Category Archives: Biblical Reliability

Is The Original New Testament Lost? Bart Ehrman vs. Daniel Wallace

Is The Original New Testament Lost?

An evening of scholarly dialogue on the origins, the transmission, and the reliability of the New Testament. Do we have the original manuscripts? Can we trust the copies passed down to us? How accurate is our New Testament today? These questions and more were discussed by two top-tier NT scholars. Both Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Wallace presented their respective positions before opening the floor for a time of Q&A.

For more responding to Dr. Ehrman’s claims of textual corruption, visit The Ehrman Project.

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Kruger on Canon

Dr. Michael J. Kruger, Professor of New Testamentand  Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte is the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. In March (2012) he delivered the Kistemaker Lecture Seriesat RTS-Orlando on the Canon of Scripture. Here are the lectures:

  1. The Definition of ‘Canon’: Exclusive or Multi-Dimensional?
  2. The Origins of Canon: Was the Idea of a New Testament a Late Ecclesiastical Development?
  3. The Artifacts of Canon:  Manuscripts as a Window into the Development of the New Testament
  4. The Messiness of the Canon: Do Disagreements Amongst Early Christians Pose a Threat to Our Belief in the New Testament?

The reviews of Canon Revisited mark it out as a major work on the subject.

“Of all the recent books and articles on the canon of Scripture, this is the one I recommend most. It deals with the critical literature thoroughly and effectively while presenting a cogent alternative grounded in the teaching of Scripture itself. Michael Kruger develops the historic Reformed model of Scripture as self-authenticating and integrates it with a balanced appreciation for the history of the canon and the role of the community in recognizing it. This is the definitive work on the subject for our time.”
John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida

“Michael Kruger has written the book on the canon of Scripture that has been much needed for a long time. His focus is not on the process, but on the vitally important question of how Christians can know that they have the right books in their canon of Scripture. The question is an excellent one and needs to be addressed honestly and competently. Kruger does just that. This excellent book goes a long way toward clearing up confusion and misguided theories. I highly recommend it.”
Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College and Acadia University

“Here, finally, is what so many pastors, seminary professors, and students have long been waiting for: a clear, well-informed, and scripturally faithful answer to the question of how Christians should account for the New Testament canon. Perhaps not since Ridderbos’s Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures has there appeared such a valuable single source on the New Testament canon that is both historically responsible and theologically satisfying (and this book improves on Ridderbos in many ways). Michael Kruger’s work will help readers get a handle on what may seem like a myriad of current approaches to canon, whether ecclesiastical or critical. This book will foster clearer thinking on the subject of the New Testament canon and will be a much referenced guide for a long time to come.”
Charles E. Hill, Professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary

Zeitgeist: Time to Discard the Christian Story?

For the Zeitgeist film itself, see here.

For a modern defense of the historicity of the Jesus story over against the “myth theory” see,

The Next Doctrinal Battleground: The Historicity of Adam?

In recent online videos, prominent Old Testament scholars Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns commented on the whether the Adam of Gen. 1-4 was a historical figure. Below are Longman’s thoughts:

One thing that’s saddening is that Longman claims that a reading of the creation narratives of Genesis which concludes that Adam was a real historical figure are based on a “highly literalistic” reading of the text. While he doesn’t explicitly deny the historicity of Adam, it’s pretty fair to say that he doesn’t subscribe to a view based on a reading of the Bible that’s “highly literalistic.” This is unfortunate indeed because Longman is a conservative OT scholar who, as far as I am aware, affirms the inerrancy of the Bible. Of course, someone might ask why I believe that this is unfortunate. Well, first the belief that Adam was a historical figure is the majority view of Christians throughout the ages. This leads me to my second point: Both Christ and Paul affirmed that Adam was a real person and not merely a symbolic character. James Anderson, Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, argues this point very well on his blog. For most Christians, this is a slam dunk argument. If Christ and Paul believed something we should believe no less. But, according to Peter Enns, his is not necessarily the case. Here is Enns’s view on the matter of Paul and Adam:

A little background on Enns is helpful. Back in 2005 he wrote a book titled Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament which sparks a great deal of controversy. This controversy eventually led to his dismissal from his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary. Enns is a clear writer and more or less straightforward in his views. According to Dr. Enns, evangelicals have not critically engaged the world of the Old Testament because they have failed to accept many recent discoveries about the Ancient near East. When, according to Enns, we do come to grips with how ANE writers thought, communicated, and recorded history we should realize that we’ve imposed a fairly recent, modernist grid on the text, asking questions it was never intended to answer with criteria that the ancient writers didn’t accept. His goal was, and is, noble. When we come across what seem to be contradictions or “tensions ” in the Bible we shouldn’t lose all faith that it is divinely inspired. Rather we should acknowledge that we are 1) probably imposing a modern (and not ancient) standard of truth-telling, and 2) this is all part of the rich “diversity” that God intended for His Word in human words. So the problem is with us, not the Bible. This last point (“the problem is with us, not the Bible”) was taught by Augustine when he said, “It is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.” But while Augustine makes clear that we ought not to say the Bible gives untrue information, Enns claims that is does (but it doesn’t effect the overall message of Scripture which is salvation in Christ).

In the clip above Enns states that he fully expects to have Paul believe that Adam was a real historical figure (which is clear that Enns does not). Paul was, after all, a first century Jewish man and held the common views on this issue as his contemporaries. This is another plank in Enns view of Scripture: the “fact” that biblical authors affirm things (such as ANE mythological history and cosmology) that we now know aren’t true doesn’t compromise the fact that they were inspired by God to record those very words. This causes a huge theological problem: we are being encouraged to deny something that Christ Himself and his appointed spokesperson, Paul, affirmed.

Enns’ approach here also has significant methodological problems. Let’s assume for a moment that Enns and Longman are mistaken on the issue of Adam (and I think Anderson has done a fine job of showing the problems with their view. He also wrote a follow-up.), how would we demonstrate the error? Well, we appeal to the to the intention of Paul. Paul intended to teach that there is a link between the act of disobedience of one man (Adam) and the one act of obedience from another (Jesus). But, according to Enns, Paul’s intention doesn’t settle the matter because he was thoroughly embedded in, and clearly reflected, the erroneous fees of his day. So, the genealogies of Genesis don’t settle the issue, and even authorial intent doesn’t solve it. Thus Enns view is unfalsifiable, making correction seemingly impossible. If I’m mistaken I want to know how, because for either lack of creativity or exegetical know-how I can’t see it.

The difficult bit about all of this is that Enns and Longman are self-identified evangelicals who confess the inspiration of the Bible. Anderson clarifies:

I’m certainly not arguing, “If you throw out Adam you might as well throw out everything else!” or anything along those lines. It’s not a slippery-slope argument at all. Rather, my argument is that denying the historicity of Adam seems to commit you to at least some of the following: (i) very unnatural readings of several biblical passages; (ii) the conclusion that some biblical authors (and perhaps Jesus too) make claims that aren’t true or arguments that aren’t cogent; (iii) a hermeneutic that would undermine the clarity and authority of Scripture; (iv) a hermeneutic that would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to defend many other important biblical doctrines or ethical norms to which evangelicals are committed.

Fellow Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke and Enns engaged in a congenial exchange last year in the Westminster  Theological Journal. The first round of exchanges were posted online.

Revisiting Inspiration & Incarnation by Bruce Waltke (PDF)

Response to Bruce Waltke by Peter Enns (PDF)

Theologian John Frame, and exegete G. K. Beale have also weigh in on Enns view of Scripture. Enns’s replies can be found here.

Here are some resources for further study: The first is Enns’s book, and the second is John Wenham’s book Christ and the Bible, which clearly lays out Christ’s own view of Scripture (which isn’t addressed by Enns, as far as I am aware).

Is the Bible Reliable?

Biblical Reliability and the Divine Preservation of Scripture

Another relevant subject to apologetics is the issue of whether the texts of our current Bibles have been preserved. Often when presenting a case for the Christian worldview, a detractor may ask whether the text of our modern Bibles remains the same as that of the early Christians. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the legitimacy and historical preservation of the Old Testament is no longer seriously doubted, therefore my brief summary of the texts of Scripture will focus on the New Testament (hereafter NT). The implications of this question cannot be overstated; if we cannot trust the historicity of the Christian Scriptures then the very hope of Christianity is undermined.

In the process of examining the reliability of the NT documents, we must apply several general rules of historical criticism, while leaving our possibilities open to the reality of supernatural activity. In my presentation I will present three lines of evidence that are strong reasons for us to believe that the NT record is not only reliable, but if the NT documents are not historically reliable then no ancient work is reliable.

First, we need to examine approximately when the NT documents were written. If we can attain a good enough time frame for when they were written then we can tell if enough time passed for rumor and myth to creep in. Gary Habermas states that in testing a historical document’s reliability, “Early evidence is strongly preferred, and in reference to Jesus, data from A.D. 30 to 50 would be exemplary.” So, one is left to ask “Do the NT autographs fit within that time frame?”

Amongst non-conservative scholarship, it is usually agreed that the Gospel of Mark was the first one composed. Within the conservative, evangelical ranks, scholars tend to disagree and debate over which Gospel came first. Some take matthean, markan, and even sometimes lukan priority (though, admittedly, this is rare). But, the high consensus of NT scholarship would agree that the book of Acts was written after the Gospel of Luke. If we work back from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we can come to a reasonable dating of the NT Gospels.

Luke, a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote the book of Acts. He set out to compose an orderly account of the early church to present to his friend Theophilus. In the process Luke paid painstaking detail to the ordering of dates and places in which their travels took place. Habermas further explains:

Evangelical scholars often date each of the synoptic Gospels ten or so years earlier than their critical counterparts, who prefer dates of roughly A.D. 65-90. Perhaps the most promising way to support the traditional approach is to argue backward from the Book of Acts. Most of this book is occupied with the ministries of Peter and Paul, and much centers in the city of Jerusalem. The martyrdoms of Stephen (7:54-60) and the apostle James (12:1-2) are recorded, and the book concludes with Paul under arrest in Rome (28:14-31). Yet Acts says nothing concerning the deaths of Paul and Peter (mid-60s A.D.) and the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) are also strangely absent. Further, the book ends enigmatically with Paul under house arrest, without any resolution to the situation. How could the author of Acts not mention these events or resolve Paul’s dilemma, each of which is centrally related to the text’s crucial themes?… It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the author did not record these items simply because they had not yet occurred. These omissions argue persuasively for an early date for the composition of Acts, before the mid 60’s A.D.

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“But the Bible was written by men!”

A frequent dismissal of the Christian faith comes in this fashion, “I can’t believe the Bible to be the word of God, because after all, it was written by men.” Many have run into this objection at some point in their evangelistic efforts. How should we respond? Fortunately, as common as this objection may be, a proper response is not difficult to provide. There are various approaches to handling this objection. Let us walk through several of them, one by one.

First, my father has the habit of responding to this objection by replying, “Of course the Bible was written by men, would you have preferred monkeys write it?” I’ve always enjoyed that reply. It does make a strong point. If Christians are right, and God is invisible and without physical extension in space (i.e. Spirit), how is it that God is to write the Bible Himself? Theoretically, the god of Mormonism could have written upon the golden plates found my Joseph Smith all by his own hand. But this is not the God orthodox Christians are arguing for.

Secondly, the statement, “I can’t take the Bible to be the word of God, because it was written by men,” is not an objection. The person uttering these words may perceive them as a refutation of biblical authority. But, in fact, they are merely a statement of what the unbeliever cannot subjectively accept. I believe I understand the intention behind this objection, but we must make the non-believer aware that this statement is a display of their psychological state, and has no bearing on whether or not Scripture is God’s revealed truth.

Third, we should ask the unbeliever whether they would prefer the Bible to be written by the very hand of God Himself (i.e. by way of some physical manifestation, akin to the case of the first pair of tablets containing the Ten Commandments). If their reply is in the affirmative we may respond, “But why would God have to do that?” This approach to authority, if consistently acted out, would result in potentially dangerous actions, at least for them. Suppose the President of the United States summons this individual to the Pentagon because the CIA is suspicious of their current activity. Would this person ignore the Presidential command simply because the letter was not hand-written and personally signed by the President himself? What about jury duty? No, naturally we understand that the means by which someone communicates to us does not necessarily have to be absolutely unmediated and direct.

Forth, I believe the intention of the unbeliever’s objection is meant to convey the idea that since men are fallible, and the Bible was penned by men, therefore it must have errors and therefore is like any other religious book. Fair enough. But, we must ask, “Is it absolutely essential to human nature that everything that comes out of our mouths (or from their pens) must be false?” Of course not. Though mankind may be fallen, fragile, and fallible, not every word we utter is false. People make true statements all the time, do they not? For example: my name Joseph Emmanuel Torres and my birthday is November 7th. That is a true, completely 100 percent error-free statement. Imagine the kind of life that the objector must live in order to be consistent with this mindset. They could not trust anything that has ever been told to them, simply because we fallible humans have said it! Imagine their mother telling them as a child, “Son, I love you.” Lies! All lies! How could the objector’s mother be trusted, after all, to err is human. Naturally, I am well aware of the fact that the unbeliever does not live this way. Daily they watch the news for the weather, follow their Doctor’s instructions, and so on. But the objection seems to imply that simply because humans penned the Bible that it must not be trusted.

Lastly, we come to the strongest defeater to this objection. This objection simply assumes that which it ought to prove; it begs the question. When they state, “the Bible was written by men” the unbeliever of course implies that men can fail in total accuracy. This is true, given the qualifications above. But this ignores the Bible’s own testimony of its perfection and accuracy. Scripture says that God the Holy Spirit guided and directed the entire process so that the very words that the authors freely chose were perfectly preserved from error (2 Peter 1:20-21). Therefore, the words that they penned were nonetheless the very words of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Much like Christ the living Word, the written word is both divine and human. To ignore the Scripture’s testimony regarding its inspiration and accuracy is in essence to say “the Bible isn’t true because the Bible isn’t true!” How trivial. It’s a narrowly circular argument, all it serves to do is to show that the unbeliever has no true objection to Scripture; at least they haven’t given us one. They simply do not want to submit to the voice of their Lord!