The Bible is reliable
Even before we look at the Bible, we know of a good quantity of records that tell us about the life of Jesus and his followers.
Starting with non-Christian unsympathetic sources that dip into the first century: we have Josephus 37/38-100AD, Thallus in 52AD, Phlegon 80-140AD, Suetonius 69-140AD, Tacitus 56-120AD, Pliny the Younger 61-113AD, Mara-Bar Serapion 70AD. Just outside of the first century, a generation after that of the disciples we still have plenty of attestations in Lucian of Samosata, 115-200AD and Celcus, 175AD. Going further but pulling data from the first centuries after Christ are the Talmud 400-700AD (culmination of gathered history going back to the first century) and the Toledot Yeshu 1,000AD (Jewish retelling of Jesus life in a negative way, these were repeated and recycled since 1st century and attests to that tradition)
What do these documents tell us to start with?
- Jesus lived*
- Brought a teaching and was crucified for it
- Teachings were quickly adopted by Jesus’ followers
- Was condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate
- Jesus was crucified*
- Jesus executed on the day before passover
- Jesus lived during time of Tiberius Caesar in Palestine.
- There was an earthquake at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion
- And darkness at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion
- Jesus has the accurate ability to predict the future
- Crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar
- Presented his wounds after he was resurrected
- Jesus had an immediate impact on his followers
- These followers underwent and withstood torment and punishment from the Roman Empire
- Christianity was new to Rome, not something from hundreds of years ago but growing in their time
- Jesus was referred to as Christ in Gentile territories (corroborating Paul)
- Christians worship a man (Jesus)
- Jesus’ followers were committed to the belief that Jesus was God
- Christians believed in one God
- Christians had strong conviction they had eternal life in their belief
- Christians were put on trial
- Christians were often tested three times (this could be a parallel to Jesus’ test on Peter and the Romans had learnt about this and employed it against them)
- Citizens of Rome were Christians
- Christians fearless of death
- Christians do not live for worldly pleasures (turn away from sinful desires)
- Jesus was seen as wise
- Jesus seen as a king of the Jews
- Jewish nation abolished after death of Jesus
- The Jewish leadership were responsible for Jesus’ death
- Christians were in the habit on meeting on a fixed day every week to worship Jesus as God
- Hymns were sung to Christ as God
- Christianity spread fast
- These practices were widespread and thus the asking of Trajan for advice
- Trajan was aware of Christ as a deity and adoration of any other God would no longer make that individual a Christian
- Christians took part in the Lord’s supper
- There were deacons/deaconesses
- There were Christians of varying ages, young and old
- It spread to the rich, the poor, to the cities and villages
- There were so many Christians, the pagan temples were becoming deserted
- Jesus came from a village in Judea
- Family wasn’t wealthy
- Mary was convicted of adultery
- Jesus had an earthly guardian who was a carpenter (explaining his own profession)
- Jesus had travelled to Egypt at a time in his life
- Jesus has miraculous power
- Led Jews away from their beliefs
- Jesus had a brother named James
- The Jewish leadership felt compelled to kill James
- Jesus was called the Christ
- People from many nations became Christians
- Had followers who reported that he appeared to them after his death on the cross
- Says it was the crowds that named them Chrestians (Christians), we see similar in Acts 11 where it says “They were first called Christians in Antioch”
- Christianity started in Judea which aligns with Christian sources also
- 64AD there was a vast multitude of Christians in Rome
- Mary gave birth to a son (Jesus)
- Jesus claimed to be born of a virgin
- Jesus claimed to fulfilled prophecy
- Jesus claimed to be of the line of David
- Jesus healed a lepper before the Jewish leaders
- Jewish leadership took Jesus as prisoner
- Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem
- Jesus raised a corpse to life (Lazarus likely)
- Jesus claimed to be the son of God
- Said Isaiah foretold his life
- Beaten with rods
- Given vinegar to drink
- Betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto
- Jesus has a crown of thorns affixed to his head prior to crucifixion
- Jesus’ grave was empty on the first day of the week (Sunday)
How about heretical sources? Sources that are a mixture of sympathetic/capitalising on Christianity’s spread. These documents, even though were not around during the time of Jesus and his first disciples still tell us what they were using as frameworks for their heretical works and looking through many of them we can see where the additions are and what is common to the first century tradition. These are the facts we can attest just from a handful of these documents:
- Jesus came into the world as a human
- The Angel visiting Mary
- Mary is described as a young virgin
- Jews accusations of Jesus being illegitimate child
- Angel’s declaration to Joseph in a dream
- Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem for the census
- Virgin conception of Jesus
- Identifies Mary and Joseph as Jesus’ parents
- Jesus’ conception is described as a mystery
- Jesus’ birth is heralded by angels, the Shepherds celebrate in the fields,
- The baby Jesus was visited by Magi who followed a star
- Simeon’s adoration of Jesus
- Herod attempts to destroy Jesus and the Holy family eventually escapes to Egypt.
- Passion narrative
- Judas Iscariot was approached by Jewish leadership to betray Jesus and received payment for the location of Jesus
- Affirms the last supper
- Pilate’s wife warns Pilate on her dream
- Pilate was reluctant to deliver the charges against Jesus
- Jesus was beaten
- Forced to wear a crown of thorns
- Nailed to a cross
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
- Jesus was crucified on a cross
- Jesus was given gall and vinegar
- His cross read “this is the king of Israel”
- Jesus was crucified between two criminals
- Jesus is pierced in the side on the cross
- Jesus died on the cross
- There was darkness in the sky as he died
- The veil of the Temple was torn in two at the time of Jesus’ death
- Jesus was removed from the cross and placed in Joseph’s tomb
- Joseph of Arimathea acquires the body of Jesus
- Jesus was wrapped in linen and anointed with oils and perfumes
- The tomb is sealed
- Pilate assigned guards to the tomb
- Mary and other women followers go to the tomb (this book specifies those women as Salome, M. Magdalene and Martha)
- Jesus rose from the dead
- Jesus told his disciples to preach the truth who had not heard (Great commission)
- Jesus ascended
- General Historical details
- Jesus lived
- Jesus’ life was recorded by eyewitnesses (his own commentaries tells us more)
- The New Testament Gospels were well established for heretics to use and abuse
- Jesus is a miracle worker
- Jesus taught disciples
- There is a body and a soul
- Jesus has divine power and authority
- Jesus pre-existed from eternity
- The disciples are referred to as Holy Apostles
- Jesus is described as having the wisdom of God and a source of divine knowledge for mankind
- References many of Paul’s letters (such as 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians), many letters from other New Testament writers (such as 1 John, Revelation and Hebrews) and some of the canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew).
- Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, 2 Corinthians and the Book of Revelation are mentioned
- The meeting time for Christian fellowship. These Christians met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s Supper
- The Apostle Paul exists
- Martyrdom of James is mentioned
- Identifies Pilate and Herod by name
- Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea are all mentioned
- This John was an important disciple of Jesus
- Assumes John could be an author
- Gospel details
- Jesus carefully controlled the time of his ministry with statements quoted like “my time has not yet come”
- Affirms Father, Son and Holy Spirit trinity
- The member of this Godhead that is called Son is also Called Christ
- Jesus is interested in teaching women
- Jesus is the “Word”, the “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, “Lord”, “Saviour”, “Rabbi”, “Son of Man”, “Son of God”, “only begotten son”, “the holy one”, “master”, “Lord Jesus Christ”, the “life”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “saviour of the world”, “righteous one”, “Nazarean”, “Messiah”, the “Word” and the “living one”
- Jesus had disciples who considered his words to be a source for life
- Jesus is worshipped by his disciples
- John the Baptist and his mother Elisabeth, several Mary’s, Martha, Salome, Philip, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Simon and Bartholomew are named
- Jesus taught at the Mount of Olives
- Jesus taught these disciples about prayer, about creation, about the end times
- Olivet discourse
- Jesus came to redeem those who did not know the Father
- Refers to parable of the lost sheep and describes Jesus as the shepherd.
- Jesus harnesses the power of God from a young age
- Jesus is wise beyond his years
- Jesus makes the rabbis and teachers stumble
- Jesus’ baptism
- Jesus was God before he ever became a man
- Jesus was divine
- Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father
- Jesus will sit on his throne and judge the world
- Jesus had to die for Adam and those following after
- Jesus gave the great commission
- Herod the great is identified
- John the Baptist’s martyrdom is mentioned
- Jesus being obedient to his parents
- Animal sacrifices are no longer needed
- Christians are to be a temple rather than rely on offerings
- Christians not to be content with their sinful lifestyle
- Cites Isaiah 53 prophecy of the cross
- God had to come incarnate in the flesh (Jesus) so we could stand in his presence one day
- appeals to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as a type of Christ
- Christians were allowed to eat all meats
- Defends water baptism
- Defends the cross in the Old Testament
- The temple was destroyed in 70AD
- God’s truth is often embedded in parables
- Legalism and formalism
- Adult baptism—not infant baptism
- A Trinitarian formula for baptism
- The purpose for the Lord’s Supper: “thanksgiving,” not transubstantiation
- The importance of evangelism
- The Old Testament bondage of the church. Old covenant concepts spilled over into the new covenant. The NT prophets were seen as similar to the OT high priests
- Local churches should govern themselves. A monarchical episcopate is not in view in the Didache. Instead, churches select their own bishops and deacons
- Futurism—not Preterism. The decline of spirituality, morality, and theology are all future to the author.
- Warns against heretics
- Paul proclaimed the Gospel
- Jesus was a popular travelling preacher in Samaria and Judea
- Jesus had brothers and Sisters
- Jesus had 12 disciples
- The life of Jesus was eventually recorded by his disciples
- Jesus spoke in parables and affirms
- The Shepherds
- The Seed
- The Building
- The Lamps of the Virgins
- The Wage of the Workers
- The Double Drachma
- The woman
- Jesus was persecuted by the Jews
- Affirms Old Testament prophesies related to Jesus
- Jesus accused of healing on the Sabbath
- Jesus laid down his life as a ransom to save and redeem
- Jesus died a sacrificial death on the cross
- Saved those previously lost
- Contains “woes” and “blessed” statements similar to Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.
- Jesus’ followers were called “Christians”
- John was the brother of James, son of Zebedee
- Jesus is a reliable source of information from heaven
Archaeology also backs us up! We have for the New Testament incredible attestation for places, people and features of the first century New Testament. We have for example evidence for Bethlehem and Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, even Peter’s house! Historical figures like Pilate, Lysanias the Tetrarch, Caiaphas, Gallio the proconsul, Phillip the apostle and even James THE brother of Jesus. Along with this, there are interesting finds like buried crucifixion victims (which was once denied by sceptics), the Nazareth decree punishing grave robbing (attests to an empty tomb), a Galilean fishing boat with proportions that could fit 12 disciples and a Jesus, the known location of Jesus’ trial and even earthquake evidence that aligns with the Biblical crucifixion! And so much more!
But does it look like the apostles were there in the first century in the right context recording actual history? If you were writing history in 100AD Jerusalem that is massively different from say 50/60AD (Several wars and mass destruction had taken place since then, getting subtle details wrong would be very probable).
But what we find is remarkable correlation of financial currency rates from the 30’s (do you remember the financial currency rates from the 1950’s without using google?), accurate crucifixion and burial practices, governance changes (which were quantiful, subtle and often overlapping), correct Jewish customs, bodies of water, roads, travel & topography, gardens, botanical features, local languages, weather, correlation with name data, correct name disambiguators (John “the apostle”, Thomas wasn’t a popular name, thus no ambiguator), accurate geography and location positions
There are great internal reasons within the documents that suggests the New Testament is aimed at providing truth and ways that could be investigated. For example Biblical prophecy (The first disciples used Jesus fulfillment of prophecy as a means to present evidence to them, some can be measured against historical details) and Undesigned coincidences that end up supporting truth in subtle unsuspecting ways (Alignments from Gospel to Gospel, Gospel to Paul, Gospel/Paul to historical data which cannot/wouldn’t be faked, often tiny details that bring a scene together like eyewitness testimony in a crime scene). There are also historical criteria critical scholars are a fan of to determine if these documents look like their aim is to present truth called:
- Embarrassing details: the documents include embarrassing details that you would get rid of if embellished since they’re detrimental in honour/shame cultures
- Difficult sayings: Some of Jesus words were not easy to hear in the context and might do them a disservice
- Demanding sayings: Again some of the things Jesus said and teached could easily get the first Christians killed! This sometimes applies to today
- Cautious distinctions: for example, Paul is clear to distinguish between “Jesus says” and “I Say”
- Included events pertaining to a resurrection that wouldn’t have been invented: burial, seeing him buried, conversion of Jewish sceptical priests, enemy conspiracy theories etc.
- Includes historically confirmable people we can check easily today to see if they were right/wrong
- Even passages where they challenge the readers of the time to go check out a miracle from those who live at the time
- Miracle stories are not embellished, but written in a simple, undramatic fashion (especially clear when looking at second century documents that had talking crosses and human heads reaching the skies!)
- Abandoned their long-held sacred beliefs and practices, adopted new ones, and did not deny their testimony under persecution or threat of death
- Non-theological verbiage: Papyrus was precious, there’s a lot of waffle you could cut from the New Testaments (the greetings that felt less relevant) but they didn’t, they saw everything about these documents as precious. The ideas were necessary to remain through translations
Textual criticism: Do we have good manuscripts?
How do we work out what original words say? We compare manuscripts!
My cheesy chart shows how multiple lines let us know what the originals said, where changes might appear and how we determine the truth. We even see hints in Paul’s letters (Colossians) that he would send multiple copies of the same letter, this also helps preservation since they’d be in different locations and have comparable copy traditions (Like the above diagram).
What is a variant? Any place where there is a variation in wording, wording order, omission or addition of words, even spelling differences. One example: you can write John loves Mary in over 800+ ways in ancient Greek, yet each would be a variant and they all mean the same thing and that would multiply when you compare manuscripts (I love my wife and I love the wife are the same for me), yet you wouldn’t loose the meaning in the original Greek.
Three questions arise amongst those who study the text:
- How many copies do we have? More is better.
- How big is the gap between the original and earliest surviving copies? We want a small gap.
- How significant are the differences? We want insignificant ones.
5,700 Greek manuscripts, the average manuscript is 450 pages long with 2.5millions pages of text leaving many witnesses for every book of the New Testament. This number exceeds 20,000 when we include the early Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavanic and Syrian manuscripts. Adding Lectionaries and other early New Testament documents we hit 66,000+. Before the printing press nothing compares! Even if we had NONE of these, the quotes from the church fathers (those disciples of the first disciples on onward from there) would give us every Christian doctrine and essential belief and nearly every word before the 4th century AD. Homer’s Iliad is second when it comes to manuscript copies (2,300) but is vastly behind when it comes to quantity (And the Iliad is seen has very reliable these days).
Papyrus 52, a portion of John’s Gospel dates anywhere from the 90’s to early second century. Now if John was writing in the late 80’s/early 90’s that gap is tiny! John could even be around to see this copy of his Gospel circulating! Certainly Polycarp and Ignatius would’ve seen them being John’s disciples (Clement of Rome maybe less, he was in Rome after all). This is impressive and there are other manuscripts in the second century of the Gospels, Paul’s letters and more. We get a full New Testament Copy in the early 4th century (due to age, we’d expect fragmenting of manuscripts over time and the book form was only starting to be popularised in these first four centuries, thus no one walked around with 66 books, that wasn’t a thing, you stored them in a library as a collection). So the time gap for earliest manuscripts for John is insignificant. We don’t expect this to be an original, if it were, we’d be too scared to say quite honestly! (Plus it’s location found likely doesn’t align with where it was written. but that of a transmitted copy) So we never will even if we date manuscripts to the very probable year. How does this compare to other historical documents first copies?
- New Testament (John), 25 years (Papyrus 66, a full copy of John is only a few years behind this)
- Homer, 500 years
- Demosthenes, 1,400 years
- Herodotus, 1,400 years
- Plato, 1,200 years
- Tacitus, 1,000 years
- Caesar, 1,000 years
- Pliny, 750 years
Now…We have so many variants because we have so many manuscripts, combine that with how Greek works and you shouldn’t be surprised, nor worried! Some have proclaimed there are 400,000 textual variants. Well, we have 2.6 million pages, that means one variants every 6.5 pages mathematically, not too shabby!
75% are spelling errors or differences in these 400,000 don’t affect the meaning of the text at all with the majority being about the spelling of a word. There are many different verb and noun forms in ancient Greek that could be written with or without a final ‘N’. The greek letter for an ‘n’ was a ‘nou’ so a scholar call these movable ‘nou’s’.
Professor Dan Wallace notes that the spelling differences (0.06 total% go the text) could happen because there was no spelling dictionary that said “here’s how you spell words” in fact John was a very creative speller. In the space of 8 verses in John 9 he spells the exact same verb in 3 different ways in 3 verses. Spelling is not an issue that affects anything, we can’t bring our modern grammatical standards to an ancient language.
15% of the variations in Greek synonyms and transpositions cannot even be translated. Then there are minor differences such as synonyms or a definite article with a proper name (they have no effect on translation). There are also errors we have determined were not in the original text.
9% do affect the meaning of the text but are from very late documents and are resolved by looking at earlier manuscripts through the process of textual criticism.
Less than 1% (⅕ of 1% according to Wallace) do effect meaning of the text and are from early manuscripts but none of these variants actually challenge or effect essential Christian doctrines which are displayed in numerous other places in the New Testament. Some will find the fact it’s not 100% disturbing, but its key to say no Christian doctrine, no ethical mandate, no command for Christian living or belief depends on any disputed text. So our Christianity wouldn’t ever change, that’s not a valid response.
Of course you have to talk about these. Well all good Bibles tell you these are not part of the original text and here’s the reason. The woman caught in adultery is not found in the earliest manuscripts, later ones add it sometimes to John but also Luke. It was a story being told that is likely true but never put into the canon. If Jesus did so many miracles and actions it would make sense that other people passed along these stories through the centuries. Teachings in this passage are found elsewhere in the New Testament. Nothing is lost if this wasn’t true, it’s a duplicate (We have many duplicate passage for every Christian belief such as Trinity, Jesus humanity, end times, salvation, resurrection etc.).
The ending of Mark was added as some felt the ending was too abrupt, but again we find Bible’s have always ruled this passage out, it’s just floated around in history. We know scribes added it later. Turns out the dramatic end to Mark was intentional and still talks about a risen Jesus demanding a response. Mark lacks nothing without this ending added by churches a few centuries later. The other view is that in old manuscripts the front and last page of a codex (early book) often withered first so it could’ve been lost to history, but there’s simply no evidence Mark lost it’s front and back page, just speculation (Everything in this ending can be established or understood via Matthew 28 combined with Luke 24 and Matthew 27).
So the Christianity Christians have is correct is based on reliable teaching and beliefs, nothing’s missing! Remember, we are establishing historicity via the manuscripts, looking back into history to check if our transmission for 2,000 years has been correct. No Christian belief has ever been gained/lost through a manuscript find that trumps a Christian belief. From our inspections, we can be very confident of decent transmissions from this manuscript check perspective.
Those written by THE disciples, by THE Paul, how long? Well Professor G W Houston tells us Greco-Roman manuscripts have been found to be in use from 200-500 years in collections, we find similar data in the Dead Sea Scrolls too! Tertullian, a church historian inthe 190’s AD claimed Paul’s original letters are protected and preserved in multiple churches, Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria tells us in 311AD John’s original Gospel is still around! We have manuscripts of John in existence today from 150 years before this date! If the originals were still around for reference, that’s incredible evidence unlike anything else in history! What’s worth noting with Bishop Peter and Tertullian is those who they were responding to could investigate it for themselves! If he says it’s in Ephesus, Macedonia etc. Then you can just jump on your local Uber boat or donkey service and ride on over to see them for yourselves.
So if these manuscripts were clearly protected and could be copied and preserved then we have what we need in place to defend a probable accurate copying tradition.
When would you most likely jump on the bandwagon of the New Testament and start making changes for your benefit? Well, when it’s worth your time! The first century Christianity was small, spread out in tiny patches and although it was growing, it also increased your chance of death highly with two separate persecutions in the first century alone (54-68 and 81-96AD). Christianity was still illegal under Roman rule and the apostles were being murdered and publically executed for their beliefs. By the time of the second century, Paul’s letters had been widely circulated, the first three Gospels had been copied and spread for at least 30 years and from the papyrus 75 manuscript (Luke and John on the same manuscript) we can see the Gospels likely began to circulate as a unit. History tells us the 140’s are when sceptics (Marcion, an insider who went rogue) started trying to change the meanings, 110 years after Jesus! Too little too late. Church history tells us Marcion was called out from all sides and easily rejected. What’s incredible is Tatian wrote what’s called the Diatesseron in 170’s AD in Syriac (we’re beyond Greek now) combining all four Gospels into a harmony. If he’s making harmonies then, in other languages, chances are it was in other languages decades before he did it. Tatians mentor Justin Martyr, early second century was already talking about 4 Gospels as a unit 50 years before (so before Marcion).
When could the New Testament be changed? Honestly, I do not know it was ever possible, all the answers are elaborate guesses for when it could have been are without plausible evidence. If there was ever any evidence against it I’d like to see it, because currently there’s nothing but speculation and speculation doesn’t debunk the New Testament. Some creative imaginary guideless communities have been proposed, but until there is some hard data, they remain imaginary concepts.
This is new territory for many people. The New Testament did not fall from the sky, it’s an incredibly important that humans were involved. God wanted to guide humans not devoid them of anything of it, that’s why God came as a man to us! Historians are confident of what was talked about in the first two decades. Creeds, hymns and ancient sermons are what scholars see Paul and the disciples using.
When you quote people in an essay you sometimes post a quote in quotation marks. Well there are no quotation marks in the first century but you can see by how the grammar changes where there is a bit of copy paste going on. Here’s an example
One does not possess a thorough understanding of the vernacular entailing the unpleasant words bro, it’s me, your wife’s gone to the chippy to buy me some ciggies. Such words instil a sense of dissatisfaction in me.
Did you spot where the grammatical sophistication changes? That’s my point. Scholars identify these too and seeking an explanation for what was being preached after the cross, they have identified passages that follow these early forms of quotes.
One of the more obvious examples is Peter’s sermon in Acts. They are Jewish sermons translated to Luke’s Greek. Luke is highly sophisticated in his greek in Luke and Acts but when he quotes these sermons, the standards drop and it’s as if he’s speaking in a different style of Greek.
And what did these early sermons preach coming out of the cross?
- Jesus existed
- Jesus’ Deity (God status)
- Jesus’ Death
- Jesus’ Resurrection
- Jesus is the Jewish Messiah
- Old Testament as the way to understand Jesus
- Fulfillment of Old Testament scripture
- Confession of sins with repentance
- Salvation in Jesus alone
- Resurrected body of Jesus seen by eyewitnesses
- Creator of everything
These sermons follows a structure of: our need, our rescuer, our hope, our change required. So we know how they preached from the get go from after the cross. Scholars, even many critical ones vouch for this method of getting the Gospel out. It helps all parties explain the origins.
Paul for us is a bit of a skeleton key giving us access to many traditions.
- Paul comes to Jesus (+2 years, his conversion)
- Paul says in Galatians 1:17-18 he spent three years in Arabia to commune with the Lord which I’m sure he learned and studied there
- Then he went to Jerusalem afterwards and spent 15 days with Peter and James (+3 years)
- 2yrs + 3yrs = 5 years
This is when people believe Paul received the tradition he shared in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (talks about the deity, death and resurrection of Jesus). An oral creed that had 2 stanzas and was designed for memorisation. Many critics unsympathetic to Christianity date this passing of traditional 5 years after the cross. But when was this tradition from 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 first created?
- Paul receives the creed early on
- Peter and James had it before him (Paul didn’t meet them until +5)
- It takes a while to put their testimony into a standard communicable memorable form
- The material on which the creed is based goes back to the cross (The most respected scholars from across all persuasions Christian, agnostic, atheist agree with this)
The highly praised Professor James DG Dunn (not exactly a conservative scholar) dates this creed to a few months after the cross, Professor Larry Hurtado of equal status in the scholarly community dates this creed to be in form DAYS after the cross. Why? Well they had to get the story out, they’d just claimed to see a resurrection! They weren’t going to sit around and do nothing! Before or after Pentecost it doesn’t matter, I reckon Pentecost personally because of Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1. But what is agreed upon, coming out of the cross, the deity, death and resurrection of Jesus was preached from the beginning. Where does Deity come from? Well Romans 10:9-10 is also considered one of these early creeds:
- Lord in the Old Testament in this instance is Jehovah, that’s what Lord means in Joel 2:32
- Romans 10:9-10 is a another pre-Pauline creed recognised by New Testament scholars
- Where is says “Jesus is Lord” Lord here means Jehovah
- Jesus is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament
- Joel 2:32 is quoted in the context of Jesus being the Lord in Romans 10:9-10
This is what came out from the cross directly. What do the other early creeds like this give us? I’ve got (yup, you’ve guessed it, another list)
- Jesus was a real flesh and blood person (Phil. 2:6; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 4:2)
- who was physically born in the lineage of David (Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:8)
- and came from the town of Nazareth (Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38).
- John preceded Jesus (Acts 10:37; 13:24-25),
- and it is implied that Jesus was baptized (Rom. 10:9).
- Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee, and was extended throughout Judea (Acts 10:37).
- Jesus both performed miracles (Acts 2:22; 10:38)
- and fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies (2:25-31; 3:21-25; 4:11; 10:43; 13:27-37).
- He preached his message among men, resulting in people believing his testimony (1 Tim. 3:16).
- On the night Jesus was betrayed, he first attended a dinner, where he prayed and gave thanks before the meal. Afterward, Jesus passed around both bread and drink, which he referred to as the sacrifice of his body and blood for sin (1 Cor. 11:23ff.).
- Later, Jesus appeared before Pilate (Acts 3:13; 13:28),
- where he made a good confession, which very possibly concerned his identity as the Messiah (1 Tim. 6:13).
- In spite of the fact that Jesus was a righteous man (1 Pet. 3:18),
- he died for the sins of others (1 Pet. 3:18; Rom. 4:25; 1 Tim. 2:6).
- He was killed (Acts 3:13-15; 13:27-29; 1 Cor. 15:3; Phil. 2:8)
- by crucifixion (Acts 2:23; 2:36; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39),
- dying in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 13:27; cf. 10:39),
- at the hands of wicked men (Acts 2:23).
- Afterwards, he was buried (Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:4).
- These events caused the disciples to doubt and despair.
- On the third day after the crucifixion (Acts 10:40),
- the tomb was empty (1 Cor. 15:4, implied)
- and Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30-37; 2 Tim. 2:8).
- Jesus appeared to numerous eyewitnesses (Luke 24:34; Acts 13:31; 1 Cor. 15:4ff.),
- even eating with them (Acts 10:40-41).
- Two of these persons — namely James (1 Cor. 15:7)
- and Paul (1 Cor. 15:8-9) — were formerly skeptics before they met the risen Jesus.
- The disciples were witnesses of the appearances (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41; 13:31),
- which were reported at a very early date (Acts 10:40-41; 13:31; 1 Cor. 15:4-8).
- After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven where he was glorified and exalted (Acts 2:33; 3:21; 5:31; 1 Tim. 3:16; Phil. 2:6f.).
- The disciples were transformed by these experiences (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16)
- and made the gospel the very center of their early preaching (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
- In fact, it was the risen Jesus who taught that salvation was to be preached in his name (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19-23; 4:11-12; 5:32; 10:42-43; 13:26, 38-41).
- The resurrection was the chief validation of Jesus’ person and message (Acts 2:22-24, 36; 3:13-15; 10:42; 13:32-33; Rom. 1:3-4; 10:9-10).
- The apostolic preaching initially centered in Jerusalem,
- the same place where Jesus had been killed.
- Here the church was born and grew, with Sunday as the chief day of worship.
If you’ve got all this coming out in the earliest days, months or years from the cross (and potentially more creeds people debate about), with the disciples and Paul around in multiple locations to keep everything in check, thing’s are looking pretty spectacular for making up the core of what would be written in the Gospel biographies, for Paul, John, Peter, Jude and James’ letters to come.
But could these creedal statements and the apostles eyewitness testimony be preserved? Was there oral traditions (verbal passing on of sacred words) around at the time? Absolutely! In Rabbinic circles, Jews preserved the words of the prophets and after they written down, they were protected from then-on. The same with the disciples and Paul: When what was written was written, the communities preserved their works and made sure no one added or distorted what was said. There was no sole authority, no. Peter would write, the community would learn and the gatekeepers for protecting the true teachings would be established so if anyone went rogue they would be there to refute them. We see them do that with the first heretics, in fact John is doing it in the 4th Gospel and Paul does it constantly! Paul’s defending the oral communities like the others. This process is called Informal and controlled. You could preach a story maybe use a different vowel here or there, but you could never change the plot and the key points (Remember I said there are many ways to say John loves Mary?). People still debate over this territory, but this model seems entirely plausible since they came out of a Jewish background where this system was employed and reliable as the Old Testament canon formed. Many Jews had most if not all the Old Testament committed to memory and would fail classes for getting even a word wrong.
Did they still do this after the death of this 1st century band of heroes? Yes! We see this in the disciples of disciples:
We see a mindmap showing the flow of their disciples with many unbroken chains. Now there would be many more we could add but we simply have lost their works to the sands of ancient history and degradation. But from face value you can see it getting into the third-forth century. See the larger article for what in their own non-scriptual works the church fathers preserved in terms of Christian beliefs (hint: it aligns with sermon summaries, creeds, non-christian sources and other facts of history).
Yes, we don’t need to use modern definitions to solve this one. 2 Peter 1:21 said the Holy Spirit carried along the first apostles, guiding them in their writings. Matthew was a disciple, Mark was recording Peter’s words (a disciple), Luke interviewed the eyewitnesses who saw the ministry and life of Jesus, John was a disciple, Paul saw the risen glorious Jesus (and knew the disciples), Peter was a disciple, James and Jude were the half brothers of Jesus who saw the risen Christ. What do you notice about these authors? They all saw/knew the risen Jesus or were associated with them. Even if you denied the Holy Spirit was guiding them in the words (like a memory adviser), you couldn’t deny them from a pure historical angle as either eyewitnesses or in the case of Luke, a journalist. So take your pick, Inspired with eyewitnesses documenting or uninspired and documenting, Christianity can stand on either legs. The same cannot be said for later works. We should also notice many of these works claim they were written and they’d been given authority by Christ to write. You just don’t see that in late 1st century sources, they are following on from the disciples (Like Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Papias). They look to the authority before them, not themselves as an authority (They also add nothing). As for the 1st century Didache document, well this is an attempt at making a manual of belief which many make today.
So we’ve seen Christian beliefs preserved in the early years, church fathers quote from nearly all 27 books we have by the end of the first century, why not have a formalised canon straight away? Well first, this is an oral culture, a living eyewitnesses is better than papyrus. When the apostles were dying off, the written word came in full (Paul was sending to multiple regions, he needed to write letters!). Then these works were transmitted and spread. The birth of the Codex form book began to become popular in the second century, and thus Gospels were bound in 4’s (not long after John was written). So even though church fathers are talking about the early books, why not just bind the 27 together? well, the 4 Gospels were probably one of the largest books in history bound together nevermind all 27 books! (Google codex Vaticanus if you want to see how big early books were!) Paul’s letters were known to be travelling as a set also. What about those smaller books at the end? Well they weren’t as quotable yet still acknowledged. The main question people had was why would God give them an inspired letter so small? They knew Paul wrote Philemon, but seemed strange it was so short. They loved the beefy books like Romans (So many sermons from that compared to Philemon!). I’m going to show the steps below of what happened in a nutshell you can explore in my articles:
- The Old Testament canon was closed before the birth of Christ, it was acknowledge by the Jews they were now awaiting the Messiah
- The New Testament canon happened for fear that heretics might try and distort 1st century history and teaching (Marcion). So the heretics made them realise they need a book, not just policing (God knew the 27 books would come together and communities would know what was scripture early on, but as time goes on you’ve got to protect that history. Imagine policing 1,000 years later? It would be harder and Christianity was still small pre-300AD.
- Roman emperors began to try and destroy Christian holy scriptures, you needed to know which ones they were and protect them. Ironically, the non-canonical works were the ones Christians handed over to be burned, thus protecting the scriptures!
- The core of the canon (Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 John) always seemed to be there, Revelation too, but obviously when you read it, people debated if it was written by John, even though they saw it as canonical. The smaller books were debated simply because they were smaller, far less quotable and thus used less early on. However, the right conclusions were made for reasons similar to what I gave in the inspiration section: God guided them to put it all together by people who were led by God to write it. Two different eras of God guiding: one teaching and the other basically doing good history and putting their works together properly.
- Some bonuses include Paul quoting Luke’s gospel (1 Timothy 5:18) and Peter calling Paul’s letters scripture (2 Peter 3:15) and there are a few other subtle passages like this.
Stop watching the Da Vinci Code! It’s utter trash! Now, what really happened here? They were dealing with the heretic Arius who said Jesus was a created being, thus conflicting with the trinity (darn heretics!). Though the papyrus 66 manuscript has the trinity plain as day in it 150 years before this council. Arius was condemned, Origen had a list of books, 27 in length matching our Bibles before this council anyway, including the debate about smaller works (Like we established). Athanasius verified the same list in the East years later at Easter. What did this council actually conclude?
- The views of Arianism were condemned
- The divinity of Jesus was reaffirmed in the face of Arianism
- Gnostic sects were formally condemned, although had been condemned for the last 200 years
- The Nicene creed was affirmed in writing
- The day Easter was celebrated was discussed
- 20 laws were passed
- Constantine was not happy with the results
- The Biblical canon was not discussed
- The Trinity was not discussed
- Athanasius is badass
Because Christianity was now legalised a decade before, the churches from all over the empire wanted to meet and discuss problems they’d seen. A united church is stronger than a divided one they thought (I agree!) so formalised some principles. The Bible and the Trinity were not added here, they were already in existence, these are closer to (sorry, poor example coming) an EU summit where the country leaders come to discuss potential EU wide laws for all nations. Many of these laws are advisory rather than policed.
So don’t worry about Dan Brown’s popularised theory… it means nothing historically.
How do we know who wrote the Biblical books and when?
I have written 27 articles, one for each book in the Bible and these beefy articles will grow as and when I find more material on them. But here are some general reasons:
- The church fathers tell us who wrote them often and it was unanimous (Hebrews was seen as Biblical but they weren’t sure if it was Paul or an associate of Paul, but they were sure it should be in the Bible)
- The manuscripts we find always have names on them (if they weren’t on the originals they were added pretty quickly), when they put 4 Gospels into a codex book, you need to distinguish when one starts and the next begins.
- Scholars, even critical ones who are agnostic, Jewish and atheists date the gospels all to the 1st century, as well as Paul’s letters to 50’s and 60’s, no New Testament book is second century.
- Some books give the game away of who wrote them: Paul often says “I Paul, the apostle”. Peter, James and Jude do this also. Luke sometimes includes himself in Acts with Paul and then Paul’s letter say he was with Luke, so the two authors affirm Luke and Acts is volume 2 of Luke’s Gospel, thus both books are by Luke. John can be determined by observing himself as the “beloved disciple” and the usages of other Johns in his Gospel. If his own name was in there he’d have to distinguish himself from John the Baptist. John also names himself in the Book of Revelation, his style of writing is apparent there, in his three short works and the larger Gospel connecting them altogether. Mark is attested by others within the first century that he was penning the words of Peter also.
There you have it, 27 authors, all first century, read the articles for early dating and further argumentation for their authorships.
It’s a fair question and a mammoth of a subject, but there’s one important reason. Jesus. Jesus of the New Testament quotes the Old Testament either through direct quote, through action or through prophecy, as do the Disciples and Paul. Jesus affirms these Old Testament books and you’ll notice the Jewish Pharisees never say he’s using the wrong books, that’s not where their debate was (It was in added manmade tradition without the authority of the Holy Spirit to support them). So Jesus, and the disciples that follow all affirm the Old Testament canon and if Jesus truly rose from the dead, then that is a darn good reference point for a trustworthy figure.
What can we conclude
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your incredible patience! This is a tip off the iceberg article for a thousand of pages of evidence I’ve tried to collate onto my website in an easy reading fashion. But What conclusions am I making here?
- We have good evidence outside the Bible for the historical statements in the Bible
- The authors were committed to recording truth as eyewitnesses
- The New Testament has preserved everything we would need to live out authentic Christianity
- The New Testament truths were reliably passed down before the Bible was written down
- We have confidence in the New Testament authors reliability and dating
- We can have confidence the right books are in the New Testament
- The New Testament is exactly what God wanted us to have
Is God exists, if the New Testament passes checks and balances then you may want to consider to the case for the resurrection of Jesus: is he the trustworthy figure in the centre of Testament history? Did God really raise him from the dead? What testimony do we have to this? And what follows? This New Testament case strongly suggests that Jesus rose, perhaps now reading an article solely focused on what happened on that Easter morning is what you’ll need to read next!