How We Got the Bible, NT - Part 2
How We Got The Bible 2
The question in the back of the minds of many non-Christians concerning the Bible is frequently, “How can we be sure that we have an accurate copy of the original writings?” Sadly, many have been told that the Bible has been hopelessly corrupted. Some have been persuaded that the New Testament, including the books that focus upon the life of Christ (Matthew through John), were written long after Jesus lived and hence their account of His life is probably flawed or embellished with many fables and myths about Him that have arisen in the mean time.
Promises Jesus Made To The Apostles
While Jesus was upon this earth He personally promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all the truth. We should note some specific statements in these promises: 1. They would not be left to their own fallible memories when it came to recording the events of His life (John 14:26 “and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”). 2. They would be His witnesses (John 15:27 “and you will bear witness also”.) At this point we must pause to consider an important thought. Some say that the gospels were written long after Jesus lived, and that others wrote them instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In addition, they tell us mythical and exaggerated stories have crept into the accounts. The problem with this view is that it makes Jesus look incredibly incompetent. So is this what happened? After God had seen to it that the events in the Old Testament were carefully recorded, God Himself then comes to earth in the body of a man, teaches the greatest sermons ever known, works miracles not even found in the Old Testament, dies upon the cross for the sins of the world, is resurrected, appears to His disciples, then ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, how then could He forget to have recorded the most valuable information of all! In this wonderful and great plan that had been thought out from eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11), the following details were never considered? “How are others going to know what God did for them, besides the eyewitnesses?” “Who is going to tell people the meaning of Jesus' death upon the cross?” “How are people going to know what to do to receive the benefits of His death?” Jesus would live the perfect life and then die upon the cross for the sins of the world, be resurrected, and yet no thought was ever given to, “how do we let people know about this?” Is that what happened? 3. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then you must believe that an accurate record of His life would be left for future generations. 4. They would be guided into all truth (John 16:13). This implies that there are no so-called lost teachings of Jesus. 5. Another point needs to be considered. Jesus said concerning the Spirit, “for He will not speak on His own initiative” (16:13). He said the same thing concerning Himself (John 5:19,30; 14:24). Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit could add a single word to the revelation from the Father. But the apostles did? Mere mortals were allowed to embellish the account of His life? Human beings were allowed to improvise upon, and tinker with, God's truth?
Inspiration Must Apply To Their Writings
Jesus promised inspiration to His disciples (Matthew 10:19-20 “for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speak”; Luke 10:16 “The one who listens to you listens to Me”). "In passing we should notice that the attempt of some scholars to go back to the original Jesus and by-pass the teaching of the apostles is shown by our Lord Himself to be misguided" (NICNT John. Leon Morris p. 700). I'll strengthen that last quote. It's not only misguided, it's a manifestation of unbelief. Jesus did not give us a choice on this one. Either He is the Son of God and the words of His disciples are a true and an accurate presentation of His will for man, or the New Testament is corrupted and Jesus was a fraud. Here's another point to consider, the Mormons consider the New Testament to have been corrupted, and yet where does that leave them? If God was unable to preserve an accurate account of the life of His Son, then what guarantee do we have that any other revelation from Him would be exempt from such corruption? You see, once you claim that God was unable to ensure an accurate expression of His will, all other claimed expressions of His will are immediately suspect, especially when you consider that the Son of God promised that His will would survive. Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away”. Yet His oral teaching did. What I mean is, once Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, those oral sounds were gone. The speech was over. That sermon is not still lingering in the air over the Sea of Galilee. This specific promise, and those that follow, must apply to His teachings in written form. As one writer said, "The words of Jesus which are in this manner revealed (in a written manner) remain forever" (John 12:48; 1 Peter 1:23-25). "Now there is no more reason to believe that the guidance of the Holy Spirit was limited to their verbal teaching than there is to believe that the Old Testament prophets were Spirit-directed only in what they spoke" (A General Introduction To The Bible. Geisler/Nix p. 90).
The Apostles Understood Their Task
Lest someone claim that we have placed too much importance upon the writings of the Apostles, in various places in their own writings they reveal the fact that they fully understood that what they were writing was the word of God. They believed that what was being written through them was as authoritative and binding as the audible voice of God Himself (1 Corinthians 14:37 “that the things which I write to your are the Lord's commandment”; 2 Corinthians 2:9; Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6,14 “if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter….do not associate with him”; Revelation 1:9-11,19; 2:1-5; 22:18-19).
The Development Of The NT
Within the New Testament itself, and before the end of the First Century we find a flurry of activity concerning the development, writing, and collecting of various books that comprise the New Testament. Even before the end of the First Century various New Testament books were considered Scripture by Christians 2 Peter 3:15-16 “as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters….as they do also the rest of the Scriptures”. Points to Note: 1. Paul had written letters to the Christians that Peter now addresses, (1 Peter 1:1) such as the Ephesians, Colossians, and Galatians. 2. Apparently Peter had a copy of not merely one of Paul's letters, but many of them. 3. Peter places Paul's writings in the category of Scripture. 4. Paul's letters had been in existence for some time, because certain individuals had read his letters and were now twisting and perverting what Paul had written. 5. By 64-68 AD there was a definite body of writings known as Paul’s letters.
1 Timothy 5:18 “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing”. That quotation is from Deuteronomy25:4. But note, Paul adds, “and the laborer is worthy of his wages”. The only place where the last quotation is found, is Luke 10:7. Paul places this passage from Luke under the heading of "For the Scripture says". Consider this quote: "If the writings of Luke, who was not an apostle, were quoted as Scripture, and Peter who incidentally was rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11),considered Paul's books to be Scripture, then it's not difficult to conceive how the New Testament as a whole would be considered to be Scripture" (Geisler/Nix p. 93). The evidence within the New Testament also reveals that such letters where not only being accepted as God’s word (among the faithful), but were also being circulated. "One final consideration that manifests the high regard for New Testament writings by the first century church is the fact that the books were commanded to be circulated, read in the churches, and collected. It is obvious that Peter had a collection of Paul's letters (2 Peter 3:15-16), and Paul distinctly enjoined the Colossians to read and circulate their epistle (Colossians 4:16) (and read the one that was heading their way). The Thessalonians, too, were charged to read their epistle (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Such regard shows that the books had for them not only a spiritual value but a divine origin" (Geisler/Nix p. 94). Such facts reveal that the letters were viewed as authoritative for every congregation, and not merely to the congregation to which it was initially sent. "This is a crucial passage (Colossians 4:16), since it indicates that the authority of one epistle included a larger audience than just the one to which it was written. Thus, as the book of Revelation was circulated throughout the churches (Revelation 1:3), so other epistles were to be exchanged, and prophetic messages were to be read with all authority" (Geisler/Nix p. 185). Other passages teach the same truth (1 Corinthians 4:17 ”just as I teach everywhere in every church”; 7:17 “And thus I direct in all the churches”; 11:16; 14:33 “as in all the churches of the saints”). Therefore, the true church today would be the church that is still taking seriously the writings of the apostles and views them as the final authority in all religious matters. With this view of what the apostles wrote, seeing that commands were given to circulate and make copies of such letters for reading (1 Timothy 4:13), collecting the various letters would be more than natural, it was the result of a direct command from God.
The Selecting And Sorting Process
When Luke wrote his account of the life of Christ, other written accounts were already in existence (Luke 1:1), indicating an abundance of oral and written material was already in existence to draw from and arrange in order (1:3). These verses in Luke flatly contradict the following ideas: 1. That He wrote long after the events had taken place (like 100 years or so) (1:2). 2. That he added to the record or embellished some of the events (1:3-4 “so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught”; John 20:30-31; 21:25).
The Testimony Of Those That Lived After The Apostles
"What has been said of the development of the New Testament canon, as seen in the inspired writings of the New Testament itself, is even more apparent in the writings of the younger contemporaries, the Apostolic Fathers. A sample survey will suffice to show that by the middle of the second century every book of the New Testament was referred to" (Geisler/Nix p. 186). Matthew was quoted by the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (c. 70-79 A.D.), so is Mark. The Muratorian Fragment (c. 170-80 A.D.) refers to Luke as the third gospel and follows with John, Acts, etc. Clement of Rome cited John 17:3 in his Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 95 A.D.). Acts is quoted by Polycarp, the disciple of John (69-155 A.D.) Romans is frequently cited by Clement of Rome. In summary, the first hundred years of the existence of the 27 books of the NT reveal that virtually every one of them was quoted as authoritative and recognized as canonical by men who were themselves the younger contemporaries of the Apostolic Age"(Geisler/Nix p. 190). "The dates of the New Testament documents indicate that they were written within the lifetime of contemporaries of Christ. People were still alive who could remember the things He said and did" (Know Why You Believe. Paul Little p. 78). Therefore, for these books to be accepted, they first had to be accepted by the people who had lived through those events. When Paul wrote Romans, there existed people who had been Christians longer than he (Romans 16:7). When he wrote 1 Corinthians, many of the people who had seen the resurrected Jesus were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). Yet it was exactly this first generation of Christians, the contemporaries of Christ who embraced and accepted as truth, the writings of the apostles.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/503-644-9017