The Final Bible Secret Re-revealed! Are There Any Bible Secrets?

*Did God hide secrets in the Bible itself? Did the 1st Christians hide the truth? Is Christianity one big conspiracy? Was Jesus a Buddhist?*

 

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So, are there secrets in the Bible? And did the church cover up secrets about the Bible?

To conclude the God From the Machine series Bible Secrets Re-revealed (which has been looking at claims made on the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed) let’s explore these questions.

In this series, we’ve refuted these claims:

Further, many of the other articles posted on God From the Machine in the past year have refuted claims made elsewhere, including the claim that Christianity came from paganism.

What has become overwhelmingly clear is:

(1) Many of these claims that attack Christianity and deny the traditional understanding of Christianity are based on unadulterated speculation.

and

(2) The “very public” nature of biblical Christianity makes secrets within the faith highly unlikely.

 

Unadulterated Speculation

We live in the time of nonstop television programming where literally hundreds of channels are competing for your attention. As a result, even channels that appear to be educational are drenched in sensationalism.

As we have seen with the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed, serious history has been substituted with conspiracy theories, sloppy half-information, and grand conclusions based on shoddy evidence – if any evidence at all.

We also live in the age of the internet, where every nutty conspiracy theory is kept alive by continuous circulation by those who don’t know any better or those who accept as truth anything they come across that reinforces their chosen worldview.

The great thing about hackneyed conspiracy theories is that they survive because of lack of evidence, not because of convincing evidence — which is backwards from how much of the rest of the world functions.

It’s like finding two red puzzle pieces (that may not even belong to the same puzzle) at the bottom of a drawer and jumping to the conclusion that the completed puzzle must be a Lamborghini.

“How do you know it’s a Lamborghini?” someone might ask you. “Did you find the box with the other pieces?”

“No,” you answer, “but I know there are puzzles of Lamborghinis out there.”

“But how do you know those pieces are a Lamborghini? Where’s the box with the other pieces?”

“Someone purposely hid the box, so I can’t prove it.”

“Can you prove someone purposely hid the box?”

“No, they covered that up too!”

Do you see the problem with this sort of thinking?  

Hey, maybe you’re even right. Maybe it is a Lamborghini. But don’t expect anyone to take you seriously until you find that box.

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As we have seen in this series, little evidence (if any) support the more outrageous claims of the unbelieving scholars on the History Channel, and what evidence there is doesn’t justify the claims they’re making. Much more obvious (and less scandalous – and thus, less TV-worthy) explanations account for the evidence.

Sadly, this mindset permeates everywhere.

For example, I once had a history teacher tell me Christianity comes from paganism. I asked, Where are the primary documents of the supposed myths that are similar to Christianity? What I was asking for was hard evidence. What evidence did she offer? A Youtube video! (And a lame one at that!) I honestly wanted to say to her, “Shame on you! You’re a history teacher! You should know better!”

(To read my article on how claims that Christianity is from paganism are unfounded, click here.)

 

So, Was Jesus Influenced by Buddhism?

Uhh… What?

Here is another example of this unbridled speculation. The fact that this was even suggested on Bible Secrets Revealed illustrates just how much of what is offered on these shows are based not on serious academic investigation, but careless conjecture and even dishonest assumptions.

If this is a serious theory, the one making the claim has a mountain-sized burden of proof, because no serious scholar actually believes this because all evidence says otherwise:

Christianity’s founder was a Jew in the Jewish land of Judea. All evidence shows Christianity spread from Jerusalem, initially by Jesus’ Jewish disciples. The first Christians were Jews.

Are you noticing a pattern here? In order to understand Christianity, one must understand the Jewish faith. This is why Christians must read and understand the Old Testament, not just the New Testament.

In fact, this is exactly what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did. They constantly refer back to the Old Testament to put what is happening in the New Testament into context. To chase after unsubstantiated claims that Christianity originated from Roman paganism, Buddhism, or any other worldview other than the ancient Jewish worldview will lead to a dead-end.

But what about Jesus’ “lost years” between his birth and ministry, as was brought up on the History Channel? All evidence points towards him being a carpenter in Judea. Is it possible he traveled to the East and learned about Hinduism or Buddhism? Sure, it’s possible, but is it plausible based on the evidence? If we’re going to accept this theory, why not say Jesus traveled to northern Europe and became a Viking for a few years?

Everyone can speculate. But what does the evidence say?

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Conspiracy Theory Theories

One more thing to consider before moving on:

Homicide detective and former atheist, J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity explains what is needed for a successful conspiracy:

  • (1) A small number of conspirators. (Less people involved, less people to screw things up.)
  • (2) Thorough and immediate communication between the conspirators. (There’s a reason police separate suspects. Without this, they can’t keep their stories straight.)
  • (3) A short time span to keep the secret. (The more time that passes, the more likely the secret will come out.)
  • (4) Significant relational connections. (A strong bond between those involved, leading to an unwillingness to sell each other out.)
  • (5) Little or no pressure. (If no one cares about the conspiracy, no one is going to look into it or expose it.)

Wallace points out that even conspiracies with most or all of these 5 characteristics rarely remain hidden—and the first Christians had none of these things!

(We won’t be exploring this further here, but I recommend picking up Wallace’s excellent book.)

Cold-Case

Simply & clearly lays out the historical argument for the reliability of Christianity from an interesting perspective.

A Public Faith

From the beginning, Christianity has been a very public religion. Jesus preached in public and he performed miracles in public. Furthermore, the most important miracles of Christianity —Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection—were public.

Notice, this is very different than other religions that make miraculous claims. Often, only the founder witnessed a miracle or experienced an encounter with God or an angel.

Because of the public nature of Christianity, it should be the easiest faith to disprove, yet it has continued to grow for two thousand years.

Even today, two thousand years later, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is hard to refute, and when all the evidence is taken together the only plausible explanation is that God did something miraculous.

So we have to ask: If God decided to reveal himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, why would he keep other things concerning salvation secret?

I cannot think of a single reason.

If God went through the “trouble” to reveal himself to us, would he not reveal everything he wants us to know?

As I said, Christianity has always been a public religion, and it still is. There are no secrets to salvation that those outside of the church don’t know about. Outsiders and unbelievers are invited to join Christians in their worship services at all times; anyone can go into a book store and learn what Christians believe by picking up a Bible; no “secret knowledge” is given to those who “join,” and there are no secret rituals.

Those that claim to be Christian churches but do these secret things are cults on the fringe of the faith, and I wouldn’t consider them Christian in any biblical sense.

The History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed (and the like) are determined to make it appear that the exclusion of certain ancient writings from the Bible were an attempt to suppress some truth or to hide some secrets. But the truth is much less complicated, much less exciting, and much more starkly obvious: the church was protecting God’s Word from corruption.

(To read more on God From the Machine about the uniqueness of the Christian Scripture and Christianity’s “public-ness” click here.)

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But Did God Himself Hide Secrets in the Bible?

So, how should Christians think about divine secrets?

Scripture informs us quite clearly:

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  (Deuteronomy 29:29)

 

As finite, limited humans, there are things we simply cannot know — unless God has revealed them to us. And there are things God has not revealed. Why? I doubt we’ll ever know within this age or lifetime (but I’m betting primarily for our own good).

Here, we must trust the sufficiency of Scripture. God has revealed to us, through Scripture and Jesus Christ, all we need to know (and all he wants us to know).

Jesus Christ himself, as our perfect model, displays this humility concerning the acceptance of the revealed things and unrevealed things. In Matthew 24, we get these puzzling words from Jesus concerning the End Times:

 

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36)

 

But don’t Christians believe Jesus is God the Son? Doesn’t God the Son share the same nature as God the Father? How can Jesus not know the future?

The answer lies in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When God the Son took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, he voluntarily limited himself, depending on God the Father (because, again, Jesus is our perfect model):

 

“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.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Thus, in his incarnate state as Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son accepted that any supernatural knowledge was dependent on whether God the Father gave it to him. This is a concept many Christians overlook or misunderstand, but the point that concerns us here is this: Christians need to humbly accept that there are things God simply has not revealed to us.

(In addition, the next time some misguided pastor or radio host announces that he has studied the Bible and figured out the date of the Day of Judgment, be sure to point out that not even Jesus knew.)

Does that mean we shouldn’t pour over the Scriptures, studying them intensely to understand all that God has revealed? Of course not! But it also means we shouldn’t be inventing “secrets” that simply are not there.

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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

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THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

 Apocrypha

New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

Other articles in this series:

Did Constantine compose the New Testament?

Did God have a wife?

Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write?

Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

can-we-still-believe

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?

**Has the Bible been translated & re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the originals said?  How can we know what the original manuscripts said?**

 

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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Has the Bible been “translated and retranslated” so many times that the meanings of the original texts are “muddled” and lost?  Is the Bible corrupted and altered beyond ever knowing what it truly said?

First, do you know anyone who is bilingual?  Are you bilingual?  Trilingual?  Have you ever heard someone translate anything into another language, like, say, something in English to their non-English-speaking parents?  Did the parents understand?  Of course they did!  Though a 100% literal word-for-word translation from one language to another is sometimes difficult, that does not mean words, sentences, and whole books cannot be accurately translated.  Accurate translation is an everyday occurrence.

Our modern English translations of the Bible are translated directly from the original languages the books of the Bible were written in – ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – and we have more ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible today than ever before in modern times.

It’s true that sometimes translators have to use some personal interpretation to choose the right words if there are no exact parallel words, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have accurate translations.  For example, Greek has several words for love, but English has only one.  The Greek word eros is the type of love that has to do with sexual passion.  So, a translator translating a Greek-language sentence into English may translate a sentence using eros…

The adulterous man loves the woman.

But it probably could be better translated:

The adulterous man has passionate love for the woman

or The adulterous man has lust for the woman

or The adulterous man has an irrational passion for the woman.

Each translation is correct, and the main idea of the sentence is preserved, but picking the right words or phrases makes it more precise and clear.

This is an advantage of having so many English translations today available for people who cannot read the Bible in the original ancient Greek or Hebrew; they can compare translations to gain a better understanding of the nuances of some of the words and phrases.

Some translations are more “literal” and try to translate word-for-word.  These translations – like the NASB – may read a little awkwardly at times, but they’re useful if you don’t speak the original ancient languages of the Bible and you want to closely examine a section of text.  Other translations have more interpretation and translate the passages idea-by-idea.  These translations – like the NLT – are smoother to read, especially if you’re reading a whole book or through the whole Bible.  The NIV translation falls in the middle of the two types, which is why it’s one of the most popular translations today.

I prefer the ESV, which is a word-by-word translation, but it’s much more readable than the NASB.  Again, comparing translations helps with understanding perplexing passages, leading to more clarity.

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TEXTUAL CRITICISM

We can trust the modern translations of the Bible are accurate to the original manuscripts because of what is called textual criticism.  Textual criticism is the discipline of comparing all of the available ancient manuscripts we have today to make sure we have the most accurate version of the Bible possible.

Today, we’re in a better position than ever before in modern times to accurately reconstruct the wording of the original manuscripts of the Bible because of the sheer number of manuscripts that have been discovered.

Because people are imperfect, there are mistakes and variations in the manuscripts made by the scribes who copied them by hand, but because we have such a large number of quality ancient manuscripts, it’s easy to compare them and identify the errors.

The New Testament is easily the written work with the best evidence to support it from the ancient world.  We have about 5,500 ancient manuscripts.  The only ancient work to come anywhere close to this is Homer’s Iliad, which only has about 700 ancient copies.  But even this high number of manuscripts is rare.  In fact, we’re lucky if any ancient manuscripts that have survived until today are numbered even in the double-digits.

DATING THE MANUSCRIPTS

The dating of the New Testament manuscripts we have are extremely close to the dates the originals were written.  The earliest piece of a manuscript we have is a fragment from the Gospel of John, dated to about 125 AD.  Most scholars date John’s Gospel as being written in 95 AD.

Over eighty New Testament manuscripts are dated to the third and fourth centuries, and five mostly complete texts of the New Testament date from the fourth and fifth centuries.  Since all of the New Testament was written by the end of the first century, this may still sound like a long time, but compared to other ancient writings, this is extremely close.

It’s important to understand that the ancient New Testament manuscripts we have are from all over the ancient world as Christianity spread.  Had there been radical differences in the supposed “earliest versions” of the New Testament, it’s doubtful the network that spread and formed new churches in new areas (think of it like a tree growing with new branches) would all have the same New Testament texts.  At least one of those branches, isolated from the others, would’ve passed on and preserved the “older version.”  So, say, for instance, churches in Spain or Asian Minor would’ve had a much different version of the Gospel of John than we have today.  But this is not the case.

Because we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts – 5,500 (and this only includes the Greek texts and isn’t counting the thousands of ancient manuscripts in different languages) – which come from all over the ancient world, we can be secure that we have the original readings in our hands.

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Earliest fragment of the New Testament. From John’s Gospel. Dated about 125 AD.

BART EHRMAN’S SKEPTICISM

Agnostic New Testament scholar and author Bart Ehrman speaks a lot about how we can never find the “original text” and how he believes the New Testament books have been radically changed over time.  For example, he mentions 2 Corinthians may have been anywhere from two to four letters originally.  Can we find the “original text”?

Much of Ehrman’s protests about finding the original texts seem to come down to how a person prefers to define “original text” and his assumption that all of the written works of the Bible have been in a constant state of constant change.  Though there are variations found in the vast amount of ancient manuscripts we have, much of Ehrman’s assumptions that the books of the New Testament, like 2 Corinthians and the Gospel of John, are hopelessly corrupt are just that: assumptions.  Where is the evidence for these massive changes?  Where are the manuscripts that show the works in their earlier forms?

Ehrman may respond that those manuscripts are so old they probably no longer exist, but that doesn’t solve his problem, because he has just admitted there’s no evidence for his assumptions.  Almost all of the theories of composition Ehrman sites, “however probable, remain entirely speculative in the sense that no manuscripts have ever been found of the supposed sources that a biblical writer used,” including, for example, a version of the Gospel of John without the prologue and epilogue, 2 Corinthians split into two or more individual letters, or even the widely accepted theoretical Q document.

Due to the over 5,500 ancient manuscripts we have of the New Testament, variations are easy to identify and correct.  Further, even with over 5,500 manuscripts, none of those manuscripts show any of the massive editing or changes Ehrman imagines.

Further, even if they did exist, what would it matter?  This would only mean they may have served as a source for the future, completed work as we now know it.  Even conservative evangelical New Testament scholars agree that some of the Gospel writers most likely referred to earlier written texts for some of their information.  In fact, there’s even evidence from the early church fathers that there may have been a Hebrew or Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew before the Greek version we know today.  Just because some of the material or even a majority of the material appeared in an earlier form, it doesn’t mean it’s a corruption of the text.  What matters is whether the information is accurate or not.

FOR HOW LONG WOULD A MANUSCRIPT SURVIVE?

The material used to make ancient manuscripts was fragile and perishable (which is one of the reasons ancient manuscripts are hard to come by today), but some manuscripts may have lasted much longer than originally believed.  In a study of late antiquity libraries, collections, and archives by George W. Houston, published by Oxford University Press in the book Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, he proposes that manuscripts could be used from 150 to 500 years!  For example, the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus (B) was re-inked in the tenth century, which proves a manuscript can last and be used for at least 600 years!  This fact seriously improves the plausibility that the original texts existed to be copied for much longer than previously suspected.

 

Other articles in this series: Did Constantine compose the New Testament? & Did God have a wife? & Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write? & Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

SOURCES & RECOMMENDED:

can-we-still-believethe-jesus-legend

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Did God Have a Wife?

**Did God have a wife named Asherah? Was she edited out of the Old Testament?**

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

 

yahweh-asherah

YAHWEH & HIS ASHERAH

The idea that the Jewish God was believed to have a wife as some point in history exists because some inscriptions on archeological artifacts from the Iron Age appear to connect Asherah, an ancient pagan fertility goddess, with the God of Israel, Yahweh.  The inscriptions ask for blessings from “Yahweh and his Asherah” (or “asherah,” since its unclear if the word is a proper name or not).  The artwork may even depict “Yahweh” with Asherah.  Of course, the writers of the Bible never speak of the immaterial, self-sufficient, self-existent, one-and-only God of the Jews as having a wife (and making idols and images of their God was strictly forbidden… and how do you make an image of an immaterial being anyway?) .  But some have even gone so far as to propose that God’s wife had been edited out of the Bible.

GOD’S NAME

In Exodus 3, when Moses asks God for his name, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” and “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).  “I AM” in the original Hebrew is “YHWH” or Yahweh.  When you see “LORD” spelled in all capital letters in your Bible, the original Hebrew reads “YHWH,” God’s name as given to Moses.  (God’s “name” is really a description of his eternal, self-sufficient, self-existent nature, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

THE EVIDENCE (OR LACK OF)

Richard S. Hess, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Denver Seminary, in “Did Yahweh Have a Wife?  Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in the book Come Let Us Reason, examines the archeological evidence concerning Yahweh, Asherah, and other Iron Age deities.  Examining archeology from such a long time ago is difficult because it’s like having few puzzle pieces of a large puzzle.  For this reason alone, the conclusions the scholars jump to in TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed about Yahweh having a wife are hasty and based on speculation.

Further, no evidence whatsoever — whether early manuscripts or otherwise — supports the idea that the writers of the Bible at one time taught that God had a wife and that this information was later removed.  This is purely unfounded speculation and sensationalism.

Further, Hess says the evidence never describes Yahweh as having offspring or being connected to fertility religions, and “Asherah’s complete absence in all the blessing formulae of letters and all other Judean references to deity” shows she wasn’t a prominent figure.  In fact, she doesn’t even appear to hold any “clear place in the official cult(s)” of the nearby nations.  Further, the evidence shows Yahweh with unique “chief god” status in Israel, much different from neighboring pagan lands, and the worship of Yahweh was “somewhat” exclusive in ancient Israel and “virtually exclusive” in Judah.

Hess also concludes from the evidence that Yahwah was not generally identified with physical objects, animals, or other images and idols, and Yahweh’s very nature was unique among the Iron Age gods.  Thus, the artwork of Yahweh and Asherah — if that’s what, in fact, it is — and the inscriptions are oddities, not the norm.  Just as it happens today, people try to mix all sorts of false beliefs into the true faith of Christianity.  This is one of the reasons it’s so important that we have written Scriptures, unlike most of the ancient pagan religions, so our beliefs are secure and cannot be corrupted.

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WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US

Thus, the available evidence supports what the Bible writers tell us: Yahweh was the exclusive God of Israel, but sometimes there was syncretism (the mixing of religions) with neighboring pagan lands.  Within the Old Testament, we see constant warnings against Israel mixing with the religions of their pagan neighbors and Israel’s failure to listen.  We also see references to Asherah-related idols, often in the forms of some sort of trees or “poles.”

For instance, Deuteronomy 16:21 commands, “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make for yourself.”  In 2 Kings 21, evil King Manasseh practices idolatry, worshipping other deities other than the one true God, and we’re told he “erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah.”  Then, in 2 Kings 23, King Josiah brings the Hebrews back from idolatry to proper worship of Yahweh by ordering the destruction of pagan idols, including Asherah poles.

THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN

Moreover, the references to “the queen of heaven” in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:19 may be referring to Asherah, but more likely are referring to a similar fertility goddess (Astarte or Ishtar) of Assyria or Babylon, who was the wife of one of their gods (Baal or Molech).  A pagan religion giving a goddess the title “queen of heaven” is nothing unique and doesn’t automatically connect that goddess to the God of Israel in anyway, especially since “heaven” is a general term for an astral, non-physical realm.  Once again, jumping to the conclusion that Yahweh had a wife from this reference of a pagan “queen of heaven” is a rash conclusion to say the least.

As with many of these unorthodox claims, the idea of “God’s wife” is based on little evidence, ignores the Biblical text, and promotes misinformation based on speculation, sensationalism, and canyon-sized jumps of logic.

Main Source:  Richard S. Hess, “Did Yahweh Have a Wife? Iron Age Religion in Israel and Its Neighbors” in Come Let Us Reason, Digital Edition, v.1, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2012).

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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Did Constantine Control What Books Went into the Biblical Canon? Why Were Some Books Almost Rejected?

** Did Roman Emperor Constantine compose the New Testament Canon?  Why was the Canon closed?  Why were some New Testament books almost left out? **

SERIES INTRO:

Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

 

Constantine

Did Constantine control the decisions about what books were included in the Bible?

So, the popular conspiracy theory goes that Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become Christian, and those at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, decided which books would be included in the Bible.

The Old Testament was set long before Constantine was born.  Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that shows that the books of the New Testament were considered Scripture long before an “official” canon for the New Testament was set.

For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul gives two quotes and calls them both Scripture.  The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, and the second quotes Jesus from Luke 10:7.  This illustrates that Paul considered the Gospel of Luke — or at least the words of Jesus — as equal in authority to the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Then, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writing as Scripture.  This clearly shows that the first generation of Christians already considered certain written works the new, divine written words of God.

Further, in the writings of the early church fathers – including Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp – in the first half of the second century (about 100-150 AD), they quoted extensively from the works of the New Testament, showing that they found them authoritative, even explicitly calling them Scripture at times.

Early challenges to the traditional teachings of Christianity gave the young church good reason to clarify which writings taught proper Christian doctrine.  For instance, a rich, influential man named Marcion, who believed there were two Gods in the Bible (an evil God of the Old Testament and a good God of the New Testament) attempted to rid the church of anything he perceived as “Jewish.”  This included getting rid of the whole Old Testament and putting together his own version of  the “New Testament,” with only the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters, editing out anything he perceived as too Jewish.  His teachings were official rejected by the church in 144 AD.

Also, Gnosticism, a belief that mixed Christian beliefs with the philosophy of Plato, believed the material world was wholly evil and unredeemable, and because of this, Gnostics believed God never became “evil” flesh.  Thus, Jesus Christ only appeared to have a human body.  The Gnostic produced many false “gospels” written in the 2nd Century and after.

Thus, these situations showed the church a need to be clear what written works were truly Christian.  Lists exist from the early church fathers, dated about 200 years before Constantine, listing authoritative Christian writings, including all four Gospels, Acts, and most of Paul’s letters.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which was arranged at Constantine’s request, is not where the New Testament canon was made “official” as many people wrongly think.  The Council of Nicaea is where the church worked out the proper biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s divinity in relationship to the Father, as well as some other odds and ends, like how to determine the date of the observance of Easter.  No evidence of any debates or discussions about which books belonged in the Bible exists from the Council of Nicaea.  The “official,” “closed” list of the New Testament Canon occurred not until 367 AD, a whole generation later.  But, as stated above, the books of the New Testament were long established as the scripture of Christianity long before this, as evident by the “Muratori Fragment,” a list which includes nearly of the book of the New Testament dating from the mid-second century in Rome.

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Why was the inclusion of James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 John and 3 John in the New Testament disputed?

The Book of James has been questioned because the teachings of James appear to contradict the teachings in Paul’s letters.  James teaches that faith needs to be joined with works, meaning that faith needs to be complimented with actions.  James says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).  But Paul, in several places in his letters, emphasizes that Christians have salvation only through faith apart from works.  Thus, Christians have salvation through God’s grace alone; only through God’s work, not their own, can sinful man be redeemed.  On a closer reading, we see that James and Paul do compliment each other.  James is stating that works is the outcome of salvation, not the means of salvation – something Paul would agree with.  A person’s actions are the evidence of salvation in that person.

2 Peter is disputed because the written style of 2 Peter is very different than the style of 1 Peter.  Often, ancient letter writers dictated their ideas to scribes, who wrote them down.  We see evidence in Paul’s letters that he used a scribe at times.  It was not uncommon for the scribes to not record the thoughts of the speaker word-for-word, but in their own words.  This means that they recorded the ideas but wrote them out in their own style.  It can be safely assumed the author dictating the ideas would approve of the final product, perhaps signing it or writing some closing sentences in their own hand.  Again, we see evidence of this in Paul’s letters.

Jude, 2 John, and 3 John are so short that some have questioned whether they should be in the New Testament simply because they are so brief.  Can such short letters convey any significant information?  Of course, this comes down to opinion, not factual evidence, and Christians today still find godly wisdom in these three short letters.

Why was Revelation included in the New Testament Canon despite controversy?

Revelation is a notoriously difficult book to understand.  The genre (or style) in which Revelation is written is called apocalyptic literature, which has a lot of strange symbolism depicting spiritual things.  Revelation is unique to other apocalyptic literature because it also includes prophecy and letters to churches.  Despite all of this, the authorship of Revelation by the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, is secure, and Revelation meets the requirements for inclusion in the New Testament.

Main Source of information for this post:

Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014).

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