Is the New Testament Authentic?

The following is based upon information taken directly from David Limbaugh’s “The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels,” chapter two, “New Testament Basics Building Blocks of the Revelation.” I recently added this book to my personal library and highly recommend it, along with Limbaugh’s “Jesus on Trial.” Both are available at Amazon.com through this link: David Limbaugh

The authenticity of the New Testament documents is shown by dating the original documents – none of which still exist – and determining how much time passed between those writings and the events they record, assessing how many copies we have of those writings, and examining them for accuracy, measuring the time gap between the original writings and the oldest copies we have, and then comparing our findings with those of manuscripts of ancient secular history.

Most scholars – liberal and conservative – agree that Christ died between 30 and 33 A.D., and that all the gospel accounts were written in the first century between twenty-five and fifty years after those dates. This is a short period considering this was an oral culture in which people would have memorized these accounts before reducing them to writing. Many scholars believe the gospel writers may have referred to earlier written accounts for some of their material. As noted, Christians agreed on and shared much creedal information about Jesus well before the New Testament writings, and many references to this “Jesus tradition” appear in Paul’s epistles, some of which predate the writing of the gospels. You might be thinking that such an oral tradition, combined with scribes writing down information over hundreds of years in various geographic locations, would lead to errors in the text. You’re correct. But, as we’ll see later, these were minor spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors that had no impact whatsoever on the doctrine itself.

The original twenty-seven New Testament manuscripts probably perished within decades of their composition because the writers didn’t write on bricks, rocks, or wooden tablets, but on paper – Egyptian papyrus (see John’s reference to his writing tools in 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13). What remains are handwritten copies called manuscripts. Inevitably, mistakes occurred in the copying process, no matter how meticulous and skilled the scribes were. To evaluate the accuracy of manuscript copies for the New Testament writings – or any other ancient books for that matter – textual critics study the differences in wording to determine the precise composition of the original manuscript. New Testament manuscripts are so plentiful that, according to Professor Craig Blomberg, textual criticism enables us to reconstruct what the New Testament authors wrote with a high degree of accuracy.

There are more than 25,000 New Testament manuscripts in existence, some 5,800 of which are in the original Greek (kione – common Greek vernacular spoken on the streets during the time of Jesus), which range from the early second century to the sixteenth century. Though we don’t have a complete manuscript dated before the third century, many fragments exist that include a substantial amount of the New Testament. There are also a million-plus New Testament quotations in the writings of the early church fathers. The number of surviving New Testament manuscripts dwarfs those of ancient secular writings. There are one thousand times as many existing manuscripts of the New Testament than of the average classical author’s works (between ten and twenty copies). Homer’s Iliad is the exception, but even those copies are limited to about 1,800, which is less than ten percent of the total amount of New Testament copies.

What about the “errors” in the New Testament? Aren’t they terribly problematic for those who maintain the Bible is inerrant? In a word, no. Inerrancy  only pertains to the oral or written proclamation of the originally inspired prophets and apostles. As such, it does not exist. Not only was their communication of the Word of God efficacious in teaching the truth of revelation (there is literally power and life in the Word), but their transmission of that Word was error-free. David Limbaugh relates that he was skeptical about the issue of errors, especially as it might relate to doctrine. His research led him to the discovery that nearly every error was relative to spelling, style, and other grammatical trivialities, and that only about one percent of the variants – differences in wording – bear on the meaning of the text, with none affecting any major Christian doctrine. (Limbaugh notes this refers to one percent of the errors, not one percent of the entire text!) Richard Bentley, a classical English biblical critic, confirms that these minor errors do not pervert or set aside “one article of faith or moral precept.”

Even Bart Ehrman, the most famous manuscript scholar who has been skeptical of orthodox Christianity, affirms that “the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by actual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” Evangelical scholars Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace observe, “Any uncertainty over the wording of the original New Testament does not have an impact on major teachings of the New Testament. They certainly do not affect the deity of Christ. There is simply no room for uncertainty about what the New Testament originally taught.” What matters, says Carl Henry, is whether these variants corrupt the substantive content of the original and whether they “convey the truth of revelation in reliable verbal form, and infallibly lead the penitent reader to salvation.”

As an aside to David Limbaugh’s work, I want to note that it is not uncommon for Muslims to claim that the Bible is corrupted, and therefore not trustworthy. It is their contention that the angel Gabriel came to Mohammad and dictated to him – and only him over a period of twenty-three years in a cave – and that the Qur’an is the corrected truth. We should ask when this supposed corruption occurred? The Qur’an actually states that the Bible is the Word of God (Surah 5:43, 44, 46, 68; Surah 4:136; Surah 10:91; Surah 15:9; Surah 6:34; Surah 10:64). If the Bible was corrupted, was it before the time of Mohammad? Why then would God (Allah) tell Mohammad to look to the Scriptures for guidance and light? If the corruption occurred after the time of Mohammad, then why don’t Muslims accept the Bible as authoritative as our current translations are based upon manuscripts that predate Mohammad by hundreds of years? The earliest textual evidence we have for the Bible (the Dead Sea Scrolls and thousands of partial and complete Greek New Testament manuscripts dating back to within the first three centuries A.D.) simply does not allow for the claim of widespread corruption of the Bible.

The gap between the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment – the John Rylands Fragment (117-138 A.D.), which contains five verses from John 18 – and the original is less than fifty years. Another New Testament fragment, the Bodmer Papyri, which contains most of John’s books and Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, is dated circa 200 A.D., so there is a gap of between 100 and 140 years between the manuscript and the original. Even more impressive is the Chester Beatty Papyri (circa 250 A.D.) – a gap of 150-plus years from the completion of the originals – which contains most of the New Testament. The Codex Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.) contains the great majority of the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus (340 A.D.) – found on the Sinai Peninsula – is the oldest existing manuscript of the entire New Testament, and contains much of the Old Testament. These date some 250 years from the originals. Again, compared to existing manuscripts for ancient secular texts, the gap between the original and the copies is much smaller for the New Testament. The time gap between the original Iliad and the oldest existing manuscript of the work is between 350 and 400 years, but for most other secular works the gap exceed a thousand years.

The New Testament documents are copied accurately, and there are more copies, with many earlier copies, than any other book from the ancient world. As British paleographer and biblical and classical scholar Sir Fredric Kenyon states, “The interval between the dates of the original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

I never had any doubt.

REFERENCES

Carlson, J. (Mar. 19, 2014). Responding to the Muslim Claims That the Bible is Corrupt. [Msg. 1] Message posted to: https://www.chess.com/clubs/forum/view/responding-to-the-muslim-claims-that-the-bible-is-corrupt

Limbaugh, D. (2017). The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing

 

Suffering Without Sinning

I am reading Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth About the Gospel, by David Limbaugh. He made a comment in the book that I’d like to share with you. He wrote, “We must not use our suffering as an excuse to sin, but as an opportunity to grow spiritually.” Not only is it a chance for us to mature, I believe we need also recognize that our suffering can be an opportunity for others to learn from our circumstances. We, in no way, should find occasion to sin because we are suffering. We cannot rebel, or argue with God, or hate or resent others. We cannot look to relieve our suffering through our own selfish acts.

Pain often reveals God’s purpose for us. God never wastes a hurt! If you’ve gone through a hurt, he wants you to help other people going through that same hurt. He wants you to share it. God can use the problems in your life to give you a ministry to others. In fact, the very thing you’re most ashamed of in your life and resent the most could become your greatest ministry in helping other people. Who can better help somebody going through a bankruptcy than somebody who went through a bankruptcy? Who can better help somebody struggling with an addiction than somebody who’s struggled with an addiction? Who can better help parents of a special needs child than parents who raised a special needs child? Who can better help somebody who’s lost a child than somebody who lost a child? The very thing you hate the most in your life is what God wants to use for good in your life.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, verses 4 and 6, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things” (NLT). This is called redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is when you go through a problem or a pain for the benefit of others. This is what Jesus did. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t deserve to die. He went through that pain for our benefit so that we can be saved and go to Heaven. So that we can live a life free from bondage and disease.

There are many different causes for the problems, pains, and suffering in our lives. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us we bring on ourselves. When we make stupid decisions, then it causes pain in our lives. If we go out and overspend and buy things we can’t afford and assume we can make the payments in the future, and then go deeply in debt and lose our house, we can’t say, “God, why did you let me lose my house?” We can’t blame God for our bad choices. But in some of our problems, we’re innocent. We’ve been hurt by the pain, stupidity, and sins of other people. And some of the pain in our lives is for redemptive suffering. God often allows us to go through a problem so that we can then help others.

We are exhorted to “put on Christ” and to imitate Him, our High Priest and our Teacher, so that we might partake of His divine nature. In order to redeem us, our Lord took on flesh and gave all to the Father. In order to be Christ-like, we, too, must take up our cross, accept suffering, and strive to offer Him all. It says in Luke 14:27, “And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.” 2 Cor. 4:8 tells us that in all things we suffer tribulation but are not distressed. Philippians 3:8-11 says, “Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. And may be found in Him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God: justice in faith. That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings: being made conformable to His death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.”

Think of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, under so much stress and agony that He literally sweated blood. Think of Him being hounded and mocked by people who should have fallen to their knees and kissed His feet, adoring Him and begging Him for mercy. Think of the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars with a crown of thorns thrust onto His head, being spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a Cross. God Himself suffered in His human nature, so why should we be spared? Thing is, we need to have a right attitude about our suffering. We need to realize that uncomfortable things will happen to us in this life, but this helps us to help others.

Many of us think we suffer because of our circumstances. We believe that if our circumstances would change, we’d be able to act right. But God wants us to become so mature and stable that we act right even when none of our circumstances are good. There are different levels of faith, and most of the time we want to use our faith to get rid of a problem. But sometimes God’s plan is for us to exercise a higher level of faith that will carry us through life’s challenges. This requires even greater faith than being delivered from a situation.

As Christians, we may also face trials and suffer simply because we live in a world full of sin. But Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you]” (John 16:33, Amp) What a promise! Understanding the reason for our suffering and having the assurance of the final glory we’ll share should make it a little easier to enjoy our lives even during the times of sharing in suffering.

God uses trials in the believer’s life for several reasons. They purify us (See Malachi 3:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9. Psa. 66:10) by making us rely more on God and His grace. James tells us trials increase our patience (See James 1:3,4,12) and God uses them to glorify Himself. (See 1 Peter 4:12-16). Paul sums it up well when he states, “my strength [in trusting and drawing closer to God] is made perfect in weakness.” (See Gal. 12:9). The non-believer suffers in despair. (See Gal. 6:7-8). He has no hope and no assurance that he will be delivered out of his trials by God.

Because God sees the end from the beginning, He knows where we’re weak and where we need refining. Suffering is like a refiner’s fire. It burns away all the impurities, leaving only that which is profitable. We will be rewarded for our sufferings. (See Matt. 5:10-12) In them we can comfort others who are going through the same difficulties. Remember, Jesus suffered more than any man, but to the greater glory. In His sufferings, he made the way for us to be reconciled to God. If in our sufferings we can lead others to Christ, then we should suffer joyfully. Remember, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (See Rom. 8:18) This is so much better than sinning because of our suffering. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in proper perspective.