The “Telephone Game” Myth: Has the New Testament Been Changed Over Time?

NT_manuscript1

*** If you prefer, there is a short version of this article on my church’s website here.***

It seems everyone has an opinion about Jesus. Some say he was a wise, moral man; some say he was a myth; some say he was God in the flesh.

But first, how do we even know about Jesus? This seems like a pretty basic question, but before we can answer who Jesus ain’t, we need to understand how we know about him in the first place.

We learn about specific people in the past by documentation, by records that bear witness to that person’s life, and sometimes other archaeological evidence. Obviously, the farther back in history we go, the more difficult it is to prove the existence of a particular person, even someone as famous and powerful as a king or emperor, let alone a poor rabbi from the backwaters of the Roman empire.

So, why is it so hard to conclusively prove the existence of a person from ancient times, even someone as famous and influential as Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus? First, empirical science is little help; even if we had the assumed body of the ancient person, it’s not like there’s a DNA database we can reference.

Further, there are two types of science: empirical and forensic. Empirical science is used to study present, repeatable events. These events can be replicated in studies and witnessed through our senses. Empirical science doesn’t help us with historical events because those events cannot be repeated. For instance, we can’t use empirical science to prove the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. On the other hand, forensic science is used to study past, unrepeatable events. With forensic science, one must look at evidence and use logic to draw conclusions. Forensic science is used in archaeology, criminal investigations, cryptology (the study of codes), and even SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

In proving the existence of a historical figure, it all comes down to documentation – historical records. Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus lived before the invention of the printing press and the modern information age. Ancient manuscripts were written on papyrus, made from plant reeds, which lasted only about 10 years before falling apart. Later, ancient manuscripts were written on parchment or vellum, both made from animal skins, which could last much longer than papyrus but were still fragile.

Additionally, a shortage of ancient manuscripts can be partially blamed on the many conflicts and wars of ancient times. Fire was a common weapon for ancient armies. For example, the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt was renowned for its collection of manuscripts but much of the library was destroyed during several conflicts. Because of the lack of modern means of copying and saving information, sadly, many ancient manuscripts have been lost to us forever.

When we turn to the New Testament, the ancient records about Jesus, we find the individual “books” that compose the New Testament have survived remarkably well compared to other ancient manuscripts.

Alexander-the-Great

THE SOURCES

To start, let’s compare the sources for our information about Jesus to sources for two other famous ancient people: Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus. Interestingly, no one raises questions about whether Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus existed like they do about Jesus, but, as we’ll see, the sources for our information about Jesus compare extremely well against the sources for these two other famous men from ancient times.

Furthermore, Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus were rulers and conquerors of great empires — the most powerful, famous men of their time period — the exact type of persons ancient historians wrote about. The fact that we know anything today about a rabbi from Nazareth is incredible.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT

We have two sources for our information about Alexander the Great. Both of these sources were written about 400 years after Alexander the Great lived.

CAESAR AUGUSTUS

We have five sources that give us the information we know about Caesar Augustus. One is a funeral writing, written at his death. One was written 50-100 years after his death. The last three were written 100-200 years after his death.

JESUS OF NAZARETH

For Jesus, we have four sources — the four Gospels found in the New Testament, each individually investigated, each containing both complementary and unique information. The four Gospels were written 25-60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which means within the lifetime of those who knew Jesus and witnessed his ministry. (Jesus was crucified in about 30-33 AD, and all of the Gospels were written before 100 AD.) Two of the Gospels – Matthew and John – were written by two of Jesus’ actual original twelve disciples, where the other two – Mark and Luke – were written by disciples of Jesus’ original apostles, Paul and Peter. This means the four sources we have for knowing about Jesus’ life come from eyewitnesses.

Further, we also have Paul’s letters, which are collected in the New Testament, which attest to Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and deity. The majority of Paul’s letters, historians agree, were written before the four Gospels.

EARLY CREEDS

Historians also agree that Paul recorded several creeds of the early church that existed before he wrote them down in his letters. The earliest is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

This creed is widely accepted by scholars as being dated – at most! – two to five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann believes the creed was created before the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Paul. Further, some scholars believe the creed appeared within months of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Another early creed appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Augustus_statue

THE MANUSCRIPTS

But what about actual physical manuscripts – I mean, manuscripts we can actually hold in our hands and read with our own eyes today. Since we already covered how perishable these ancient manuscripts were, how many have survived until this day?

First, because of the fragileness of ancient manuscripts, as far as we know, no original ancient manuscripts have survived to this day. Meaning, we don’t have the actual first manuscripts written in the hands of the New Testament authors – or any other originals from any other ancient writers for that matter. These ancient writings have survived through the tedious work of scribes, who copied them by hand to preserve these important works for future generations. We do have actual ancient manuscripts that have survived until today, but just not the originals.

So, how does the New Testament compare to other ancient manuscripts?

For Aristotle, we have 49 ancient manuscripts.

For Sophocles, we have 193 ancient manuscripts.

For Plato’s tetralogies, we have 7 ancient manuscripts.

For Homer’s The Iliad, we have 643 ancient manuscripts.

For the New Testament, we have about 5,686 ancient manuscripts in the original Greek, either in part or in whole. Plus, there are about 9,000 other ancient manuscripts of the New Testament books in other languages.

The earliest ancient manuscript piece of the New Testament we have today is a fragment from the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38). This fragment was found in Egypt and has been dated about 125-130 AD, but could be as early as 90 AD. The dating puts it within 40 years of the original writing of the Gospel of John, and the fragment shows that the Gospel had spread as far as Egypt in that short period!

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce wrote, “There is better evidence for the New Testament than any other ancient book.”

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

Because of this wealth of manuscripts, scholars can easily compare the ancient New Testament manuscripts through a process called textual criticism and easily identify errors and variants made by the scribes. Expectantly, the scribes, who copied texts by hand, were not perfect, but most mistakes are nothing to be concerned about. The vast majority are spelling mistakes or other simple copying mistakes (like omitting or adding small words or reversing the order of words), which have no effect on how the New Testament is understood.

Often skeptics try to portray the passing on of the New Testament over time like the Telephone Game that you may have played in school as a child. In the Telephone Game, someone whispers a sentence into someone’s ear, and then the second person whispers the sentence into another person’s ear, and so on down the line. When the last person receives the sentence, he says it out loud for all to hear. In the vast majority of cases, the sentence is severely corrupted and changed by the time it reaches the end of the line. But this analogy is downright inaccurate. Anyone who claims this is how the New Testament was passed on to us today is basing that belief on assumption and not research, and they’re illustrating their ignorance of textual criticism.

Instead of thinking of the passing on of the New Testament as a straight telephone line, think of it as a family tree with many branches giving birth to many more branches. A family tree spreads in many directions as it multiplies; it doesn’t move in a straight line. Thus, if one branch becomes corrupted, the many other branches will not be corrupted in the same way.

Further, the Telephone Game analogy utterly fails because the message is only whispered and it cannot be repeated. The New Testament, on the other hand, is a written document; it can be reread and rechecked.

To sum up, the Telephone Game has only one line of transmission; the message is only whispered; and repeating is not allowed. On the other hand, the New Testament was passed on through many lines of transmission; it was written; and, therefore, it can be reread, examined, and compared.

NT_JohnR_frag

From the Gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38) – Dated 90AD-130AD

Hey, Here’s a Helpful Illustration

Imagine we had five ancient manuscripts and we notice variations among all five of them in the same sentence. This sounds like a big problem, but see if you can pick which line is the original:

  1. Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world.
  2. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the word.
  3. Jesus is the Savior of the word.
  4. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  5. Jesus Christ is Savior of the world.

Highlighting and underlining the differences between each sentence will help us narrow the choices down:

  1. Christ Jesus is the Savior of the world.
  2. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the word.
  3. Jesus [Missing: Christ] is the Savior of the word.
  4. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
  5. Jesus Christ is [Missing: the] Savior of the world.

First, we can conclude that the original sentence started with “Jesus Christ,” since only Sentence #1 starts with “Christ Jesus.” Likewise, we can easily conclude Sentence #3 should include the word “Christ” and Sentence #5 should include the word “the” since all the others do.

Notice none of these variations so far affect the meaning of the sentence. Though we don’t show this in this illustration, let me point out again, the vast majority of mistakes in the manuscripts by the scribes are simple spelling and grammar mistakes in the original language of the New Testament, ancient Koine (“common”) Greek, which make no difference when the Greek is translated into English or any other language.

Finally, we have the variation of “world” versus “word.” This is a tougher challenge to solve because this variation does affect the sentences’ meanings and three of the sentences read “world” and two read “word.” If it were the case that some of the manuscripts contained a nonsense word instead, like “Savior of the worl,” the correct choice would be easy. In this case, I think most would agree “world” makes more sense than “word,” and since more manuscripts have “world” than “word,” it’s the safer bet. But how can we be certain?

This is why we’re fortunate to have many, many, many other manuscripts to compare than just these five! Specifically, we can look at those that were written before these manuscripts. The variation or mistake shouldn’t have appeared yet in many of the earlier copies. In textual criticism, the rule of thumb is generally the older the manuscript, the better. In our illustration, it’s likely the vast majority of the manuscripts will read “world.” Thus, we can be confident that the original, correct sentence is Sentence #4: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

This is how textual criticism works. Of course, this is simplified for the sake of illustration, but, as you can see, it’s not all that hard spotting the original wording by comparing the manuscripts.

There was no central power controlling the copying of the New Testament. Churches were simply sharing the writings with other churches, and they would copy them and pass them on and on and on. One church may have the Gospel of Mark, and another church may have three of Paul’s letters, so they would share and copy and pass on. Archeological evidence proves the New Testament spread rapidly across the ancient world. Thus, in ancient terms, this means the New Testament went viral! And because of this, we have a wealth of ancient manuscripts that can be compared to and contrasted against each other.

Textual criticism has found only 1% of the variants have any effect on the meaning of the text, and none of these come close to affecting any Christian beliefs. Textual critics are positive the New Testament we read today is 99% accurate to the originals.

Further, the early church fathers, who lived between 90-160 AD shortly after the events recorded in the New Testament, quoted the New Testament so extensively that the majority of the New Testament can be reconstructed from their sermons and writings alone. So, even if we had no ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, we’d still have much of it preserved in the writings of the early church fathers. Obviously, these early church fathers were quoting from manuscripts written earlier than their own writings.

cross-silhouette1

SO, WHAT DOES THIS TELL US?

First, our current New Testament is faithful to the originals. Despite a lot of assumptions about the Bible being corrupted over time, the evidence says otherwise.

Secondly, even secular historians consider the New Testament an excellent historical source, but the supernatural events the New Testament reports make them skeptical of its historical accuracy. Because of this, many non-Christian historians gladly use it to learn of Jesus and the time period but ignore the supernatural aspects of it. You see, their view of the New Testament has nothing to do with the evidence itself, but with their way of understanding the world, their worldview. If someone’s worldview is that God doesn’t exist, then of course he’s not going to believe in the supernatural parts of the Bible. But if someone does believe in God, then believing in the miracles of the Bible isn’t difficult at all.

Interestingly, scholars say that the time between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of the New Testament is much too short to allow legends and myths to develop, especially considering that people who witnessed Jesus were still living at the time of the writing of the New Testament. The writers present the New Testament as a historical record and provide names and other information so their contemporaries could investigate and confirm their claims about Jesus.

Where one can argue that this alone doesn’t prove the truth of the New Testament, it must be recognized that the New Testament doesn’t have the unspecific, “other-world-ness” of mythology; it is grounded in a historic time and place.

Lastly, no evidence of an early record of a strictly “human-only” Jesus or any other alternative view of Jesus exists. I’ve often heard skeptics say they don’t believe in God because of a lack of evidence. Yet, when it comes to Jesus, many people (even some professing Christians) ignore the best evidence and base their ideas about who Jesus is on creations of their own mind.

There is also mention of Jesus outside of the Bible in ancient writings by non-Christians, but these were all written later than the New Testament. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God or that Jesus is the Son of God or that the New Testament is the inspired Word of God, he or she – after evaluating the evidence – should still recognize that the New Testament is our best, most reliable source for learning about Jesus.

How do we know about Jesus?

We know about Jesus from the reliable, well-preserved record of the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from Who Jesus Ain’t by Steve DiSebastian:

IMG_0742

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?

How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

Who Jesus Ain’t: Jesus Ain’t a Hippy, Your Homeboy or a Wimp

39 thoughts on “The “Telephone Game” Myth: Has the New Testament Been Changed Over Time?

      • Contemporary evidence. Evidence that is contemporary with the character, Jesus of Nazareth.
        And preferably, independent as well.
        After all, you consider him to be a god, yes?

      • The closest to documents speaking of Jesus during his lifetime by non-Christian sources is covered in the article I sent you above. The closest would be Josephus in 95AD, which would put it around the same time the last of the New Testament was being written. To get closer to the life of Jesus, you have to go to the New Testament, which as I laid out in this article is a reliable historic source written by eyewitnesses.

      • The passages in Josephus are becomong regarded as interpolation in their entirety as they once were prior to certain fundamentalists dragging them back into the spotlight.

        The New Testament is neither contemporary, independent or reliable.

        The gospels are, as I am sure you are aware, anonymous, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

        Even a theologian such as NT Wright fully accpets their anonymity.

      • Certain wording of Josephus has been found to have some interpolation but the passage still stands. Textual criticism (as I laid out in the article) had shown the NT to be reliable. The NT is not “contemporary” in the sense that its books were written during Jesus’ ministry, but the eyewitnesses wrote the books. The Gospels have always been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – as the historic evidence shows – so I see no need to doubt that unless you can give me evidence contrary to this. Far as independent, non-Christian witnesses from Jesus’ ministry, I never claimed there was any, but the fact that we know anything about a crucified man from the backwaters of the Roman empire is incredible within itself. As I laid out in the article, there is better evidence for Jesus, written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, than any other person in antiquity. I recommend checking out Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Bauckham.

      • Certain wording of Josephus has been found to have some interpolation but the passage still stands.

        A modern historian such as Carrier disagrees and considers the entire passage of the TF is a forgery. As did many prominent theologians before fundamentalists began to re-examine it.
        It was never an issue with mainstream scholars, historians or theologians.
        Furthermore, it is never mentioned by any church fathers prior to Eusebius who is considered the most likely culprit o the forgery.

        The Gospels have always been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – as the historic evidence shows

        The gospels only had names attached after 200c according to Ehrman.
        There was nothing to suggest otherwise before this.
        Only fundamentalists continue to assert they were always attributed to the the names we now know.

        …but the fact that we know anything about a crucified man from the backwaters of the Roman empire is incredible within itself.

        We don’t know. We can only infer based on the gospels.

        As I laid out in the article, there is better evidence for Jesus, written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses,

        Again, what evidence?
        And I reiterate, there are no eyewitness accounts and no contemporary evidence of any sort.
        The gospels are untrustworthy from numerous perspectives, not least their anonymity, the recognized interpolation, geographical inaccuracies, biological absurdities, and historical falsehoods.
        You would not trust such a document if it were about Henry VIII for example so on what grounds do you trust the bible?
        It surely cannot be based on evidence.

      • Has Carrier produced a manuscript of Josephus with the Jesus (or James or John the Baptist) passage missing? Has Ehrman produced any historical evidence attributing the Gospels to other authors? I’ve noticed a pattern in these sort of discussions with skeptics where the skeptic’s argument is not based on any physical evidence, and they just keep demanding more evidence, as if historical arguments can reach mathematical-like certainty. No historical investigation can reach such certainty. (And based on what I have read, it seems Ehrman’s skepticism grew out of his inability to make sense of the problem of evil and suffering and not the historical evidence.) Others look at the physical evidence and see that it confirms exactly what the traditional Christian view has been saying all along. On the other hand, the skeptic looks at it as says, “I want more evidence!” The skeptics then makes assertions with no physical evidence. I have articles on this blog addressing some of what you bring up, so no need for me to repeat it here. Since you seem well-read, I assume you’ve read all the works by scholars refuting people like Ehrman. The Jesus Legend by Boyd/Eddy is a good place to start along with the Baukman book I recommended. Writings by historian Larry Hurtado are a good place to start too. Far as your claims that my belief in Christ can’t be “based on evidence,” you are both right and wrong. You can read my testimony on this blog and see that I came to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, not an apologetic argument. No one can come to Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. So, it was a personal experience that turned me to Christ. Now, after having this subjective experience, I wondered if there were objective reasons for following Christ. I found there are good historical, scientific, and philosophical reasons for believing in Christ. So, my faith is not based on one argument, but a cumulative case of both subjective and objective reasons. When the objective evidence is looked at as a whole, the Christian worldview makes the most sense of the evidence and of the world.

      • No, there is no objective evidence at all, I’m afraid.
        And this is one of the many problems you have to surmount.
        Everything is inferred and much of this is simply erroneous.

        The bible is riddled with errors of all descriptions, not least the fraudulent interpolations ( forgeries)

        The only evidence I ask for is contemporary evidence to fully support the claims Christians espouse as fact.
        To my knowledge, not a single Christian has ever done this.
        Otherwise, what would be the need for faith?

        In fact, when looked at as a whole, from Adam and Eve, the silliness of Noah, and the downright ludicrous tale of the Exodus, it comes across as rather amateurish nonsense and based on the reasons for claiming to be a Christian it actually makes the least sense of the world.

      • Well, friend, it seems you thought it all out, so why are you bothering with me then? This is the point in all Internet discussions where we’ll just be asserting our claims back and forth and nothing new will be said, and I have other things to do and much of what I have to say is laid out elsewhere on this blog. Let me just point out that often when skeptics use “faith” they mean “blind faith,” but when the thinking Christian says “faith” he uses it synonymous with “trust” and “confidence” (confidence = “with faith” – Latin). The subjective and objective lead to my trust and confidence in Christ. I find the skeptic is skeptical about everything but his own skepticism.

      • Yes, but confidence in what exactly?
        We know full well the bible simply does not line up with evidence, be it archaeological, historical, geographical or basic science. The Human Genome Project for one.

        Most born-again Christians I have interacted with came to faith because of some sort of emotional trauma related to a myriad of things and evidence was usually of secondary concern.

        And I reiterate, there really is no objective evidence and anything you point to which you would claim otherwise has been shown for what it is – erroneous.

        I am not saying what you must believe.
        Good grief no!
        Believe whatever you like, it is a free country after all.
        I am merely pointing out that to state what you believe is based on fact and rock solid evidence is simply not true at all.

      • I recommend you read some scholars from the other side. I already recommended some places to start. Also check out Francis Collins (of the Human Genome Project), Douglas Axe, Stephen Meyer, William Lane Craig.

      • I have read or watched Collins, Meyer and Craig.
        Craig is a proponent of Divine Command Theory and for this alone I hold him in the utmost contempt.
        None of these people present any verifiable evidence for their beliefs.
        Meyer is a believer in ID. which is nothing but Creationism in a party dress and has been rejected as pseudo – science. One reason it is not taught in schools.,
        Collins in particular stated it was death anxiety that finally made him convert.

        I am guessing you accept things like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and the Exodus, yes?

      • Seems like you’ve dismissed these men based on personal bias rather than engaging their arguments. And I would say holding someone in “utmost contempt” for holding an opposing view is not a healthy frame of mind. Granted, little of much value can be said in these internet exchanges so I’m sure there’s more to you holding your views than personal bias. But it’s interesting how people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. Reminds me of Romans 1:8: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” But to answer your question, I understand why people wrestle with things like Adam, Eve, Noah’s flood, etc. but I have no doubt the One who created the universe from nothing can do those things if he chooses. Is it safe to assume you’re an atheist? How do you understand the origin of the universe and the origin of human life?

      • Seems like you’ve dismissed these men based on personal bias rather than engaging their arguments.

        Wrong. Their arguments have all been dismissed by scientists and scholars of far greater standing than me.

        You actually nothing to support your beliefs other than faith, as everything you espouse has been refuted.

        But if you wish to demonstrate your bona fides explain succinctly how you know – and not simply what you believe based upon your unquestioning acceptance of the biblical text – that the entire field of archaeology, geology, and those who specialize in such things as plate tectonics are wrong with regard Noah’s Ark and the biblical flood.

        Or simply cite a peer reviewed scientific paper.

      • How do you understand the origin of the universe and the origin of human life? And Freethought below would like to hear how you account for morality.

      • Oh, and I am still waiting for you to cite a peer reviewed paper supporting/ demonstrating the supposed veracity of the archaeological / geological claims of the bible re: Noah’s Ark and the Flood.

        Thanks

      • Have you managed to find a peer-reviewed paper supporting the claimed veracity of the biblical flood yet?
        Or are you simply going to continually ignore this question?

      • @Arkenaten

        The view that proponents of DCT ought to be treated with contempt is laughed out of discussions by educated theists and atheists, or dismissed as uninformed atheist fundamentalism.

        But let’s assume DCT is a bad moral theory. Which moral theory do you propose instead?

  1. Great post! Very informative and well written. However, I am worried that you might be tilting windmills here when you argue that people deny that Jesus existed. No reasonable scholar will deny the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. We know from sources outside of the Bible that around the same time the Gospels claim Jesus entered Jerusalem, there was a rabbi from Nazareth that was causing some political turmoil around Jerusalem. We know that a man named Jesus was sentenced to death by Pilot. These are not religious facts grounded in the Gospels, but secular facts that were written down by non-Christian (and actually Roman) observers. We call this aspect of studying Jesus Christ the “Jesus of History” and we can use all of the same scientific methods to say without a doubt that a man named Jesus existed, he had followers, he was in Jerusalem for passover with his followers, he created some problems with the Jewish establishment and was sentenced to death by local Roman authorities. When we talk about the ministry of Jesus as the Lamb of God and Messiah spoken about by the prophets, we call this study the “Christ of Faith” and this is where our scientific methods go out the window. We say that Jesus is Christ because of the things he did that were captured by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel accounts. The Gospels therefore become books not telling a story about a man in history (the Jesus of history) but rather a story about a man who claimed to be God and came to fulfill the law (the Christ of faith). I think we do a huge disservice to the Gospels when we lower them to historical texts designed to prove the existence of a man named Jesus, they are not that and were never meant to be that.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that no serious scholar questions the existence of Jesus. The non-Christian sources outside of the New Testament, like you said, are certainly a major reason for this. On the other hand, I disagree with your later assertions in your post. The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith are one and the same. The NT is a reliable historic resource AND the inspired word of God. I don’t consider it an either/or but a both/and. The NT is the most well-attested historic document of the ancient world, and thus, our primary source for knowledge about Jesus.

      • Jesus history and Christ of faith are indeed one and the same. When we blend the history and the religious together (or the Sacred and profane, which is really exactly what Christ did when He came down in the form of man which was fully human and fully God at the same time). That being said, practically, the Gospels do not hold up at all when it comes to secular, scientific scrutiny and we only make ourselves look foolish when we try and contort the Gospels to fit the historical narrative. That doesn’t mean the Gospels are historically inaccurate, on the whole they are actually very accurate (as you point out) but they were not written to be a historical record, and therefore I maintain it is wrong of us to put them through a rigorous scientific process. All that happens when we do that is we either water down the message of the Gospels to suite the science (“the Gospels were written by men to talk about a man named Jesus”) or we water down the science to suite the Gospel message (“Jesus had to rise from the dead, otherwise the apostles never would have preached around the known world”). Both are disservice to the faith because they erode confidence in the Gospels and at the end of the day draw our focus on the Gospels away from their proper place. I may be being a bit pedantic, but the post was well written and you’re clearly informed so the discussion is fruitful.

      • Hi E.J., I appreciate your thoughts and thanks for positive statements about the article and me. I’m just trying to understand better what you’re saying. I’m not entirely clear what you mean when you speak about “science” above because people often use that word in more general ways than I would. I guess we can say the Gospels do not hold up to secular scrutiny in the sense that secular thought is anti-supernatural, so they – by the beliefs of their worldview – reject the miracles and supernatural elements of the Gospels. Further, miracles do not stand up to scientific testing because miracles – by definition – defy the laws of nature that make science possible. Concerning historical method, the Gospels stand up considerably well, and I think there is plenty of evidence in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament that the Gospels are, in fact, to be understood as reliable historic sources written by the eyewitnesses of these events. Now, the Gospels certainly were written to be MORE than just historical accounts, such to give us theological insight and guidance, but a big theme of the Gospels and the New Testament is “this incredible stuff really happened. We witnessed it, and we share it so you, too, will believe.” We have to take into account that ancient authors did not write history by modern standards and in modern style, but the Gospels – though unique to all other ancient historical writings – also share much in common with other ancient historical writings.

  2. Great article!
    Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen..
    If Jesus was not The Son Of God.. resurrected from the dead.. The disciples would have gone on with an ordinary life, saving their skin..
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Pingback: The “Telephone Game” Myth: Has the New Testament Been Changed Over Time? – Help Me Believe

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