The Bible (2): A Story Of Scripture, A Story Of History

The Old Testament is the earliest attested book of antiquity. - Bart Ehrman, humanist textual critic

The text of the Old Testament has been transmitted in its original form (the Torah) for over 3000 years. It was possessed by the Jewish people right up until Jesus' day, and after which, became much more widely distributed as the Christian people took those scriptures (primarily in Greek translations and  later in Latin) all around the world. The Old Testament or Tanakh, is comprised of the Torah (the law), the Nevi'im (Prophets), and the Kethuvim (writings). These were written over the course of 1000 years, coming together in a single document and being completed in their entirety around 50 years before the time of Christ.(1)

The New Testament in contrast to that, was written over a much shorter amount of time. Only about 20 - 40 years, by about 8 authors. Most scholars agree that the epistles of Paul and others were written prior to the Gospels themselves although there would have been some overlapping in the earliest dating of the writings of the Apostles.(2)

The New Testament books were written by multiple authors, for multiple audiences in multiple locations. They were copied widely and distributed amongst many communities within antiquity. This multi-totality of the text means that the text could never be controlled by one specific people or group. There was no one who could have created a final version that only they possessed; the books of the New Testament were too widely distributed for anything of that kind to even remotely happen.

The New Testament, within its most primitive forms, did not circulate as a body of texts; but rather, as individual letters, epistles, and books. Therefore, the idea of inserting doctrines, editing the documents, or taking doctrines or ideas out, would have been impossible and the claim is historically untenable. Any accusations of changes have to be examined under the light of the historical context of distribution of more than 25 000 documents across 3 continents.

There is no reason to see any of the New Testament books as have being written after the 1st century. All liberal arguments about later dates are based on theoretical constructions of early Church contexts. When analyzed under historical-textual scrutiny, any claims that any books are later additions falls short.

 The period from AD 60 - AD 316 was one of persecution of Christian faith from the Roman Empire. Recopying and distributing the Christian scriptures at that point had become a crime. Christianity was categorized as a religio illicita - an illegal religion. Rome destroyed thousands of texts from the Old and New Testament that belonged to the Christian people. But Rome could only manage to get at a fraction of them.

We still have documents like that of P52 (seen to the left), a piece of papyri manuscript that would have once contained the entire book of John on it, and can be dated to between AD 100-150. (2)

 It was widely believed up until the 1800s within scholarship, that John could not have been written prior to AD 175 because of such a high Christology that can be found in it. It was thought that this type of thinking had developed over the years and that these methods of thinking about Christ couldn't have existed earlier-on in Christian thinking.

 However, with the discovery of the P52, which contains a section of John 18, we now know that John is one of, if not the, oldest books in the New Testament. 

Here we have a section of the Gospel of John and it is the earliest attributed manuscript of any of the Gospels. I think it is fitting that the Gospel of John is one of the earliest, because it contains one of the clearest testimonies from beginning to end of Jesus' divinity as the divine Son of God.  

The second earliest attested document we can look at is P66 (seen above to the right), also containing a section of the Gospel of John. This comes from around Ad 150-200, we have at least 12 manuscripts coming from around this time of the second century.

Again we have P101 (seen at the left), which contains the trinitarian passage of Jesus' baptism and His identification by the Father as the Son of God. This disproves any and all claims that Jesus' eternal Sonship was made up at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. An idea that was popularized by fictional works like Dan Brown's, "The Da Vinici Code" but have no grounding in serious historical study. No one who has ever studied the Council of Nicea, or documents found prior to the Council would ever give a theory like that any credence in any form of historical backing.

We can look at the documents of P52, P66, and P101 as well as many more from the 2nd century, that validate the accurate transmission of documentation from antiquity to our day. The last example of the accurate transition of text I want to give can be seen in Codex Sinaiticus (3). Although Sinaiticus is a 4th century document, not a 2nd century document, I mention it because we can see the transmitting of exactly what is said on the 2nd century documents perfectly passed down in the exact same words 200 years later that were transmitted to our English translations today. It contains both the Old and New Testament and validates all Biblical doctrines that are held in historical-Biblical Christianity to this day.(1)

 The New Testament has the earliest attestation of any document within antiquity, it has the earliest and widest distribution of any form of document at that time and precludes any type of editing or purposeful controlled corruption. Insertion of doctrines and editing of teachings requires centralized control, but with such a widespread transmission around the Ancient World this is exactly what couldn't have happened with the New Testament. (5)

So is the Bible the Word of God, accurate and consistent within it's sources and documentation? Well first off I would like to state again that the Bible we possess today is not an English translation. The Bible we possess today is that which is found in the  Greek and Hebrew. If corruption is going to be alleged we need to first start with that. Attacking an English translation is useless within argumentaiton, simply for the fact that it is exactly that - a translation of the original. 

If you are going to allege corruption you have to start at the original. It is important to keep in mind the history of such a text as the Bible, and Christians can very honestly and accurately explain not only the beginnings, but the textual variances and historical consistencies. 

The fact that I can look at 5671 manuscripts of the New Testament in the original Greek, averaging 200 pages each for 1.3 million feet of pages in hand written text (that's not including the translations in the Coptic, Homeric, Latin, and other languages), allows me to examine textual variances and variations and find the original of the original amongst the variance. (1,4,5)

On the flip side, when you burn the sources you use to create the Uthmanic codex, which is exactly the problem the Qur'an faces, you destroy the possibility to compare and contrast and analyze. What you're left with in the Qur'an's case is only one edited version which one man decided was the true in which he destroyed all the others along with the original sources.(6)

We need to be honest, we need to be fair in our assessment, applying the same standards for all books within antiquity. So has the Bible been corrupted? No, it has been preserved through time, history, and divine provocation. Done in a way that allows us to examine manuscripts all over the known world - via persecution - so that no one person or group of people could ever change the words. So that doctrines, ideas, and stories were preserved in numbers.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. - Jesus, Matthew 24:35

(1) Bart D. Ehrman. 2012. The New Testament: A historical introduction to the early Christian writings, 5th Edition.  Oxford University Press. 
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings
(2) Mason and Robinson. 2004. Early Christian Reader: Christian texts from the first and second centuries in contemporary English translations. Henderson 
Publishers, Inc. 
Early Christian Reader: Christian texts from the first and second centuries in contemporary English translations 

(3) Codex Sinaiticus  

(4) Church History & New Testament Standard

(5) Richard Bauckham. 2006. Jesus and the eyewitnesses: The Gospels as eyewitness testimony. Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

(6) James R. White. 2013. What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur'an. Bethany House Publishers.
What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur'an



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