Tag Archives: reliability

Teaching a Greek Christian the Truth About the Greek New Testament

While in Speakers Corner about two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss the New Testament (and a few of its variants) along with the historicity of the Crucifixion narrative using my Nestle-Aland 28th Edition Greek New Testament…with a Greek Christian. This proved very opportune, as he could openly correct me had I lied or made a mistake about what the Greek New Testament said! I was excited to be put to the test and suffice it to say, I think the discussion went quite well.

We earlier tried to have the same discussion but an older missionary gentleman was listening in (as others do), and while this was not a problem, the moment I raised a problematic question he reacted in an absurd way that led to the conversation ending. Thankfully my Greek colleague was up for round two, where we summarized the first discussion and had a full length discussion on the above mentioned topics. It’s decidedly worth the watch, many thanks to the EFDawah YouTube channel for recording and uploading the dialogue with excellent quality!

and God knows best.

The Criterion of Embarrassment and the Women of Luke

The Criterion of Embarrassment is an oft-used historical tool by those who seek to authenticate and validate the New Testament Gospels insofar as they are understood as historical literature. However, a thoughtful review of this historical tool in light of the Gospel attributed to Luke presents with it a convincing counter-argument to the usefulness and authority of this tool. The role of women in antiquity, especially those in the Graeco-Roman period within Jerusalem and its surrounding area presents with it a complexity that is not always readily understood or consistent.

Women are revered and respected in the Hebrew Bible’s narratives, Jerusalem itself has had a woman ruler in the century previous to the time of Jesus the Christ.The presuppositional understanding then that the testimony of the women at the tomb were taken to be less authoritative and thus embarrassing for the Gospel authors to include due to their sex ignores the intra-Gospel narrative framework attributed to Luke and the normative gender standards during the first century of the common era.

Alternatively, the paper can be read on Academia.edu or downloaded here.

and God knows best.

The Changes to the First Words in the New Testament

Last month I published a paper on how the very first words in the New Testament evolved over time. It was entitled, “The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew.” Today we have produced a 2 minute video that simplifies and summarizes the research from that research paper:

Alternative YouTube Link: Click Here.

For more information, you can see a quick 15 minute talk on how the Old Testament was corrupted (including the Shema Yisrael!). To view or download the presentation slides from the 15 minute video, please click here.

To download or read the paper mentioned in this post, please click here.

and God knows best.

The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew

For many Christians the authorial identity behind the first Gospel (as per the Augustinian order), commonly attributed to Matthew usually appears to be a matter of little or no concern. This is in part due to the inscriptio of the Gospel itself as is found in most modern translations of the New Testament. Without this inscriptio, the first mention of the name Matthew appears in Matthew 9:9. While at first this may not seem like an issue of note, a critical examination of the inscriptio with respect to its inception, and eventual adoption and evolution can give us deep insight into the perception of this document by those contemporaneous to its creation and development.

Who was authorship ascribed to, if anyone at all in the manuscript tradition? Was it considered to be scripture from inception? How has the use of the inscriptio in today’s modern translations affected the belief that an individual identified as Matthew did indeed write the first Gospel?

For those who would prefer to download the document or access it through other means, here are some alternative options:

This is the first article in a series of articles that will cover the New Testament and the Qur’an in light of textual criticism.

and Allah knows best.

 

A Variant of One Letter

Can one letter make a difference?

Over the years I have demonstrated various textual issues with the New Testament. One of the more common questions I am frequently asked is to what extent a variant of one letter can impact the reliability or lack thereof, of the New Testament. Today I’d like to answer this question with a simple example.

The letter η (eta) is a defining article.

Consider the case of saying “the boy” and “a boy”, in the case of the letter η (eta) it means “the”, which specifies a noun. The car, the boy, the house all refer to something specific and not something general. Thus, we read from John 5:1 (NIV) –

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.”

Some translations render the section in bold as “a feast”, however there is a variant in Codex Sinaiticus which renders the text as “the feast”, thus specifying this feast as not a general feast but as a specific feast. By inserting the letter η (eta) before the noun “feast” (ἑορτὴ), the context of this passages changes entirely. The NET Bible’s commentary explains:

“The textual variants ἑορτή or ἡ ἑορτή (Jeorth or Jh Jeorth, “a feast” or “the feast”) may not appear significant at first, but to read ἑορτή with the article would almost certainly demand a reference to the Jewish Passover.”

In other words, while at first it may not appear significant, by referring to the feast as “the feast”, it therefore indicates that this was the feast of Passover. This presents several problems. The initial problem is that if this feast refers to the Passover it would mean that Jesus preached for 4 years and not 2 1/2 years. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states:

“He gives us three Passovers; to make this a fourth would be to put an extra year into our Lord’s ministry for which scarcely any events can be found, and of which there is no trace elsewhere.”

Thus, it would either mean that the timeline presented for Jesus’s ministry according to the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke exclude one year of Jesus’s ministry or that the Gospel attributed to John has created an additional 4th year (more than 3 years) which would stand against the testimony of the other Gospels. If the former is true it would mean that the authors of the synoptic Gospels chose to exclude and ignore an entire year’s worth of teaching by Jesus, thereby bringing into question the reliability of their collective testimony. Why would his followers want to exclude an entire year of his public ministry? Surely if he chose to preach at that time it must have been for a reason, therefore on what grounds can an author ignore or prevent other Christians from reading and learning from 25% of Jesus’s ministry?

However, if the latter is true, it would mean that the authors of the Gospel attributed to John created and attributed an additional year of preaching to Jesus’s ministry. This would then indicate that the Gospel attributed to John lies about Jesus and thus brings into question its authenticity, reliability and accuracy. The Pulpit Commentary expands on this issue a bit more:

“Now, “the feast” of the Jews could hardly be any other than the second Passover, while John 6:4 would indicate a third. “The feast” referred to in John 4:45 undoubtedly means the first Passover. “A feast” would leave the question open, though by no means excluding positively the second Passover, as the anarthrousness of the word might be chosen with a view to call special attention to it. However, the indefinite ἑορτη has been identified by commentators with every feast in the calendar, so there can be no final settlement of the problem.”

So far, commentators on this verse describe it as being “significant” and a “problem”, yet we need to keep in mind that this is the consequence of one letter being present in one manuscript. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains to what extent this variant affects the harmony of the Gospels:

“1. a feast of the Jews—What feast? No question has more divided the Harmonists of the Gospels, and the duration of our Lord’s ministry may be said to hinge on it. For if, as the majority have thought (until of late years) it was a Passover, His ministry lasted three and a half years; if not, probably a year less. Those who are dissatisfied with the Passover-view all differ among themselves what other feast it was, and some of the most acute think there are no grounds for deciding. In our judgment the evidence is in favor of its being a Passover, but the reasons cannot be stated here.”

Addendum:

It should be noted that commentators have not randomly decided that the phrase “the feast” refers to the Passover, this is a conclusion drawn from the Church Father Irenaeus from the 2nd century who writes in Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 22) the following:

But it is greatly to be wondered at, how it has come to pass that, while affirming that they have found out the mysteries of God, they have not examined the Gospels to ascertain how often after His baptism the Lord went up, at the time of the passover, to Jerusalem, in accordance with what was the practice of the Jews from every land, and every year, that they should assemble at this period in Jerusalem, and there celebrate the feast of the passover.

We can see the variant by comparing the same passage from Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. In the image below, we see folio 249 (recto) from Codex Sinaiticus:

1

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “Η ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

The image below is from Codex Alexandrinus, we see folio 69 (recto):

3

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

4

6

What therefore, can we conclude from this difference?

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is correct, it would mean that the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke excluded more than 25% of Jesus’s ministry from those Gospels, and thus brings their reliability into question.

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is wrong, it would mean that the authors of this Gospel invented an additional year of Jesus’s ministry, thus bringing into question the reliability, authenticity and accuracy of the Gospel itself.

If the authors of the New Testament’s Gospels cannot be reliable enough to determine whether Jesus preached for 3 years or 4 years, how could we trust them otherwise? One letter can make a very big difference and this is but one example of such a case.

and God knows best.

Graphic: NT Reliability Comparison to Ancient Documents

Question:

This image has often been used to demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament. What is your response to this?

nt_reliability1

Answer:

This infographic relies on two of the three defective principles that beginners make when it comes to textual criticism, namely the number of witnesses (manuscripts) and the age of the witness (manuscripts). I’ve previously written on these three defective principles as outlined by the textual critical scholar Leon Vaganay. Before we get into the textual critical problems with this infographic, we first need to examine the theological problems with it.

Theology

One of the first claims we normally associate with the use of this infographic bases itself on the fallacy of false equivalency. We are told that scholars and historians have no problem trusting and relying on the ancient works ascribed to Homer, Aristotle or Plato, so given that we have so many more manuscripts of the New Testament we should have even more trust and reliance on the New Testament as it compares to the quantity of manuscripts for the previously aforementioned ancient documents. The problem with this argument is that I don’t need the works of Homer, Aristotle or Plato for salvation. Rejecting, not reading, ignoring and discarding the works of those men does not affect my salvation, which is why we can generally rely on and trust them. Since whether or not they actually are reliable or accurate does not affect my life in any meaningful way.

However, when it comes to the New Testament, it’s a different story. We are told it contains the inspired words of God, that we need to rely and trust it for our eternal salvation, that denying and rejecting it would lead to our eternal damnation. The stakes here are quite higher. Rejecting the works of Tacitus does not send me to hell. Waking up one morning to find out that alterations were made to the writings attributed to Plato, has no consequence on me whatsoever. My entire worldview does not change, my salvation does not rest on my accepting or rejecting the works of Tacitus and Plato. Therefore, when it comes to theology, it is an honestly poor argument to make that if we can trust something that has no bearing on our salvation, then we can also trust something that allegedly has significant bearing on our salvation. This is a dishonest comparison by all means.

The Number

There are some 24, 000 manuscripts! That number is practically meaningless and useless for a number of reasons. To begin with, of the 24, 000 that this infographic claims exists, how many of them are within the first 300 years of Christianity? According to the  Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) there are only 67 manuscripts in total existing from this time period. That figure represents 0.27% of the total number of New Testament manuscripts. The vast majority of New Testament manuscripts were written after the 11th century CE, some 1100 years after the Messiah. So while the number is big, it is misleading.

The Date

The number is misleading because it is juxtaposed with the date range of 40-70 years “between the earliest surviving copies”. Seeing 24, 000 juxtaposed with an early date range is extremely misleading, leaving the impression that the number correlates with the date range. In reality, there are only 7 New Testament manuscripts that fall into the first 200 years of Christianity, all of which are extremely fragmentary. That represents a figure of 0.029% of all New Testament manuscripts that can possibly be ascribed to the date range given in the infographic.

Conclusion

While the infographic does provide somewhat accurate information, its use of that information to argue for the reliability of the New Testament is both misleading and dishonest. The arguments derived from the use of this infographic don’t endorse the claim of the reliability of the New Testament, but rather demonstrates that many Christians simply do consider their scripture to be equal in weight to the works of ancient peoples. The very fact that they choose to argue that if we can trust the ancient manuscripts ascribed to Plato and Homer, therefore we can trust the New Testament is to also say that Plato’s and Homer’s work stand on the same credibility level as that of scripture inspired by God. Rather than defend the holiness of scripture, such an argument truthfully undermines it, while falsely comparing what should be the work inspired by a holy and all knowing God, to that of mortal men.

and God knows best.