So let’s go through this piece one issue at a time. Let’s start with what is said about the actual text we have. For this I could just cite the response of my colleague, Dan Wallace, who has spent his life investigating and photographing the very manuscript evidence this article raises as so untrustworthy. Dan correctly opens up saying the issue is not the fact that Eichenwald asks hard questions. The Bible makes such important claims, so such questions should be asked. It is the way he answers them that is the problem. Dan also shows how the nature of the issues Eichenwald makes about our manuscripts does not lead to Eichenwald’s conclusions. I leave the Textual Criticism side of the argument to Dan’s piece.

Eichenwald’s way in is to cite Bart Ehrman, whom he calls a ground-breaking New Testament scholar. Now Bart himself has said that what he writes is a reflection of current discussion that has been around a long time. He and I have debated over the radiom where he made this statement to me as something I was well aware of, something I also affirmed at the time. The views presented (including the appeal to the telephone game as Erhman’s illustration for how poorly copies were passed on) are but one take on these issues that are argued pro and con in the public scholarly square. This hardly makes him a ground-breaking source. Ehrman is a spokesperson, a very competent one, for one take on all of this. But the article even uses his material extremely selectively. Here is another quotation Ehrman makes on this topic: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” What this means is that people on all sides recognize that what we have in the Bible, in terms of the core things it teaches, is a reflection of what made up these books originally. The caricature by Eichenwald that what we have in our hands has no resemblance to what was originally produced is misleading in the extreme, even considering the source the journalist uses to make his point.

Click here to go to the full blog post and feast, think and grow.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files – File 2

Re-blogging Dr. Michael J. Kruger’s second half of his rebuttal and exploration of the Eichenwald Newsweek article on the Bible.

The comments thread over there is extensive with Dr. Eichenwald contributing frequently, which is good to see. I recommend the comments section with a number of the links to other works and counter-arguments, for example Steve Hays.

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For source click the image

 

Here’s the beginning of Dr. Kruger’s work

On Christmas Eve, I wrote part one of my review of Kurt Eichenwald’s piece (see here), and highlighted not only the substantive and inexcusable litany of historical mistakes, but also the overly pejorative and one-sided portrait of Bible-believing Christians. The review was shared by a number of other evangelical sites and thinkers—including the Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, Denny Burk, Michael Brown, and others—and ever since I have been digging out from under the pile of comments. I appreciate that even Kurt Eichenwald joined the discussion in the comments section.

But the problems in the original Newsweek article were so extensive that I could not cover them in a single post. So, now I offer a second (and hopefully final) installment.

False Claims about Christians Killing Christians

In an effort to portray early Christianity as divided and chaotic (not to mention morally corrupt), Eichenwald repeatedly claims that Christians went around murdering each other in droves. He states:

Those who believed in the Trinity butchered Christians who didn’t. Groups who believed Jesus was two entities—God and man—killed those who thought Jesus was merely flesh and blood…Indeed, for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, groups adopted radically conflicting writings about the details of his life and the meaning of his ministry, and murdered those who disagreed. For many centuries, Christianity was first a battle of books and then a battle of blood.

Notice that Eichenwald offers no historical evidence about the mass killing of Christians by Christians within the first few centuries (we are talking about the pre-Constantine time period). And there is a reason he doesn’t offer any. There is none.

Sure, one can point to instances in the medieval period, such as the Inquisition, where Christians killed other Christians.  But, Eichenwald claims that Christianity began this way: “for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus.” This is another serious historical mistake that needs correcting.

When it comes to who-killed-who in the earliest centuries of the faith, it wasn’t Christians killing Christians.  It was the Roman government killing Christians.

Click here to get to the full article at Canon Fodder

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files

Over the next number of Tuesdays I am going to reblog a number of posts that respond to the pre-Christmas Newsweek slammathon on the Bible and Christianity. Although it was the pre-Christmas edition, it’s theme of ‘Christians and their everyday reading of the Bible stink, like really badly’, is not just for Christmas. It seems that it is for life.

The extensive Newsweek piece (8500 words – 14 pages), labelled by many as Newsweak because it was so badly researched, biased, unbalanced and unrepresentative of widely available credible scholarship is actaully a wonderful encapsulation of what a lot of people believe already. Typically this is because they’ve heard someone say the same sort of things many, many times before or read them somewhere like Newsweek – typically in the pre-Christmas or easter edition. Ever noticed that coincidence of the publishing industry.

So looking at thoughtful, thorough responses can be a useful exercise for the open-minded and edifying for the Christian believer.

Think

Before I link to a response to the piece, here is the link to the article which is available online by clicking here.

Go there, let it confirm some of your own thoughts, biases or whatever but then give New Testament scholar Michael Kruger a hearing by clicking his name. It’s part one of two responses by him. He is thoughtful, generous and corrective where he needs to be. Enjoy.

Text Tuesday – Is the Bible limited to 66 books?

Before my blog-break last October I had been posting (mostly re-posting other people’s thoughtful work) on the text of the new testament in particular and the Bible in general.

I plan to occasionally do that again and today is such a day. Before re-posting Rob Phillips‘ work I will give some personal context. I dialogue infrequently with some great Muslim chaps and they do love to try and tear apart the New Testament as we have it today. Howver, their concerns and criticisms have lead me to investigate this important part of the Christian faith more deeply. Much of what convincingly speaks to me has been re-posted on the Tuesday Text series – see Textual Studies in the Categories on the right hand side of the screen if you want to see more.

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However I love to refine my understanding and position on things as I go along. While I have regularly told muslim friends if an early letter by Paul or similar was found and could be authenticated I would be happy for it to be added to the New Testament (as such). This post has given me pause for thought on this matter. Over to you dear Baptist brother.

Rob Phillips: click here to get the source of this material

Some scholars today cast doubt over the canon of Scripture — those 66 books that the church has long held to be the complete written revelation of God. They justify their views by claiming: 1) that surviving texts of the Old and New Testaments are corrupt and therefore unreliable or 2) that early church leaders deliberately excluded certain books for personal or political reasons.

As Craig L. Blomberg responds in his book “Can We Still Believe the Bible?”: “… there is not a shred of historical evidence to support either of these claims; anyone choosing to believe them must do so by pure credulity, flying in the face of all the evidence that actually exists.”

But what if we discovered an apostolic writing that has remained hidden for the last 2,000 years?

For example, in 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul alludes to an earlier letter to fellow believers in Corinth. We don’t have that letter, nor are we aware of its specific contents. Let’s say, however, that archaeologists unearth a clay pot containing a manuscript dating from the mid-first century and fitting the description of Paul’s letter.

Should the church welcome 3 Corinthians as the 28th book of the New Testament? Not so fast.

The New Testament offers hints of the process of canonization, but little more. As Jesus prepares His followers for His passion and return to heaven, He promises to send the Holy Spirit, who will enable the disciples to remember Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26), testify further about Him (John 15:26) and proclaim truth (John 16:13).

In other words, the same Holy Spirit who authors Scripture will ensure that authentic testimonies about Jesus are written, preserved and shared.

Some New Testament books receive a great deal of scrutiny before their inclusion, most notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation. And some don’t make the cut for a variety of reasons, such as the gnostic gospels of Judas, Barnabas and Thomas.

So, what criteria did the early church use as a guide? Blomberg notes three predominant requirements: apostolicity, catholicity and orthodoxy.

Apostolicity

This does not mean that every book is written by an apostle, but rather that each book is written during the apostolic age.

In addition, no book in the New Testament is more than one person removed from an apostle or another authoritative eyewitness of the life of Christ.

Mark, for example, is not an apostle, but he is a traveling companion of both Peter and Paul. Early church tradition attributes much of Mark’s Gospel to the memoirs of Peter.

Luke, in a similar manner, travels with Paul and interviews eyewitnesses of Jesus.

Catholicity

This has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” simply means “universal.” Catholicity means that believers throughout the world to which Christianity was spreading were in agreement on the value of these books –- and used them widely.

No books that were found only among one sect of Christianity or in a single geographical location are included in the New Testament canon.

Orthodoxy

This refers to the faithfulness of the books to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Blomberg writes, “It is a criterion that could not have developed if people had not recognized that the heresies afflicting the church in its earliest centuries were parasitic on orthodoxy. That is to say, the heresies developed in response to apostolic doctrine –- modifying it, challenging it, trying to refute it, supplementing it or simply rejecting it.”

By the late second century, we see lists of 20 to 22 books accepted as authoritative, increasing to 23 early in the third century, and finally to 27 by no later than AD 367, when Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, writes his Easter encyclical to the rest of the church and lists the books that Christians still accept today.

So, back to our original question: What if Paul’s earlier letter is discovered? While the letter would be instructive, and might pass the tests of apostolicity and orthodoxy, it would fail the test of catholicity. There is no evidence this letter was read widely in the early church.

The key is to remember that the Holy Spirit ultimately fixes the canon of Scripture. The tests of apostolicity, catholicity and orthodoxy do not determine which books are inspired; they simply help us discover them.

Text Tuesday – Bible & Qur’an

I had the privilege of watching a live stream of the fascinating debate between Dr. Shabir Ali and Jay Smith – held in Toronto Canada last week. Fascinating because of the aterial questioning the widespread claims of muslims that the Qur’an was sent down, is unchanged and that the Qur’an of today is the Qur’an of yesterday.

Dr. Ali shocked us all by sidestepping the material and it could be said appeared to concede a number of matters rasied by Jay Smith and spent a huge amount of his main presentation time talking about the extraordinary numerology associated with the Qur’an or at least a particular version/reading of it.

I hope to link to it soon so you can peruse. In the meantime here is an argument that has some weight to it. I might have made some points differently but none the less there are some good questions here that require answering.

Text Tuesday – Proper principles lead to proper evaluations

I am grateful for my encounters and discussions with people of other faiths and their questions about the Holy Book I submit to. Particularly valuable are the encounters with lovely folks from the unfortunately ever newsworthy Islamic faith. Without their comments and questions, at times insightful, sometimes ridiculous, I never would have gone on this journey of seriously thinking about what exactly the Old and New Testaments are; what they look like and consequently what they can’t look like (obviously, though often missed, because of what they actually look like.) Key travelling companions on this new journey which is just at its very beginning are Expectations and Weighing Scales seasoned with a generous dollop of the wonderful word ‘appropriate’.

I am learning how to understand what the Bible itself is and isn’t, and how to evaluate it with appropriate expectations. If you have a wrong understanding of anything, a wrong evaluation tool and the wrong expectations in the first place then you will misread many things, misterpret somethings and miss the whole point of the actual thing.

In understanding what the Bible itself is  & isn’t – we can say the Bible is never less than a work of history, a work of a faith community, a work of man – never less than that but always more – a work of God. Other supposed works of God are proposed as just that, only that – never less or more than that. A work of God only. It’s important to notice what a thing is, is supposed to be according to itself and what it is understood to be by those most closely connected to it. In my career I have been paid to notice things. Now as a very amateur theologian I am starting to notice things more easily. Noticing what a thing purports to be and what it is said to be, by the community with familiarity and allegiance to it, is vital. This will set an appropriate understanding, an appropriate scales for evaluaton and ultimately an appropriate relationship to the thing in question – in this case the Old & New Testaments.

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For image source – just click it

J. Warner Wallace (a former detective – I am married to a sort of detective – more on that another day) sets out some principles for evaluation a Text which is the work of God & man. Both. If it’s the work of both God and men (and the men have not been somehow roboticised or become some kind of fitful autoscribes (neither have ever been suggested of the men who have penned the Jewish and Christian scriptures) then the principles should do justice to it being the work of God while at the very same time accommodating it being the work of men in history, writing in literary genres with the ear of the hearing audience in mind. Though narrowly focused I find these principles to have the wisdom to bear broad application. Here’s the start of Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions with the click to his site to catch the rest – I never know if it’s ok to reblog it all. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I have not today but have linked to it – he was a detective afterall.

Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions

As a detective, I’ve learned to accept the variation I see between eyewitness accounts. I’ve interviewed witnesses of crimes (occurring just hours earlier), only to find what appeared to be significant “contradictions” between the accounts. It’s my job, as the investigator, to determine why the eyewitnesses appear to contradict one another, even though there is doubt the event occurred and the witnesses were telling the truth. There are times when similar variations (or alleged “contradictions”) are observed in the Biblical accounts. It’s our job, as Christian Case Makers, to apply a few simple investigative principles to determine whether or not these differences impact the reliability of the accounts. I want to offer a few investigative principles and filters for investigating these alleged Bible contradictions. These principles are not outrageous or unusual. They’re not specific to the Bible. They’re not Christian tricks or devices used to cover up inadequacies. They are straightforward tools and approaches useful when examining any ancient document or piece of evidence. If we objectively examine the Scriptures with these principles in mind, we’ll not only grow in our understanding of the Bible, but we’ll better comprehend and resolve the difficulties:

Principle #1: Begin With A Fair Attitude
Imagine you’re driving down the street and you come to a stop sign. You don’t assume the sign is wrong. Even if you don’t see opposing traffic or you don’t understand the reason for the sign being at that particular corner, you still stop for the sign. Even if no other car shows up at the intersection, you don’t simply blow through the sign. You give the sign the benefit of the doubt. In essence, you don’t assume a street sign is wrong until proven right. When you begin to read the Bible and examine what it says, it’s important to start off with a fair attitude. You don’t need to treat it as something unquestionable and beyond examination, but you do need to afford it at least as much consideration as you would afford a street sign, a box of macaroni or a friend. Before you jump up and call it a liar, take a second to examine what it says fairly.

The Example of Biblical Genealogies
As an example, let’s examine Biblical genealogies. Some have tried to use the Biblical genealogical lists with a particular Click here to get to the full article at the J. Warner Wallace’s site.

Changing word Unexpected into Expected

For image source – click it.

Text Tuesday – those pesky scribes

Very interesting talk from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace – How badly did the scribes change the New Testament?

One of my pieces of learning over this last year is in regard to what must be believed, can be believed and how some things are to be believed – by Christians. The corollary of this is knowing what is not being believed. I want to post some simple thoughts soon on how we as Christians can impose on ourselves somethings in regard to belief that we don’t have to – but we seem to do it enthusiastically and with ill effect. It is important to note that a great many interested parties have vested interest in ensuring we fall prey to these impositions. I will hopefully get to this soon – apples and oranges will be the theme.

Text Tuesday: Textual Criticism, the New Testament, and the Qur’an

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Dr. Small’s book as pictured is an abridgement of the larger version reviewed by Dr. Hurtado.

For Christians thinking about the New Testament in terms of its textual landscape, it is worth clicking through to Larry Hurtado’s blog below to read his post in full. Dr. Hurtado is a scholar of the New Testament and Christian Origins.

If you have the priviledge of discussing texts – biblical and quaranic with good Muslim folk – it is an especially interesting read. The two key points for me (briefly mentioned) are about the role of the presence or absence of ‘state sponsorship’ for want of a better phrase and also the desire and need for correctives that arose in both traditions. In Islam – this was toward the text (I am thinking about Uthman) and in Christianity, this was toward belief and doctrine – (I am thinking about the great church councils – Nicea for example). The relationship between power and orthodoxy are interlinked for both communities. But both communities were exercised about potential threats to orthodoxy in different ways.

The early(ish) Islamic community embarked on its quest for textual orthodoxy in the full bloom of its power and has been consequently very successful. Whereas Christianity needed or at least saw fit to embark on its quest for doctrinal (not textual) orthodoxy relatively late and with relatively liitle power in place. These adventures in securing orthodoxy seem poorly understood by many, misrepresented by some and challenging to all – for different reasons. A key staple of Islamic rhetoric appears to be one of Islamic textual stability. A key polemic against Christianity is one of instability of doctrine and belief. But what if in spite of all the offensive and defensive bluster Christianity was somewhat more stable that its critics wish to allow and Islam was a little less stable than its adherents can allow? It certainly would make for more interesting conversations – with more learning and listening, wondering and journeying.

Over to you Dr. Hurtado.

 Textual Criticism, the New Testament, and the Qur’an

Larry Hurtado's Blog

I’ve recently reviewed a fascinating book:  Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham/Boulder/New York/Toronto/Plymouth:  Lexington Books, 2012), the review appearing in Scottish Journal of Theology in due course.  The book arises from Small’s 2008 PhD thesis, and is an impressive and stimulating work.  To engage in depth his data requires, of course, a good competence in Arabic, one of my many deficits.  But Small’s analysis and judgements seem measured, always based on evidence he proffers, and also respectful of the scholarship (both “Western” and traditional Islamic) that he so profusely engages.  My reason for mentioning the book on this blog site is that Small’s study prompts some interesting comparisons with the textual history of the New Testament.  Indeed, comparing the two textual histories (of the Qur’an and the New Testament writings) might enhance our appreciation of each one.

As an immediate comparison/contrast, note Small’s opening statement (p. 3): …

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Text Tuesday – Hidden Gospels?

By clicking below you can get access to several talks by Dr. Michael J. Kruger (Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity) on Sermon Audio – a great resource in itself. The first one Hidden Gospels should be a priority if you are a Christian or just someone who notices the amazing claims and ‘revelations’ about the New Testament, Jesus and the world of Gospels every Christmas and Easter (what a coincidence?). Perhaps you just tend to absorb it. Perhaps you should have a listen. It may give you more facility to engage with Time and Newsweek next Christmas.

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Click this image to access Dr. Kruger’s talks.

Over at reformation21 Dr. Kruger, in his review of the book Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman, covers similar ground but fleshes out a few of the thoughts more fully.

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Click the pic to go to the review

 

Text Tuesday – Book Review

This is a portion of a review of Bart Ehrman’s recent book by the important New Testament and Early Christianity scholar Larry Hurtado. The review is posted in its entirety over at Christian Century.

 

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Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God

Through his words and actions, Jesus of Nazareth excited expectations that he was (or would be) the Messiah. That Jesus inspired this hope likely led the Roman authorities to crucify him. Jesus didn’t actually claim divinity for himself, and he wasn’t worshiped as such during his earthly ministry. The ascription of divine status to Jesus and the accompanying devotional practices that are reflected in the New Testament arose only after—though astonishingly soon after—Jesus’ crucifixion. Key to this development were experiences (“visions”) of the resurrected Jesus, which generated in the earliest circles of Jewish believers the conviction that God had raised Jesus (bodily) from death and exalted him to a unique heavenly status and glory. Further developments in christological belief over the ensuing decades and centuries led to the classic doctrine of the Trinity.

That, in a nutshell, is the thrust of Bart Ehrman’s book. To anyone familiar with a historical approach to the topic, these will not be novel conclusions. Indeed, they have been affirmed by a significant number of New Testament scholars, especially over the past several decades. That an astonishing “high Christology” erupted quite soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, and that the risen Jesus featured remarkably in the corporate devotional practices of earliest believers, has been increasingly recognized. As the great German New Testament scholar Martin Hengel observed about developments in the 20 years between Jesus’ execution and the earliest letters of Paul, “in essentials more happened in Christology within these few years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history.”

However, Ehrman’s book is intended for readers generally unacquainted with this scholarly work. Among those readers he obviously aims to have a dramatic impact. Many Christians unacquainted with the historical data will assume that beliefs about Jesus’ divine status derive from Jesus’ own claims, and many non-Christians will likewise assume that the validity of traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus depends upon whether Jesus actually made corresponding claims. For both kinds of readers, the “news” that Jesus didn’t actually make the sort of claims for himself that earliest believers made about him may seem somewhat sensational.

As in his other popular books, Ehrman clearly seeks not simply to inform but also to stir controversy among this varied readership. More specifically, he hopes to startle naive traditionalist Christians, nettle anxious apologists of Christian faith, and reassure fellow agnostics (Ehrman’s self-description) and skeptics that there is justification for their doubt. (He is obviously able to stir a response: published almost simultaneously with this book is a multiauthor riposte, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature, released by Zondervan.)

Ehrman’s polemical agenda may well make for a lively discussion and a marketable book, but it also lessens somewhat his ability to give a balanced historical picture. Ehrman, who teaches at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, gained prominence by way of a string of books with a similarly sensational tone aimed at a general readership on a variety of topics—variants in New Testament manuscripts (Misquoting Jesus), the problem of evil (God’s Problem), and pseudonymous writings in the Bible (Forged). These books generated appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and phenomenal sales, at least compared to most books by scholars. In all these works he makes frequent reference to his own journey from naive and fundamentalist Christian to voluble (but generally genial) agnostic. Along with (and as another result of) his popular books, he often engages in public debates with Christian apologists, adding to his public stature.

In those prior books, Ehrman drew more directly on his own scholarly expertise. In this one he focuses on matters on which he himself has not been a noted contributor. He draws heavily (and respectfully) on the work of a number of other scholars (including my own work, such as Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity) who in recent decades have probed the origins of belief in Jesus as divine. Ehrman is often good at making scholarly arguments accessible. Unfortunately, in a few matters he oversimplifies or misconstrues things, and in other cases his claims and arguments appear one-sided.

An example of oversimplifying: in the first chapter Ehrman rightly notes that the Roman world was full of gods and deified humans (especially deified rulers), and he suggests that this phenomenon helps explain the emergence of beliefs about Jesus as divine. But he fails to indicate that for Roman-era Jews the plurality of deities and demigods and the practice of deifying rulers were repellent, even blasphemous. More of an explanation is needed as to how the multiplicity of deities in the Roman environment could have been a relevant and facilitating factor for considering Jesus divine in the circles of devout Jews among whom (as Ehrman readily grants) the divinity of Jesus was first asserted.

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Tuesday Text 15 – Canon Misconceptions

From the wonderful and surprisingly young scholar Michael J. Kruger over at Canon Fodder.

Each one is hyperlinked to the original and bears some time getting to know each one more fully.

  1. The Term “Canon” Can Only Refer to a Fixed, Closed List of Books
  2. Nothing in Early Christianity Dictated That There Would be a Canon
  3. The New Testament Authors Did Not Think They Were Writing Scripture
  4. New Testament Books Were Not Regarded as Scriptural Until Around 200 A.D.
  5. Early Christians Disagreed Widely over the Books Which Made It into the Canon
  6. In the Early Stages, Apocryphal Books Were as Popular as the Canonical Books
  7. Christians Had No Basis to Distinguish Heresy from Orthodoxy Until the Fourth Century
  8. Early Christianity was an Oral Religion and Therefore Would Have Resisted Writing Things Down
  9. The Canonical Gospels Were Certainly Not Written by the Individuals Named in Their Titles
  10. Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 A.D.) is the First Complete List of New Testament Books