If Jesus was as awesome as the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) say he was, then why are there so few non-religious sources about him? The most well known sources are Josephus who references Jesus in book 20 of Antiquities of the Jews and Tactus who references Jesus’ execution by Pilate in book 15 of Annals. Both are early historians and considered authentic by most scholars today.
I promised you a logical answer to the question above, the reason there is so little written about Jesus is two fold:
- To Romans and Greeks, the Jews were already strange people. In the first century the concept of monotheism was not the norm. For the most part, Rome left the Jews alone. As long as they paid their taxes (which were quite extensive) then the Jews could do as they pleased. Jesus was not accepted by the Jewish leadership of his day and therefore would have been seen as a freak among the freaks. Outside of Jewish and then Christian leadership, Jesus was insignificant. It was not until Christianity prospered that the name of Jesus spread.
- The second reason is that until the Enlightenment, the Bible was considered a reliable historical document. Religious and nonreligious all accepted the representation of Jesus given in the Bible to be true. Basically, why write about someone who has already been written about by people who knew Jesus or had access to personal testimony?
Let that second reason sink in for a moment. For 1700 years, the Bible was considered to be a trustworthy historical document. I heard once, and I wish I could remember where to be able to cite it, that the early church quoted the Bible so often in letters to each other and documented sermons that we could piece together the entire New Testament simply by going to the Vatican’s archives. That’s awesome! And makes it very difficult for someone to prove “the church” changed the Bible throughout the years because all we have to do is go back to an earlier time in church history and show the truths in scripture have not changed.
How the Bible was canonized:
The “canon” are the books in the Bible Christians regard as divinely inspired. I’m actually not going to go into that process because I feel like the answer can be found with a simple Google search. There is not much debate on how that process occurred so whatever you find is probably true. Personally, I like searching wikipedia because it is not biased. Wikipedia offers both sides to most debatable topics.
The criteria used on whether a book was canonized.
- Written by an apostle or someone closely associated with one.
- Content was revelatory and considered inspired.
- The books were universally accepted by the church.
Have you ever tried to get church members to agree on anything? Churches have broken up over the color of carpet and these early church leaders were able to come to an agreement on the most important collection in history. Well done, well done.
It’s hard work being a scribe!
If you have never looked into the process Jewish scribes used when doing their job, you should, it is very interesting. These men took their job seriously! Here are a few examples of the lengthy standards given to them.
- There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
- The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other.
- The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
Let those requirements sink in for a moment. This standard allowed for perfection most of the time. When it was time to scribe the New Testament the church followed the example of Jews to establish their system.
We have more preserved copies of the Bible than any other historical document. When talking about the Bible, it is important to note the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. Today, we have almost 6000 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and 9,000 ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. That is a total of 25,000 copies of the Bible. The dates these documents were written range from150-350AD. For some, that is about 100 years from the original document.
The next closest is Homer’s Iliad where we have 600 copies. I already mentioned Tacitus, which historians consider to be accurate, we have only 20 copies of his writings. The earliest date of the documents are 1000 years after the original date. Yet, most credible historians all agree in Tacitus’ accuracy.
Why is the Bible not given the same acceptability of these other historical documents?
Errors in the Bible
The Bible being accurate and true, does not mean it is 100% without error. There have been about 400,000 documented variances or inconsistencies in the Bible (taken from 2nd century to 15th century). Christian friends are like, “Oh NO!!” and non-Christians are like “SEE, Told You!” Everyone, calm down. It is not as bad as it seems. The number one mistake in the Bible is spelling, followed by the order of sentence structure.
All languages are not static and therefore change throughout time. When it comes to the accuracy of the Bible that is a problem. Take the words color and colour, gray and grey, they are both understood to be the same word but with different spellings. Let me use the example below as how the Bible could have so many documented variances.
EXAMPLE: The color gray is a mix of black and white.
- Scribe ONE: The color gray is a mix of black and white. x 2000 copies
- Scribe TWO: The colour gray is a mix of black and white. x 2000 copies
- Scribe THREE: The color grey is a mix of black and white. x 2000 copies
- Scribe FOUR: The colour grey is a mix of black and white. x 2000 copies
- Scribe FIVE: The color gray is a mixture of black and white. x 2000 copies
- Scribe SIX: Gray is a mix of black and white. x 2000 copies (deleted words)
- Scribe SEVEN: Black and White make gray. x 2000 copies (sentence structure)
This one sentence would have 32,000 variants to it because if one word is copied differently and then 2000 more times that is 2000 variants. Yet with each variation the intent of the sentence is very much intact. The same is true for the Bible, despite differences the meaning is very easily understood.
Mistakes are easily understood, but what about actual changes to the Bible made by scribes? These also exist. Below
is a list of verses that are believed to not be in the original text. Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14, Mark 7:16, 9:44&46, 11:26, 15:28, 16:9-20, Luke 17:36, 23:17, John 5:3-4, 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37, 15:34, 24:6-7, 28:29, Romans 16:24.
I use the English Standard Version (ESV) and in my Bible most these verses were skipped with a footnote that acknowledges them in some manuscripts. The exception to that is the Mark and John passages where the text admits these were not in the original document (see picture above).
What do we do with this evidence?
First, do you really feel like these verses are needed to prove a point? Does adding them or taking them away change anything? I do not feel like anything I base my faith on is helped or hindered by these verses.
The fact that we know about these changes adds credibility to the Bible as a whole. The reason we know about these changes is because the Bible has been so thoroughly investigated that we can know what should or should not be included in the scriptures. I take confidence in that!
Critics try to use these verses as evidence to say the church has made dramatic changes throughout the whole Bible. There is virtually no evidence for this claim. Remember, the Bible is the most well documented book on the planet. If these dramatic changes existed there would be easy evidence to support those claims. But instead, we can show very specific changes that were made.
I want to address some specific topics for rebuttal and I will do that in a further post. However, I think we need to take a quick detour to look at the establishment of the church and the life for early Christians.
Stay tuned, more is certainly to come!
As always, with love
For the other Parts:
ONE – https://journeywithjewels.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/christian-faith-a-logical-point-of-view-part-1/
TWO – https://journeywithjewels.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/christian-faith-a-logical-point-of-view-part-2-establish-areas-of-agreement/
THREE – https://journeywithjewels.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/christian-faith-a-logical-point-of-view-part-3-establish-the-bible-as-a-credible-source/
FOUR – https://journeywithjewels.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/christian-faith-a-logical-point-of-view-part-4-establish-the-timeline-for-christianity/
FIVE – https://journeywithjewels.wordpress.com/2017/06/23/christian-faith-a-logical-point-of-view-part-5-facing-rebuttals/