Notes on the Authenticity of the New Testament… A First Century Problem
Found this on the grocery store rack as I was checking out. Based on how full the rack was it didn't look like it was a hot item. I thought, "at least believers should look into this". So I did.
On page 9 the first sentence of chapter one reads, "Jesus was born in Lower Galilee..." quite a departure from the accounts of His birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Bethlehem is nowhere near lower Galilee. Given it is coming out close to Christmas it is hard to understand the lack of respect to traditional Christian beliefs this represents. Modern skeptics will put anything out there in any kind of packaging with any kind of spin, take care how you receive it. The author of this publication is not a theologian. He lists no academic Biblical studies in the biography on his website, http://www.jpisbouts.org/biography.
This is a slick publication as are all NG offerings with beautiful photos of Christian art, locations and of course, great maps... using a text that offers no attempt to validate its own authenticity to restate human history. maybe not too surprising for a filmmaker and author of historical fiction. Nevertheless the masquerade as real historic story telling is galling. I guess this goes on the religious humanism shelf next to the comics. Still it inspired the following thoughts...
We are told that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are early Christian fiction (isn’t it at least a little curious that so many folks know what those terms refer to). Apparently God presented the gospel of salvation by means unacceptable to modern theologians and scientists. According to them the difficulties of the written record are significant to the point that its testimony is not true.
II Peter 3:14-18 “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Peter’s reference to distortion of scriptures is not an agreement with this accusation of Christian fiction, but warns against the twisted teaching of authentic scriptures by those who do not believe in the truth.
This is not a problem first suggested by eighteenth century Enlightenment on the heels of Renaissance challenges to God’s supremacy…
This is not a problem defined by the birth of nineteenth century liberal theology and the emergence of the critical method…
This is not a problem developed in the twentieth century quest for the historical Jesus and philosophical skepticism resulting in the demise of humanistic hope… (the irony here is the first believes in solving such difficulties by scientific analysis and the latter rejects there is sufficient objectivity in such analysis to reveal real truth, ultimately leading to post-modern absurdity and the twenty-first century chaos of meaning.)
The problem of “things hard to understand” and distortion of the gospel into a body of false teaching is a first century problem…
So what? So the solutions crafted in these later centuries are not the ones to look to no matter their claim of objectivity. What God through Christ gave the world was the oral testimony of eyewitnesses to the Savior with the grace and faith to believe and thus to know. It is likely that the first written accounts from the life of Jesus were not distributed widely until thirty to forty years after His resurrection. Clearly it was not God’s intent to present to the first believers a written record of the New Covenant.
The recorded gospel became necessary as the Apostles began to die. Their initial understanding was that Jesus could return at any moment to take up His kingdom on earth. This belief is expressed consistently throughout the writings of the apostles Matthew, John, Paul and Peter and their disciples including Luke and Mark.
Peter writes in his second letter to the young churches, perhaps after twenty years of this oral testimony (quoted above), “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. In God’s design knowledge comes with grace, the same grace that provides the real Savior, the real witness, and the real faith to accept His truth. God’s design of revelation did not provide this knowledge through written testimony reviewed by a board of human experts on science and analytical criticism. A simple reading of the gospels finds the rabbinical experts in Jewish law and religion, the scholars in first century Judea most like modern analysts, opposed this knowledge by grace to Jesus' face, and continued to oppose it when the Apostles set out to tell the world their eyewitness testimony in person, not in writing.
Therefore it should be no surprise that those who call themselves experts today continue to oppose the Gospel born of miraculous revelation according to God’s purpose. The danger for them is they do not realize (or refuse to admit?) that they insist God bow to their intellectual challenge. They cast down the gauntlet and demand God prove Himself. Could you believe in a God who would submit to them?
Jesus of Nazareth said 2000 years ago, “Truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24)
Paul wrote to the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
These are the words of Christ and His disciples which God preserved through centuries of persecution and distortion. They are His message to humanity. He invites us to hear them and believe.
And God invites us to examine their words and determine if they are authentic to His truth, but not to ours. He does not answer to us. We find an example of this in Acts 17:10-12, "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed..." The standard for the authenticity of their witness is scripture. The Berean experts in the Jewish scriptures knew this. The word for scripture occurs fifty two times in the New Testament; in the first century these were the Jewish scriptures.
From ancient Jewish wisdom: “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
Be careful whose words you listen to.