Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 12, 2010

The New Testament Didn’t Drop Out of Heaven

I have become a big fan of Logos Bible Software.  The way that it assists and speeds up my exegetical study for sermons, that it allows me to speed through commentaries at a fast pace, and that it enables me to rapidly research through my digital library (over 1,300 books to date) makes it far worth the price I paid.  At our last two circuit meetings, I connected my laptop to a projector and used Logos to show the other pastors what a useful tool this is.  I think I made a couple of sales!

Logos is best known for its exceptional Bible study software — and for good reason!  At its core, Logos is a digital theological library.  So it was a bit ironic when Logos began Bible Study Magazine in 2008.  But since Logos software is about Bible study, I suppose that it only made sense for Logos to produce a magazine devoted to Bible study.

The New Testament Didn't Drop Out of Heaven -- at BibleStudyMagazine.com

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I’m a Logos “fan” on Facebook, and I noticed a recent Logos Facebook post about an article in the current edition of Bible Study Magazine.  The article is titled, “The New Testament Didn’t Drop Out of Heaven.”  I’m not presently a subscriber to the magazine, so I don’t know if the online article is an addition to, an abridgment of, or a complete copy of the printed article.  Regardless, the online version gives a nice summary of some basic facts about the New Testament’s transmission.

  • The earliest evidence we have for the New Testament comes in a fragment of the Gospel of John that can be dated within a generation of the Apostle John’s life.  To the best of my knowledge, no ancient document has any manuscript evidence so close to the original writing as this (though I am willing to be corrected on that point by those who know more about these things than I do).
  • The earliest complete copies of the New Testament date back to the fourth and fifth centuries.  Again, in the ancient world, that’s a close time frame between the writing and the earliest complete copy.
  • The total number of New Testament manuscripts (fragments and complete copies of books) numbers around 6,000.  That’s about 10 times more than the closest competitor from the world of ancient literature, around 50-100 times more than the typical ancient document, and a whopping 6,000 times more evidence than the Gospel of Judas that everyone seemed to get ga-ga over a few years ago.  In other words, the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is exceptionally strong.  There is truly no comparison from the ancient world.
  • Scholars all over the spectrum agree that the Apostles died martyrs’ deaths for their confession of faith.  That begs the question: If these men knew they were peddling a lie, wouldn’t they have caved when their life was on the line and admitted the farce?  If they went to their death confessing Christ as Savior and the resurrection as real, doesn’t that tell us something about the facticity of the events they professed to believe in?

I am not an expert in ancient epistemology or apologetics.  Apologetics is an area that greatly interests me, but I don’t have letters behind my name in that field as I do in liturgy and church music.  But it doesn’t necessarily take a Ph.D. to realize that when we compare the data of the New Testament to other ancient documents, the New Testament documents stand out in a class by themselves.  Even the so-called errors that are found throughout the manuscripts often amount to the ancient equivalent of typos, to grammatical issues, or to minor word matters — such as, did a particular text say “Jesus” or “Christ” or “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”

A number of years ago, I had a (polite) conversation with a liberal scholar who was explaining the modern theory of the Gospels — specifically, that they were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but that editors without direct contact with Christ put together what we now know as the four Gospels.  I rebutted that the church father Papias, who was only one generation removed from the Apostle John, has written that the traditional authors wrote the four Gospels.  The scholar replied that the Papias quote came from a fourth-century writer, and therefore its reliability was questionable.  I responded that the modern theories about how we received the New Testament Gospels have absolutely no concrete evidence to support them — in other words, a fourth century quote is still better evidence.  (I should add something I didn’t know at the time of this conversation, i.e. it is quite rare for ancient documents to have any outside attestation in the first place).  The professor acknowledged that my point was true, but said that most scholars today still hold to the modern theories.  My reply: Since when does a majority vote decide fact?  Since when is the best answer the majority’s answer?  Just look at the politicians we elect!  Well, that elicited a good chuckle from the group listening to this discussion, most of whom were not coming from my perspective.  The conversation went in a different direction after that, but I think I made my point.  Opinion polls do not qualify as evidence, and majority votes do not create facts.

I’m not sure how many traditional Christians realize the tremendous support and evidence that exists for the New Testament.  Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery, quoting another scholar, said that if we were to dismiss the New Testament due to a lack of evidence, then we would also have to throw out everything we know from the ancient world, for nothing else comes close to the New Testament’s manuscript evidence.  When one looks at the manuscripts themselves and the integrity of the men who wrote the material, one is left with a very strong case for the reliability and historicity of the New Testament.  And that means one is left with a very strong reason to come to grips with Jesus Christ and what he had to say.  This is, after all, not a case of dealing with some vague, mystic religious document; this deals with real history recorded for a good reason!

In other words, the New Testament didn’t drop out of heaven!

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Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this article! I put a link to this post on St. Mark’s blog.

    I appreciated seeing these statistics and really liked the chart that Logos prepared if you clicked the “Launch Media” link. Always fascinating to see how carefully God has preserved His Word, truly the Church shall never perish!

  2. Thanks for mentioning my post on your church’s blog, Pastor Tomczak!

    I think material like this is useful in today’s day and age, when the sheer weight of misinformation about Scripture and Christianity leaves “average Joe” thinking that the Bible is a book of religious fairy tales. Many people simply do not understand — no thanks to what they’ve read and heard — that Scripture deals with real history and not “once upon a time.”

    Of course, getting someone to recognize that the Bible deals with facts and history does not equal a conversion. That is clearly the Holy Spirit’s work. Satan surely knows that the Bible records facts, but he surely doesn’t trust in Christ! I can even think of one unfortunate case in my ministry where a young man in Bible Information Class came to recognize that Scripture records history even when it speaks about the miraculous (especially the resurrection), yet he STILL would not believe its message because the “consequences” of faith would mean that he had relatives who were heading for hell. It was a sad reminder to me that recognition of the facts is still not faith, and that we can never argue someone into believing.

    The usefulness of presentations like this, in my opinion, is to help the average person who has been fed quite a bit of popular misinformation about Christianity see that Scripture deals with facts — and therefore he should investigate and study these facts further. My desire is that the resulting time spent exploring Scripture provides the exposure to the gospel that the Holy Spirit will then use to move a person from a head that recognizes facts to a heart that also trusts in Christ as Savior.


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